NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD Review
[This review originally appeared when Not Quite Hollywood screened at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and reappears now with the arrival of the R1 DVD from Magnet Releasing.]
My friends, we have forgotten our own history. The cult of Italian giallo film is alive and well. The eighties American grinders? We are well versed in those. From Euro-cult to Hong Kong Cat III fare it seems every bit of the cult film world is well represented with hosts of knowledgable fans but there is one glaring area of oversight. Whither the Australian b-film of the seventies and eighties? Sure, we all remember Mad Max and The Man From Hong Kong has a certain following both Hong Kong action fans and Bond fans alike, thanks to the presence of George Lazenby as the lead villain, but for the most part this is where Oz-fandom ends. But no more, friends! No more! Mark Hartley is here to redress this wrong with Not Quite Hollywood, a riotous run through the many faces of Australian cult film.
Before the 1970s there was virtually no such thing as Australian film. A combination of apathy and tight censorship laws - reportedly the harshest in the western world at the time - effectively meant that there was no Australian film industry to speak of. Sure, the occasional outside film would come to shoot in Australia but there were hardly any locals involved. But all of that changed with the arrival of the seventies. A more progressive government came to power, one that wanted to see Australian arts thrive and poured funds into a variety of cultural endeavors while also easing censorship laws and adding an R-rating to the film censorship code. Suddenly there was not only funding to make films but sex and violence were okay, too! This was the period that produced Peter Weir and other 'serious' Australian film makers but for every Weir out there there was also a Brian Trenchard Smith or Antony Ginanne - film makers hacking, slashing and titilating right along with the very best that the rest of the world had to offer ...
A lifelong fan of his native genre cinema director Mark Hartley spent years building relationships with the key figures behind the 1970s movement, relationships that pay off large throughout this, his debut feature. Not only does he pack Not Quite Hollywood with stacks of beautifully restored footage from the films in question but he laces the whole thing with an incredible assortment of interviews from all of the key players. Key directors, key producers, the local critics who hated - and continue to hate - these films with a passion, actors, actresses, you name it. He's got them all and he's got them all talking, spilling their guts with inside stories and anecdotes. Want to know what they were thinking when they shot a certain scene? They'll tell you. Want to know who got hurt and how? They'll tell you that, too.
Not Quite Hollywood is a basic, talking heads sort of documentary elevated well above the pack by a trio of factors. First, the subject material is just delieriously fun. Hartley divides the film up into sections - giving the sexploitation films, horror and action titles each their own time to shine and each section does exactly that. The footage is brash and energetic, the people behind the footage equally so. Second, Hartley is an excellent interviewer, clearly adept at both putting his subjects at ease and landing the right subjects in the first place. You want to see Dennis Hopper chuckling away as he recalls spending most of a filming experience in a drunken stupor? That's in here, as is Jamie Lee Curtis talking about being resented for being the token American on set, George Lazenby denying punching his director after being lit on fire, a host of people talking about Jimmy Wang Yu being a dick, and key critics decrying the whole movement as being crap. Every one of these interviews is a gold mine. Third, Hartley is an absolutely masterful editor, intercutting the work both to get a range of opinions and also to subtly introduce larger underlying themes throughout.
Not Quite Hollywood is a worthy successor to the films it pays tribute to not only because it is an information goldmine about those films but because Not Quite Hollywood itself captures the same raw energy that draws people to cult film in the first place. The best compliments I can pay? I sincerely hope that the eventual DVD release includes geatly expanded versions of the key interviews and that it proves popular enough for forward - and backward - thinking US DVD labels to take a chance on making more of these films available here.
The new Magnet Releasing DVD release of the film does it perfect justice. The feature itself is very well presented but - more importantly - the disc also includes a healthy assortment of bonus features. And for those who were wondering, YES there were a LOT of interviews that didn't make it in to the feature film proper and a whole stack of those are included here. And were not just talking about extended clips - though there are some of those as well - but entire discussions of feature films that didn't make it in to the doc at all. Also included are a mis-labeled bit of Quentin Tarantino telling Brian Trenchard-Smith about his own career - seriously, people, Tarantino never stops talking long enough to call anything he does an 'interview' so stop using him in that capacity - as well as a stellar audio commentary track and the proverbial so much more. Stop reading, already, just go out and buy this.