June 6, 2011 by abbyo
One of my first introductions to independent cinema was the world of Australian film. Some time in high school, my parents sat me down in front of the TV to watch “Picnic at Hanging Rock” with me. I was hooked. It felt beautiful, dangerous, and hauntingly creepy. If this was the kind of movie that came out of Australia, then I wanted more. In the years that followed, I devoured “My Brilliant Career,” “Breaker Morant” and “The Last Wave” among other releases from the sunburned country. I loved every last one. But it felt like a pretty small pool and, after a while, I started to think I’d seen all the classics Australia had to offer.
Well, apparently I was missing out on a whole wealth of good, crazy filmmaking along the way, or so the makers of “Not Quite Hollywood” would have audiences believe. The documentary gives the chronology of the real genesis of Australia’s film making pedigree: not those Australian Film Commission classics I so dearly loved, but low-budget, drive-in classics; ones more along the lines of George Miller than Peter Weir. As a piece of filmmaking, “Not Quite Hollywood” is little more than a series of clips, commentaries and the occasional behind-the-scenes story. But as a primer on important but nearly-forgotten cinematic milestones, it’s a pretty fun introduction.
We start off in the sixties, where the Australian filmmaking industry emerged after a group of would-be directors decided they were tired of the only movies about their country coming from outsiders, like “Walkabout” or “Wake in Fright,” the genre movie that seems to have kicked off the movement. The early releases were crass comedies that were little better than glorified porn. From the clips shown, it’s amazing any of these movies got major releases at all. There’s nudity and gross jokes left and right. The actresses in the productions all seem to regret their involvement, and the directors complain about overzealous sensors, who seemed to me to be totally justified in their actions.
This segment, with all its nasty clips and cornball animated backdrops, is the film’s weakest section. The only aspect that makes this part of “Not Quite Hollywood” worth watching is the mention that the country’s frustrated film board created the Australian Film Commission as an attempt to class up Australia’s cinematic output, a trick that worked like a charm (much to the chagrin of many of the documentary’s featured directors).
Once the documentary gets to the genre movies, things pick up. Stories of shoestring budgets stretched to the max, gutsy stuntmen and effects gone wrong accompany intriguing clips of obscure releases and impassioned discussions of the movies from fans and filmmakers alike, the most vocal of whom is Quentin Tarantino. He’s there to lend an air of legitimacy to the film for American audiences—and his ringing endorsements of movie after movie did actually make me want to see a lot of these films—but it gets old after a while, and by the end I found myself wishing he would just go away.
But, unlike the sleazy sex comedy directors, these filmmakers and actors tell stories worth listening to. We hear what a weirdo Dennis Hopper was on the set of “Mad Dog Morgan,” and how dangerous filming was on the set of “Mad Max,” with the cinematographer crouched by the side of the road while motorcycles and cars whizzed past his head. It’s interesting to hear the different perspectives of what happened on some of these movie sets. American actors brought in for various productions were shocked that there wasn’t more concern for safety, while the Australian actors, stuntmen and directors shrug their shoulders and fondly recall moments where they almost lost their lives.
What really makes the last two-thirds of “Not Quite Hollywood” interesting is the unique picture it paints of the Australian B-movie community. these directors, producers and actors were an especially collaborative bunch, probably due to the fact that they were working with a much smaller pool of talent. Directors on one movie would be part of the second unit on another, for example. Stuntmen from one production could go on to star in a franchise, and
nobody batted an eyelid. Most of the men and women involved in these movies seem to realize they were part of something special, a feeling due in no small part (I think) to this communal atmosphere.
Another interesting part of the film shows the legacy of Australia’s horror and action films, and how important they’ve become not only to their current generation of filmmakers, but to other genre filmmakers like Tarantino. “Saw,” for example, had its genesis in the final scene from “Mad Max” (if you’ve seen the film, you’ll understand). “Wolf Creek” was inspired by the thriller “Road Games.” And much of Uma Thurman’s hospital scenes in “Kill Bill Part One” came from the movie “Patrick.”
“Not Quite Hollywood” feels like a documentary that would be more at home playing on a TV channel like IFC or Sundance than in a theatrical screening or a Netflix rental. In other words, it’s more of a clip show than an actual film. But it does serve to introduce audiences to an odd little corner of cinema that’s gone largely unnoticed by history. I came away from the doc with a long list of movies to check out. In that respect, I think “Not Quite Hollywood” achieved what it set out to do.
As much as I disliked the first section of this movie, it was interesting to see that a number of Australia’s great character actors got their start in movies like “Alvin Purple” and “Libido.” Among them: “Animal Kingdom’s” Jacki Weaver and the ubiquitous Jack Thompson (“Breaker Morant,” “The Man from Snowy River”).
My favorite behind-the-scenes story from the film: During the shooting of “Mad Dog Morgan,” legendary Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil went on an unannounced four-day walkabout so he could ask the kookaburras about “Mad Dog” star Dennis Hopper’s behavior. Their answer? “He’s crazy.” And this was decades before “Super Mario Brothers!” Well spotted, kookaburras. Well spotted.
One major disappointment: Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toecutter from “Mad Max”) isn’t interviewed. He showed up in one or two other films featured in the documentary, and his performance in “Max” is one of my favorite things about that movie. I’d like to have heard from him.
Another minor complaint: I mentioned earlier that I came away from “Not Quite Hollywood” with a list of movies to check out. Unfortunately, a lot of these are tough to find–more than half weren’t available to rent on Netflix, and the ones I could find were mainly only available in streaming form. Get on it, Netflix! What else do you exist for if not for nerds like me to access obscure cult movies?