Mark Hartley’s “Not Quite Hollywood” presents “the first detailed examination and celebration of Australian genre cinema of the 70s and 80s. In 1971, with the introduction of the R-certificate, Australia’s censorship regime went from repressive to progressive virtually overnight. This cultural explosion gave birth to arthouse classics, such as ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ and ‘My Brilliant Career,’ but also spawned a group of demon-children: maverick filmmakers who braved assault from all quarters to bring films like ‘Alvin Purple,’ ‘The Man From Hong Kong,’ ‘Patrick,’ ‘Turkey Shoot’ and ‘Mad Max’ to the big screen. As explicit, violent and energetic as their northern cousins, Aussie genre movies presented a unique take on established conventions. In England, Italy and the grindhouses and Drive-ins of America, audiences applauded our homegrown marauding revheads with brutish cars, our spunky well-stacked heroines and our stunts – unparalleled in their quality and extreme danger!”
“Not Quite Hollywood” is being released by Magnet Releasing and opens in New York City at City Cinemas Village East Cinema this Friday, July 31. indieWIRE contacted Hartley via email to discuss the film.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?
Rather than lie and name some highfalutin artistic cinema classic that gave me my filmmaking epiphany, I’ll happily admit that it was seeing “Star Wars” on the big screen, aged nine, that made me fall in love with the movies. Interestingly, all my like-aged filmmaking friends had the exact same experience.
A few years later I caught on late night TV a trio of Aussie genre films, “The Man from Hong Kong,” “Patrick,” and “Snapshot,” and I discovered we could make entertainingly outrageous films in Australia.
“The Man From Hong Kong” opens with a chopper chase and fist fight on Ayers Rock and boasts the sight of Australia’s own James Bond, George Lazenby, karate kicking while on fire! “Patrick” was about an unblinking comatose killer with telekinetic powers and “Snapshot” had as its instrument of evil a killer Mr. Whippy ice-cream van!
Please discuss how the idea for “Not Quite Hollywood” came about.
Like many aspiring feature filmmakers I forged a career making music videos, and I would hire old-school crews who had worked on my favorite Australian genre movies. Chatting with these guys at lunch I discovered that the stories behind the scenes on these gonzo films were even more outrageous than the footage on screen (no mean feat!). In the history books on Australian cinema these films were relegated to a footnote at best, so I decided to make a documentary that would finally shine an irreverent spotlight on these forgotten films – which I dubbed “Ozploitation” cinema.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
I never thought of myself as a documentary filmmaker (and I’m sure after seeing the film many documentary filmmakers would agree with me) and this wasn’t a soul-searching study of the African Yak. Instead it was full-frontal explosion of sex, violence, horror and foot-to-the-floor action. It was about cinema that pushed the boundaries of almost everything – censorship, good taste, safety – so it needed to have a rock ’n’ roll sensibility. I decided to use my music video aesthetic and make a film more akin to a “rockumentary.” I hopefully achieved this through liberal use of montage, animation and an abundance of talking heads. If anyone leaves the theater keen to add a couple more titles to their Netflix queue – then I’ve done my job.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
It’s hard to convince a government funding body to invest in a documentary that celebrates a large body of work that they’re eternally and unapologetically ashamed of.
How did the financing and/or casting for the film come together?
After about five years of knock backs from local investors I gave up. Then I read an interview with Quentin Tarantino where he spoke about his love of Australian genre films. We tracked down his email and sent his assistant a 100-page research document I had written. It wasn’t to lure him to the project – which was dead, I simply thought that he would enjoy reading it. The next day I got an email back saying, “Quentin will do what he can to help you get this project up.” So we flew over to LA, shot an exhaustive interview with Tarantino and I used that as a pitch to get the film made. Magnet Releasing, Optimum Releasing and Madman Cinema eventually came on board as investors/distributors and that triggered the rest of the finance in Australia.
When we were trying to get funded a lot of people asked, “who is going to want to talk about these films?” Thankfully we discovered the answer was: “practically everyone who was involved in their production.” We shot close to 100 interviews – including Oscar winners who had cut their teeth on this product (George Miller, John Seale, Russell Boyd), Hollywood cast who’d journeyed down under to appear in them (including Jamie Lee Curtis, Stacy Keach, Dennis Hopper, Susannah York) and many of the local cast and crews. Refreshingly, there was rarely any sense of embarrassment about being involved in Ozploitation; people were very fond of the films and that unique time in Australian cinema.
Are there any interesting anecdotes from the shoot?
All the interesting anecdotes are IN the film.
If you’ve ever wanted to hear stories about George Lazenby discovering what happens when you agree to be set alight on a film set (you burn) – or about a coked-out and boozed-up Dennis Hopper being pronounced legally dead while filming a local bushranger movie – or tales of mice getting dressed in rubber werewolf fetus suits – or of real ammunition fired at actors – then this is the film for you.
What is your next project?
I’m working on a re-imagining of “Patrick” with the film’s original producer. We’re currently writing drafts and searching for finance – so in the meantime I’m keen to do anything. Give me a call – I’m in the Melbourne phone book.