DVD Review HTF DVD Review: NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: The Wild, Untold Story of OZploitation!

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Michael Reuben, Oct 6, 2009.

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  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Not Quite Hollywood
    The Wild, Untold Story of OZploitation!



    Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 103 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 (film clips at various ARs)
    Audio: English DD 5.1; English DD 2.0
    Subtitles: Spanish
    MSRP: $26.98
    Package: Keepcase
    Insert: None
    Original Release Date: Aug. 28, 2008 (Aus.); July 31, 2009 (U.S.) (2 screens)
    DVD Release Date: Oct. 6, 2009



    Introduction:

    Barely given a U.S. theatrical release, this rollicking documentary about the heyday of OZploitation films comes to DVD with terrific extras and plenty of film clips featuring (as the box cover promises in a rare case of truth-in-advertising) “gratuitous nudity, senseless violence, car crashes . . . and a bit of kung fu.” They forgot to mention the gore, which as one interviewee notes, is great because it’s cheap. Say the word “documentary”, and people imagine something sober and boringly didactic. This film, a labor of love by writer/director Mark Hartley, is the perfect antidote.


    The Film:

    Our host is a familiar connoisseur of junk cinema, Quentin Tarantino. Indeed, the opening titles for Not Quite Hollywood look like something created for the Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez project Grindhouse. The film itself is a rapid-fire assembly of interviews from a rogue’s gallery of subjects – directors, producers, writers, cinematographers, actors, critics – cut together with generous selections from the films they’re discussing. Most of the films will be unknown to any but the most intense film geek, though a few are familiar, either because they’ve become classics (like the original Mad Max, directed by George Miller, who would later win an Oscar for Happy Feet, of all things) or because they continued a franchise (like Howling III: The Marsupials – to this day, the title cracks me up).

    As Hartley tells it, Australia had no film industry as the Seventies began, but that changed very quickly as a result of several factors. First, a Canadian director, Ted Kotcheff, made Wake in Fright, a kind of Australian variation of The Lost Weekend, and many Australians objected to the portrait that this foreigner had painted of them (mostly, the various interview subjects suggest, because it was true). This prompted local creative minds to start creating their own portrayals, either self-portraits or, more aggressively, satirical portraits of popular targets like the British. The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972), co-written by Barry Humphries (a/k/a “Dame Edna”) illustrates these inspirations (in this instance, to commercial success).

    Second, the budding film industry was fortunate enough to have sympathetic ears in government, which greatly simplified funding. At its most generous, government support resulted in the so-called “10BA” program introduced in 1981, which provided such enormous tax incentives for film investors that securing financing became one of the least onerous parts of filmmaking. (Think about that for a minute, given today’s environment.)

    Third, the introduction of the R rating eliminated what had previously been a highly restrictive censorship policy. The door was now wide open to just about anything, and filmmakers gleefully embraced the possibilities. Some were limited by taste. Generally, those are not the filmmakers whose careers are chronicled in Not Quite Hollywood. The more typical attitude is that embodied by John Lamond, who gives his interviews reclining on a sofa next to a stripper pole. And yes, the pole is in use.

    (As we learn in the deleted scenes, Lamond is the kind of pushy upstart who not only ripped off Raiders of the Lost Ark for a film called Sky Pirates, but also sent a copy of the finished product to Steven Spielberg for comments. History does not record whether Spielberg responded.)

    The final factor, of course, is the seismic shift in manners and morals that began in the Sixties and continued well into the next two decades. Despite geography, Australia’s culture remains firmly anchored in the western world. The same forces of sexual liberation, rebellion against authority and paranoia that wind through so much of American Seventies cinema clearly are on display in the work of even the most cynical of the OZploitation films. As if to stress the American connection, we get an extended treatment of the making of Mad Dog Morgan, for which Oz imported that avatar of American counterculture, Dennis Hopper. Hopper, who was then at the height of his substance-abusing phase, proceeded to give his Aussie employers a lesson in true excess, and the shoot was a nightmare. It’s clear in Hopper’s contemporary interview clips that his memories of that time are extremely sketchy.

    There isn’t a dull moment or personality in this brisk 103 minutes, which includes chapter titles like “Comatose Killers and Outback Chillers”. And one of the most useful lessons to come out of this exploration of shlock is the reminder that, in order for any film industry to grow, develop and create masterpieces, it also has to try a lot of crazy things and spit out a lot of junk. There are montages of failed films in Not Quite Hollywood that left me with the firm conviction that Ed Wood’s title as the Worst Director in History is probably undeserved. Somewhere in the annals of OZploitation, there is a worthy contender who has been sadly overlooked. Maybe Not Quite Hollywood will be the first step on his road to rediscovery.



    Video:

    The interview footage is hi-def video, and it looks terrific. Detail, black levels and colors are as good as you could want from DVD. No doubt Blu-ray would improve the image, but I’m not sure the improvement would add much.

    Quality of the films excerpts is all over the place, which reflects the variety of sources. Given the low-budget origins and the lack of any restoration budget, we’ll just have to assume that everything looks as good as it can, given the source material.



    Audio:

    I listened to the DD 5.1 track. The recorded interviews and voiceovers are clear and easy to understand (unless, that is, Australian pronunciation throws you off). The rest of the channels are taken up with the alternately raucous and jaunty, but always upbeat, musical score. No matter how dark, twisted or evil their subject matter, these filmmakers were having fun, and the soundtrack wants to make sure you know it. It’s a well-mixed and well-presented track.



    Special Features:

    The video for all special features is enhanced for 16:9.

    Commentary with directory Mark Hartley and various participants. Writer-director Hartley leads a rotating panel of commentators, some of them on the phone. The stories are fascinating, but one of the drawbacks of having so many participants is that you’re not always sure who’s speaking, even though Hartley makes an effort to identify them. Given the number of speakers and the complexity of the subject, Hartley does a remarkable job of steering the discussion and eliciting comments that supplement what’s on screen instead of just repeating it. The stories of Grant Page, a legendary stuntman, about working on Mad Max – including his frank impressions of its young and then-unknown star, Mel Gibson – are worth the price of the disc alone. But there’s much more.

    Deleted and extended scenes (58:55). There are 21 in all, and most of the material just couldn’t fit in the film, but it’s great stuff. I especially enjoyed the scenes from early films featuring veteran Jack Thompson, only one of which (Wake in Fright) gets extensive treatment in the main feature. Now best known in America for the occasional character part in films as diverse as Broken Arrow, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil or Star Wars II: The Clone Wars, in his heyday Thompson was the reigning male sex symbol of Australian cinema. One of the deleted scenes covers Scoobie Malone, which, among other things, featured one of the two women with whom Thompson was living at the time. (Of course, Thompson observes slyly, “that’s true of every second movie, really.”)

    Quentin Tarantino Interviews Brian Trenchard-Smith (12:59). Trenchard-Smith is the Australian director to whom Tarantino dedicated the Australian opening of Kill Bill at a glittering premiere in 2003, thereby scandalizing the assembled critical big-wigs. Clips of Tarantino sitting with Trenchard-Smith are scattered throughout the film, but this is a sustained conversation. Since it’s Tarantino, he does at least as much talking as the director he’s supposed to be interviewing. Then again, he probably knows Trenchard-Smith’s films as well as he does.

    Audio Interview with Director Richard Franklin (22:46). An audio-only interview with Franklin in front of what sounds like a film school audience. Franklin, who died in 2007, attended USC film school at the same time as John Carpenter, George Lucas, John Milius and other wunderkinder of 70s filmmaking, and he even managed a minor career on the fringes of American cinema, making Psycho 2 and F/X 2: The Deadly Art of Illusion. He tells wonderful stories about fascinating people, both famous (including Jamie Lee Curtis) and not so famous.

    Audio Pitches from Quentin Tarantino and John D. Lamond (1:23). Nothing subtle. The message is: We need money for this film!

    Image gallery (5:03). A series of images set to music. Some appear to be production stills, while others resemble lobby cards. Many of the images will be familiar from films profiled in the documentary.

    Trailers. The film’s theatrical trailer is included. Also included, both on the features menu and before the menu loads are trailers for Ong Bak 2: The Beginning, The Canyon, World’s Greatest Dad and HDNet and HDNet Movies. These are skippable via either the menu button or the chapter skip button.


    In Conclusion:

    Anyone familiar with world cinema knows that Australia produced masterpieces during this period, as well as the pop junk chronicled in Not Quite Hollywood. But don’t let the possibility that you may never want to see any of the films put you off seeing the documentary itself. The characters interviewed are as entertaining as any you’re likely to meet in a piece of fiction, and the film has been assembled with a storyteller’s gift for pacing and drama. Not every film they made worked, but this one does.



    Equipment used for this review:

    Denon 955 DVD player
    Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display
    Lexicon MC-8
    Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
    Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
    Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
    SVS SB12-Plus sub

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  2. Mark Edward Heuck

    Mark Edward Heuck Screenwriter

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    Good supplements for a great movie. Though I'm a little saddened that Magnolia did not follow the lead of the R4 Madman DVD, which provided a second disc that featured trailers for all the movies profiled in the documentary. Those were just as entertaining as the main feature.
     

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