[Ozploitation Retrospective notes for Brisbane International Film Festival catalogue, July 2008]
The Australian film industry in the Seventies was like Janus, the two headed Hell Hound emerging out of the barren, Menzies-stained cultural wastleland. One shiny, perfectly manicured head was called Art - everyone said they loved Art, forever patting his head and saying "What a good boy. Have another bowl of Chabilis." The second head was called Artless, who smelt like damp carpet and was forever licking his balls in public. Yet despite his appalling lack of social grace, you can't help but fall in love with Artless. It just takes a while to get his unique fragrance out of the cushions.
Quentin Tarantino loves Artless too. During his 2003 publicity tour for Kill Bill, his love letter to Seventies kung fu movies, Quentin raved to blank-faced Australian journalists about his favourite Aussie filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith. Blank. The director of The Man From Hong Kong? Still blank. "But he's made a lot of films..."
In Not Quite Hollywood, Tarantino is finally given the floor to enthuse at length on what he coins "Ozploitation", a cathartic squall of cinematic excesses reflecting the drive-in explosion in America from a few years before. For a good decade following the early Seventies our screens saw sex and blood, druggery and thuggery, kung fu kicks, music, more sex and vicarious thrills nestling uncomfortably next to pinafores and period prattling. For every Hanging Rock there was a Hanging Cock, and during that brief, seemingly forgotten and arguably Golden Age we were a miniature colonial outpost version of B-king Roger Corman's genre sausage factory
And good riddance, some would say. For those fascist aesthetes who pass judgment on a film's cultural importance with bourgeois buzzwords like "significant" and "profound", Ozploitation is the steady drip that won't go away. Gleefully un-PC and revelling in their own shock tactics and gratuitous, cartoonish nudity and violence, the most despised of all genres - sex, horror, action, biker and kung fu movies - were also among the top-grossing Australian films of the decade. One could argue sex films helped bankroll a bona fide film industry:
Tim Burstall's success of fourwalling his first commercial feature Stork in 1971 led Roadshow to bankroll Burstall's Hexagon Productions and Alvin Purple (1971), the first homegrown sex comedy under the new R certificate, and the first legitimate hit for the emerging "New Australian Cinema". It's like the Mafia underwriting cheques for the Kennedy campaigns, but with less gunfire. And yet the debt to Alvin Purple is hardly mentioned, and never in polite company. In a country which canonizes its pioneers, cinema strangely pays little heed to its own trailblazers.
Only a few years before, it was considered a joke to call yourself an Australian filmmaker. The Lucky Ones could make a fortune in advertising rather than slave in our version of Poverty Row making formulaic product for television's unblinking Third Eye. Suddenly it seemed most of us woke up from our sanitized Anglophile daydream: to the naked ear there was an instant audience more than willing to pay to hear Sailor Talk with an "Orstraylian" accent. Then there was (is?) our primordial fixation on SMUT. Senator Don Chipp's aggressive campaign to introduce the R Certificate coincided with the tide of cultural and sexual liberation washing over the dry continent, and within a year the brittle, oppressive wowserism of the Menzies-era thought police was becoming a glaring anachronism. Which is not to say it atrophied and blew away. Richard Franklin's filmmaking career was almost crushed by a well-orchestrated campaign by the Festival of Light objecting to his R-rated yet thoroughly innocuous comedy The True Story Of Eskimo Nell (1975), and he resorted to a nom-de-plume for his second, more salacious offering Fantasm (1976).
Predictably, too much of a good thing left Aussie audiences bloated and jaded, and looking for new thrills. Between
And yet, even at their most repellent and exploitative, Australian B-films are well-crafted, belying their pitifully low budgets, and have an exceedingly liberal dose of self-awareness that's irresistible. Remember Janus the two headed Wonder Dog? It's still the same creature; the two heads are merely that arbitrary divide between Art and Artless, and ultimately are both needed for the creature to exist. Please keep this in mind when the Artless part is dry humping your leg and his breath smells like the death of fun itself.
A knowing satire on the Swinging Seventies and the Permissive Society, Alvin Purple uses the classic English sex comedy model of a hapless, clumsy innocent who becomes an inadvertent sex symbol, gigolo and porn star! Despite its "sex film" tag it was a smash and has an enduring popularity due to its good-natured humour and Burstall's quirky direction, Brian Cadd's hit film score, and an assured supporting cast loaded with familiar TV and film faces. Then there's the endearing Alvin himself, Graeme Blundell, whose portrayal as the Vegemite-smeared Candide is as iconic as the brown stuff itself.
Friday 1st August 2008 9:10pm, The Regent 1
Saturday 2nd August 2008 8:30pm, The Regent 1
The unlikely pairing of Village Roadshow and martial arts studio Golden Harvest produced
Sunday 3rd August 2008 9:00pm, The Regent 1
Purist, trashy, joyously exploitative drive-in fodder set in a "futuristic" jungle prison where detainees slated for brainwashing are subjected to endless all-girl showers and torture sequences, then forced to participate in a deadly man-hunt in the
Sunday 3rd August 2008 11:10pm, The Regent 1
One-shot auteur Sandy Harbutt wrote, directed and starred in Aussie bikerdom's uncompromising counter culture classic. An idealistic young cop dons the denims of biker gang the Gravediggers to uncover a serial killer in their midst; as Stone descends deeper into their culture he finds, between the knife fights, skinny-dipping and psychedelics, the meaning of the term Honour Among Thieves. Harbutt's sympathies clearly lie with the outlaws, a stance at odds with the biker genre's usual conservatism and faux morality. Stripped of Mad Max's futurist trappings, Stone thus stands alone as a compelling, not to mention career-killing mix of kitsch and conviction.
Wednesday 6th August 2008 9:30pm, The Regent 1
Bruce Beresford's technically rough, hilarious bad-taste ode to the wide-eyed and obnoxious Fosters-soaked Aussie abroad rips Barry Humphries' character from the pages of Private Eye and brings him to life in all his technicolour triumph, as he tears a swathe through English politeness along with his pre-Dame Auntie Edna (Humphries again, in one of three roles). As Bazza, Barry Crocker - yes, THE Barry Crocker - has the big chin, the potty mouth and glaring anachronistic "Strine" lingo, and the blissful lack of self-awareness that nail the script's satiric swipes at all and sundry. With cameos from Spike Milligan, Peter Cook, and various other "pommie bastards".
Thursday 7th August 2008 9:30pm, The Regent 1
Nature turns nasty in an underrated and, until recently, forgotten masterpiece of terror. Everett de Roche's remarkable two-character script pits a self-absorbed and relentlessly bickering city couple on a relationship-repairing beach retreat against an increasingly hostile, almost supernatural environment: birds swoop, the usually docile kangaroos slash and claw, and the reappearance of a dugong shot by Hardgreaves as target practice is harbinger of a fate which, to de Roche's credit, is never explained. Dark, suspenseful, ambiguous, and utterly enthralling, and hardly suprisingly, is due for a remake.
Friday 8th August 2008 10:50pm, The Regent 1
In conjunction with our retrospective focus, this panel will explore the history of Australian genre cinema and the industrial conditions which led to cult classics like Alvin Purple, Patrick and Turkey Shoot making it to the big screen.
Guests: Brian Trenchard-Smith (director, Man From Hong Kong/Turkey Shoot), Alan Finney (actor, Alvin Purple), Mark Hartley (director, Not Quite Hollywood), Antony Ginnane (producer, Patrick & Turkey Shoot)
Chair: Andrew Leavold
Saturday 2nd August 2008, 12pm GoMA Cinema A