Review by Jane Freebury
Movies from down under that ‘shocked audiences the world over’ is quite a claim, and on the strength of what we see in this remarkable, hyper-active doco on the exploitation genre movies made here 30 years ago, there’s a good case for it. Only recently I read that Australian movies were the kind of films ‘you watched in school’. Not if we’re talking Ozploitation, they weren’t.
Somehow, some way, Australian genre movies packed with wild action, violence, sex and schlock horror and found their way to Quentin Tarantino growing up in California, a high school dropout working in a video store. What did he see? He saw ‘marauding packs of bullies who roamed the highways’ looking for people to mess with, he saw amazing wild stunts – and movies that fetishised cars.
After cars, come the sheilas of course, and as Jackie Weaver, Rebecca Gilling, Sigrid Thornton, and Wendy Hughes say in their interviews, practically every female actor was expected to get her gear off for the camera. And that meant floodlit, full frontal nudity. To then be reviewed for the state of their naughty bits, rather than the quality of their acting. R-rated films, banned in Australia until 1972, were still a novelty and the new liberalism hadn’t yet heard much of feminism.
It’s such a good story, I don’t know why Hartley felt the need to tell it at breakneck speed. Still, it reflects the energy and exuberance of the times. What Mark Hartley’s film captures so well, with bravura editing and enough material for three films, is the brief dawn of a very different kind of cinema that we very nearly had, but it was nipped in the bud by government policies that preferred to nurture the kind of European arthouse and social realist cinema that put Australia in a good light. What Hartley says isn’t new. Australian film was at a crossroads in the late 1970s to early1980s, when the enormous popular support base created for films like The Adventures of Barry McKenzie and Alvin Purple could have pushed Australian cinema in quite different directions.
Political correctness and feminism looked a long way off in those heady days and even on-set safety was for wimps. Our most famous stuntman Grant Page was at his zenith then and can be seen, jumping backwards, clothes ablaze, into a rock pool thirty feet below. It was a time of high-risk, maverick filmmaking with high-speed chases on the open highway, without police permission, without anything wimpy like OH&S. ‘We just shot’, they say. Just amazing that so many of them lived to tell us the tale, is all I can say.
In a capsule: A hyper-active, eye-popping doco about the Ozploitation genre films made in Australia thirty years ago. It’s a great story it didn’t need to be told at breakneck speed, but there’s a wealth of material here put together with great panache. Enough for three films, really.