The rise of digital video production and streaming networks has brought with it a crushing wave of fan-service documentaries, which are aimed with specificity at a panoply of nerdy devotees of niche subjects, from foods and fonts to all manner of media and collectibles. For the most part, these documentaries are made by fans for fans rather than inviting outsiders to uncover a hidden world — the equivalent of insular fan conventions — and their appeal largely depends on one's own attachment to that subject.
One of my favorite documentaries of this flavor is Mark Hartley's Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014), which covered the tumultuous and not always tasteful Hollywood careers of Israeli film producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. The golden age of Cannon coincided with my teen years, and reliving the squalid pleasures of Cannon's B-movie production line was a thrill on its own, but learning the sensational story of the bombastic and feuding cousins behind them elevated it from mere fan service to a compelling narrative, and Hartley delivered both with pace and style. A few years ago I heard about Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008), which catalogs the Australian exploitation movie explosion during the 1970s and 1980s. I didn't realize until watching that documentary this week that it, too, was directed by Hartley as his feature doc debut, and with all of the same energy and skill that later made Electric Boogaloo such a pleasure.
According to Not Quite Hollywood, Australia had no film industry to speak of until a couple of high-profile foreign productions inspired local impresarios by provocatively leveraging the remote country's exotic locations and peculiar culture. While Age of Consent (1969) brought movie star James Mason to the Great Barrier Reef, and Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout (1971) appealed to international art-house audiences with its contemplative visuals and unconventional narrative, it was Ted Kotcheff's great outback thriller Wake in Fright (1971) that evinced the cinematic possibilities of Australia's bold, visceral and bawdy personality.
So began the onslaught of crude sex comedies, like Alvin Purple (1973), crazy biker gang flicks like Stone (1974), and disreputable horror movies like Patrick (1978) that filled Australian drive-ins with thirsty teenagers and formed the nascent industry that would later develop and support respectable international film artists like Peter Weir, Fred Schepisi and Bruce Beresford. While the Aussie exploitation wave peaked shortly after George Miller's influential Mad Max (1979) — which improbably expanded into a Hollywood franchise with the action masterpiece Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) — rough-and-tumble sleazeballs like John Lamond (Felicity (1978); fittingly interviewed in a strip club), schlockmeisters like Phillipe Mora (Howling III: The Marsupials (1987)) and action mavens like Brian Trenchard-Smith (Turkey Shoot (1982)), kept plugging away with increasingly bizarre fantasies throughout the 1980s until the drive-ins disappeared and the new straight-to-VHS release strategy sucked the money and adventure out of the macho endeavor of "frontier film-making."
Not Quite Hollywood is a lot of fun, combining the natural appeal of sensational clips from over 50 sex-and-gore heavy romps with Hartley's skill at stringing them together at a blistering pace with choice quips from colorful talking heads, from integral producer Anthony "the Australian Roger Corman" Ginnane, to snobby critic John Ellis (who affectionately derides the entire era), acclaimed Hitchcockian director Richard Franklin (Road Games (1981)), and super-fan Quentin Tarantino. It plays like a moving watchlist of questionable drunken late-night cable picks. Just when the lively format is at risk of wearing out the audience at 103 minutes long (don't worry, there's something like nine more hours of material on the all-region Blu ray), Not Quite Hollywood ends with some of the emerging Australian genre filmmakers who grew up on the fruits of Ozploitation, most notably James Wan and Leigh Whannell, whose debut feature Saw (2004) was still fairly fresh and have since gone on to great success, and Greg McLean, who revived the Outback slasher with Wolf Creek (2005).
What Not Quite Hollywood lacks, compared to Electric Boogaloo, is a single central dramatic narrative arc; rather it's like nine or ten mini-narratives, all interesting, but none as gripping as the very personal Golan-Globus saga. Hartley gives special attention to the libertine ethos of the free-for-all 1970s with its performative heterosexuality and now-unfashionable hyper-focus on naked women (and a little barely apologetic nod to changing mores); he covers the begrudging assimilation of expensive and erratic American movie stars like Stacy Keach and Dennis Hopper; and he notes the admittedly lax safety standards on ramshackle low budget Australian film sets — plus some resultant near-misses, accidents, spontaneous brawls, and even some deaths — with a special focus on gonzo stunt man Grant Page. It's all great stuff for fans of this type of cinema, but could be just as easily watched in bits and pieces.
As I'm not as familiar with Australian exploitation film-making as I am with Cannon Films, Not Quite Hollywood afforded me more of an educational opportunity than a nostalgic one, and has added about 20 newly discovered titles to my "future guilty pleasures" watchlist. Hartley, it turns out, is something of a master of this particular crevice of movie anthropology, and has another feature about the commensurate boom of schlock film-making in the Philippines, Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010). He does an exceptional job as a curator and assembler, and now my own personal copy of the combo-packaged Electric Boogaloo / Machete Maidens Blu ray is in the mail on its way to my collection.