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Not Quite Hollywood salutes Down Under drive-in fare

Lively documentary substitutes energy for depth in its assessment of Australian B movies of the ’70s and ’80s

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The second-most entertaining thing about Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! are the war stories behind the makings of Australia’s sleazy, energetic genre films of the 1970s and ’80s. I particularly enjoyed hearing The Howling III: The Marsupials' auteur discuss the headaches of putting a werewolf fetus costume on a live mouse for a supernatural birthing scene. Another gem comes when Mad Dog Morgan’s director describes using a long stick to poke a half-blind, half-deaf elderly actor to signal his cue.

The most entertaining thing about Mark Hartley’s love letter to Down Under drive-in cinema, however, are the clips of the gloriously trashy movies in question. Not Quite Hollywood’s snappy editing turns the montages into veritable symphonies of T&A, car crashes, lame monster costumes, grisly violence or some combination thereof. While prestigious and provocative art house flicks such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and My Brilliant Career earned Australia a stellar reputation on the world cinema scene, the likes of Razorback and Turkey Shoot generally made profits and built an infrastructure for the country’s nascent film industry.

Hartley divides the documentary into three parts by genre: raunchy comedies and/or sex romps; shlocky horror flicks; and high-impact action movies, which reached their apotheosis with George Miller’s Mad Max. Apparently, Americans and Australians are among the few national film audiences that have a drive-in culture. The Aussies take fetishistic delight in photographing and smashing muscle cars. Kamikaze stunt man Grant Page serves as an example of the filmmakers’ seat-of-the-pants recklessness in the name of getting a good shot.

Actor/writer Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna Everage) reveals the recipe for homemade “chunder” for the vomit jokes in The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, a hit ocker comedy about an Australian rube bumbling about London. Hartley ties the rise of nudie films to the permissive attitudes of the 1960s, but overall knows better than to argue that Australia’s grindhouse fare has much sociological import, much less artistic merit. One particularly sepulchral film critic says one prolific producer’s work “should be burned to the ground and the ashes sewn with salt.” Nevertheless, the recent success of Greg Mclean’s Wolf Creek has helped renew appreciation for these all-but-forgotten B movies.

Not Quite Hollywood’s Atlanta release coincides with Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. As one of Hartley’s interviewees, Tarantino fulfills his other public role as the world’s most verbose and indiscriminate movie fan. He’s enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable, but it’s hard to trust his recommendations. You can take delight in watching the money shots of scores of Australian flicks in Not Quite Hollywood, while feeling relieved you’re not watching any of them in their entirety.

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