There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Not in my world. I just don't believe in that phrase, and in fact, it suggests to me an insecurity about what other people think of your opinion. I'm not guilty about the films that give me pleasure. I see so many films every year that when I like one, I like it. Period. Spending time worrying about whether it's a "guilty pleasure" or not seems silly. I have a real affinity for exploitation trash, and at its best, I think the pleasures it offers are as substantive as the most slickly-produced Hollywood "prestige picture," and in many cases, more so.
When I sat down to watch Mark Hartley's absolutely amazing "Not Quite Hollywood," I was expecting a bunch of good clips from Australian exploitation films, and little else. Instead, what I got was a reminder of why I was first drawn to the idea of filmmaking in the first place, the raw energy of it, the desire to muscle these ideas in my head up onto a movie screen using brute force. More than anything I can remember seeing recently, "NQH" is absolutely drunk on sheer love of moviemaking. You watch the stuntmen in this film and the insane things they did for various filmmakers, and it's a wonder anyone survived the '70s in Australia. There's a reason "Mad Max" and "The Road Warrior" happened there... they are tied inexorably to the overall environment in which everyone was making movies. Where else would you find those roads and those stuntmen and that sort of abandon?
It's fascinating to watch the evolution of the Australian film industry from the early early days to what it is now, and how many of the major A-list players got their start making this sort of no-budget madness. More than that, though, there's a sensibility that evolved that is absolutely still present in the work of, say, Baz Luhrmann or George Miller, although it's obviously evolved somewhat. I admire the fact that none of these people feel any guilt about their own work in the past. No one interviewed here seems to feel like these are the movies they'd rather forget. They seem to (rightfully) feel real pride over what they did, and they should. Hartley's film should kick off a new appreciation of the variety and the wit of Ozploitation, and I hope people go digging to uncover as many of these movies for home video as they can.
One experience I had recently sums up just how much the people who made these films still look fondly on the work they did. When I was coming back from London, I was flying business class, and I ended up in a middle section on this Air France jumbo jet, along with a couple. They were all lovey-dovey, obviously more interested in each other than anything else going on, and I did my best to tune them out. I had my laptop open, and I was writing a few reviews while I was watching a film. When dinner service began, I took my headphones off, and the woman sitting next to me asked about the reviews. I explained that I write about films, and we started talking about movies. Just general stuff at first, but then she told me how she used to be in films, years ago. She said she was married to John Denver for a while, and she'd ended up more involved in music than anything, but at the start of her career, she'd made several films in Australia. She said she'd been in John Duigan's first film and did I know who he was? Of course. I told her that Australian film had been on my mind recently because of this great documentary I saw, and before I could tell her the title, she said, "Oh, I'm in that."
"You're in 'Not Quite Hollywood'?"
"Yes. They interviewed me for it, and one of my movies is in there."
"Oh, that's awesome. Which film?"
"Do you remember the movie called 'Fair Game'?" she asked.
And without meaning to, I loudly blurted, "OHMYGOD YOU WERE THE NAKED CHICK TIED TO THE FRONT OF THE CAR!"
Ignoring her fiancee's puzzled look, she exclaimed, "YEAH! THAT WAS ME!"
And seriously... not a moment of hesitation. Cassandra Delaney (I had to figure it out later, since I didn't catch her name on the plane) was as proud of the film sitting on that airplane 20 years after it came out as she was of it when it was released, I'm sure, and she's right. With the way video works now, these films are still brand-new to a lot of viewers, and guys like Mark Hartley are doing their part to give them a second life that they so richly deserve. In terms of pure joy, this film ranks second only to "The Good The Bad And The Weird" for me in 2008, and I hope you all check the movie out when Magnolia Films rolls it out in the spring of 2009.