Interview with Documentarian Mark Hartley
Mark Hartley never thought a documentary on obscure Australian exploitation films would have a theatrical release in America. “I was going to be happy if it played on television when the cricket finished early,” the affable 40-year-old Australian director said during a recent New York visit to promote his documentary “Not Quite Hollywood: the Wild, Untold Story of OZploitation.”
“Not Quite Hollywood” is a high octane, in-depth, “pedal to the metal,” documentary about the poor relatives of the Australian indie-art-house set – the genre films. In the 1970s Australian art films released in the U.S. had a pedigree of sophistication: “The Getting of Wisdom,” “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” “My Brilliant Career,” “Breaker Morant.” Almost forgotten are the Aussie genre films released around the same time to U.S. exploitation houses and nicknamed “Ozploitation.” These films lacked the “Made in Australia” imprimatur with subjects ranging from full frontal nudity sex romps to “Urban vulgarity, murder, rape and mayhem,” as actor Stacey Keach describes them in the documentary.
“I’m slightly too young to have seen these films at the drive-ins but I certainly did see them on television as a kid,” Hartley, a self-educated “Ozploitation historian” explained. “Even in their modified form they just were the most insane things I’d ever seen and I think it was because they were like the craziest American films but they had these Australian accents and Australian locations that I could identify with.” He asked himself, “When did we make these films?” Hartley found next to nothing about them in Australian film books. “There was this whole section of Australian film that was being totally dismissed,” he discovered. Hartley proceeded to do research, eventually compiling a 100 page document on the history of Australian exploitation films. However funding for the documentary was another story. “It was very hard to convince Australian funding bodies to fund a film based on films that they absolutely hated,” Hartley discovered.
Hartley sent his research document to director Quentin Tarantino, who Hartley knew to be an “Ozploitation” fan. The next day he received an email from Tarantino’s assistant: “Quentin’s read it cover to cover. What can he do to help you get the project made?”
Hartley used Tarantino’s participation as a calling card remembering, “The project was blessed in terms of people wanting to be involved. I think purely because everyone who was involved in this period was still fond of it. It was a training ground. There was a lot of affection toward these films no matter how good or bad they were. No one had ever asked them about them before. They never had a chance to tell these stories.”
When I think about repressive governments Australia usually does not enter my mind but as Hartley explained, “Reproductions of the statue of David were banned due to obscenity and people were arrested, thrown in jail, for carrying ‘Playboy’ magazine. It was full on in the late 60s. So when the R certificate (Austalia’s equivalent of the MPAA’s R rating) was introduced it opened up the flood gate for adult content on screen. It was liberating to Australia and that’s really what triggered this whole thing.”
“I think the censorship thing opened up the flood gate for Australians to make those sex comedies which put Australian voices on the screen,” Hartley continued, describing the feeling of freedom, “Maybe we can be interesting on screen. Maybe we can tell our stories and people will go and see them. (The movies) ‘Barry MacKenzie’ (1972) and ‘Alvin Purple’ (1973) happened, due to the R certificate. Australians are flooding to see Australian images on screen. They’re finally hearing Australian accents on screen for the first time.”
Hartley explained that prior to social changes in Australia in the late 60s and early 70s (similar to those in the U.S.), “We didn’t even have Australian accents on screen or on television. Australian actors put on British accents back in the 60s. Everyone sounded like a BBC news reader…The only time we heard Australian accents was when they interviewed a jockey, or something like that, a sportsman.”
The establishment (funding bodies), in reaction to the rise of Australian filmmaking asked “What kind of message do we want to send out about Australia?” The result was art house fare. Hartley explained that, in contrast, the genre filmmakers said, “We can invent this industry from the ground up. There are no rules. We want to make action films. We want to make horror films. Part of the energy to those films and the outrageous and outlandish images in those films is due to the fact that there were no rules. You could go out there and so long as you could work out how to do it out and not kill too many people in the process, you could get it on screen…I think there was a real Australian energy to these films that I don’t think you see in other films around the world. There’s a real can do ‘screw it let’s do it’ Australian energy which hopefully we capture at some point in the documentary.”
As for Hartley’s opinion of the current state of Australian films: “Let’s start making films that can take on the world. I think that’s the problem with (current) Australian films, that we stopped making films that competed and we started making very insular art house films that couldn’t even compete with art house films made anywhere else in the world.”
As for his own future: “I don’t think of myself a documentary filmmaker. I don’t ever want to make another documentary again. I’ve told the story I want to tell, and, you know, people seem to like it so that’s a good thing. Hopefully people will be able to walk away from it and see that there’s some vague story telling craft in there and I can get to do narratives.”
“Not Quite Hollywood” opens on July 31, 2009.