THE release of Mark Hartley’s sprightly documentary about the other Australian film industry of the 1970s and ’ 80s, Not Quite Hollywood , resulted in an orgy of re-releases of the film’s subjects.
This month, Dead-End Drive In , Patrick , The Man From Hong Kong , Felicity and Stunt Rock join the litany of Ozploitation films that have found new life, in some instances in brand new, pristine transfers to DVD.
Of course, many are of niche interest; others are of absolutely no interest, no matter how pumped up their expat auteurs may be with this renewed attention and, if they’re lucky, critical re-evaluation.
Which is all well and good, but what of the pre-1970 Australian films? We accept the ’ 70s threw up the Australian new wave, regarded as a real film industry and driven by names such as Weir, Beresford, Miller, Schepisi and Gibson, and a concurrent Ozploitation wave of less-esteemed B and C-grade movies and filmmakers.
They have been very well served by the domestic DVD industry, which is re-releasing many films with abandon.
But that same DVD industry is neglecting the films made here before 1970, which is saddening. Where are the old Dad and Dave films, The Sundowners , Jedda , 40,000 Horsemen , Eureka Stockade ?
Access to these films is complicated by complex copyright issues. To track down rights could be a never-ending journey, although I will start doing some tracking myself in the weeks ahead.
So back to the Ozploitation films. In one sense, the repackaged products released by the Umbrella, Shock and Madman companies are more interesting than the films. Some of the extras or commentaries on these often dubious films are more involving than the features.
The new edition of Brian TrenchardSmith’s Stunt Rock is a case in point. The director is honest enough in his commentary to show some perspective and not indulge in desperate self-justification.
How could you be too serious about a film starring stuntman Grant Page, playing a stuntman in LA who, in his spare time, helps a rock band called Sorcery with its on-stage wizardry? And to think Trenchard-Smith wanted Foreigner to play the band.
It’s fun listening to Trenchard-Smith and his stars Page and Margaret Gerard discuss a film made in the days when Australian filmmaking was rough and always ready.
And that readiness is shown brilliantly in Trenchard-Smith’s 1973 documentary The Stunt Men, included as a special feature on the Stunt Rock DVD.
The sight of shirtless, hairy Aussie men of the ’ 70s, with ciggies permanently attached to their lower lip, throwing themselves off cliffs, driving into each other and falling off horses reminds you how — how should we say it? — soft Australian films are today.
And low-budget. For God’s sake, the doco features a television ad filmed for a motorbike shop in Sydney’s Gordon that has more action than all but two of the Australian films released last year.
There is a roguishness to these accomplished stuntmen that is very understated Australian. Bob Woodham notes drily, after talking of a car-plunging-into-ariver stunt that went awry, ‘‘ drowning is not a good way to die’’.
And Page, possibly our greatest stunt artist, blithely careers down a flying fox in his Speedos from a launching pad 53m above Sydney’s The Gap.
But nothing tops Trenchard-Smith’s confident declaration that a new firerepellent gel product is so safe, he’ll set his own arm on fire for the camera; he thereafter proceeds to burn the bejesus out of it. The Stunt Men certainly chronicles a different time.
bodeym@ theaustralian. com. au
Playing pool: Stuntman Grant Page