Car flies through a caravan - Mad Max 1979
Car flies through a caravan - Mad Max 1979
Mad Max (1979)
Stories & Ideas

Thu 22 Oct 2020

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ACMI

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Get in, buckle up! We’re about to take a brief journey into a wild and weird part of Australia’s cinematic history.

Ozploitation is a term for a bunch of genre films that came out of Australia in the 70s and 80s.

Born from the ashes of an almost non-existent film industry, when the government of the time stepped up and decided it was time to get serious about igniting Australian film.

Establishing what would become the Australian Film Commission, along with other major initiatives to support domestic production of feature films, this sparked the Australian New Wave, which was led by films like Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career (1979) and Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975).

But beneath this Australian New Wave, lurked a body of films more focused on shlock and shock, than prestige and period drama. Coinciding with the introduction of the R Rating in 1971 and hinging on the revolutionary spirit of the 70's, some Australian filmmakers found box office success presenting a wilder side of Australia.

Breaking away from its Commonwealth connection, they celebrated thrills and spills marrying Australian larrikinism to American b-grade sensibilities.

In the US, these films screened in exploitation film houses, where they were lapped up by none other than the likes of Quentin Tarantino, who called them ‘Aussieploitation’ in Mark Hartley’s documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008)

A relatively recent term which Hartley refined from Tarantino’s original phrase, Ozploitation refers to Australian films that like their American counterparts profited by exploiting, trends, niche genres or lurid content, (sometimes all of the above) with a distinctly Australian flavour. While pushing the boundaries of censorship and the limits of tiny budgets, productions were often described as renegade, wild and sometimes dangerous with a DIY, make-do approach to filmmaking.

Legends were born in the performance and filming of death-defying feats like those in the Mad Max films, which become synonymous with some of the best car chases and stunts in the business. Balancing low-production value with an excess of genre, Ozploitation filmmakers favoured stereotypes and spectacle over story. They made a menagerie of genre films including action films, horror films, sci-fi's, comedies, road movies, sexploitation films, more road movies and even kung-fu films. Thriving in the drive-in circuit these films generously dished up explosions, car chases, gunfights, blood, monsters, mayhem, and a plethora of weird and wonderful characters framed against the Australian landscape.

These films have been described as crude, b-grade, shocking, outrageous, amazing, hysterical, rebellious, and everything in between. Among some of the more questionable titles, some real pearlers emerged, claiming critical success while others became cult classics.

Ozploitation played an essential part in the Australian film revival of the 1970s and has contributed a colourful, if not rather unruly, chapter to the history of Australian cinema. They played a defining role in representing Australia to the world and their legacy and influence can be seen today in contemporary cinema.

Check out some of the films or watch Mark Hartley’s documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! to delve comprehensively into this slice of Australian film history.

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