Australian cinema took a revolutionary turn in the 1970s and 1980s when Australian content saw a move away from the traditional coming of age style cinema, and instead towards outrageous, outspoken and often offensive genre content.
A prime example of such content is ‘Don’s Party’ – which can only be described as deeply profound and poignant. (Kidding, guys.)
Films falling within this style are defined as ‘Ozploitation‘ cinema, a term coined by filmmaker Mark Hartley. The phrase covers “horror/fantasy, period, comedy, art-house, pornography and ‘ocker’ comedy” (O’Regan 1989, p. 75) films that were popularised mostly through the 70s and early 80s. Such films, as displayed in the above trailer, are often characterised by low budgets, low quality production and an obsession with boobs and gore. Think ‘Turkey Shoot’, ‘Fair Game’, ‘Road Games’, ‘Mad Dog Morgan’ – the list goes on.
It is important to note that although some of the films produced in this time were successful, such as Alvin Purple or Mad Max, many failed to even make release. So why were so many made? This was largely attributed to the Whitlam government’s move away from intense censorship laws and the introduction of R ratings in 1971, which saw studios quickly taking advantage of their new found freedom (Daily Review 2014). This was paired with big tax breaks for film funders, seeing massive returns even on films which performed poorly. According to Cox (2009), such developments “… unleashed an avalanche of low-budget horror, action and comedy pictures. Gore, nudity, gross-out comedy and incontinent action engulfed drive-ins and fleapits.”
A half naked woman strapped to a monster truck in the outback. #Straya.
As a result, the quality of films ran second to the quantity (Burns & Eltham 2010) as producers and filmmakers were keen to churn out as much content as possible to generate cash flow. Cinema in this period according to Gilbey (2009) consisted of “beer-splashed sex comedies” during a time when “Australian cinema got its gear off and showed the world a full-frontal explosion of sex, violence, horror and foot-to-the-floor, full bore action” (Syvret, 2008).
Despite the quality of content throughout this period, Ozploitation films were actually produced during the height of Australian cinema. According to Burns & Eltham (2010, p. 105) it was during the 10BA period from 1981-88, when the tax incentive remained at at least 120 per cent, that 92 per cent of Australian films were produced. This surge in production also prompted a rise in private investment, which accounted for 95 per cent of feature film investment from 1981-82 (Burns & Eltham 2010, p. 105).
As evidenced by the graphs above, Ozploitation films really did grow the Australian film industry, with the biggest peaks following the R rating introduction and the 10BA incentive implementation.
So, what can Ozploitation tell us about the Australian film industry? Arguably it clearly demonstrates the industry should focus on moving back towards genre films. Perhaps not the red dirt and porn style – more along the lines of ‘Wolf Creek’. In the words of Aussie film fanboy and filmmaker extraordinaire, Quentin Tarantino, “Australian [Ozploitation] films were a lot of fun because they were legitimate genre movies. They were real genre films and they dealt … with the excess of genre” (Buckmaster 2016). It would seem, then, that Ozploitation cinema is not so redundant after all.
Australian Box Office 2009, Australian Films at the Australian Box Office, Film Victoria, Melbourne
Buckmaster, L 2016, ‘Quentin Tarantino: Australian films had a big influence on my career’, The Guardian, 15 January, viewed 15 January, <http://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/jan/15/quentin-tarantino-australian-films-had-a-big-influence-on-my-career>
Burns, A & Eltham, B 2010, “Boom and Bust in Australian Screen Policy: 10BA, the Film Finance Corporation and Hollywood’s ‘race to the bottom’”, Media International Australia, No. 136, pp. 103-118.
Cox, D 2009, ‘Why don’t Aussie film-makers produce more Ocker films?’, The Guardian, 16 March, viewed 15 January, <http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2009/mar/16/not-quite-hollywood-australian-films>
Daily Review 2014, ‘Five Essential Ozploitation Movies’, Daily Review, 21 November, viewed 9 December, < http://dailyreview.com.au/five-essential-ozploitation-movies/15950>
Gilbey, R 2009, ‘Australia’s underbelly’, New Statesman, 16 March, p. 51
O’Regan, T 1989, ‘Cinema Oz: The ocker films’, in A. Moran and T. O’Regan (eds), The Australian Screen, Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Books, pp. 75–98
Ryan, M D 2010, ‘A silver bullet for Australian cinema? Genre movies and the audience debate’, Studies in Australasian Cinema, vol. 6, no. 2
Syvret, P 2008, ‘Ozploitation’s triumphant return to the theatre’, Courier Mail, 2 August, viewed 9 December, < http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/eds/detail/detail?vid=7&sid=67c93d9a-c327-4071-8e33-450402d24479@sessionmgr4004&hid=4211&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU=#db=n5h&AN=200808021056568812>