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The Wizard of Ozploitation

The Wizard of Ozploitation (photo)

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When “Kill Bill: Volume 1” premiered in Australia, Quentin Tarantino dedicated the film to one of his favorite directors, Brian Trenchard-Smith, whose name may not register if you’re not already a fan of schlock classics like 1975’s “The Man From Hong Kong” (the first Australian martial-arts film!) and 1983’s “BMX Bandits” (starring a young Nicole Kidman!). Featured prominently in Mark Hartley’s irreverently entertaining new documentary “Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!”, the English-born B-moviemaker was a key figure during the ’70s and ’80s Australian boom of exploitation films (“Mad Max,” anyone?) that rose after the Aussie censorship regime suddenly became more progressive. Since that crazy time when the limits were being pushed by such bold visionaries, Trenchard-Smith has made nearly 40 features, and as the lovingly curated clips in “Not Quite Hollywood” show, every last one is a scandalous romp. Just before going off to shoot his next picture, Trenchard-Smith spoke with me by phone about what puts asses in seats, directing sequels to other people’s films and Nicole Kidman’s former nicknames.

Could this boom of so-called “Ozploitation” films have happened today, or was that just a reactionary product of its time, with the introduction of the R-certificate?

I think it was a wonderful confluence of events in the entertainment universe, let’s say. Certainly, there was the relaxation of censorship restrictions and the joyous embracing of forbidden fruit that resulted at that time. Then there was a whole generation of Australians who — since the end of World War II, when foreign interest basically killed the indigenous film industry — had grown up that said, “Why don’t we have a film industry?” So that was coming to a boil as a sociopolitical movement: “We want to make our own films.” [All this] allowed us to catch up with the rest of the world to a degree, and you had the basic Australian adventurous spirit. We’re not going to totally obey the customs and formulas of established genres. We’re going to put our own antipodean twist to them.

Could it happen again today? I don’t know. It was a chemical mixture that came together right and produced an explosion of creativity, albeit in genres of cinema that didn’t get much respect. But people across the world, when they started to see these films, thought: “Woo! This is not your basic Hollywood cookie-cutter version of this or that genre. This has got a really interesting new flavor to it.” That was the gift, let’s say, the Ozploitation movement — Quentin’s term — gave to the Australian film industry renaissance.

What puts more asses in seats: sex, comedy, violence, or something else entirely?

You mean like animal husbandry? Maybe that’s the next taboo, “Brüno” meets “Doctor Dolittle.” [laughs] The combination of sex and violence has always been a potent one at the box office. It’s a delicate mixture — you don’t want to alienate your female audience by being excessively exploitative in the sex scenes, or so revolting in the violent scenes that it’s only a film for men. Comedy doesn’t travel internationally nearly as well as action. When I went independent from television towards the end of ’72, I made my first film, “The Stuntmen,” and I guess that points you in the direction of my area of interest. [laughs] I had determined that action was the universal currency of the movie market. A good punch-up plays just as well in Iceland as it does in Memphis.

To me, that was one way of getting a low-budget Australian film seen across the world. Give them acts of derring-do, laughs and gasps, amazing stunts, riveting action/violence, and as a result, my “Man from Hong Kong” in 1975 became the all-time box office champion of Pakistan, outgrossing the previous titleholders: “Cleopatra,” “Where Eagles Dare,” and I think “The Guns of Navarone.” That was indicative of the correctness of my philosophy at the time. Australia, [people] think it’s somewhere left of Austria or something. No one can understand the way we speak, the interesting way we treat vowels. And we certainly don’t have any stars to offer, so we better offer them something that they will always like, and that’s heavy duty action.

07282009_BMXBandits.jpgOn your blog recently, you mentioned you found Nicole Kidman overdubbed from a French language print of “BMX Bandits.” Where did you find that, and do you have any anecdotes about your time with Kidman?

I could write a book, but I perhaps shouldn’t. Firstly, I do troll the Internet, and often find whole sequences [from my films]. “BMX Bandits” was posted online in 12 different parts before the latest DVD version came out. I found an extract from what was obviously a French print or DVD. I thought that was interesting to look at the flavor of that dialogue scene, her introductory scene in the film, to see what it looked like in French. That made me think of whether someone who did her voice became a beneficiary of her ongoing career. It’s nice when that happens.

As far as Nicole is concerned, I think the Sydney Telegraph has a photograph of the two of us together, and she’s giving me a kiss on the cheek. Without that picture, there’s no point in mentioning the story, but I predicted [during] that interview with that journalist that she would be a star. She had just turned 16 — she was 15 when we shot the film — and I said that in every decade or so in life, she would be playing significant roles, and would probably end up in her 80s as a Katharine Hepburn-like, feisty grandmother. I still believe that is true. She had this innate grasp of interpreting the text in an interesting way, being natural but understanding the reasons of the line.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.