If imitation is the highest form of flattery: What can the golden era of Ozploitation herald for the future of Australian cinema?

‘Ozploitation’ refers to a diverse series of Australian genre films produced during the 1970s and 1980s (eds Goldsmith & Lealand 2010, p.237). At this time, the relaxation of censorship laws and the introduction of the 10BA tax concession inspired the production of violent and vulgar sex comedies, horror movies and action thrillers (Martin 2010, p.13).

Ozploitation films collage

The history of Ozploitation reveals Australian cinema’s challenging relationship with the dominant Hollywood cinema. Throughout film history, Australian cinema has largely resisted popular movie genres in an attempt to differentiate itself from Hollywood (Mayer 1999, p.178, cited in Ryan 2010, p.845). Embracing commercial filmmaking with little concern for authentic representations of culture, Australian genre movies of the 1970s and ‘80s were openly derided by hostile critics championing quality Australian content (Ryan 2010, p.846).

All types of movie genres

Movie genres

Just as Australian cinema has sought to achieve difference and distance from Hollywood forms, themes, concerns and commercialism, Hollywood’s imperialising presence on domestic screens has created a set of viewing expectations that is American (Dermody & Jacka 1988a, p.12, cited in O’Regan 1996, p.117). This accounts for the Australian film industry’s failure to connect with local audiences who have been trained into accepting Hollywood protocols. As a result, Australian cinema is a ‘perpetually displaced national cinema’ (Dermody & Jacka 1987b, p.10, cited in O’Regan 1996, p.117) that has a long history of ‘cultural schizophrenia’ (Rattigan 1988, p.151, cited in Brabazon 2001, p.153), struggling to reconcile the competing demands of emulating Hollywood tropes of filmmaking and forging a unique national identity.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) poster

The revival of Australian genre films

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of genre filmmaking in Australia. While the institutions of Australian cinema have allayed their previous hostility towards genre films due to the need to improve the industry’s commercial performance (eds Goldsmith & Lealand 2010, p.21), academic and industry analysis continues to remain framed around the familiar narrative of Hollywood’s domination over the worldwide film industry and Australia’s inability to compete against a superior American product. This obscures the more pertinent discussion about the historical and cultural value of Australian genre films.

At the Australian premiere in Sydney of Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003), Quentin Tarantino, a long-time enthusiast of Ozploitation films, dedicated the film to Brian Trenchard-Smith and his film Turkey Shoot (1982) (Thomas 2009, p.93). Tarantino has also referenced a number of Ozploitation films, including a homage to Patrick (1978) in Kill Bill Volume 1, while the basic storyline of Death Proof (2007) is derived from the Australian action film Fair Game (1986) (Thomas 2009, p.93).

DVD cover of Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)

Quentin Tarantino’s cult classic Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)

Poster of Turkey Shoot (1982)

Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Ozploitation classic Turkey Shoot (1982).

Tarantino’s high esteem and appropriation of Ozploitation films challenges the belief that Australian cinema is scarcely exportable (Martin 2010, p.19). It also reveals that Australian genre films are not just recognised as copies of Hollywood tropes but are valuable in their own right (Thomas 2009, p.94). While this appeal may only be acknowledged amongst niche or cult audiences, the idea of low-brow, low-budget Australian films inviting overseas imitation remains striking.

It is well established that Australian cinema cannot compete against Hollywood’s preeminent market presence. With Hollywood cinema remaining the single most important influence on local consumption, the Australian film industry needs to progress beyond its preoccupation with emphasising national differences to understanding how Australian cinema can contribute to international entertainment genres within a unique national production system and cultural context. This entails a strategy of internationalisation and will depend upon breaking the insularity that confines Australian cinema to an oppositional rather than inspirational position in the global filmmaking milieu. Reclaiming Ozploitation films from an almost forgotten era in Australian cinema history will help to achieve this objective, projecting Australian cinema into the future and into the global arena of genre film production.

Watch Quentin Tarantino discussing his appropriation of the 1978 Australian Ozploitation classic Patrick:

Also check out this article reporting Tarantino’s favourite film of 2015.

Reference List:

Brabazon, T 2001, ‘A pig in space? Babe and the problem of landscape’, in I Craven (ed.), Australian Cinema in the 1990s, Frank Cass Publishers, London, p.150-158.

Goldsmith, B & Lealand, G (eds) 2010, Directory of World Cinema Australia & New Zealand, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Martin, A 2010, ‘Ozploitaiton compared to what? A challenge to contemporary Australian film studies’, Studies in Australasian Cinema, vol.4, no.1, p.9-21.

O’Regan, T 1996, Australian National Cinema, Routledge, New York.

Ryan, MD 2010, ‘Towards an understanding of Australian genre cinema and entertainment: beyond the limitations of ‘Ozploitation’ discourse’, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol.24, no.6, p.843-854.

Thomas, D 2009, ‘Tarantino’s two thumbs up: Ozploitation and the reframing of the Aussie genre film’, Metro Magazine, vol.161, p.90-95.

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One thought on “If imitation is the highest form of flattery: What can the golden era of Ozploitation herald for the future of Australian cinema?

  1. Pingback: Down the Yellow Brick Road: Guiding audiences to Oz cinema the key to success |

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