Two years ago one of my absolute favourite films of the festival was this documentary called Not Quite Hollywood, a whiplash-inducing tour through the glory days of Australian exploitation cinema. A rare Midnight Madness doc, it was as wild a ride as any other flick I saw that year, and (temporarily, at least) renewed my love of great trash cinema, which had been waning in a morass of semi-respectable mainstream viewing habits and the death of VHS. Plus, I won a copy of the companion guide to Ozploitation when director Mark Hartley liked my Q during the Q&A following the screening, so I was actually pretty psyched to catch the Aussie director’s latest exploration of the world’s cinematic underbelly, Machete Maidens Unleashed!, a survey of the glory days of Filipino trash cinema. Which is, when all is said and done, really only part of the story. What the doc is truly about is the American style, specifically the Roger Corman school, of low-budget filmmaking, specifically as it applied to shooting in cheap locations, even in a country under a fascist dictatorship such as the Philippines.
And it was, as you can imagine, a great ride once again. I can’t rave quite as much about this one as I did about Not Quite Hollywood, I suppose because there were fewer films on display here that I’d be curious to actually see. I rambled on in my 2008 review about how I didn’t leave trash cinema, it left me, so I won’t rehash it here, but the flicks excerpted in this year’s montages are more the type of junk I’d rather see Mike Nelson and the ‘bots decimate verbally than actually sit through myself, though the record-setting abundance of T&A in the clips would no doubt disqualify most of these movies from SOL screenings. What really stuck with me from this screening was, once again, a sad sense of a bygone era the likes of which we’ll never see again, when one could rise through the filmmaking ranks of Hollywood by starting off sweeping floors at New World pictures and moving up to a director’s chair in a few months. Or when a word like “exploitation” hadn’t been Dworkin’d to death and could be used in the spirit of fun and daringness. The drive-in era was already winding down when I became a movie viewer, and the death of VHS and straight-to-video cheapshit actioners sealed shut forever a certain brand of filmmaking for which I have completely unearned affection. Much more than a tour through the wacky cinema stylings of southeast Asia, Machete Maidens Unleashed! is much more elegiac and melancholy than I think Hartley intended it to be. When I spoke to him after the show and commented that I wish I’d gotten to L.A. twenty years earlier because of the opportunities that were simply not there anymore by the time I arrived, he laughed and said “Well, imagine being born twenty years too late on the other side of the world!” Point taken. (***1/2)
Two movies to look forward to on my first official vacation day: a Midnight Madness creepy sci-fi flick and a Belgian crime drama. That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.