When it was announced that 'Not Quite Hollywood' director Mark Hartley was returning to Fantastic Fest with his new doc, 'Machete Maidens Unleashed,' it caused no small twinge of excitement. This time around, Hartley is focusing his cinematic microscope on the wild, weird, and unabashedly entertaining world of Filipino exploitation cinema. More specifically, the doc focuses on American studios coming into The Philippines to crank out a truckload of these films. While it doesn't have quite the flair and punchy pacing of the 'Not Quite Hollywood,' 'Machete Maidens Unleashed' provides the same treat for insatiable lovers of cinema obscurité. The list of interviewees that Hartley got for this film is extensive and chock-full of movie geek gold standards: Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Landis, R. Lee Ermy, and Pam Grier all lend their stories and insights into the insanity of this bizarre subgenre. If you found yourself taking extensive notes during 'Not Quite Hollywood,' prepare your must-see lists for another influx of schlock.
Cinematical was fortunate enough to sit down with Mark and talk a little bit about his background, his process, and why no one should underestimate the genius of 'Psycho II.'
Cinematical: Can you tell me a little bit about your background as a film fan? When did you sort of turn to the more obscure stuff?
Mark Hartley: I've just always been a kid who loves films. I used to love watching the Ray Harryhausen films: 'Earth vs. the Flying Saucers', the Sinbad movies, Ali Baba movies. All that stuff at midday matinees. So I used to buy any book I could find on science-fiction cinema and that kind of stuff. You eventually discover that a lot of the titles are a lot more interesting to read about than when you actually see them.
[Had to chuckle at that]
Hartley: That's what these documentaries are; they show the best bits. So, in a way, sometimes it's a lot more interesting watching these documentaries about the films than seeing them. With 'Machete Maidens', three of the books that were really important to me growing up as a kid were the Cult Movies books, volumes 1, 2, and 3, by Danny Peary. And interviewing Danny was a big thrill for me because those books were the ones that got us through film school.
Cinematical: I'll have to track those down. Yeah, it's funny because the documentaries both kind of amount to trailer reels. Sometimes you watch the trailers then you track down some of the movies and you think...the trailer was much better.
Hartley: It's interesting. All the stuff that features in the documentaries that you think are trailers, we've recut anyway. We use the voiceovers for the trailers and cut our own trailers; makes the trailers more exciting.
Cinematical: So you then make the trailers even further appealing. When did you get into documentary filmmaking. Was that the first type of film you always wanted to make?
Hartley: I've never been into documentary filmmaking. My background is in music video. I directed lots and lots of music videos in Australia; 150 or so. But I always loved these films when I was in film school and, particularly in Australia, I enjoyed our genre films more than our slow-moving period films. [Film School] is where I got to talk to the crews that worked on these films, and they just had amazing stories and that was part of the reason why I wanted to do 'Not Quite Hollywood'. I figured no one else is going to tell that story.
I was really good friends with Richard Franklin and he was a huge inspiration for me growing up; went to the same high school as me. I thought if a guy from the school I went to can go to Hollywood and direct 'Psycho II', who knows what could happen? So he was a big inspiration and part of the impetus of 'Not Quite Hollywood' is the fact that I knew that he never received any respect in Australia; wasn't even in any of the books on Australian film. Subsequently I became really good friends with Brian Trenchard-Smith and John Lamond and all those kinds of guys. After that I had no intention or plans to make any other documentaries. I wanted to make narrative features. It was interesting after 'Not Quite Hollywood', Jamie Blanks, who'd cut the film, said to me, "you're in a position now where you can make any documentary you want because people actually liked your last one. What would you want to do?" I didn't want to do anything, but I guess if I had to make another documentary so I could meet all my film heroes. The only thing I could think of was to do one about Corman and all his protégés: Dante, Arkush...
Cinematical: The class of Corman!
Hartley: Yes! They're the people I loved watching. I loved their films, I loved reading interviews with them because they're so passionate about films that they made you want to go and watch films. I was lucky enough when I was a kid to be on the set of Innerspace.
Hartley: I wandered on to the Warner backlot and they said I had to know somebody to actually get into the studio. I knew Richard at that point so I saw all these [parking spots] with names on them so I said, "well, I know Tom Holland" because I knew him as a friend of Richard Franklin's. And they buzzed me in! The only film shooting was 'Innerspace' so I knocked on the door and said I was a film student from Australia. Next thing I know Joe Dante is giving me a tour of the 'Innerspace' set.
Cinematical: That's an amazing story.
Hartley: So I mentioned this to Dante when I interviewed him for 'Machete Maidens' because it was the first time I'd seen him since. He said, "everyone tells me those stories, Quentin Tarantino tells me he was a guest on the set of 'Gremlins'!"
Cinematical: He does it so often he just doesn't remember.
Hartley: Right. So when I did some research into this project, it was originally a very different project. I convinced them to change it to do what I wanted to do which was to do a fish-out-of-water story about the Americans going to the Philippines so I could, basically, meet all these people. So it's a very mercenary project in that sense.
Cinematical: Much in the same way that many of the films featured in 'Machete Maidens' are mercenary projects themselves.
Hartley: I have to be honest, I didn't know anything about Filipino cinema. I didn't feel that I could make that documentary; a Filipino should make that. I at least felt that I could make the Australian one. But as a foreigner, I certainly didn't have any problems with writing a documentary about foreigners going over there to make films.
Cinematical: It's actually very apt considering your subject matter.
Hartley: Yeah. And it worked out much better for the project ultimately because when we got to the Philippines, these people had made so many films there that they couldn't remember working on them. They were shooting five films a week and have 400 hundred films in their filmographies. But the Americans, you know, it was such a culture shock for them that they remembered it like it was yesterday.
Cinematical: Very cool. Though you mentioned not having as extensive a background of knowledge for 'Machete Maidens'...
Hartley: And we had a very short time frame.
Cinematical: Absolutely! But essentially you are a film archivist. So talk to me about your process as such; perhaps in terms of 'Not Quite Hollywood'. How do you go through at this giant back catalogue of films and decide which you are going to feature? I'm sure there were plenty more that you wanted to discuss but jut didn't have the time.
Hartley: If you look at the deleted scenes on the 'Not Quite Hollywood' DVD, there's 80 minutes of deleted scenes. I mean, there were fully cut sequences for other films. With 'Machete Maidens', there's one deleted scene. So I knew that this was a much more modest film. We had a lot less money to make it, and we had a deadline that was really tight. We had to premiere in July and we shot our last interview in March. So I kind of did a crash course where I watched every film I could get my hands on. Pete Tombs wrote a book called Mondo Macabre, which has a really extensive chapter on Filipino cinema, which is what I basically used as my starting point. Also, Andrew Leavold, the guy who initiated this project, was a Filipino nut. So he had a lot of films he could send me.
Ultimately I did the research and worked out that we should tell the hemisphere story first; that's where it starts. And as far as the horror cycle goes, before that there were warfare films shot there, but that would be a very different documentary. Then that leads into John Ashley which leads into Corman which leads Cirio Santiago, so it kind of made sense as the route I needed to take. I thought if I concentrated on those main people, that's how I flush out the films. I also figured out that I should end when Corman leaves. So I kind of set my start and stop points and covered everything I could in between.
Cinematical: It's interesting that you started with the filmmakers and then used them as the timeline. I wouldn't have thought that would be the way you would approach it, but it makes perfect sense when you describe it that way. Who was been the interviewee that's impressed you the most either with their stories, their knowledge, or their personalities?
Hartley: It was a big thrill for me. We shot in Dante's office. There I am with Allen Arkish and Joe Dante sitting side by side. Dick Miller's wandering in to do an interview and Jon Davison is coming in next...it was fantastic!
Then we're on the set of 'Burke and Hare', Landis comes off a 23 hour shoot day, sits in the chair, and then gives us that stuff. It was incredible!
Cinematical: The John Landis stuff in 'Machete Maidens' is remarkable.
Hartley: And we was an incredibly nice guy too; it's great when you're not disappointed by your heroes.
Cinematical: With a lot of people, documentaries have this stigma of being boring. But your documentaries are completely different. They are as entertaining to watch-the way they're edited, the way their scored, etc-as the subject matter. Is this a deliberate approach?
Hartley: I make anti-documentaries. I haven't had any formal training in documentary. I call them rock-umentaries because I think they reflect my music video background more than anything else. They also reflect the subject matter. If you're making a documentary about this kind of filmmaking, these documentaries shouldn't be boring. I'm a filmmaker, but I'm a fan as well. I make documentaries that I'd like to see. I hope that there's a lot more people making these documentaries because I'd like to see them.
Cinematical: I would as well. Is there another obscure subgenre of film that you want to delve into?
Hartley: If I had to do make one more thing to finish off the trilogy, it would be the Cannon Films.
[He points at my teeshirt, which fittingly features the logo for Cannon Films.]
Cinematical: Well obviously I'm a fan of those and that's something I would love to see. Do you have a particular favorite Cannon release?
Hartley: It's interesting I cut a promo for the Cannon doco just to see if anyone would have any interest in it; we'll see what happens. So I watched a whole stack of Cannon Films; reacquainted myself with about 30 before I left. The one that I really love is the one that no one really talks about and that is 'The Ambassador'. It's a J. Lee Thompson film that's an Israeli take on '52 Pick-Up'. It has Robert Mitchum and Rock Hudson in it and is really fantastic.
Cinematical: I would love to see that.
Hartley: The project I'm currently working on is the 'Patrick' Remake.
Cinematical: Oh really?
Hartley: We've got a script, we're about to get it out to actors. We've totally reimagined the whole thing and it reads really, really well I think. So hopefully-Tony Ginnane is a producer on it-we'll see what happens. That's the thing we're going gung-ho on at the moment.
Cinematical: Well I definitely wish you luck on that one, because I would love to see it. It's been a real pleasure talking with you today.
Hartley: Fantastic, thanks.