ON LOCATION WITH BRIAN TRENCHARD-SMITH
The exploitation movie has a long and undistinguished history. But that's cool - that's Trash! - because exploitation movies aren't terribly interested in winning awards, or being applauded for their
prestige. But like every movie ever made, exploitation movies are designed primarily to make money; only exploitation movies are honest enough to admit it, and unpretentious in the sensational way they go
about it. And if in the process they also make a statement, contain some sort of artistic credibility as the best of them, like all films, can do - then all the better.
So it's by no means necessarily a put-down to describe a film as an exploitation movie, despite the connotations of the term.
But how can you pick an exploitation movie? Well, they're usually low-budget, or B-grade, but more importantly they like to latch onto issues or feelings, or even simple fads, that have already captured the public imagination, to which tried-and-tested formulae of story-telling are applied.
Sex and violence are staples that have fueled countless films, exploitative or otherwise, and horror/fantasy/science-fiction have always been reliable exploitation movie material. But it's more
topical subjects that make for really classic exploitation movies. Like, for instance all those beach party movies that starred Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, which were not only inspired by the emergence of surfing and its sub-culture but also crossed-over with the ever-prime youth/rock'n'roli market. Now you gotta love those films, and yet what’s loveable about them is their incredible naivety and dumb cuteness...
This is indicative of the way exploitation movies have come to be regarded as kitsch. The only thing these cult films win are Golden Turkey Awards. So even if it's inadvertently they must say something.
In these, err, troubled times, the reactionaries want to hunt out the reds under the bed, while the doves among us are afraid of the whole world going up in a nuclear thundercloud. Either way, paranoia is rampant; and the cinema has naturally moved in to exploit this in its audience. Beyond Thunderdome presents us with a picture of the post-holocaust future, and we revel in it. The Mad Max movies have set precedents which other exploitation movies will doubtlessly follow for years to come.
In the original Mad Max, the setting wasn't so obviously post-holocaust, it was merely an ambiguous urban wasteland where all the action was self-contained on wheels. It's in a similar environment that the tale told by Dead-End Drive-In takes place.
Currently in production on location at the old drive-in at Matraville, in Sydney's south, Dead-End Drive-In (catchy title) is an exploitation movie in the finest tradition. With a budget of just over $2 million, it's not cheap, but it's not real expensive either. Based on a short story by last month's flavour Peter Carey (author
of Bliss), the film is set, almost abstractly, in a decaying urban Australia (future? present?), where cars, again, are the only real remaining form of currency. A Kar Kulture. It turns out that the Star Drive-ln is effectively some sort of prison, from which our hero 'Crabs', who had innocently enough borrowed his brother's prized '56 Chevy to take his girlfriend out in, plots to escape. And he thought all he had to fear were the marauding Karboys...
On location at Matraville, ironically only moments as the Monaro flies from where parts of Beyond Thunderdome were shot, the old drive-in has undergone a transformation. It looks like a cross between
a refugee camp and a wrecking yard. Not for Dead-End Drive-In the stylized, super-slick look of Street Hero.
"I was shown some photographs of New York Subway grafitti," says director Brian Trenchard-Smith, "and the look of the drive-in was born out of that. And obviously also to the internal logic of the situation, people living in their cars, dictated a great deal of the extraordinary design."
With credits dating beck to The Man from Hong Kong and including BMX Bandits, Brian Trenchard-Smith is a maker of exploitation movies par excellence, and thus well-qualified to direct Dead-End Drive-In.
A lot of the film was being shot at night; late on this afternoon, despite the chill that's encroaching as the sun dips, the atmosphere on the set is one of enthusiasm and assurance. A shot of a scantily-clad female
extra climbing out of the back of a police van, followed by a paunchy policeman zipping up his trousers, is smoothly gotten - "Print it” - before darkness falls completely.
"I make films for an audience," says Trenchard-Smith. "That's my bag, some people make films for themselves, I make them for an audience. I generally target an audience before making a film - who are we making this film for?"
Dead-End Drive-In, then, is aimed directly at the youth-market, which, after all, now comprises the biggest proportion of cinema-goers. The cast, which includes Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry and even
multi-media mega-star Wilbur Wilde, is young and attractive, and 'exciting', appropriately decked-out in car crash-chic. So with the right pacing and soundtrack, assuming the script is up to scratch, Dead-End Drive-In will have all the elements in alignment.
"The NSW Film Corporation really like the Peter Carey short story," Trenchard-Smith told me. "They felt it could make an interesting, unusual new film, combining, oh, political allegory with, well, youth-orientated action-adventure. I'm trying to bring to it a certain element of black comedy as well. So it will be a multi-layered film, a different film, which is what I believe you've got to be making these days."
Tina Turner may proclaim "We Don't Need Another Hero" after Beyond Thunderdome, but obviously Dead-End Drive-In hopes to make one out of Ned Manning, as Crabs. What, then, will he stand for?
"I'm paying a great deal of attention to the role-model Crabs represents," Trenchard-Smith said, "When the piece first arrived at my door, he was more of a callow, slightly loutish young man trying to
compensate for his slightness of stature. Without losing any interesting character flaws I've been careful, though, to make sure he doesn't approve of drugs, he's anti-racist.
"He's still a little man trying to be big, or a boy trying to be a man. Everyone will identity with him. He's a boy in every suburb. He fights back against the system when he recognizes it's unjust."