Mark Hartley is an Australian filmmaker best known for the hugely entertaining look at the raucous and imaginative 70s and 80s new wave of cinema from his home country in documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!
He’s remade one of those films from that era (the 1978 psychokinetic –tinged horror film Patrick) and we recently spoke to the director about his past work and the decision to use this project as a springboard for launching his narrative career.
Mark Hartley: It’s kinda interesting with remakes. We wanted to be respectful [to the previous film] but obviously we didn’t want to make the same film again and we never felt like we were remaking someone’s film during the shoot. Hopefully that comes across in the execution.
What is your take on remakes in general? Do you think there any which surpass the original?
I think with horror films, there are certain ones which should be just left alone. You need to find the right material. [The original] Patrick was great because it wasn’t considered a classic or no one thought it was untouchable. We could bring something new to it. There’s certainly a lot of film which should be left alone. I heard they’re remaking Dr. Phibes and Colossus: The Forbin Project – great films which shouldn’t be touched at all. I felt the same with [the remake of] The Taking of Pelham 123. The original is such an amazing film, why even think of changing it?
Given your documentary Not Quite Hollywood, you’re obviously well-versed in the films from the Ozploitation era. What was it about Patrick in particular where you saw the potential for a remake?
Towards the end of making Not Quite Hollywood in 2008, it seemed every film that had ever been run through a projector was being remade in America. Justin King, my researcher on that film, asked me which of the films we were documenting did I think would be most ripe for a remake. I always thought Patrick had such a great central premise. He’s a guy with unlimited powers, and if he wanted to use them he could control super computers, but he’s got very limited ambitions.
We thought that was such a great premise which could lend itself to being re-imagined. Most people would assume you’d go hi tech with it and do something similar to a ‘Bourne’ Patrick, but we thought we’d take the technological advances [since the first film] in a setting that was probably even more of a throwback than the original. We wanted to give it a very gothic, atmospheric feel. That was the pitch to the film’s producer Tony Ginnane, and he really liked the idea. He had been trying to get a remake of the film up and running or a while and every treatment he’d received basically turned Patrick into Freddy Kruger. We had a very different idea so Tony went away and found the funding for the film.
Because you did Not Quite Hollywood do you think it was easier to get the money because you were already steeped in that world?
I don’t really know how I’m received as a filmmaker because, originally, I never wanted to be a documentary filmmaker or had plans to be one. People really responded to Not Quite Hollywood and suddenly I was known as a documentary filmmaker. I had made around 150 music videos before the film so that was kind of where my aesthetic was. I always wanted to be a narrative filmmaker and I always thought music videos would be the stepping stone to that world. It just so happened that a remake of Patrick by the guy who had written the book on Ozploitation made a little more sense. I guessed it did help [with getting the funds] in that way.
Brian De Palma’s regular music collaborator Pino Donaggio composed the music for Patrick. He’s done a fantastic job. How did you managed to get him on board?
He’s my favourite living composer and all through the production I was listening to his work. The guy who directed the original Patrick, Richard Franklin, was a Hitchcock protégé and it’s very much his interpretation of that director. I come from a generation past Richard so my filmmaking heroes were those deeply inspired by Hitchcock – De Palma, [Dario] Argento. We wanted to pay homage and make reference to their films in our production. There are lots of split optical shots [in Patrick] which are very De Palma, and there’s high angle shots which are straight out of Argento films. Donaggio was the guy I was listening to while writing the script and doing the shot list.
All along the production, my producer kept reminding me that we needed to find a composer. I suggested we wait until we had a cut, bite the bullet and try and see if Donaggio would do it. We all thought it was a crazy idea and there would be no way in the world that we’d get him to compose the score for a pretty modest Australian genre film, but I send him my directors cut and he really liked it. It said it reminded him of watching Carrie for the first time. It was one of the single greatest moments of my life. I love the score. Normally when you temp track a film, the actual score you end up getting for the film is never as good as the music you initially put down, because you always fall in love with that. This score just blew all that stuff away. I think it really helped set the sensibility of the film. From the first frame and that first note from Pino’s score you really understand that the film is something of a throwback to the kind of films which aren’t necessarily made anymore. To be honest, I think the film isn’t worthy of that score (laughs).
How did you find that switch from documentary to narrative? I suppose your work on music videos helped?
The one thing I missed while doing documentaries, as opposed to music videos, was having a family of crew around me. It was great to reconnect with many people who I’d worked with early on during my music video career. I’ve worked with Patrick’s DP for 20 years and I’ve done over 50 music videos with the film’s production designer. It was great getting the team back together.
Charles Dance and Rachel Griffith are fantastic in the film and really get behind the style and what you are going for. Dance, in particular, makes that menacing character look effortless.
He does. He kept asking me between takes if I had any notes and a said I didn’t have any and told him it was amazing for me to be sat there and watching him breathe life into the lines of dialogue. When I was watching him perform all I kept thinking was that he was channelling Peter Cushing. He was such a lovely, great guy to work with, too. If I get to make another film and get a cast as equally as wonderful as whom I had in Patrick, I’d be a lucky guy.
Could we talk briefly about your documentary follow up to Not Quite Hollywood, Machete Maidens Unleashed! It looks like an intriguing film (it covers the US-produced exploitation films made in the Philippines in the 1970s and 1980s) but it never made it over to the UK.
It was actually made for Australian TV. We expanded it to a feature-length version for festival release. It played at the Toronto Film Festival and Fantastic Fest. It got a DVD release in the US, but it was very modest compared to Not Quite Hollywood. I got involved because the makers originally wanted to do a total Filipino exploitation film. I thought they needed someone from over there to actually make it, but I said I would be happy, as an outsider, to document the likes of Roger Corman and the other Americans filmmakers who went over there to make stuff.
Corman would travel over and make films about women in prison and revolutions while the country was under a very strict regime and martial law. The local filmmakers couldn’t even make those types of risqué films. They’d get marched out into the jungle and never seen again. With both of these documentaries, I only made them to meet my heroes. With this one, it was a chance to meet those who had been mentored by Corman, such as Joe Dante.
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I’ve just finished my final documentary. It was completed literally four days ago. I’ve been in a bunker for the last six month finishing it so now I’m ready to start getting the next narrative up and running. I don’t know what it will be yet, but I hope it comes very soon.
Are you able to reveal what the documentary is about?
It’s called Electric Boogaloo and it’s about the untold story of Cannon films. We managed to shoot 90 interviews for it and it covers the whole history of Cannon. It’s a pretty irreverent and honest look at the company. There’s a Facebook page up and running for anyone interested.
Patrick is out on DVD now.