A look back at a pair of Ozploitation pseudo-documentaries that don’t quite hit the mark.
When I first heard about The ABCs of Love and Sex Australia Style, many years back, I found myself wondering just what sort of twisted perversions the Aussies got up to that they needed their own specific sex education film, specifically removed and considerably delayed from other global sex-ed sexploitation films that had proliferated in the late 1960s across Europe and America. Was it going to be full of weird rituals involving dingoes, wombats and kangaroos? Didgeridoo deviation?
Thankfully (or sadly – we’re not here to judge), there’s none of that in this 1977 addition to a genre that had been all the rage in America and Europe a decade earlier (and would be dramatically revived in Britain in the early Nineties with The Lovers Guide and a slew of explicit imitators that paved the way for legal hardcore). Under the stewardship of sexploitation vet John Lamond (who went on to the likes of Felicity and Nightmares), the film is a mix of well-meaning sexual liberation cheerleading, good old-fashioned exploitation and even some actual education, and as such manages to be considerably more entertaining than it should be.
Topped and tailed by some unsettlingly creepy claymation, the film takes us, letter by letter, through the world of sex – some letters obvious (O is for Orgasm; L is for Love; M is for Masturbation) and some perhaps less so (A is for Anatomy; F is for… fun?). The scenes are a mix of the sort of straight-faced educational stuff you could show in a classroom and more dramatic/humorous scenarios that include some mild nudity, all backed with the sort of breathlessly enthusiastic narration that anyone who has seen any sex education videos will know only too well. In fact, the structure of this film is not unlike those later productions – much more so than the rather drier films like The Language of Love or Love Variations that had been made previously, all sense of sexual pleasure stripped from them in the hope of placating the censors.
Things take a sudden swerve when we get to the letter L. For this sequence, Lamond decamped to Sweden to film some pretty explicit stuff – though the shots are brief and definitely not eroticised, this is unquestionably hardcore sex – again, much like the stuff you would find in those later sex-ed films and delivered with the same solemnity from the participants that always made those films acceptable as educational – show people enjoying sex and the viewer might presumably start to feel turned on – and that would never do. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this scene was cut from the original release.
There are other odd moments that stand out for various reasons – R is for Rape, and looks like it’ll be horrendously exploitative… which it would be if you removed the contextualising narration. As it is, the scene is a pretty unequivocal condemnation of sexual violence – but you wonder why it’s here at all unless men in the 1970s really did need to be told that it was unacceptable. Less forward-looking is H (for Homosexual), where the narrator assures us that homosexuality is normal and acceptable but the screen shows us a collection of mincing stereotypes and transvestites bitching and a couple of naked lesbians going at it, somewhat undermining the message of tolerance and normality.
Still, on the whole, this is entertaining stuff. None of it is at all sexy of course – the sex scenes range from numbingly dull to unintentionally hilarious – and much of it is, of course, extremely dated. The hairstyles in particular (on both the head and the pubic area) are very much of their time, for example, and the music is pretty abominable. But much of the information here remains surprisingly valid, the defence of sexual freedom (and condemnation of those who bring their kids up to be narrow-minded prudes) is admirable and the structure still works. There may have been no need for an Aussie-specific sex education film, but I’m glad one was made
Made two years earlier, Lamond’s debut feature is an odd addition to the sex and shock revival of the Mondo genre that emerged in the mid-Seventies – closer in style to lightweight softcore documentaries like This Is America than the more extreme movies of the era like Savage Man, Savage Beast and This Violent World. Unfortunately, Lamond’s film lacks both the jaundiced view of filmmakers looking at another country – the very thing that made This Is America and similar films so entertaining – and is far too dull to compete with even mid-level Mondo movies of the era.
Lamond follows the Mondo Cane structure of sex, shocks and sadism, flitting from the lightweight to the serious, the raunchy to the fluffy, as his cameras roam around Australia looking for odd behaviour and gratuitous nudity. Much of this will be overly familiar to the Mondo enthusiast – body painting, BDSM clubs, massage parlours, ‘exotic’ food (in this case, grubs and snakes), Satanists and strippers. The sobering part comes from a look at aborigines struggling with alcoholism and lack of purpose, though the sequence lacks the genuine indignation found in the best Mondo films – ironic, given how close to home this problem was to the filmmakers.
The film really needs some editing – there’s a lengthy gay marriage ceremony, which might have seemed sensational in 1975, but even then didn’t need showing in its entirety, and equally dull sequences covering Australia’s obsession with gambling and beer (something better explored in the fictional Wake in Fright), and UFO fanatics. These might be suitable subjects for a less sensationalist film, but here, they simply cause the movie to grind to a crashing halt, having neither the substance nor the insight needed to make such diversions work. A lengthy sequence with the spectacularly godawful performance artist/comedian/cock Count Copernicus will also test your patience.
There is, at least, a copious amount of nudity, as the film visits nude beaches and looks at ‘food sex’, porno film production and assorted types of erotic art in a sterling effort to cram as much bare flesh as possible into the proceedings. There’s rarely more than about five minutes of footage without a naked girl, and the film ends with an underwater sequence showing Gina Allen snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef – an attempt to wrap things up that doesn’t quite give the film the philosophical ending that the best Mondo films manage so effortlessly but at least attempts to make some point about the connection between the natural world and naturism.
In the end, Lamond’s film is a game attempt at copying the Mondo film style, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. The pacing, the content, the narration and the music all fail to create a sense of being taken on a journey that the best films in the genre have. These films are much sneered at but the best were created with a sense of narrative structure and artistic creativity that made them genuinely compelling viewing. Australia After Dark, on the other hand, just seems to be clutching at straws. Perhaps the country just wasn’t that exciting a place in the mid-Seventies.
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The Naked Bunyip is another Ozploitation film in similar vain. The censor cuts are interesting to say the least. In one segment, a doctor is describing some of the implements used by back street abortionists. This list was bleeped, presumably as the censor deemed it too shocking for delicate ears, or perhaps because abortion was illegal at the time. The wikipedia article gives a good history of the film.
Yes, I remember this – I actually have the poster for it and heard about the assorted controversies surrounding it.. Yet somehow or other, I’ve never actually seen the damn thing.
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