Before Mad Max, there was Stone – the 1974 bikie film co-written and directed by Sandy Harbutt. Harbutt, who had real-life connections with the Hell’s Angels, tells a gritty action-packed tale about a detective who goes undercover as a member of the Gravediggers – a fictitious Sydney bikie gang – to find out who is responsible for the assassination of some of the gang’s members.
Revered by Quentin Tarantino, Stone features in the classic documentary about Ozploitation, Not Quite Hollywood, directed by Mark Hartley, who we speak to here.
When did you first watch Stone?
That’s a good question! I really have no recollection [of] when I first saw Stone. It was a long time ago. I think the interesting thing is I saw [it] after I’d seen the films it very much inspired: The Man From Hong Kong and Mad Max. It’s kind of interesting when you see it in that order; you realise how much those films share: cast and crew and the whole gung-ho attitude, which we can [attribute to Stone’s] amazing stunt work and energy on screen.
Mad Max does borrow a lot from Stone, both aesthetically and in terms of subject matter.
I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I can easily imagine George Miller seeing Stone and saying, wow I love that cast! I’m going to use so-and-so and so-and-so. Also seeing it and going, I didn’t know that Australia could have that energy on-screen or put that stunt work on screen.
I think Stone proved to a lot of Australians that we can make these films that are very much the films that America was making for the drive-in circuit.
What do you think the reason is that Sandy couldn’t get funding to produce other films, despite the huge success of Stone?
On the Blu-ray, there [are] about two hours of interviews we shot for Not Quite Hollywood. There’s a 50-minute interview with Sandy and also one with David Hannay, the producer, and in that interview, David admits that he thought Sandy couldn’t get other films up because he scared people. He scared the funding bodies. You have to play safe with those people if you want to get your films made, and Sandy obviously didn’t play safe. He might not have had the temperament to [deal] with the way films needed to be financed back then, post-Stone.
The film has a tough exterior but is quite progressive in a lot of ways. It talks about environmental politics, sexual liberation, police brutality. Is this incidental to the subject matter, do you think, or was Sandy an actively progressive person for his time?
I didn’t know Sandy well, so I honestly can’t answer that, but he wrote the script! He and the cast lived the roles, so I assume a lot of Sandy ended up on screen. Just to be able to be in that mindset to write about those issues, certainly, they must have been important to him.
Can you tell us a bit about Not Quite Hollywood, which is being re-released in HD?
I was involved with Umbrella years and years ago. We put Stone out on DVD for the first time, so I got to know Sandy a bit better and then dealt with him more during Not Quite Hollywood. When Umbrella started their Ozploitation Classics Blu-ray label, they asked me to come in and help liaise between Sandy, and to [get] all the materials in shape and [get] everything as good as could be.
I felt a bit protective of these films after Not Quite Hollywood. I knew how much struggle we had to get that documentary made and to get the films looking as good as possible in that film. Blu-ray is the last format, probably, that we’re going to see as far as home media; if it doesn’t look good on Blu-ray… [That’s] going to be [a film’s] last shot of looking as good as can be.
Not Quite Hollywood is coming out next month. It’ll have a brand new transfer and an additional 50 minutes of the Tarantino interview – we’ve got about four hours of Quentin and I. [We] went through that and found the other interesting parts that never made it into the film and put those on there. That’s interesting too, to see him freeform for 50 minutes about his love of Australian genre [films].
What’s on the agenda next for you?
I’m still getting another narrative feature up, and I’m working on more documentaries. Things will happen! There will be films coming out with my name on them, ha ha!
I think it’s important that people support this brand. It’s not a cheap process to get this stuff out on Blu-ray, create our own masters, create our own extras, and get it out into the marketplace. The more people that support these titles the more we’ll be able to do a deeper dive into even more fun and obscure Australian titles.
Stone has been re-released on both Blu-ray and DVD and can be purchased on Umbrella Entertainment’s website. The Blu-ray edition of the title includes many extra features, including deleted scenes and extended interviews with Sandy Harbutt.
The Blu-ray of Not Quite Hollywood will be re-released in 1080P on Umbrella Entertainment’s website on May 5th. Extra features include a 16-page booklet and an all-new interview with Quentin Tarantino.