Mad MaxAustralia 1979
Directed by George Miller
Running time 88 minutes
is essentially an exploitation film but in the hands of George Miller, a one-time medical doctor who turned to a career in film, it offers a good deal more. Indeed, that something more, a remarkable flair for the dynamic potential of cinema lifts the film beyond its trashy peers and turned it into one of our most internationally recognized films. An enormous financial success (it took over $100m worldwide) it spawned two big budget Hollywood sequels (a third is currently in production) and made a star of Mel Gibson, then in only his second feature film.
Owing much in basic form to the Western and in particular the Spaghetti Western the story takes the basic town marshall versus no-account badmen scenario and exchanges it for a road patrol officer, Max Rockatansky (Gibson) versus a gang of marauding bikies. That’s pretty much it plotwise but Miller’s film is not about story or even character, so much as pure action.
Largely dismissed at the time of its release by local critics as low-brow, populist entertainment - which it is - it is also extraordinarily well-done for what was, even then, a relatively small budget of $385,000. Not only is the stunt-work remarkable, with clear absence of the kind of occupational health and safety regulations that would make such things impossible these days but the directing, cinematography, editing and sound design are expertly combined to maximize the vicarious thrills.
Beneath the ostensible futuristic setting, Mad Max
is also very much about an Australia of the 1970s, the days of the panel van and the surfboard, before mandatory seat belts and P plates, when the car was a primary symbol of Aussie maleness and a very real agent of freedom for suburban kids (one of the films iconic moments has an out-of-control pursuit vehicle crashing through a stalled caravan, one of the classic symbols of suburban mundanity).
Cars are front and centre in Mad Max
and it is the raw immediacy of these metal machines and the way in which they elevate and destroy their human handlers which constitutes the film’s drawing power both then and now.
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