28 – Mad Max (1979)

 

“It’s that rat circus out there, I’m beginning to enjoy it. Look, any longer out on that road and I’m one of them, a terminal psychotic, except that I’ve got this bronze badge that says that I’m one of the good guys.”

mad_max_ver1When George Miller’s first feature film, Mad Max was released to audiences worldwide in 1979, the genre of the Action film did not exist as a genre like it does today. This is in part because films like Mad Max helped to define and establish such a genre. Taking a story idea and boiling its’ narrative down to a simple spectacle driven element gave Miller room to impose the aspects of typical film storytelling conventions, like character development and setting, and compress and infuse them into the action. With the films’ use of imagery, symbolism and metaphor account for most of the dramatic elements that would otherwise be found in dialogue and exposition in broader, more conventional films. Instead, that time is spent forwarding the plot with brilliantly crafted stunts, using innovative techniques. In this way George Miller was able to direct the visual narrative of the film into an experience as well as a story. This was the beginning of the modern day Action genre and few films could present a finer example of its burgeoning viability. In my opinion the first twelve minutes of Mad Max presents some of the hardest evidence in film of character, setting and plot compacted into sheer spectacle. From the opening shot we are being fed images of information that are never spoken of in the rest of the film. We fade in on, accompanied with the score’s triumphant anthem, the entrance to the Halls of Justice. The shot comes from street level, tilting slightly up, presenting the building as one of importance. It will come to be the film’s only physical structure representing the establishment. When we look closer at this shot though, we can see the minute complexities that litter the film. Framing the right side of the building’s entrance, yet obviously existing in the space before it, on the street corner, is a Stop Sign. Presented in this way it acts not as just a direction for the traffic, but a sign of caution in relation to the building. This begins a theme of intimidation that will run through all the films in the trilogy, to survive there must be the appearance of toughness, but underneath is just frailty mixed with hope, weaknesses in a lawless world. Looking at the words that hang above the entrance, Halls of Justice we notice that the letter U in Justice hangs a bit, and looks as if it has been that way for some time. Behind the entrance, examining the building itself, we see it looks rather in disrepair. Its physical appearance is rundown and used. The brick around the entrance is dirty and decaying. For a building representing the establishment’s form of order it is not paid much, or any, attention to at all, aesthetically. More tellingly, perhaps upkeep is a luxury not afforded in this world. Such signs and vagary leave us wondering, what is the rest of the world like? What brought it this way? These are question the film never answers. Mad Max 1 The opening shot quickly fades into an image of a desolate road lined with telephone poles. Across the screen appears to the sound of a typewriter, the words, “A Few Years from Now…” indicating to us that this is an undetermined point in the future. The shot quickly continues to fade to an image of a Skull and Crossbones painted with a stencil, in the middle of the road. That image fades out and we then fade in on a road sign that reads, “Anarchie Road 3 km“, panning to the left of the sign we see a yellow, blue, and red police cruiser parked on the side of the road. The road sign of course plays an integral part in the film’s hyper imagery. The word Anarchy, in this case misspelled, means a lack of order, and then there is the fact it is the name of a road, indicating the, what and where, at the core of the film. Order and chaos are going to fight for the right to dominantly exist and they will do it on the road.   What we do learn about the films’ setting is that society is running down, reducing itself to the primitive. As I mentioned before, this is never explained in the film and adds a complex layer to the movie. The film itself is considered by many, even its own makers to be set in a Post-Apocalyptic environment; however this is, in my opinion, really never indicated. Instead the setting seems to be more in the process of going through the apocalypse then existing in its aftermath. There are still signs of some form of society, the first indication of that is the existence of the MFP itself. It has funding, and vehicles, and answers to a commissioner. Then there is the fact there is still television and news broadcasting, meaning that there has to be people, and enough of them to warrant its continued existence. vlcsnap-2013-10-15-14h54m53s160 The action in Mad Max is where the film truly soars. Combining the visual spectacle of car chases and stunts with the emotional spectacle of the sort of suspense you normally would find in a horror movie, George Miller is able to bring the audience into this dystopian world. Doing what few, if any, other action film director had done prior, Miller mounted cameras rigs onto the vehicles themselves to capture the exhilarating veracity of the stunts by placing the audience in the center of the action, this coupled with the evolution of both Max, and the setting, as developing characters, arrive together for a dazzling and thought-provoking film. We witness the degradation of Max Rockatansky as a character driven towards the ultimate act of revenge, The bleak, mysterious setting, the tense exactitude of the action, and Max’s degeneration as a person stripped of humanity, come to a head in the climax. Max begins his final acts of revenge while coming upon a portion of the motorcycle gang as they are stealing gas from a moving tanker. This is an interesting moment because it establishes a theme that will become the center focus of the sequel, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, the world’s continuous need for fuel even after the apocalypse it caused. Here we witness Max viciously run down these bikers. Placing a camera mount on the top of Max’s V8 Interceptor, which in its own way is a character in the film still-of-mel-gibson-in-mad-max-(1979)-large-picture If taking the film and viewing it in the context of its two sequels we can see that both the character of Max and the setting he inhabits mirrors each other’s continual development throughout all three movies. Mad Max by itself is simply a great action story of revenge, but when placed inside the context of a trilogy it becomes an origin story, both for the character and the world.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXhD9UvtrZ4

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