Guest Post: Paul Anthony Nelson introduces WHY I ADORE: AFI EDITION.

angry person image

Ah, the Internet. It’s brought the world together, changed the way we communicate and given everyone a global voice. Trouble is, for the ‘first world’ Film and TV fan, it’s also given birth to the phenomenon of the Troll. You know the ones: disproportionate sense of entitlement fused with a perpetual state of cynicism and negativity, prone to personal insults and general buzzkill. Yet, so prevalent are these attitudes, they’ve found their way into mainstream media discourse.

The only house rule? NO NEGATIVITY. We’re here to celebrate what moves us and, perhaps, bring positivity back in style.

And you know what? I’m tired of it.

So I created WHY I ADORE, a blog with the sole aim of welcoming people to write about something they love about film and television, in defiant response to this pervasive culture of hate and snark. Guest writers can gush about any aspect they choose:

A film. TV show. Actor. Filmmaker. Technician. Scene. Shot. Genre. Period of time…

Almost a year after starting the website, it’s my honour and privilege to launch our first spin-off: WHY I ADORE: AFI EDITION, where Australian film and TV practitioners and fans wax rhapsodic about their filmic objects of adoration! WHY I ADORE seems right at home at the AFI, an institution devoted to celebrating our nation’s screen achievements. What’s more, they were crazy enough to let me kick it off…

WHY I ADORE… MAD MAX + MAD MAX 2

Mad Max logo

Straight up front: I am an unabashed, unequivocal, unbridled, undaunted fan of visceral genre cinema. As much as we cineastes love art film, let’s face facts: None of us got into this game because we were blown away by The Seventh Seal at six years old. In the western world, Hollywood films are generally our gateway drug, whether they’re from the golden, silver, platinum (AKA the 1970s) or modern ages. Growing up in the VHS boom time of the early 1980s proved to be a halcyon period for an eight-year-old budding film junkie, but among the riches on offer, one thing was missing: Australian accents.

Then, as if by magic, a copy of Mad Max 2 appeared in my uncle and aunt’s home.

Most of my family – particularly my father and uncles – were car enthusiasts, as many suburban Aussies tend to be. Being an ill child prone to motion sickness and projectile vomiting, this love of cars was a genetic predisposition that somehow skipped me, no matter how much my father tried to jumpstart it. Thus, as sick children often do, I gravitated toward comic books… to my dad’s eternal shame, I’m sure. So, while automotive action was likely the reason Mad Max 2 found its way into our house, it wasn’t what hooked me.

Vernon Wells as 'Wez' in Mad Max 2 - 1981

Vernon Wells as 'Wez' in Mad Max 2 - 1981

It was the villains. It was Vernon Wells’ indelible Wez, once experienced, never forgotten; so effortlessly iconic, he was good for a sight gag on The Simpsons many years later. It was Jason Voorhees lookalike The Humungous, ruling the damn wasteland. It was the mantis-like Gyro and his rickety copter. And then, it was Max. I couldn’t have acknowledged this at the time, but I know it had a subconscious effect: here was an Australian, Mel Gibson, acting and being framed like a goddamn movie star – every inch the charismatic, tough, handsome yet tragically weathered hero. My childhood memory resembles a series of snapshots rather than any kind of narrative, but I do recall my friends and I incessantly quoting Mad Max 2 for some time later.

Many years passed before I caught up with the film that inspired this adventure… but no amount of viewings of Mad Max 2 could ever prepare me for Mad Max.

Mel Gibson as Max in Mad Max 1979

Mel Gibson as Max in Mad Max - 1979

When I saw it, I was in my late-teens and hadn’t seen much Australian genre cinema of the 1980s, but had begun to develop a taste for the New Hollywood Cinema of the 1970s, so Mad Max’s jet-black soul flicked my nitro switch. This wasn’t the fuel-deprived, bladed boomeranged, post-punk fantasia of the sequel; this was a dark, violent world much like our own, except irreparably broken, three-quarters shot to ruin. Sharing more in common with American International Pictures (who released it in the US!) than the 2000AD comics Max 2 resembled, this was the kind of bleak, violent, pared-back genre flick I had grown to respect. In short, George Miller’s picture felt revolutionary compared to any Australian film I had seen.

fetishzation of vehicles + rough and tumble masculinity in Mad Max 2

Fetishization of vehicles + rough and tumble masculinity in Mad Max 2

It never fails to amaze me just how genius Miller and his crew’s work is. The stunts seem spontaneous rather than staged, shot through with dangerous velocity and a raw violence that seems endemic of Australian rural culture. Miller had learned his approach to cinematic iconography from the best: Leone, Ford and Hawks are all evident here. Mad Max was the first Australian film shot with an anamorphic wide-screen lens. David Eggby’s run-and-gun lensing of the first film and Dean Semler’s widescreen vistas of the second perfectly reflect the films’ very different, yet equally evocative, approaches to the broken world in which Max finds himself. And they’re so aggressively, uniquely Australian, what with the fetishisation of vehicles, rough & tumble rural/outback masculinity (as well as some not-so-latent homoeroticism) and frontier instinct so indicative of a former penal colony.

Please don’t ask me to declare a favourite. Mad Max is a lean, mean, drive-in revenge picture, while Mad Max 2 is an epic sci-fi vision of a dystopian future – and they’re equally brilliant visions. Both fully realise their worlds with comparatively miniscule budgets; effectively a fifth of what their American counterparts would cost. The base human qualities of greed, violence and dominion over others, the cannibalisation of our earth’s natural resources (a theme Miller continues to this day with his Happy Feet films), leading us to destroy our earth, then each other, reducing all human instincts to one – self-preservation – until, as the more hopeful Mad Max 2 shows us, we must finally rediscover our sense of community to endure. It indeed takes a village to smash the hordes of the wasteland.

Both films have been ridiculously influential on action and popular culture, from the rash of post-apocalyptic action films that peaked in the mid-80s (Italy created a cottage industry out of this sub-genre, while 1995’s Waterworld follows Mad Max2 almost beat-for-beat) to the experiential shooting of vehicular and stunt action that’s evolved into the signature style of today’s Hollywood blockbusters. Filmmakers such as James Cameron, David Fincher, Robert Rodriguez and Guillermo Del Toro have credited Mad Max 2 as a major inspiration.

I’m now an emerging genre filmmaker in his mid-thirties and have never felt more inspired by Miller’s example than today. In Mark Hartley’s excellent (and equally inspirational) documentary Not Quite Hollywood, Miller said he thought of Mad Max as a “B movie with A movie aspirations”. As someone who aims to build a career of such entertainments, I tip my hat to Dr Miller and thank him in perpetuity for paving the way. Mad Max and Mad Max 2 are not only exemplary ‘B movies’, but crafted with an intelligence and visceral power most ‘A movies’ would kill for.

About The Author:

Paul Anthony Nelson is a Melbourne filmmaker and writer with a fervent love of all things cinematic, which led him to start WHY I ADORE (whyiadore.wordpress.com), a blog devoted to people expressing their film and TV loves. His production company, Cinema Viscera (tweeting as @cinemaviscera), aims to make ‘drive-in pictures for multiplex audiences’. Paul can be heard with fellow filmmaker Lee Zachariah on the monthly film podcast HELL IS FOR HYPHENATES and found on Twitter as @mrpaulnelson.

Want to Contribute your own WHY I ADORE piece?

We’d love to hear from you. Submissions should be around 800 words, and be devoted to your own love of an Australian film, television show, actor or scene.

Email to editor [at] afi.org.au.

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18 thoughts on “Guest Post: Paul Anthony Nelson introduces WHY I ADORE: AFI EDITION.

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