Sunday, 15 August 2010

That Scag And His Floozie, They're Gonna Die!

Man, scag is totally a word I have to introduce into my vocabulary.

A few years there was a terrific little Australian documentary called Not Quite Hollywood that looked at a particular period of Australian film apparently loved by Quentin Tarantino dubbed 'Ozploitation.' They were made in the days of the 10BA tax break for feature film investment, which, if my understanding of it is even vaguely correct, meant that you were almost guaranteed not to lose money on a film even approaching halfway decent - so long as it made some money at the box office you would probably come out even, bailed out by the tax office. So, with nothing to lose and the chance, even an outside chance, at a bunch of money rolling in, who wouldn't join in? And what happened was this movement of cheap films full of action and sex, many of which have been subsequently forgotten (most of them probably rightly so), but some of which have gone on to become enduring cinematic classics. Even if they were redubbed in the States so that the Australian accent wouldn't be heard, with much of the slang reworded, and with the original soundtrack not appearing Stateside until 2000.

I guess he does look pretty good in leather...

Mad Max was the debut feature from director George Miller (that's Dr George, to you), now an Oscar winner (and I honestly believe he is the only Ozploitation director with that claim to fame.) Conceived and written with the late Byron Kennedy, the film also helped to launch some American born but Australian trained actor, perhaps the only other direct descendant of the Ozploitation movement with Oscar on his mantle. You've probably heard of him, he's been back in the spotlight recently (though mostly for anti-semitism and domestic violence...) 

Mel Gibson plays the titular Max, a highway patrolman in the not too distant future of the Australian outback (looking very much like a slightly modern attempt on the eighties - oh, retro sci-fi! Just like Blade Runner.) This is a dystopian world, and gangs rule the highways - law and order is brutal and vengeful, much like the rage of the bad guys. Max, initially part of the game, soon tries to quit, afraid that he is going to become like one of the guys he chases only armed with the false moral protection of a badge, but is convinced to take a holiday to think it over. Whilst he is on holiday, the gangs strike back...

But we know it can't end all bad for our hero Max, because our Mel is in the next couple of Mad Max films (though apparently has nothing to do with the upcoming fourth project - and I forget, is that going ahead for sure? Do we want it to, really? Wouldn't it be nice seeing Dr Miller do something original again, rather than Mad Max 4, Happy Feet 2 and Babe the gazillion?)

Max is an iconic character in a very simple, futuristic western film. Mad Max as a film is not particularly challenging in any way - it is an Ozploitation film through and through in the sense that it approaches its genre gung-ho with its cheese on its sleeve and without any shame. Miller wants the film to go out on a stylistic limb, pushing boundaries of the glorification of violence, but in order to do that effectively yet still make a film broad enough to turn a profit he had to keep it thematically simple. This is not in any way a bad thing - the story drives forward relentlessly, charging ahead with guns literally blazing and cars flying through the air, not letting a low budget stop him from some spectacular crashes. And Gibson proves himself promising (though, I thought, falling short of mesmerising by a decent distance), worthy perhaps of his later following.

A highly entertaining, if somewhat lightweight, iconic piece of Australian cinematic history. Shame on me for letting it go this long. 4 stars.

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