I sit here, watching The Road Warrior instead of writing about it. The combination of interesting and exciting vehicles with evocative musical cues, and very little dialogue--I have not counted but supposedly the titular Max only has sixteen lines--is quite captivating. I was going to say "oddly captivating" but it is not odd. Aside from me loving the film since I was young, it still holds up as a great action film. One of the definitive action films, really.
(So much so, that I almost included it in the "month"(roughly January 2015, overlapping from late December to early February)
of action films during phase two of this blog. But, then I skipped it for Top Gun(added to the month with Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Commando, and Rambo: First Blood Part II)
because then I was dealing specifically in 80s American action films, which made for a more straightforward throughline--the decline of American Hegemony, the struggle to raise up masculinity again in response to the rise of feminism, and all that--than if I had included this Australian film.
But, really, some of the themes are the same, I'm sure. But, I don't know 1970s Australia at all, couldn't tell you if this sort of high octane action was a deliberate reaction to any societal movement or whatever. But, whether it is a response or not, the primarily male cast of any action film is indicative of a patriarchal society, where men compete with men, and women--for the most part--are trophies to be won.
The Road Warrior is specifically a response to oil crises, and Cold War fantasies of the end of the world, of course. But, I mean, maybe it is something more specific than that. Something specifically Australian.
For example, Krausz (2002) tells us, "The '70s saw the production of a number of films with an introspective bent..." He's talking about what he calls "dour Australian at war" films, and offers the original Mad Max (and it logically follows that this one would fit as well) as an example of those type of films' "harder edge". Additionally, the R rating (which was closer to our current NC-17 than our R) had arrived in Australia in 1971, resulting in what has been called "Ozploitation" films. The Road Warrior, of course, includes graphic violence, bloated corpses, nudity, and rape. The Road Warrior also falls into the latter half of the "Australian Film Renaissance"; Australian cinema had declined after World War II, and was nearly gone after the 60s. Then new governments (Gorton and Whitlam, and I am not pretending that I entirely understand every nuance to this) stepped in and started funding film production and training film makers. No access to the direct quotation on this one, but Australia produced nearly 400 films between 1970 and 1985--
And, I must interrupt this paranthetical (and mildly vague) lesson in Australian cinematic history because, regarding something I said yesterday about it being strange that the Mechanic (Stephen J Spears) was on the rig, when Max walks up, eye swollen shut, limping, in the background, the Mechanic is arguing with Warrior Woman (Virginia Hey) about it. It's hard to tell exactly what is being said, but she is telling him he's not going on the rig and he specifically says that he's not going to ride on the bus. So, it's actually not that odd, because the Mechanic seemingly does not know the actual plan.
But, Warrior Woman does, and she goes on the rig anyway. Like Pappagallo, she's knowingly going to her death (or risking it anyway) for the rest of the tribe.
--which was more than they had made prior to 1970. Mike Hale, writing for the New York Times, refers to late 70s Australian cinema as an "Australian reawakening". And he explains (better than Wikipedia does):The Australian revival... was not driven by ideology, either cinematic or cultural. After a fallow period of several decades when, for economic reasons, the country produced practically no feature films, the Australian government stepped in, subsidizing production and establishing a national film school...
Just as important, the pent-up creative energies released by this infusion of public money meshed with a pool of technicians and actors who had considerable experience in Australian television, which had remained surprisingly robust while the country's film industry went dark.
Further, he explains:What unites [the films of the Australian New Wave] more than anything else is their old-fashioned approach to storytelling, a straight-ahead narrative style that could be quite sophisticated...
And, while he's talking more about three other films (which he calls "jittery contemporary tales of misdirected male energy")--Backroads, Petersen, and The FJ Holden--his take on their use of cars relates to Mad Max and The Road Warrior. Hale explains:...a focus on cars, both as symbols of male pride and prerogative and as crucial possessions in a country where great distances separate small pockets of life.
That is to say, coming to something my American readers would understand better. Imagine a post-apocalyptic tale in New York City versus one from Los Angeles. In the New York City-set film (like I Am Legend, for example), you can imagine life working without the use of vehicles because New York City is all about getting everywhere on foot or by Subway. But, in a post-apocalyptic tale set in Los Angeles, you would still need vehicles to get anywhere because the place is more spread out.
Australia is spread out, full of empty space, and "pockets" of civilization. You need vehicles to get around Australia. So then, after the oil crises, this Australian necessity would be challenged, and a recently revived film industry was there to comment.)
And, regardless of its actual setting--Australia--the post-apocalyptic wasteland makes the film not only a definitive action film but a timeless one.
Hale, M. (2013, January 23). When Australia Soared on Film: 'The Last Wave,' '70s Australian Film, at Lincoln Center [Review]. New York Times. Retrieved from https://nyti.ms/Vks95y
Krausz, P. (2002, June 1). Australian Identity: A Cinematic Roll Call. Australian Screen Education, 29, pp. 24-29.