Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Maxed Out

For most of my life I’ve had 2 favourite movies. One is Bronx Warriors and the other is Mad Max 2.

The former is a part of my own personal life history now with my passion for the movie leading to a website that I still run; meeting the director Enzo G Castellari (twice); being a special feature on the blu-ray release of the film a couple of years ago; and getting an IMDB entry because of that.

Other than actually getting a speaking part in a remake or belated sequel (Bronx Warriors 2 came out in 1985) there is not much more I can achieve here.


Another film I have loved for decades is the second Mad Max film. And it turns out that I’m not the only one.

On my 13th birthday I was allowed to have what was known in 1983 as a Video Party. My mother, being middle class and deeply out of touch, decided that normal teenage birthday parties were where nice children from perfectly respectable families just went stupid and smashed up other people’s property that those people had worked so hard for. So, an alternative was the option of the Video Party. 

In the early 1980s, watching a movie of your choice at home was a luxury and held a sense of awe. VCRs weren’t cheap back then and the local video shop would hire out a player for about £10 a night. I was allowed to invite up to 3 of my friends (which was about two more than I actually had at any one time but that’s for another blog) and choose two films for us to watch. 

I chose Escape From New York and Mad Max 2.

I hadn’t seen Mad Max the first one but the video shop didn’t have it and I was stuck with the sequel. Coming right into a movie without knowing its history can be off putting (imagine seeing any season of a popular show but missing all of the first one) but it was my Video Party and Mad Max 2 was a popular film so the opportunity wasn’t to be turned down.

The opening of this movie gives a spoken prologue by what is implied to be an old man who’s dying and retelling his life story. In this speech he talked of how global unrest led to the breakdown of modern society and barbarism reigned. The bit that got me super interested though was when his monologue deviated from talking in generic terms about the Oil Wars and instead focussed on the character of Max (played by a very young Mel Gibson). It talked about how living on the roads became a “white line nightmare” where only those “mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage would survive”. It then showed footage from what I presumed was the original Max, where a kind, loving police officer who was also a husband and father witnessed his family and best friend murdered by a biker gang. Taking revenge by killing them all, he then became a “shell of a man, a burned out desolate man” and then wandered out into the wasteland (the Australian outback) where he “learned to live again”.

Now…this was interesting but what happened next blew me away completely. The camera leers back out of the turbo charger of a tatty looking, dust blown yet badass muscle car where Mel Gibson in tattered, torn leathers sits with a mangey looking dog in a red scarf next to him. Pursuing him are three vehicles: a dune buggy; scary looking car covered in skulls; and a motorbike ridden by a mohawked guy in punk gear and a blonde youth as a pillion passenger. After veering to avoid burning wreckage on the road, an alarm sounds on the dashboard meaning Max is running out of fuel. He deactivates the turbo charger on the car, causing his mutt to whimper in fear and hide on the back seat. As the pursuers get closer they attempt to kill him (for reasons as yet unexplained) by getting either side to shoot him through the windows. Max brakes just before one guy fires and then rams the skull car into the dune buggy, making them both crash. Without second thought, he then gets out and begins stealing the rapidly leaking gasoline from the cars, as the dying driver of one thrashes around wailing in pain and the rider of the motorcycle brings his machine to a halt and glares at his would-be prey.

Mind blown.

The rest of the movie makes it clear that Max is truly a “burned out shell of a man” as he cares not a jot for other people or the lives they try to live, he is only out for himself. Mel Gibson carried this role brilliantly in both this and the prequel (which I saw years later) and only blotted his copybook with the family friendly third instalment.

This film had a huge effect on me as I grew up. I did a paper round from age 13 to 16 and the jacket I used on cold days had two buttons on the neck to enable the collar to be buttoned up tight. I moved them onto the left shoulder, so I could put my paper bag’s strap underneath it and then button it down…just like Mad Max’s harness from which he had spanners, tools and stuff hanging from in the movie.

I watched this film soooo many times as I grew up. Max wasn’t a “goody” as I thought of one. He was cold, selfish and violent but he had ethics. He kept his promises, he didn’t rape, and he didn’t kill anyone he didn’t have to (but stealing other people’s fuel or even vehicles seemed to be an accepted form of behaviour in this fantastical, post-apocalyptic world). He also spoke very little, only opening his mouth to say the immortal line “Booby trapped. Touch those tanks and boom!” about 10 minutes into the film.

In the days before the internet, information on Mad Max was spartan. The first movie had bombed in the USA, with the Yanks even dubbing the movie into American English as they thought people wouldn't “get” the Australian accents. The sequel was renamed Road Warrior (which is about as badass a name as you could give a film like this) and released as a stand alone title with the prologue filling in the gaps for the multitude of people who had no clue it was a sequel.

With all much loved media, the movie posed questions that we tried to answer (nowadays you can Google this stuff, back then we had to rely on actually talking to people). Max’s leather jacket had one arm missing. His tatty, leather driving gloves had the first two fingers missing on each hand. He wore a weird harness thingy covered in tools. And most of all he had a knee brace on his leg that squeaked like you would not believe?

We wondered WHY?

It turned out the answers were mainly in the first film.

In 1985 the franchise spawned the disappointing yet bigger budge Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome which made Max a saviour-esque figure to a group of orphans living in the Australian desert. 

I met Virginia Hey in 2016 at a comic convention in Medway, UK. As I was an author exhibiting at the con, I was entitled to use the VIP canteen where I saw her....Warrior Woman from Mad Max 2. We had a lovely chat about various things including smoking and the sexism inherent in the movie industry before she signed an A4 photo of herself for me. 

We had to wait 30 years more for a decent sequel which was the enjoyable yet Mel Gibson-less Fury Road with Tom Hardy taking over the role (and known in some circles as Tom Hardly In It, due to the movie mainly focusing on Charlize Theron’s character of Furiosa instead of Mad Max).

And then…..I finally found that someone loved this film even more than I do.

In New South Wales, Australia there is a tiny town called Silverton (population 40). It is 16 miles from Broken Hill where many movies have been made over the years including Mission Impossible 2 and most recently series 3 of The Leftovers. In this little town is a museum dedicated solely to Mad Max 2. Not Max 1, 3 or 4…just Mad Max 2.

I read reviews on Facebook that raved about the place and the photos showed some really cool replica cars and props from the movie. 

I got to Oz in November 2016 and decided to tour the sites, taking in Melbourne and Sydney at first, doing some scuba diving and seeing the New Year’s Eve fireworks at Sydney harbour. I then decided to take a road trip and bought a 21 year old car for 800 dollars and drove 2 days to Broken Hill. I got there too late to see the museum so slept at a place called Mundi Mundi lookout where, I had been assured, there were glorious sunsets to be seen (and by Christ, they were gorgeous). 

Next morning I turned up at the museum which looked superb just from an outside view. Once in it, I was greeted by Dog from the movie. A blue heeler mutt, in a red scarf, EXACTLY like Max’s dog in the film. It turned out the owners were English and upon finding out where I’d slept the night before Adrian said “That’s where the opening scene was shot, did you not know that?”

Turned out I had just spent around 10 hours in the very place where Max crashed two cars and stole fuel from them….and I never knew. I then spent a very pleasant, dream fulfilling 2 or so hours chatting to them about everything in the movie and enjoying the sight of about 25 vehicles out the back, including TWO replica V8 Interceptors (Max’s car), some of the actual cars from the film and even the gyrocopter and Mack truck that were key to the story.

I spent about 4 days worth of my food budget on merchandise and marvelled at the amount of stuff that Adrian and Linda had in the place. Signed photos, behind-the-scenes photos, rare toys, actual costumes, replica costumes…the list went on and on. 

I asked Adrian why he’d only dedicated the museum to the second film and he replied that it was the only one of the four filmed in Broken Hill AND none of the others had had quite the same effect on him as this film, something I could completely understand. 

He told me many “secret” things about the film, including the official backstory of how Feral Kid (scary looking child with the razor boomerang) came to be the way he was and how the dog handler got Dog to react so magnificently on camera (touch Max’s car in front of Dog, you WILL regret it).

Next day I went to say goodbye before making a start on my journey back to the East coast. The museum was busy again and it seems there is no shortage of people like me, who want to pay homage to such an awesome film.

I cannot speak highly enough of this museum. Lovingly created and maintained by a couple who clearly have a great deal of passion for all things Mad Max 2.

So far this experience is my favourite of my time spent in Australia. Not everyone’s childhood idols are immortalised like this and it was one off my bucket list to see such a place.

I used to think this description of Max summed it all up.

“Boil a man down to his basic elements.
Kill his family violently, so he doesn’t care about anybody.
Let him exact revenge on those responsible, so he doesn’t hate anyone.
Destroy the fabric of the society he lives in so he has no reason to live other than staying alive.”

To that I now add….

“Let him create a lasting impression on people willing to travel thousands of miles to visit a museum created in his name".

Two thousand miles, 5 days sleeping in my car, sore neck, sore arse, eating out of tins, 400 dollars in guzzoline. Was it worth it.

Of course it was.

Museum is closed for 2 weeks in February 2017, get in touch with them for more info.

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