Mad Max

Byron Kennedy : Why Mad Max?
George Miller : The Origins of Mad Max | Casting Max | Making the Film | The Heroic Myth

Byron Kennedy on MAD MAX

Why Mad Max?

"It goes way back. Basically, as a kid, I always preferred to watch movies that were like Mad Max II. We used to go to matinees on Saturday afternoons, and the moment people started talking, I started leaving and came back for the firing torpedoes, sinking ships and things. Most of the other people in Australia come from a tradition of movie making that's more European. I've always liked American movies, or at least the traditional Hollywood American film, and I want to make those sort of movies. Most of the people who make movies in Australia would probably prefer seeing zechoslovakian, Polish or Hungarian films rather than American movies. It's a result of the mixture of cultures in Australia, both European and American. It's a matter of personal taste and I happen to have a taste or bias toward the American way.

"We had mixed reviews for Mad Max even in Australia. There are people there who have a preconceived notion of what Australian movies should do and what sort of social and cultural values they should reflect. Some of the reviews, though, were totally for the film and said that it was the sensible course for Australia and would legitimize the Australian film industry because people would see that our films aren't necessarily slow, beautifully photographed, but, rather can also have story, pace, conflict, drama, action and the things that I think movies are about. So those people supported us and the same thing happened [in the U.S.]

"There were American critics who don't want to see Mad Max-type movies come out of Australia because they don't want to see Australia as an outpost or colony of Hollywood, which is silly thinking and incredibly superficial. They'd rather see the kind of totally indigenous, what we call 'kangaroo pictures' come out of Australia and we don't see it that way. The only thing that indicates that is the movie itself and the kind of rapport and resonance it has with audiences and Mad Max and The Road Warrior, considering its release so far, seems to be able to transcend all cultures and people all around the world, which is ultimately what it's all about. I think it's a mistake to be nationalistic about the movie industry; movies should transcend national sentiments and be indigenous to the planet Earth. I think that we should always conceive of limitless horizons and not be parochial or confine ourselves to narrow thinking."

George Miller on MAD MAX

The Origins of Mad Max

"Australian films have tended to be gentile, historical period pieces, and Mad Max sat more in film with the comic book, science fiction, exploitation, horror, car, action-type culture but with a particularly Australian flavor. In Australia we have a car culture the way Americans have a gun culture. The cult of the car. Violence by car. Vast highways. We've got 40 million people in a country the size of the U.S., so we're pretty spread out in a lot of ways. There are great networks of empty roads which people use and there's no way of policing the speed limit. We have a disproportionately high road toll and so we seem to use the car as a means of recreation and of violence, too. So that's where Mad Max came from."

Miller, a doctor by training, was working at the time (in the '70s) in the "casualty department" of a hospital, where he witnessed the victims of grisly auto wrecks. "So the idea [for Mad Max] came partially out of that, and partially from Byron and myself wanting to make a good chase film."

Casting Max

The night before his audition, Mel Gibson was in a barroom brawl that left his face looking "like a busted grapefruit." Nevertheless (or perhaps because of that), he won the part of Max --- a major debut role not long after graduating from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in 1977.

"From the first time I saw [Mel Gibson] in a screen test, I just knew he had something --- a particular quality that is difficult to define. [...] It's almost extraordinary that the Mel you know on a personal level completely changes on screen. You don't even realize it when you watch him perform or even in the dailies. But when you see his performance in the cutting room, there is a strong intuition about his characterization."

Making the Film

Two days after shooting began, an automobile accident injured both the original lead actress and the stunt coordinator. "The accident completely shot my nerve. I felt that Mad Max had failed creatively. The filmcontrolled me, instead of my controlling the film."

"[The film] was shot on location which was within 10 or 20 miles from a major city and it was very difficult to avoid trees. We wanted to get a very stark landscape. We had to find a gap in the horizon where there were no trees and then we could only shoot in that direction."

"With me and Byron Kennedy, our lounge room was our editing room in the flat that we had. It was a crummy little apartment and the place was full of film and in one room I'd be cutting one of the sequences and in another room Byron would lay the soundtrack for it. It was very, very cheaply made."

"One of the things that bewildered me when I first started, was the will-o'-the-wisp nature of making a film. No matter how strongly you visualize something, there's always something else conspiring to get in the way of the shot that you want. When I made Mad Max I, I was totally bewildered by this process. I had no control of what I wanted and what was finally there on screen. I thought at the time that it was only my problem, and therefore that I wasn't suited to continue in film. And, of course, it's everybody's problem! No matter who the director is, the problems are the same everyday on the set."

The Heroic Myth

"We realized that inadvertently, we had fitted the film into a very classical, mythological hero genre. We were just retelling a basic story, only instead of a sword fight, we had a car chase! It seems that this hasnothing to do with the individual. It's a collective thing. In fact, it's something that I never believed in until I saw it operating in motion pictures."

"It began with what Carl Jung did in his work on the Collective Unconscious. Jung talked about myths being public dreams and that we all share experiences in common with men who not only exist today, but who have existed across all time and across all space. In other words, men who lived in very primitive cultures and more sophisticated cultures share the same stories that happen quite unconsciously and quite spontaneously in almost every culture, and they will continue to happen. So by retelling stories with basic themes or basic experiences that the audience is taken through, people share these experiences that they would not normally have in the normal course of their lives, and it kind of puts us in touch with all other people that have existed.

"Joseph Campbell synthesized this, took what was common to all the heroic myths and wrote a kind of model for the heroic story. He wrote a sort of step by step journey, if you like, that the classic hero would go through in life's journey and from that George Lucas took his Star Wars stories. Lucas was the one, I think, who first treated people to Joseph Campbell. Those who want to know what's in the Star Wars stories should read The Hero of a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. And that's the great significance of George Lucas --- he is not just a filmmaker, he's the new storyteller. He's telling the story for the second part of the 20th century. He's retelling the same stories that were told in other forms previously when the early stories were told around a fire. He's just using the high technology of film to do that. Therefore he is much more important than being just a filmmaker. So that's the type of thing that we're into with the fantasy-type films now."
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