There are many great tales of Australian movies that create watershed moments within international markets, but few have a tale like MAD MAX, celebrating its 40th Anniversary.
The story, by James McCausland, was inspired by his observations of the 1973 oil crisis, and the effect it had on Australian motorists. “A couple of oil strikes that hit many pumps revealed the ferocity with which Australians would defend their right to fill a tank. Long queues formed at the stations with petrol—and anyone who tried to sneak ahead in the queue met raw violence,” he wrote in the Courier-Mail in 2006.
While in residency at a Sydney hospital, Director Dr George Miller met amateur filmmaker Byron Kennedy at a summer film school in 1971. Eight years later, the duo produced the original Mad Max. Miller's first choice for the role of Max wasn’t Mel Gibson, but rather the Irish-born James Healey, who at the time worked at a Melbourne abattoir and was seeking a new acting job. But upon reading the script Healey declined, finding the meagre, terse dialogue too unappealing (the character has only about 16 lines of dialogue). He went on to play the fourth husband of Alexis Carrington Colby (played by Joan Collins), in the US soap Dynasty.
Then, with filming just 4 days underway, Rosie Bailey, who was originally cast as Max's wife, was injured in a bike accident. Production was halted, and Rosie was replaced by Joanne Samuel, causing a two-week delay. With $300,000 for the entire budget, principle photography continued, overran, and ate through the mostly self-funded production as more artistic and history focussed films scored the benefit from government grants.
George Miller, self-describing the movie as a silent film with sound, recalls the entire experience as "guerrilla filmmaking", where the crew would close roads without filming permits, nor use walkie-talkies because their frequency coincided with the police radio. But, as filming progressed the state police became interested in the production, helping the crew by closing roads and escorting the vehicles, or so the legend says.
Controversy followed release, as the film was banned in New Zealand and Sweden. In New Zealand the scene where Goose is burned alive inside his vehicle unintentionally mirrored an incident with a real gang shortly before the film's release. It was later shown in New Zealand in 1983 after the success of the sequel. The ban in Sweden was removed in 2005.
In order to make the language ‘understandable’ to US audiences, in 1980 the original Australian dialogue was redubbed by an American cast. Much of the Australian slang and terminology was also replaced with American usages. "Oi!" became "Hey!", "windscreen" became "windshield", "very toey" became "super-hot", and "proby"—probationary officer—became "rookie”. The only dubbing exceptions were the voice of the singer in the Sugartown Cabaret (played by Robina Chaffey), the voice of Charlie (played by John Ley) through the mechanical voice box, and Officer Jim Goose (Steve Bisley), singing as he drives a truck before being ambushed, although his voice was dubbed elsewhere in his dialogue. The original Australian dialogue track was finally released in North America in 2000 on DVD with the US and Australian soundtracks on separate audio channels.
And as for the subsequent sequels, the Guardian Australia sums up the genre as a “portentous story of a broken man’s spiritual voyage back to humanity via death-defying heroic acts.”
The film was awarded three Australian Film Institute (AFI) Awards in 1979 (for editing, sound, and musical score). It was also nominated for Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Keays-Byrne) by the AFI.
My interviews for KAPOW with some of the original cast can be seen here:
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