Friday, May 22, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015) and the arguably greatest film ever made

Hell hath no Furi
In the beginning was the word.

And the word was Max. 

And Max's creator--George Miller, MD--cut his first feature film on a kitchen table. 

And the film was a hit, all frantic action and blaring trumpets and bug-eyed skulls hurtling at the big screen.

A bigger-budgeted sequel was done, with postapocalyptic dune buggies chasing a spike-crowned Mack truck, to the strains of Brian May's mythmaking music.

And Miller saw that it was good--maybe great. Definitely better than anything infidel Steven Spielberg has made, is making, will ever make.

And Miller did one other Max film--Beyond Thunderdome--but with kids along for the ride the experience did not would not compare, though the final chase had its moments, and Thunderdome itself was a thing of barbaric beauty. 

And Miller rested again, this time for thirty years. 

And lo! Comes forth a fourth film, Fury Road, and where previously the vehicles swiped at and ground into and collided with each other, this time they did worse: rammed violently into fellow vehicles, threw vast shameless metal orgies, begat unholy combinations of motorized monsters (Cadillac DeVille humping Cadillac De Ville; semi-rig sodomizing hotrod; missile carrier mated with rock arena).

And to all this mindless turbulence Miller added the Lysistratan fable of kept wives who cry out "Hold! Enough!" and flee to a better life; and of the heroic one-armed woman seeking to redeem herself by helping them realize their dream. 

And millions watched the fume-fueled nightmare-slash-vision, and saw that it was good

And I agreed--more than good it was great, better than any other film on four wheels rolled out in the past thirty years.

And yet and yet and yet--though millions have given full-throated voice to their approval, my own lips were still, my hands unmoved.  

For during this weekend of intense Maxophilia, while the world entire hath given itself over to all things Mad I have been recklessly untrue, my precious viewing time spent elsewhere.

To be precise, at home tuning in to the TCM Friday Night Spotlight, ongoing for the month of May. 

And lo, amongst his prophets appears one David Edelstein to explain the nature of Welles' achievement:  

--a film seven hundred and thirty days in the making (nine thousand, if the first theatrical staging be counted)--

--four historical dramas (roughly sixteen hours of Shakespeare) boiled down to a hundred fifteen minutes--

--the epic struggle between Henry IV and Percy Mortimer over control of the kingdom, restated as the epic saga of Henry IV against John Falstaff for the soul of Prince Hal--

--Welles' staging of Shrewsbury (his one and only war setpiece and arguably the greatest action sequence ever made)--

--midpoint inside Welles' masterpiece, possibly the finest most daring adaptation of Shakespeare ever attempted--

Whereas Welles' Shrewsbury was in my mind pitted against Miller's Fury Road, the following noted:

Welles achieved speeded-up action and blinding-swift editing first and did it better. 

Welles shot in black and white, the austere look making the very figures sombre and terrible in form, against Miller's warmer, friendlier sand-and-stone palette. 

Welles' Shrewsbury is on one level the drama's turning point, with Henry IV and Percy vying for control of England, and Prince Hal and Percy vying for Henry IV's attention (and presumably admiration); on another level demonstrates the madness and chaos of war, and Falstaff's lonely yet sane defiance of (or at least non-participation in) said war.

On yet another level restates Welles' great theme, the entropic nature of the world (seen previously but not exclusively in Citizen Kane; The Magnificent Ambersons; Macbeth; Othello; Confidential Report; Touch of Evil), here expressed with unparalleled force. 

Fury Road is basically a car chase--one of the greatest--and not much more, levelwise.  

And where Fury Road ends hopeful, Shrewsbury ends in deep primeval muck, as undignified a grave as can be imagined. 

Many other points could have been raised but were not written, being too many to bother; but these points were written down, that you may believe in Welles.

Yea, while millions (those who did not instead go to Pitch Perfect 2) marched to the multiplex to see Miller's handiwork in IMAX 3D, sending their hosannas bigscreenward--

--did I sit in my living room, to softly recite the following:

Our Orson, who art in heaven, hallow be thy name.

Thy retrospective come, thy films be shown

on cable as well as Blu-Ray.

Give us this day your lost Ambersons footage 

and forgive us our cluelessness

in misunderstanding your films on their initial commercial run.

Do not test our faith overmuch

but deliver us from dull mediocrity.

For thine is the artistry, the emotional power, the cinematic glory

forever and ever, amen.