The Nightrider. That is his name… the Nightrider… Remember him when you look at the night sky!
~ Toecutter “Mad Max”
In the small town where I was born and raised, on a dark and mountainous coast that would have made H.P. Lovecraft uneasy, we had one movie theatre, The Mayfair. Films were shown on Fridays and Saturdays each week, by the next week, it would be something else.
The place was old with leather seats and sculpted plaster sconces that spoke of a grander time.
The old theatre was my favourite place in the entire world. We didn’t have a TV, so films were a speedball directly into my eyeball and fevered imagination. It was here I walked out of The Wizard Of Oz and it stands as the one film I have never seen, and never will. Here’s why.
In August, 1977 we were living on a small farm, under the shadow of a mountain range, between the mountains and the sea. It was an alluvial flood plain, which meant that if there was a market for river smoothed grey rocks, we would have lived like kings. Most of the paddocks were more rocks than dirt and I remember spending many long hours loading them onto the tractor trailer and dumping them along a fenceline.
Early one morning that August, we were hit by a storm. Due to the shape of the land the wind would come down off the mountain like an X-Games skateboarder and we were at the bottom of the slope. Gusts would come through and tear roofs of houses, rip trees out of the ground, and 7 years later another storm of the same variety it tied 1 inch thick angle iron into knots.
Our car was crushed, trees came down on the house, and we spent weeks clearing fallen trees. I was five years old and it was my first experience with what we would now call PTSD.
A year or so later, we went to see The Wizard of Oz at the local movie theatre. They often played kids movies in matinee sessions. I vaguely remember getting to the bit where the tornado hit, and then I was outside. I have no idea what the rest of the film is about. I know there was a girl and red-shoes and witches and a road. I still can’t watch it.
The only other film that freaked me out as a child was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – and that was just the scene where they put the bug in Chekov’s ear. I went to the bathroom for that bit and then loved the rest of the movie.
The idea of restricted films was of course something we were in awe of as kids. R13 – cool… R16 ooohh… R18? What the hell could qualify for an R18 rating? Discussion suggested in a movie with an R18 rating, people actually died.
Along with the usual kids fare, I saw all three Star Wars movies in that theatre. The resounding shock I felt when Luke Skywalker’s parentage was announced resonates with me still. One of the great frustrations was when we were away the one weekend that the Mayfair was showing Battletruck, the Kiwi version of a Mad Max dystopian action movie.
My love affair with all things apocalyptic really started with that film. Having missed it the first time around, I got into see Mad Max instead. Then Mad Max 2 and later, in a much larger movie house in Christchurch, Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome.
What is it about the Mad Max franchise that completes me? I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps it is the fact that Max was never a good man. He was a driven, angry, killer. In D&D terms, his alignment was Chaotic Neutral. He looked out for himself and did what he had to, just to survive.
Sometimes he would do good, other times he would do evil – always looking out for number one and always surviving. I guess I felt a connection with his sheer grit and grimness. This was a man who knew pain. He knew misery and he kept going.
It’s not some boyish hero fantasy, I had shit going on that left me with an intense feeling of connection with the tortured soul of Max.
With Mad Max: Fury Road finally coming to theatres in 9 days’ time, I feel that I’m in a different place now. Calmer, less tortured and still completely mad for post-apocalyptic fiction. George Miller has an eye for the grand. His visions of barbaric wastelands have always been unlike anyone else.
The epic scale of the madness of the land and the people who have become savage and primitive in it, has always required a character like Max. If you fight fire with fire, you fight insanity with madness.