Undoubtedly, the most important attempts to conjure a genuinely Australian variety of genre movie, specifically the action-adventure flick, were the Mad Max films of Dr George Miller (1945- ). Fuelled by the same gearhead enthusiasm that had driven Stone, Mad Max (1978) was however a much more sophisticated type of movie, infused with a variety of influences - John Wayne Westerns, early '70s sci-fi, Dirty Harry, comic books, you name it - and galvanised by Miller's impeccable cinematic technique, always evident in spite of the first instalment's occasionally seamy charms. Miller, who had graduated as a doctor of medicine before ever making a film, had first gained attention with a clever short, Violence in the Cinema Part 1 (1972), mocking critics of cinematic violence.
Mad Max was the tale of Max Rockatansky (played by Mel Gibson, who had broken out as a star in the previous year's soggy romance Tim), one of an embattled breed of lawmen who patrol the increasingly anarchic outback highways, whose family become the victims of a band of bloodthirsty motorcycle bandits, eventually inspiring Max's ruthless vengeance. Miller's film met heavy initial criticism for its (mostly implied) violence and courting of an American market. Ordinary movie fans didn't give a damn: Mad Max was a good thrill ride, and in its over-the-top characterizations and black humor, it retained an indigenous character, even if it was to be re-dubbed with American accents upon its release in the US.
Mad Max 2 (a.k.a. The Road Warrior), the 1981 follow-up, was a far more ambitiously conceived and expensive work, and it has a legitimate claim to being the most influential Australian film ever made. Miller was by now channellng a legendary atmosphere, making the film something of a ground-level retort to the Star Wars films, portraying Max as a roaming warrior in a now entirely devastated world, trying to aid a small village of embattled goodies in escaping to gentler climes, and fend off a mob of S&M-gear-clad barbarians, building to a thunderous climax unlike anything Australian cinema had ever managed before.
A third episode, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), softened the violence and offered self-conscious grasps for meaning, adding up to a less galvanising experience. Nonetheless, Miller was well established as both a director and also an industrial impresario who set about producing a series of intelligent mini-series for television, and his subsequent involvement with Australian cinema was more as a producer than director, whilst he plied that trade in Hollywood with films like Twilight Zone: the Movie and The Witches of Eastwick.
5. The Adventure Continues: '80s Oeuvres of the '70s School
1981 heralded an event which altered the nature of Australian film production, and saw an explosion of cheap, often slapdash screen filler: the federal government offered a new tax break, Division 10BA, which gave a 150% tax return to film investors - yes, this meant that not only was money invested in movies entirely tax deductible, the government paid half of funds spent on making a movie back, thus rendering it more than a tax dodge, but a fully operational pig's trough. Production climbed, and so did the cost to the government, whilst the general quality of films concurrently plummeted.
This measure was slowly throttled off and created a financing body, the Film Finance Corporation, essentially as a bank for film production, but a lot of the resulting product did little to raise a perceived drop in standards. The resulting glut of films, many of which were barely released and unwatchable, did much to poison the well in terms of domestic public perception of home-grown films.
This cooling effect was slow to make itself apparent, however, for the first few years of the '80s saw several unprecedented successes, with several '70s luminaries leading the charge. Bruce Beresford's 1980 double Breaker Morant and The Club, and Peter Weir's Gallipoli (1981) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), set the pace for public appeal and critical admiration. Not coincidentally, three of these four films were written by David Williamson—The Club adapted from his own play, Gallipoli an original story, and The Year of Living Dangerously taken from a novel by Christopher Koch - and the fourth, 'Breaker' Morant, based on another strong play, by Kenneth Ross, which explains the high quality of their dialogue. Morant and Gallipoli both looked back to Australia's military history, specifically the Boer and First World Wars, with a cynical eye turned on the use of Australian soldiers for British Imperial ends.
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