Last weekend, Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre kicked off its new monthly series, a Mayan Calendar Countdown to the apocalypse, by showing the Mad Max trilogy, in one sitting. If six hours of relentless high speed chasing, dystopian ennui, and pro sports inspired punk fashion weren’t enough enticement to drop $12, the Egyptian threw in some costumed members of Wasteland Weekend to work the crowd, and a Q & A with the mad man himself, Mel Gibson.
Walking up to the theater, I heard shuffling, the swoosh of a grand unveiling, and then a frenzy of shutter clicking. To my right a man dressed in the standard issue black leather/ blue t-shirt uniform of an MFP officer had pulled a tarp off of his replica Pursuit Special. Bystanders drooled, cameras circled like the paparazzi. The entry way to the sold-out affair was flanked by characters from all three films, standing menacingly in their totally badass outfits. When I asked to take their picture, their stoic façades crumbled into massive grins of pride, as they re-positioned themselves then scowled for the camera. No one smiles after the bomb drops.
Once inside I spent some time at the official Wasteland Weekend information table engaged in pleasant conversation with Rumor and Lantz–friends, roommates, co-conspirators, and post-apocalyptic party planners. Their organization’s main event is a Mad Max-themed weekend in the middle of the desert where the participants dress up in the same fashion portrayed on screen while the die-hards don character specific apparel and personas. They break into various tribes, set up camp and engage in nihilistic forms of entertainment like archery, burlesque fire breathing, dog food eating contests, jugger matches, and real battles to the faux-death inside an actual thunderdome.
When asked to explain the appeal of celebrating the end of days, Rumor told me it was less about celebrating and more about preparing for the inevitable. All of their weekend activities center around skills that would be fundamental for human perseverance post natural or man-made disaster. So basically, they fashion themselves as survivalists with flashy clothes. Which brought me to the most important question: in the event of an actual apocalypse, are they going to bother to dress this cool? She assured me that having already purchased all the gear, she was “definitely all set.” So think about that the next time you’re in Old Navy, people — if the world ends, is that really what you want to be wearing?
“Plus,” Rumor told me, “it’s fun.” The nearly unbearable desert climate, Road Warrior-esque vehicles, a barter system, hand-crafted weaponry, and maybe some porta-potties all add up to their version of a mini vacation away from civilization as we know it. Having become a community of sorts, many of the Wastlanders remain in touch year round, to organize spontaneous events where they get all decked out and do things like hijack a dance club for the evening. Think flash-mob, Armageddon style.
Though I’m sure the owner of the Pursuit Special would have a different answer entirely, Rumor told me that Mad Max movies appeal to her as an entry point to imagining “what if?” scenarios. Moving on, for fear of, “what if there were no more seats,” I headed into the auditorium.
I flitted about trying different angles, sitting amongst varied groups of primarily male Max enthusiasts, before finding a seat beside one lone, visibly intense fan. I asked him if he thought he could sit there for 6 hours. He explained that after driving an hour and a half, and lucking out on a stand-by ticket, he wasn’t going anywhere. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior was his personal pick of the three, “The best action film ever made.” I think he worked a “fucking sweet” in there somewhere, but I could be projecting. We spoke often throughout the festivities, and he seemed happy to assume the role of Mad Max insider.
Some screeching metal panels began to close off the lights, and for a brief second it seemed we were all about to be locked into some cubed cage match — 616 men and women enter, but how many will leave? The theatre manger did little to quell suspicions with his intro, “Welcome to the END OF THE WORLD!”, a cry that garnered cheers all around. Equal revelry was dispensed when we first caught a full glimpse of Max himself, and then, for the screen debut of his infamous ride.
“They cheered the car!” was how Geoff Boucher of Hero Complex fame began his interview with Mel Gibson after the first film. Though initially excited by the possible side-show of the volatile star being let off the leash in a public forum, I found myself relieved by someone’s foresight in not allowing him to be questioned directly by the members of the audience.
Not exactly known for his tact in recent years, he came across more charming than I had expected. He only had one pretty obvious misstep, referring to Tina Turner as “Thunder Thighs.” But the comment was inserted between his claim to being “a huge fan” and commenting on how hot she looked in chain mail shoulder pads — so one might assume he meant the descriptor as a term of endearment.
He spent some time reflecting on Max, and touched on the first film in particular, where he simultaneously loves and loathes his performance. For him it represents the learning phase of his career, but admitted it’s “downright embarrassing, the decisions you made 35 years ago.”
The same learning curve applied to all involved in making the film, who, according to Gibson, had no idea what they were doing. But director George Miller has come a long way over the years, and Gibson enjoys looking for his signature touches in more recent films like Happy Feet 2, an animated adventure series about a clan of tap dancing Emperor penguins that he watches with his kid. I don’t think he’s referring to a refined flare for road related fatalities, but I can’t say that I’ve actually seen the film.
Gibson assessed the trilogy as a whole and claimed the second as his favorite installment, saying it was “everything they wanted the first one to be,” but didn’t know how to accomplish at that time. The third, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the most technically advanced but arguably the weakest film of the three, suffered from wanting to “do something else, but didn’t know what it wanted to do.”
Boucher teased Gibson about his cellphone ringing persistently, claiming it must be TMZ, to which he replied, “I’m sure they’re here somewhere.” A couple of exchanges eluding to his bad years were kept brief. Knowing his audience, he brought the crowd home with tales of passing the torch to Tom Hardy for a fourth Mad Max installment, currently in development. The two actors had lunch, and Gibson felt it was Hardy’s way of making sure he was ok with relinquishing Max’s throne. Gibson expressed enthusiasm for the film Miller is developing and wished Hardy the best, telling him to “have a blast.” Then, as for what’s on tap in his own future, Gibson talked about the project he’s working on now, a Viking epic. Cheers, all around.
Once Gibson and his secret service-looking entourage that flanked the stage had left, the crowd thinned a bit, and the rest of us settled in for more Max. I felt bad post-Road Warrior for planting the unshakable image of the Feral Child’s likeness to Barbarella in the mind of my seat-mate. By the time we were ready to go beyond Thunderdome it was 12:00 AM, and the crowd had thinned some more.
I decided to leave my friend to watch the third film in peace. On the way home I regretted my decision. But I guess I can safely assume that those true fans who remained–in a show of appreciation for one of the most random castings in the history of cinema–gave Thunder Thighs boisterous cheers, all around.
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Written by Angela Wagner (@angelamwagner)
Angela hesitates to call herself a writer, fearing commitment of any kind. A graduate of a respected university, she refuses to name drop until offered compensation (loan forgiveness) for doing so. She has a preternatural fear of being mauled by sharks, even while inland. She blames Spielberg. More »
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