Aw hell yes!
I love a good oral history. And I especially love a good oral history about a subject based on popular culture, as pop culture inherently generates a lot of fodder for the telling. And as many people here are probably aware, I adore a great action film. Mad Max: Fury Road has been one of my favourites from the last decade or so. It is not often that we see a sequel—let alone a long belated one!—see so much critical acclaim. But Mad Max: Fury Road was just that film. And the film craft that gives rise to both its legendary qualities and its long-delayed production make for a really compelling story.
So, for me, Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road was a must-buy. No ifs and buts about it.
The one man at the heart of the narrative here is George Miller. I already knew of Miller as someone who is both really bloody obstinate and dedicated to his craft. He really has that reputation. What I did enjoy though is hearing all about it in his own words. While he’s actually quite well-mannered and perhaps a little understated in interviews, he gives the impression that he’s the kind of man who reacts to being told that’s not how everyone else does things by quietly going ‘Fuck you’ and doing it his own way twice as hard. (I rather admire that.) Interestingly, filmmaking is actually his second career, after training as an ER doctor. And the trauma he saw in the course of his medical training, along with his shoestring budget, helped shape how he directed the highly realistic action in the original Mad Max.
But films don’t come together through the efforts of one man alone; Mad Max has only managed to be as stubborn a franchise as its creator because Miller surrounds himself with similar-minded people. This mentality was critical when they started having fights with the studio when Fury Road started going into production. And some of the back-and-forth drama was pretty epic, with one of my favourites being the relocation to Nambia. Rains in Australia—the traditional home of Mad Max— had meant that the original shooting site was rendered unsuitable, so producer Doug Mitchell pulled his own ‘Fuck it’ moment and shipped over 100 custom-made vehicles to Nambia. However, the studio had not signed off on an African shoot and had no intention of doing so, as they thought it would be too risky. So they decided that no one was to tell them about it until the shipment had left.
The book itself is rather fast-paced, told mostly via quick snippets from interviews. I had the benefit of ‘reading’ this via audiobook, and I suspect this did make it easier for me to keep track of who is speaking and why, as I soon started putting names to the many voices. The audio format also brought a lot of warmth to the telling; the predominantly Aussie, Kiwi and South African stunt doubles and extras all sounded like they were an absolute blast to hang around. They were also the people that gave the most insight into how the film got it’s very ‘lived-in’ feel. While I would not say the world-building in Mad Max: Fury Road is very explicit—with a film so low on actual dialogue, it would be ridiculous to go spouting off exposition—there are so many little details throughout the film that a careful viewer can easily pull together a detailed picture of this post-apocalyptic Australia that feels cohesive.*
An interesting thing that you get in some oral histories though, which is absolutely on display here, is the fact that different people across different interviews are allowed to have very disparate opinions on the subject at hand, and there is often very little need for the author promote one over the other. iOTA, in particular, came across as one of my favourite grumps. Kyle Buchanan doesn’t seem to do much editorialising here for the most part, although I feel that if he did do a bit of a gentle massaging around the edges, I wouldn’t be able to tell for much of the book. The only real part of the book that may have been a little more constructed was the bit detailing the tensions between the two leads. I feel like eggshells are still being walked around there, no matter what was said in interviews.
But what this does mean though that this really is just a history of the movie and not a deeper discussion of the themes and philosophies that the movie covers. There’s lots of effervescent praise from those that worked on the film about all the themes it touches on, sure, but the cover is light. While I respect it for what it is, I really do think that there is a lot of fertile ground for deeper discussions concerning these themes. There are two that I have been playing with mentally: for a work that has been influenced by the aftermath of the many road accidents the writer and director saw when working in the ER, is there any concern that a film like this is probably going to be catnip to a young hoon? And for a film that many of the cast and crew like to praise for its environmental themes, does anyone want to talk about the possible impact 100+ hoon-cars hooning around the Nambian desert might have on the local environment there?
No film with fast cars in it is going to escape the hoons.**
But overall, I loved this oral history, I loved the version put together for the Audiobook, and I still love the film silly. If you are interested in the art of film-making, or the art of not really giving a fuck, Blood, Sweat & Chrome is well worth the listen.