Cinema: Poetic Car-Nage

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Directed by George Miller Screenplay by James McCausland and George Miller

There is something—and these days, when most movies resemble Bel Air rummage sales, it seems a precious thing—called directorial integrity. It does not mean that the man behind the camera tithes his salary for Cambodian refugees; it means he knows how to make movies: how to shoot and edit pieces of film so they cohere, blend to create laughter or suspense, speak eloquently in the special language of the cinema. Steven Spielberg, Alan J. Pakula, Martin Scorsese, John Carpenter know the language. So does Australian Director George Miller, whose first feature contains sequences of violent, pure cinema poetry.

Mad Max is a punk-gothic horror movie about a gang of vicious hot-rodders who terrorize the few survivors of an atomic apocalypse, and who are tracked down and slaughtered by a draconian police force. As a story, the film makes for overwrought, even repellent melodrama. The movie has little feeling for, or interest in, the human idiosyncrasies of its characters; they are glorified stunt men, stock figures in stock cars. But Mad Max is not a "people picture." It is an action movie whose subject is machines, and the sophisticated killing ma chine man could become. The hardware is the star here: the souped-up Chevies and demon motorcycles, captured by Miller's supple, fender-level camera — one machine in sync with another. With his instinct and craft, Miller has provided more autosuggestive violence on a $1 million budget than The Blues Brothers did with half the Chicago police force and $30 million.

Because Miller dared to make a move without a single graduate of Saturday Night Live — or, for that matter, a single liberal impulse — his film has been consigned to the grind houses, where audiences are responding as Miller wants them to ("Eek!" "Ugh!" "Wow!"). From there Mad Max will find its way to the film schools and revival houses, where its tough-gutted intelligence may be appreciated.