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Monthly Archives: November 2006
Mad Max (George Miller, 1979)
Mad Max stands alone, the first and only film of a genre that surely could be explored and exploited, with interesting results, by action-oriented filmmakers. It is extremely probable, I believe, that if Australian filmmakers began churning out similar violent, futuristic car-motorcycle films full of spectacular chases and crashes – films in which the stuntmen are the stars – it could be the start of an international craze equal to that caused by Italian westerns and Chinese kung fu movies a few years back.
Danny Peary, Cult Movies, 1981
Looking back, the surprise is how much the Australian film industry didn’t follow the example of Mad Max. George Miller’s cult classic is often cited as one of the most profitable films ever made (in terms of proportionate return on investment), yet the flood of road-based action movies Peary half-expected never arrived, and Mad Max and its sequels remain aberrations in the history of the Australian cinema. For whatever reason – I suspect the influence of government funding bodies – the imitators never followed, and Miller was left to forge his own little mini-genre. It is probably just as well: for all the spaghetti westerns that were made, there was only one Sergio Leone, and I doubt an industry of Mad Max clones would have thrown up anybody nearly as talented as Miller.
This essay was originally published in a somewhat different form in Animation Journal,Volume 13, 2005.
The relative scarcity of serious theoretical writing on animation in the early years of establishing film studies as a discipline has fundamentally influenced the nature of animation theory. In this essay I wish to highlight one such oversight: the dearth of writing on realism in animation.1 By this, I mean theory that looks at the way in which the animated depiction of reality resembles the actual physical world, and the implications that the similarities and differences between the representation of the cartoon and the actual experience of life in the real world have for the way in which cartoons are understood. This is an extremely wide area of study, and I cannot attempt to outline a realist theory of animation here. Rather, I want to briefly outline some contrasts between classical notions of film realism (developed with reference to live-action cinema), and the ways in which writers on animation have discussed the subject. Much writing on animation is structured around certain assumptions and arguments about animation’s relation to the real. With a few exceptions, however, these arguments tend to be made implicitly. I wish to make explicit some of the approaches to realism that occur in writing on animation, and to extend the existing work that has explicitly acknowledged the realism question. A single unifying theory of animated realism is, I believe, no more achievable or helpful than attempts to outline a realist theory of live-action cinema. However, the study of live-action cinema was given a robustness by the variety of early theorists who posed alternative competing theories about cinema’s relation to the real. I want to outline a vocabulary, and make some preliminary comments, to allow similar approaches to animation.