It's sometimes hard to reconcile the ranting, racist, drunk nutso Mel Gibson of the now and the Mel Gibson of the early 80s: beautiful,talented, sane... or at least not visibly otherwise. Perhaps he was always a fundie rageaholic nutjob and his publicists and managers were as skilled as Tom Cruise's once were at reigning the Crazy in?
Today marks the 25th anniversary of a Mel Gibson movie that it's hard to remember Mel Gibson even being in. Which makes it an appropriate choice to write about since we'd sometimes like to forget him.
But that's unkind. It's not really Mel's fault that the lasting impression from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome belongs to Tina Turner. By 1985 he'd already done all he could with the lead character in George Miller's trilogy. And who can compete with Anna Mae Bullock's pipes? Her vocals open and close the film. Her rendition of "We Don't Need Another Hero" might well be the only artifact from the third film that still inspires nostalgia. It's one of those power ballads that's just too bombastic to have existed anywhere outside of, say, 1982-1986 or the complete works of Meat Loaf.
What's more, Tina Turner had potent if rarely utilized screen presence. She plays Aunty Entity, the queen bitch of "Bartertown" and the film's villain of sorts. Some actors choose scripts based on the number of character lines. Some choose them based on the filmmaking team or script quality. Remember that scene in What's Love Got To Do With It where Oscar-nominated Angela Bassett is in court as Anna Mae Bullock trying to keep her rights to the stage name "Tina Turner"? 'I fought to too hard for this name!' Surely Tina chose her rare films on the basis of character names, too. Aunty Entity, The Acid Queen, The Mayor. She doesn't mess around. Like many great stars she understood personal branding and her movie character names are as badass and strong as she.
She gets all of Beyond Thunderdome's best lines and moments.
Consider her frankness.
Max: I want to get a closer look at him. How do I get in there?Her sense of humor. (This is a hilariously bitchy aside to her saxophonist while she's listening to Mad Max's story.)
Henchman: It's a factory, isn't it? Ask for work.
Max: I don't know anything about methane.
Aunty: You can shovel shit, can't you?
In one beautifully judged moment, Tina turns her back to the camera as if Aunty is about to launch into a huge monologue about her ascendance. 'This nobody had a chance to become somebody.' And then she spins around, the story finished before it has even begun.
And like any of the best movie villains (or characters for that matter) she knew how to make an entrance (lowered from the sky to the top of the Thunderdome with lights blazing behind her) and an exit, laughing off her rivalry with Max -- "Ain't we a pair?" -- before leaving him behind in a cloud of dust.
Tina only made four movies and Aunty Entity was her most substantial acting gig. Pity that she hasn't acted in the past seventeen years. Was Tina Turner the best rock star actor that never pursued acting?
<--- Tom Hardy
P.S. This postpunk postapocalypse series will be rebooted in two years as Mad Max: Fury Road with Tom Hardy in the lead role. It's probably a good fit. Like the early Mel Gibson he's beautiful, talented and ... well he's too new to truly determine sanity levels. But his bizarre star turn in Bronson suggests that he can at least vividly imagine the nutjob within. And you have to be a little crazy to survive an apocalypse, don't you? Though if you're a little too crazy you'll bring on your own personal variety... as the original Mad Max, Mad Mel, can attest.