Saturday, July 10, 2010

25th Anniversary: Mad Max and Mad (Anna) Mae

"They always said that the living would envy the dead ♫ "

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?
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?
Her sense of humor. (This is a hilariously bitchy aside to her saxophonist while she's listening to Mad Max's story.)
"Play something Ton Ton. Something tragic."
And her lack of sentiment.

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.
"Enough history. Water?"
Discarding her own triumphant backstory like it bores her? This is some woman.

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

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.


/3rtfu11 said...

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.

Tina addresses in her autobiography she wasn’t interested in what was being offered to her. The Shug Avery role in The Color Purple --- noting she had already lived that life. She wanted fantasy. She felt like a queen and want to portray one. She referenced Grace Jones for playing the parts she’d like to have played --- larger than life, dominating, female warriors.

This may sound funny but, when I was a kid I use to cry whenever I’d hear “We Don’t Need Another Hero”

jm said...

Nathaniel , why are you not talking about "Wicked" ? JJ Abrams, James Mangold, are some of the directors interested in directing a film version of this musical. Look:


jm -- i'll talk about it when there's any movement. this is the same ol same ol rumors rumors rumors.

want facts.

plus i've been at the movies so this is the first i'm seeing this.


/3rtfull -- that's interesting about the fantasy elements. and grace jones. i never thought Tina wanted the movies. maybe i was wrong.

Glenn said...

Oh man, whoever was Tina Turner's hair-stylist in the 1980s deserves a Nobel Prize or something.

And that's a crazy, but totally appropriate, comment about Grace Jones. Jones was a Bond girl, "Vamp" and several other truly memorable characters and not just "i want another award on my mantle" roles.

"We Don't Need Another Hero (Beyond Thunderdome)" is surely one of the all time greatest original songs from a movie.

Mirko S. said...

I used to forget that Tina was considered as Shug Avery in THE COLOR PURPLE. even if I liked (and quite a lot!) Margaret Avery in Spielberg's picture, I think Tina could have been a rather interesting choice for making the character a little tougher


glenn -- and it wasn't Oscar nominated. Not that that category was particularly terrible that year. But it felt ordinary all the same.

But I still can't believe that "Miss Celie's Blues" lost. grrrr.

Mirko -- i like the shug avery they chose a lot but i didn't even know this about Tina

SoSueMe said...

Didn't they want Patti Labelle for Shug as well? I think I read that somewhere.

A couple of weeks ago I said I wanted Hollywood to produce a Meryl/Sandra action comedy...Can we throw Grace Jones and Tina Turner into the mix as well?

jm said...

SoSueMe , I'm kind of over Sandra Bullock. She seems like a nice individual, but her performance in "Blind Side " was not Oscar- worthy- I'm still upset about her win. After winning her Oscar, I don't see her placing a heavy emphasis on pursuing artistic endeavors- very risky material. Trust me , she will do the similar commercial Bullock rom-com projects. Sandra is not overally concerned about creative growth. She truly needs to take a year off - regroup & get away from her media overkill.

Anonymous said...

Never mind Tom Hardy in Fury Road, what about his Ultimate Fighting Picture Warrior.

They've moved it back from this autumn so there won't be totally gratuitous hots of his body all over the internet. How unfair is that?