Friday, 29 May 2015

Furiosa and Furiosa

Well, it's basically a two-hour chase sequence with a few pauses... but yes, it's amazingly well done.  Old hand George Miller takes advantage of all the modern techniques - hyper-fast editing, CGI, etc - but he uses these things for storytelling purposes, not to show us how fast he can edit or how good his CGI is.  He never sacrifices the clarity of the visual storytelling.  The production and costume design has a gnarly, knotty detail and complexity.  The brazenly ironic and stylised salvagepunk visual world of the movie makes it like an 80s auteur film made on a vast budget and with modern techniques.  The result is jaw-droppingly good.  It instantly makes just about every other blockbuster movie of recent years look quaint and windy.  Mad Max: Fury Road makes Avengers: Age of Ultron look like a Cameron Crowe movie in which the assembled twee, privileged assholes play with action figures and make "boom" noises.

I'm not going to go into much political detail.  I've junked most of what I've been trying to write about this movie, largely because of this article at Jacobin, which says everything I was groping for, and lots more of interest.  It's really good... though there are bits where I think the writer, Stephen Maher, goes too far.  (There are also a few snafus which suggest he didn't quite pay enough attention to the plot.)

Read it?  Okay, then here are some caveats:

I don't think Maher gets it exactly right.  The film certainly does buy into an orientalist narrative about the supposed sins of pre-modern and/or anti-modern civilisation, and yes this is inevitably tinged with Huntingdonism and Islamophobia.  In the film, patriarchy comes complete with a built-in death-cult, tribal masks, and a harem of the type sheiks always have in racist, orientalist Western fantasies.  But I think the film is less a defence of 'our' modernity in the face of such things and more an attempt to implicate modernity in the same supposed sins.  The death cult of the suicide bombers uses Northern European religious ideas (Valhalla), urges itself on with thrash metal music, and Joe decorates himself with Western-style military medals, etc.  Plus the Mad Max movies' usual anxious appropriation of the camp and performative hyper-masculinity of biker culture.  It's like the film is saying "see how awful we'd become if we degenerated in the face of a civilisational crisis... it's buried inside our civilisation, waiting to creep back out... the seeds are already there, around us".  This is all problematic in itself, but maybe not quite as bad as the review above makes it sound.

It's still an awesomely entertaining movie (reason enough to see it and enjoy it) with reasonably good gender politics.

Much of a meal has been made of the gender politics of the film, usually through the medium of stories about assorted reactionary bumwipes crying about how it's a feminist lecture instead of a manly movie filled with manly masculine manliness.  Firstly, this is crap.  Max gets to be incredibly masculine in all those stereotypical ways.  He drives really fast.  He punches people.  He shoots guns.  He's very effective, very tough, very heroic.  Tom Hardy practically sweats testosterone.  Etc.  Secondly, there are no feminist lectures in the film... unless you count the odd statement from a character that women and their babies shouldn't be considered the property of men.  To me, that's not a feminist lecture.  That's a baseline statement of what should be obvious fact.  Admittedly, feminists are often the only people remembering such truths, and bothering to say them publically... but, truth be told, if such a basic statement is enough to raise your male hackles, you're probably some kind of malignant dickwit whose opinions are worthless and who should never have any attention paid to you.  It's only in a twisted world like ours that a movie would be considered controversial or radical by anyone for having a woman lead character who is depicted as tough, brave and competent.  It's only in a twisted world like ours that a movie would be considered controversial or radical by anyone for having 'don't keep women as sex-slaves and/or unwilling baby-making machines' as an ethical underpinning. This stuff isn't radical.  At least, it shouldn't be.  And, as annoying as it is to see reactionaries raging against this movie like it's a dramatisation of the SCUM Manifesto, it's also quite annoying to see the liberal end of the mainstream media fawning over it for being the second coming of Mary Wollstonecraft.

This isn't, by the way, to say that Mad Max: Fury Road doesn't have some good gender politics.  It does.  But it seems obvious to me that the correct assessment of this film's gender politics is an appreciative "well, it's not perfect but it's really quite impressive by the standards of the kind of film it is".

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