There are countless talking points in the new oral history of Mad Max: Fury Road. As well as Tom Hardy v Charlize Theron, we hear accounts of everything from the writing process to stunts, on-set challenges and the battle faced by the softly spoken Australian auteur George Miller to get Warner Bros to release his film in an untampered state.
“Talking points” is a salient phrase. The format of Kyle Buchanan’s book, Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road, reduces the journalist’s voice to let subjects speak for themselves. This approach has obvious appeal for talent, whose views aren’t diluted by the writer’s. This is presumably a key reason the book is an authorized version of events, meaning it was made with the participation of Miller and the collaboration of his production company Kennedy Miller Mitchell.
I also wrote a book on Mad Max (Miller and Max: George Miller and the Making of a Film Legend), which covers all four movies to date as well as the story of Miller himself – charting the former medical doctor’s journey from the small town of Chinchilla, Queensland to the highest echelons of Hollywood.
My book was fun to write, but far from easy; I wasn’t surprised to learn that support groups exist for writers of unauthorized biographies. I interviewed 79 people, speaking to an array of colorful characters – many of them battered-looking men with whom I shared meals, long chats, beers, coffee and on one occasion “choof tea” (a marijuana infusion). I also spoke with Miller’s childhood friends and engaged extensively with the family of Byron Kennedy, the co-creator of Mad Max and producer of the first two films who died in a helicopter accident in 1983.
I didn’t, however, get to chat to Theron, Hardy or other super-famous talent – including Miller himself, who declined to be interviewed. When my book finally arrived on the shelves, I expressed my gratitude to Miller for his work by him, describing him in the introduction as “the most influential Australian artist of the 20th century” as well as a man who seems to me “humble” and “down to earth”.
Yet I would estimate that, conservatively speaking, about 25 people (most of them involved with Fury Road) either pulled out of interviews with me or never agreed – because my project didn’t have the director’s blessing. Writing an unauthorized book turned ever more tricky. In the end, no images from any Mad Max movie – or even the words “Mad Max” – could be used on the cover.
So it was interesting to read an account that came with the blessing of Miller and co, one revealing some things I couldn’t – including various details about Miller’s combative relationship with the studio, and the friction between Theron and Hardy. But that logic swings both ways; there are merits in both authorized and unauthorized accounts.
Reading Blood, Sweat & Chrome made me reminisce on some of the more… colorful elements in Miller and Max that might never have made it into an authorized book but were published in mine. For example, during the making of Mad Max 2, the crew were having difficulty locating the three-legged dog stipulated in the script. According to multiple interviewees, Miller suggested they find a four-legged one and amputate its leg. “We were all gobsmacked,” one person in attendance told me. “I think, I hope, it was a joke,” said another.
My book recounts various debaucheries such as how, during pre-production of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, some crew members (unbeknown to Miller) drove its spectacularly freaky skeletal vehicles around backstreets in Sydney while – in the words of the production designer Grace Walker, who was one of them – “pissed as tits”. Real dog skulls were used to decorate the film set, prepared by the set dresser and decorator Martin O’Neill, who recounted to me in gory detail how he picked up dead dogs from the pound then boiled them.
Late one weekend evening, O’Neill arrived on the set of Bartertown with a pump-action shotgun, intending to create a more lived-in looking environment (in his words, to “distress the set a bit”). He also recounted that evening to me in detail: “I just went mental in there,” he said. “I’m going CHI-CHI BOOM! CHI-CHI BOOM! CHI-CHI-BOOM! in every direction.”
My book also details some pretty disgusting ideas and imagery used in the writing and brainstorming process for Fury Road, arguably in contrast to the film’s eventual interpretation as a powerful feminist statement. It contains plenty of other stories, which, I believe, offer light and dark, color and shade, and more than a whiff of petrol-scented lunacy to the narrative of these extraordinary artistic achievements.
Buchanan’s book is attracting considerable publicity. But for me, its crowning achievement is its detailed illustration of how difficult the film-making process was. Fury Road fans should definitely check it out. You won’t find the full story in the authorized account – though you won’t find it in the unauthorized one either. As ever, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.