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Belated Thoughts / Wide Eyes: Mad Max Fury Road's "Best Shot"

Nathaniel, reporting, one sleep before TIFF screenings drag me into the darkness and swallow me up...

one of the scariest images ever onscreen. one of the best title card intros, too.

Have you finished reading the previous choices for Mad Max Fury Road's "Best Shot" in the visual index? It's one of most perfect subjects for this series we've ever chosen, in no small part because the movie's gargantuan pleasures stem so specifically from the visual storytelling, rather than from dialogue, performance or sound --though those bring their own pleasures, of course. In fact, there is not a lot of dialogue in the film. Neither is their any exposition for expositions sake. The story is all there in the imagery, a grand adventure which can be enjoyed on multiple levels, provided you're really looking at it. Unlike many fine films we see each year, it's impossible to imagine this one in another form. It's neither a novel with pictures nor possible to conceive of as a stage play; Fury Road is pure cinema. 

For this, we cinephiles, must raise our hands in that pyramid shape the War Boys are so fond of and pay respects. Not to Immortan Joe who claims himself the "Redeemer" who saved his slave-like masses but to director George Miller and his cinematographer John Seale who are saving the action picture. (At least for now. Miller, like fellow rare action genius James Cameron, works too infrequently to actually do permanent rescue.) More... 

Rarely in my moviegoing years have I felt so viscerally seized by a movie for such long stretches. So let us shout "WITNESS!" at every ravishing brutal unexpected gloriously imagined image as the War Boys might before throwing their bodies into the fray to reach Valhalla.

There will be time enough for discussing the movie's insanely strong craft disciplines one by one (stunts, costume design, production design, makeup, etcetera) as we approach Oscar season -- and if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences doesn't shout "Witness!" to this film, they will have shirked that duties at honoring the best of Arts & Sciences as well as Pictures in Motion. So I'll cut right to the chase, and through it, and pick a Best Shot.

Leaving aside the images already beautifully covered in the visual indexthree of which made my own shortlist (!), a quick run through of my other favorites....

Mad Max as audience surrogate. These images, shake and jitter to Junkie XL's sadistic fire-breathing score. Max at the center of the frame and his own movie but helpless to control it can do nothing but watch, wild-eyed, trying to take it all in, follow the action, survive. The movie bears his name but Imperator Furiosa is the protagonist on Fury Road. Max is us and George Miller has us exactly where he wants us, wide-eyed prisoners to the madness. 

Two glorious examples of the movie's elemental grandeur, landscape and color as characters. You might call them abstracts except that they're so crucial to the movies sophisticated visual language and they're actually telling the story rather than abstracting it. The first, colored flares as messages, feel momentarily like a strangely beautiful grace note in ugly earth-bound battle but they're part of this warrior culture you learn with your eyes, not your eyes. The second, Furiosa's charge into the sand storm takes the movie from already dazzling action film to something like visual exaltation, the storm immediately doubling as hallucinatory Gates of Hell... (or as Majestic Valhalla to the War Boys.

I live. I die. I live again.

But to close, and because I didn't want to choose the single image I kept obsessing over (the bolt cutters with chastity belt), an image that quickly precedes it. Again Max plays audience surrogate and as he wanders, deliriously tired, around the war rig, he sees what looks exactly like a literal shimmering mirage. He doesn't believe it. It's one of the rare out of focus images. WATER the desert world's most coveted commodity. And WOMEN of whom we've seen few. 

To borrow a phrase from my friend Nick used in another context altogether, this shot 'luxuriates in its own cheesiness'. What's more it has its sand covered cake and eats it, too. In a film that's been highly praised for its feminist impulses, the women are clearly being objectified. It's practically a wet-tshirt contest. Max, more chivalrous than he appears, is more aroused by the water.  

But for all the images incongruous potency and humor, it's also a rich story point, introduces us to "the stuff" that got stolen -- and the movie's underlying humanity. What's more it's the true introduction (after Max's memorable emergence from sand prologue) of the movie's most perfectly edited, blocked, paced, and directed action setpiece. Every sequence in Mad Max is an action sequence though this one is solely on foot and thus far more intimate than the others. It's multiple quick silver shifts in POV are truly something. 

Mad Max Fury Road is something of a mirage itself, has to be seen to be believed. Impossible but immediate, earthy, insane, and very real. 


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Reader Comments (5)

Fantastic write up, beautifully written. My favorite shot was the crow-like people on stilts wading through the swamps like vultures searching not in the desert but in a world in which even the water full of poison. Plus it's an alternative vision of man-as-beast: these people aren't growling and snapping and violently physical, but patiently searching for and wading through their survival with discipline and precision.It also reminds me of some great 19th century imagery of peasants on stilts tending to their fields, which is a nice evocation of apocalypse as a jarring muddle of past and future.

September 10, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

Looks like someone made a gif of the above images. I'm most drawn to the first shot, with crow-stilt person far off and war machine creeping in at the edge:

September 10, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

What a lovely, lovely shot!

September 10, 2015 | Unregistered Commentersati

Too many to chose. But finely done

September 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Zitzelman

Also worth noting is Miller's insertion of the wife's pregnant belly in that eroticized scene, boldly juxtaposing maternity with a male gaze-vision of sexualized femininity.

September 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

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