A new column over at Tor.com. Spoiler: I REALLY LIKED this film.
Abbie Bernstein, The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road. Titan Books, 2015. Copy courtesy of the publisher.
I’ve read two art-of-the-film books in my life, and this is only the second. The first was The Art of Pacific Rim, and I confess The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road is less impressive, both visually and in terms of discussing the processes and worldbuilding behind putting the worldbuilding together.
I wanted more feminism and more details about filming in a desert, more discussion of stunts and the interrelationship of VFX and SFX. The majority of The Art of Fury Road is character design and cars. It is very pretty, although the layout is kind of crowded, but since I’m only really interested in the cars when they’re on fire, it’s not exactly my ideal delightful thing.
Still. Very pretty.
Jezebel: “Ridiculous Mad Max Makeup You Can Only Wear In Private.” FURIOOOOOOSSSAAAAAAA!
Lovely Fury Road fanvid.
Yes, I’m a complete fangirl for this film. Yes, I am completely okay with this.
I cannot believe how much I love this film. I have seen it three times since last Sunday – fortunately the local cinema is cheap.
The Telegraph: Mad Max Fury Road George Miller cast interview.
Making Light: Mad Max SPOILER Road.
Emmie Mears: Why I Share: Living on the Fury Road.
Slashfilm: Eight Awesome Bits Of Mad Max Fury Road Trivia.
Vimeo: Fury Road Q&A.
Anita Sarkeesian was critiquing Mad Max: Fury Road on Twitter. Me and a friend had ourselves a conversation on the ways in which we disagreed.
Be warned: SPOILERS ON THE LOOSE.
Liz: I think Anita Sarkeesian is being wrongheaded about Fury Road on Twitter
Jenny: I have to agree with you
completely and totally agree with you
and I think that
the lack of options for women who want to see movies that treat women as people is contributing to the problem
Liz: It draws so much of its arc from 1970s/early 80s feminist science fiction
I mean it sort of IS Suzy McKee Charnas. Its arc is a compressed version of the narrative arc of her Motherlines series (REALLY HORRIFIC DYSTOPIA) done as an action film with extra added DEATH CAR STUNTS.
and I think people are confusing the fact that YOUR HEART DOES NOT STOP WANTING TO ESCAPE YOUR CHEST throughout the whole movie
not all that gory
the camera moves away when the gore happens
that’s so very rare these days
Nope. Not particularly violent, either.
I mean FIERY DEATH
but it’s an aesthetic
THERE’S LOTS OF FAST. VERY VERY FAST. AND PEOPLE DIE AND THINGS EXPLODE
I also think she’s maybe confusing viewers being all THAT WAS FUN AND AWESOME
with the movie showing it [violence] as fun and awesome
there is nothing about that world that makes me want to live there
EXCEPT Furiosa and the wives.
The movie didn’t show it as fun and awesome.
The movie is all, “Out here, everything hurts.”
It’s pretty explicit.
And the arc of redemption isn’t killing things.
It’s liberating the means of production.
I feel like she’s confusing criticism of patriarchy with criticism of sexism
sexism in real life is not cartoonish, it’s often subtle (and sometimes cartoonish)
patriarchy is often very cartoonish
that’s how it survives
in part bc everyone’s like, “No, that can’t be the truth. that can’t be what the system really does.”
But yes, that’s really what the system does.
It’s not film that deals with sexism.
It is a film that deals with PATRIARCHY as a system.
It reifies its metaphors
because that’s what SFF does
I mean, I go into schools that have leaking roofs and carpets so warped they are trip hazards
and then there’s a capitalist mogul that just had his sixth? heart transplant
patriarchy is depressingly cartoonish
Immortan Joe is the Patriarchy.
The warboys are his footsoldiers, men who the patriarchy hurts too. Furiosa is the woman who bought into the system, UNSEXED herself, and then rejected it.
yup yup yup
the wives and the – it’s obviously a LESBIAN SEPARATIST COMMUNE COME ON. The Vuvalini.
They represent two different perspectives on women vs. the patriarchy. The women who have fought to cast off their chains and discover that maintaining their liberation is a constant struggle and the women who have chosen to live apart but in choosing to live apart, they are… abandoning a different and just as important struggle.
as I was just saying on twitter
it’s actually really important thematically that they return back to the Citadel
I think it’s significant that there are no children and young women among the Vuvalini.
The fight for liberation involves a return to the place of enslavement.
They don’t run away.
They take their liberation and decide to spread it.
and that’s why it’s about patriarchy and not sexism
They decide to fight for a better world.
because they need to go back to the Citadel in order to destroy the patriarchy
the plot could have had them killing Immortan Joe in the process of escaping
but thematically he needs to be killed in the process of returning
But not to destroy the patriarchy so much as to… overthrow the local expression of it, I think. There’s no suggestion that you can destroy the patriarchy
because I think the barren world represents the systems of oppression, at some level.
I realise this is a very arguable reading
but it is significant that WHO BROKE THE WORLD is a refrain.
I think you are right
all three of those quotes
despite the detail, it’s not exactly a subtle movie?
like, he gives us the themes right there
and they all three work together
So the idea of the green place – the whole nurturement of seeds, the fact that they go back to the site of enslavement – the green place of many mothers is the feminist revolution. In a sense?
But seeds need to be planted. Seeds need to be tended.
“The soil’s too sour,” the Seed Keeper says
when the Dag (I think) asks her if any of them have grown.
and WHO BROKE THE WORLD?
not just who started this all
but who is still breaking it, even now?
Oh, it’s a very subtle movie.
But it achieves subtlety by hitting you over the head with its themes and then distracting you with explosions – the three thematic statements are shown, but briefly, and for all the attention Immortan Joe pays to them they may as well not be there.
And because the viewer is so used to parsing what’s on the screen through the gaze of a man, through the reactions of men, it half-tricks you into OVERLOOKING their importance
and because the frames, the set design, the costume design, the world design, they’re all filled up with detail…
it’s CLEVER is what it is
obvious and detailed and subtle and pared down all at the same time
…it does mental judo.
It uses your expectations against you – not just narratively,
it uses how it expects you to pay attention and makes a statement of that.
it does a fantastic job of getting you to focus on what it wants you to focus on
WE ARE NOT THINGS
WHO BROKE THE WORLD
OUR BABIES WILL NOT BE WARLORDS
If you overlook these things – because Immortan Joe does – if you dismiss them as unimportant, the film puts you effectively in Immortan Joe’s place.
which means it does what Code Name Verity does
no wonder why I love it
ok so obviously people react to that book in different ways?
but I get the impression (based mostly on my uncle reading, which to be fair is not the largest sample size)
that part of how much of a twist the twist is, that how much you identify with Verity versus being judgy of her
is directly tied to one’s expectations about young women and what they are capable of
if you think they are capable of being Verity, as we know her to be at the ebd
you know her account is full of shit
if you don’t
well, then you read about her being a coward and traitor and take her word for it
because LIKE THE NAZIS that’s what you expect her to be
a silly girl in over her head who doesn’t know what she’s doing and ends up betraying everyone because of it
that’s – if you see the women primarily as sexual objects
you’re being IMMORTAN JOE.
that’s how you are going to see them
it’s a litmus test
And when Max is staring at the women bathing
we’re set up to think it’s the WOMEN he’s staring at
but fuck me, he’s lusting after the water.
and to a certain extent the decadence of it all
SO MUCH WATER and people that look happy and healthy
the dude was just covered BY A SANDSTORM THAT LOOKED TO BE MAYBE A MILE HIGH
dude is not thinking about sexy times.
I would also like to add, regarding the scene when Max wakes up and sees the wives
that what you hear, very loudly, is the sound of water hitting the ground
loud enough, and at the right frequency that this is clearly A LOT of water hitting the ground
It’s all about water. And life – Fade was mentioning how the camera lingers not on breasts or buttocks but on Splendid Angharad’s pregnant belly.
This is a vision of life among death. Life out of death, out of the sandstorm, out of the dead lands.
It’s a profoundly life-affirming film, for a post-apocalyptic action movie.
Kameron Hurley, Wives, Warlords, and Refugees: the People Economy of MAD MAX
The Toast, Movie Yelling With Shrill And Mallory
I first wrote this at the beginning of August 2014. For various reasons, I’ve sat on it until now.
So let me just drop it into the Friday night news hole…
Imagine that you dearly love, absolutely crave, a particular kind of food. There are some places in town that do this particular cuisine just amazingly. Lots of people who are into this kind of food hold these restaurants in high regard. But let’s say, at every single one of these places, every now and then throughout the meal, at random moments, the waiter comes over and punches any women at the table right in the face. And people of color and/or LGBT folks as well!– Ann Leckie, 21 October 2013
It is good to once again be among friends. You, Quill, are my friend. This dumb tree is also my friend. And this green whore is also —
– Drax the Destroyer, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
So what I learned from Guardians of the Galaxy is that space is full of white people and blue people and green people and red people and red-blue people, but apart from cyborg Djimon Hounsou and one or two minor extras, space has no black people.*
*This is not okay. Seriously. Not okay.
I also learned that women will be called “whore” regardless of their behaviour. There’s nothing wrong with sex work, or with sleeping around. But when Drax, a character who (we’re told) doesn’t understand metaphor, refers to Gamora (a character who’s refused the only sexual advances she’s been offered, and whose characterisation is heavy on the badass killing-people skills and light on sex) as a whore, it performs a neat subliminal perceptual trick: it renders invisible any distinction between woman and whore as categories. This is, mind you, a perceptual trick that the sexist cultures we’re all swimming in have been trying to pull on you your whole life: women are, as a default position, assumed to be both sexually available to straight men and using sex for personal gain. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Drax (and thus Guardians’ director and writers) just makes it explicit. Gamora’s a woman (albeit a green one); therefore she’s a whore.*
This was the point in the film at which I stopped enjoying it. Don’t get me wrong: up to this point, I was perfectly prepared to trade a background nagging dissatisfaction with the film’s narrative (and costume, and casting) choices in exchange for a fun piece of nonsense spectacle filled with explosions, good CGI, and decent comedy.
And then whore punched me in the face.
It’s rather hard to get back into the swing of enjoying fun spectacle after that. The film’s just hit you over the head with the fact that you don’t matter, except as part of the sex class: that no matter what you do, you exist to be sexually available. Whore.
And all my nagging dissatisfactions marched up to the forefront, banners trailing and bayonets fixed, and I sat through Guardians’ conclusion in tooth-gritted silence, so as not to spoil the cinema experience for my mother.
Because I’ve seen two films in the cinema this summer, Edge of Tomorrow and Guardians of the Galaxy. Both of them expensive pieces of fun explosive entertainment, but both of them place a bland, boring, pallid Everyman in the central narrative role, and focus on him over female characters who are, quite frankly, more interesting – and whose stories would make for less blandly predictable movie-going experiences. (Although Edge of Tomorrow, at least, avoided the face-punch of whore, and had a stronger narrative edge than Guardians.) Because let’s be honest: Gamora, the racoon, and Groot, are the most interesting characters in Guardians, and Gamora is shamefully underemployed.
Quill is blandface Everyboy with a tragic childhood, decent fashion sense, and complete sexual incontinence, who stumbles accidentally into Matters Of Galaxy-Destroying Import, while Drax’s character basically boils down to WOMEN IN REFRIDGERATORS MUST BE AVENGED – but in Gamora and her sister Nebula and their relationship with each other, with Ronan, and with their father-creator Thanos, there’s the essence of a really juicy story, one that arises from character and situation and could maybe make something of a thematic argument about abusive families.
Instead we’re supposed to believe in some sort of romance between Quill and Gamora The Badass Assassin, and substitute a couple of brief fight-scene encounters between Gamora and Nebula for any development or resolution of that character arc. I wasn’t all too keen on this as a narrative decision before WHORE.
After… Well, I’m pissed. I’m really, inexpressibly pissed. Because okay, half a loaf is better than no bread, and I’ll take a film with an underutilised Only Girl over no female characters at all – but I am so goddamned tired of going to Films With Explosions in them knowing in advance they will always be about the same type of person, and having to go braced for the reminder that hey, the people who made this film don’t give a shit for anyone who’s not the White Male Audience.
That reminder – the moment of WHORE – is always the moment where it’s brought home that not only will this never be your story, that not only will you never get to see yourself in the hero/wish-fulfillment role, but also that the most important thing about you is how guys see your body: something available, something to be used. Something – though Guardians of the Galaxy only goes here in mentions of Drax’s family and by implication with Carina, the Collector’s barely-named servant – to be destroyed or to be rendered abject to serve the purposes of the men around them.
Fuck that, guys. It’s boring.
So, X-Men: Days of Future Past?
It’s sexist crap. I mean, sexist even by your ordinary Hollywood blockbuster standard, which is pretty sexist already. There are some female characters in the brave band of heroes at the end of the world (and why couldn’t we have the film about the band of heroes at the end of the world?)…
…and then there’s Mystique. Who is a fucking awesome, active, badass character –
– that the film treats as a combination of Macguffin/prize for the boys with their sad manpain.
C.C. Finlay says it best:
So the world is a better place because Mystique grows and changes as a person. And when we snap back to the future, we’ll get to see a glimpse of her and how she’s changed.
Just like Mystique only functions earlier in the story as a foil for Charles’ man-pain vs. Magneto’s man-pain, she’s completely absent from the denouement. Because her growth as a character is irrelevant to the rewards that the men-folks get for a job well done.
To make up for that, here’s Trudi Canavan talking about women and epic fantasy in Australia and New Zealand.
On Sunday night (actually, very early Monday morning), I watched two films: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and Ender’s Game.
I have never read either novel, so this was something of an interesting experiment for me. For your potential entertainment, I reproduce below my comments as I watched Ender’s Game. (City of Bones is here.)
First conclusion of this film: British voices saying ridiculous things are much easier to listen to than American ones. Except for Harrison Ford.
Vicious bullying as a testing tool. And then big brother’s a sociopath.
What a cold-blooded set of monsters these are, although Harrison Ford has aged very well.
Simulated zero-G! Possibly worth ignoring the cold-blooded monsters to watch zero-G.
Those look like exceedingly uncomfortable beds. And exceedingly terrible food. And very few female people who aren’t authority figures. That’s not disturbing at all.
HI LET’S SUBJECT OUR SO-CALLED HERO TO YET ANOTHER VICIOUS BULLY. Because this is how you make good tactical geniuses, right? Or any kind of useful military officer? Teach them they can rely on other people only as a source of pain, suffering, and impossible demands.
Film, you are not training officers. Or geniuses. Because if this is officer training, you have the world’s most fucking dysfunctional military. Officially. You’re making sociopaths. Sociopaths do not make good fighting leaders. Nor do they follow orders well. And all your failed sociopaths are going to have to go somewhere afterwards: you’re going to break them, teach them these habits, and send them back to civvy-street?
Oh, hello. There’s an Only Girl. And she has long hair. If this is even fake military training (especially with zero-G), why doesn’t everyone have buzzcuts?
Oh, look. People are fucking with our so-called hero’s head.
And now he’s been put in charge of people. Hi, twelve-year-old! Film, can’t you fake pretending to be a military training school better than this? I don’t care how much of a genius the twelve-year-old is, there’s a reason twelve-year-old monarchs tended to have regents. People do not take twelve-year-olds seriously.
Hi, shower fight scene. And dead boy. Or very badly damaged boy.
All right, film. You realise this does not make sense? If Earth can maintain a forward command post close to the alien home world for twenty-seven years, Earth is not losing any war. So Earth is not actually looking for a magic bullet to save the human race. So why is Ender SO important? BECAUSE REASONS.
No logic here.
No, really. Why do you need Ender and hundreds of trained-from-childhood sociopaths if you’re not losing? It seems as though traditional ways of making officers and soldiers should work just as well. Wouldn’t you want your “geniuses” directed into xenopsychology and xenobiology so you had a better chance of doing intelligence analysis and threat assessment on your alien enemy? Empathy, rather than sociopathy?
If you can maintain a forward operating base for twenty-seven years without it being attacked and retaken, you’re winning. You might not be winning fast enough that your economy back home hasn’t buckled under the strain, but with an impossible-to-understand enemy who killed millions, you could probably manage a centrally controlled economy with strong rationing with few of the usual political costs. And you wouldn’t need a single military genius. You’d need lots and lots of just good enough junior officers gaining the right kind of experience in the right places. And you’d put your geniuses into xenobiology and xenopsychology, and try to understand the aliens from their behaviour.
MAJOR LOGIC FAIL HERE.
You’d assign the geniuses alongside the military officers, but you wouldn’t risk losing them to training accidents. Victory in war doesn’t necessarily require genius, after all. Just material superiority and the intelligence sufficient to use it to advantage.
Maybe it’s more obviously illogical in the film because in a film you’re not in anyone’s head. But fucking hell, if this parallels the book, Orson Scott Card really rigged ALL the cards to get the game he wanted – and it’s not even a subtle rigging.
Oh, for crying out loud, people. It’s space. You can stand off from a planet and bombard it from space at leisure. With Big Fucking Rocks. Asteroid impacts lead to extinction-level events.
So why are Earth’s leaders worried if they’re close enough to the alien planet to a) be able to attack it and b) be able to monitor it? And why haven’t they been bombarding it with Big Fucking Rocks for the last twenty years?
No. Instead they have a DEATH STAR.
Seriously PEOPLE STAND OFF IN SPACE AND BOMBARD WITH ROCKS
Right, so, this training, simulations alleged, is actually for real. STUPID. Command decisions put in the hands of children who think it’s all a sim. Good lord, Earth really must have overwhelming material superiority. If the kids don’t know it’s for real, they’re not going to be as careful about their resources as they otherwise might. I don’t care how much of a tactical genius anyone is, logistics and supply are equally vital. Tactics is the smallest part of war.
And the adult command team is there to watch. Not to command, oh, a SECOND FLEET? Stupid.
And no one’s bothering to break it to the kid gently that it’s all been real. HAVE PSYCHOLOGISTS ON HAND PEOPLE. At best you could have a bad case of shock. I mean, however these kinds feel about the genocide of inexplicable aliens, they still ought to be seriously bothered by the fact their commanders lied to and manipulated them.
Ah, now they come WITH SEDATIVES. Seriously, genius kid is the only one who needs them?
Oh, someone is communicating telepathically with special genius. I MUST GO. And the other kid runs after him without putting her oxygen on first. What do they teach these people in military training this future? Stupid future is clearly full of intellectual degenerates. Brainless sociopaths.
So, why is Ender the special telepath as well as being special sociopath genius? He’s just all around special. BECAUSE REASONS.
Tactically skilled but fundamentally stupid.
And why did his commanders let him go, in the end? Would you let a genius who you’ve broken loose on an unsuspecting universe? Someone could turn him against you, like you turned him against your enemy. It wouldn’t even be hard. He doesn’t seem to like you very much.
The people who made this film appear to have run out of give-a-shit for any sort of logic in this denouement.
OKAY THIS IS BULLSHIT WE’LL MAKE IT PRETTY BUT WE GIVE UP
*everybody involved with the film gives up*
*Harrison Ford gives up*
*Ender steals a shuttle and heads off into the big empty with no one asking him how come he’s carrying an alien egg in his duffel*
Verdict: Pretty, but remarkably full of stupid, illogical, ethical bankruptcy, and unsubtle narrative rigging.
On Sunday night (actually, very early Monday morning), I watched two films: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and Ender’s Game.
I have never read either novel, so this was something of an interesting experiment for me. For your potential entertainment, I reproduce below my comments as I watched The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.
Hey, it’s New York. Why is it always New York?
Ooo, fancy title symbol. Not overblown enough, guys. You should’ve done a SMASH CUT.
Well, there’s one good actor here. Pity it’s not the stars. Hi, Lena Headey! You look like an interesting parent! I bet you’re SIR NOT APPEARING IN THIS FILM, because you’re too interesting and awesome for it.
Teenagers being teenage and possibly having mental breakdowns. Where is tension? Tension is not here.
Oo, unexplained fight scene! Ominous warning phone call! Lena Headey yay!
Damn. I was right. Sir Not Appearing In This Film from this point on.
Possibly-having-mental-breakdown teenage daughter really is TSTL, isn’t she? Why, why, are you running home when your mother told you to stay away? TSTL.
But you’re the star, so obviously you don’t get killed.
Oh, icky transforming demon dog. Fine, blow up your goddamn kitchen. Like that won’t leave burn scars …Icky, gooey, re-coalescing exploded demon dog.
Very blond weird-looking black-clad boy plays saviour. With a British accent. Blond guy is at least polite, maybe he’ll grow into those cheekbones. Other guy – glasses-boy – looks like Xander with a better face.
So blond guy is Buffy. Buffy/Hermione. That sort of makes sense: he looks like a cross between the pair, if they were boys. I bet you have ANGSTY BACKSTORY, blond boy. You look like the type.
Oh, what a great load of nonsense this is so far. GIANT SECRET MANSION INNA GRAVEYARD. Yes, film, we get the point, it’s like Hogwarts crossed with the X-Men. Except with more skull decoration. Is there an Alan Rickman here? That’s all we need to make this complete.
*peers about hopefully *
No Alan Rickman. No Patrick Stewart either. So sad.
…Are all the people in New York white? I’ve passed through New York. It did not seem quite so full of white people.
Special brain-talking creepy people, too? Ooookay, film.
Hmm. At least blond boy has a sense of humour behind the angst. Girl seems to have very little personality beyond ARGH RUN OOPS WHAT OO PRETTY BOY. But blond boy has something.
In fact, we may have two good actors here! Lena Headey and blond boy. Blond boy is doing a hell of a job with some truly terrible material. Terrible material and the worst case of gel-hair I’ve seen in any film ever. At least when it’s not supposed to be gel-hair.
Hello, people dressing up for a goth party. I guess all the wizards of New York are into the goth scene.
And we have two New Yorkers with dialogue who aren’t Caucasian! Wheee! (Both of them are magicians. Whee?) Also, what is it with eyes? Magic people and magic eyes.
Fight scene! Fight scene with vampires! …Well, that’s interesting choreography, I guess.
Falling-down clinch between blond boy and plucky-but-personality-free girl! We have achieved UST BINGO! (I claim my prize.)
Oh, looky, it’s vampire bitesies. Will this go anywhere other than making glasses-boy look interestingly pale and ill?
And blondie’s a pianist. He is really working very well with absolutely crap material.
Hey, it’s a Stargate! I wonder if that’s a Chekov’s gun.
Oh, look, glasses-boy (not glasses anymore!) is sad and jealous. I know she has no personality, but don’t you think the kid has enough to deal with without you dumping your unrequited feelings on her, sad boy?
Fight scene? Fight scene! Dead black person.
Girl does nothing but run around and get into trouble. And then fall into people’s arms.
Stupid kid takes no precautions. Hand over your bargaining chip, my little friend! Of course you’re going to be betrayed. HI VADER-DADDY.
“I am your father, Luke.” This wasn’t kind of already obvious?
STARGATE! Oh, well. Girl’s still alive, then. And Mum’s beardy friend is a werewolf.
It’s a missing brother. Hi, blondie. You guys are related. Vader-daddy says so. “I am your father, Luke. Come to the Dark Side and we can rule the galaxy.” DEMONS.
And Lena Headey has been lying in Hogwarts all this while.
Bored now. Oh, wait. A werewolf motorbike gang.
…This is a really disjointed film. I mean, I don’t know what I was expecting, but this is really a bunch of set-pieces stuck together with used duct-tape.
DEMONS! WEREWOLVES BEING KILLED BY DEMONS.
That was a good set piece. Girl DID SOMETHING. But why didn’t sword-girl smash the demons while they were all frozen? This seems like poor tactical thinking.
Logic plays no part in this.
Luke vs. Vader. Fight, fight, fight. You know, Vader-dad does not look old enough to be the father of teens. Not unless he started illegally young.
Well, that’s interesting choreography, I suppose. But how come nobody’s lost any of their perfect teeth yet?
That’s one way to deal with having a shitty-ass father, I suppose. Explode the library. And now it’s snowing inside.
Verdict: mildly entertaining, if you skip most of the parts that aren’t fight scenes and don’t expect any of it to make sense.