Mad Max: Creating a sonic character
“Mad Max: Creating a sonic character”, in Rebecca Coyle (ed) Settling the Score, Australian Film Television and Radio School, 1998, pp16-32.
Creating a sonic character: Non-diegetic sound in the MAD MAX trilogy
by Ross Harley
When MAD MAX was released in 1979, it changed the way many thought about the Australian cinema. A fast-paced action movie, MAD MAX went against the grain of the “quality”, serious-minded films so earnestly made and discussed during the mid-to-late seventies. It is an unashamed genre film, more in tune with the B- grade exploitation pics made by Roger Corman in the US than the period dramas and social realist films that were finding success with national funding institutions and prestigious international film festivals of the time. An often violent science fiction road movie set sometime in the not too distant future, MAD MAX could be seen as exploring a harsh contemporary dimension of the national psyche: life on the Australian highways.
MAD MAX was not a slavish attempt to emulate American cinema. Its makers (director George Miller and producer Byron Kennedy) took many of the conventions of action cinema, mixed them with local intuition, innovation, and viewpoint to produce something new. It is this tension between the conventional and the original that in part explains the success of the film and its subsequent sequels. Not only did it create a futuristic outback counterpart to the more lyrical landscape films and period dramas of the time (such as PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, BREAKER MORANT, GALLIPOLI, or MY BRILIANT CAREER), it created a distinctive “sound-scape” that melded classical orchestration with an array of sometimes harsh mechanical noises. Though the technical aspects of this have been recognised and reported to a certain extent within the industry (for example, in magazines such as Cinema Papers) the conceptual and expressive role of sound in the Mad Max trilogy has been little commented upon in critical forums.
At the 1979 AFI Awards, MAD MAX won the award for Best Music, written and conducted by the well known band leader turned film composer Brian May. As was reported in trade journals of the time, director George Miller and producer Byron Kennedy deliberately set out to create a sound that would echo and underscore the energy and dynamism of the image. According to Kennedy, they “spent a lot of time on the soundtrack — about five months full-time — because the film is highly visual and very fast moving, with lots of scene changes. It needed lots of sound to complement that imagery on the screen”. (Production Report 1979, 368) After working for more than a year editing and post-producing the film, Kennedy-Miller had a well crafted and finely honed film that found enormous success with audiences and critics alike. They went on to repeat and improve the formula in the sequels MAD MAX II (aka The Road Warrior) made in 1982, and MAD MAX III: BEYOND THUNDERDOME in 1984, finding even greater success in local and international markets.
In this chapter, I am interested in exploring the commercial success of the MAD MAX trilogy from the point of view of the soundtrack. In particular, I want to investigate the notion that sound and image in commercially successful narrative cinema should complement each other, that the ear should follow (and remain subservient to) the eye.
This particular approach to producing (and theorising) film sound is not new, having been refined in Hollywood productions since the late 1920s. Indeed, it could be argued that the MAD MAX films are successful because the soundtracks are so “complementary”, demonstrating a high level of sonic redundancy. Each film follows the convention of illustrating and repeating in the score what is conveyed visually. As is to be expected in genre-style films of this kind, overstatement, conventionality, and obviousness are not marks of failure, as one might cursorily think. On the contrary, the use of music to illustrate and interpret narrative events “via repetition and variation of musical material and instrumentation… aids in the construction of formal and narrative unity.” (Gorbman 1987, 73)
The MAD MAX trilogy presents a PRODUCTIVE study in the role of the soundtrack in creating a sonic dimension to character and narration. It also provides an illuminating example of how the changing role of film music in marketing and associated merchandising can affect creative decisions regarding the nature of the score. If, as has been asserted, the soundtracks to the MAD MAX films are “a decidedly good adjunct to the film… complementing perfectly the images of destruction and death of the civilised world” (Hutchinson 1982, 479), what kinds of relations can be drawn between the film soundtrack and its consumption in and out of the cinema? Regardless of how well film soundtracks fare as music that stands on its own, it is more often than not the recognisable pop song, theme music or videoclip that finds its way onto radio playlists and music television programs.
I want to suggest that the MUSIC TRACK AND DIEGETIC SOUNDS FEATURED IN the MAD MAX films are not, as is often argued with regard to commercial narratives, subservient to the more directly significant diegetic images. Here, the score is no less important than the image, dialogue or other sounds in the narrational hierarchy. The MAD MAX films are an especially good example of how soundtracks actually can be foregrounded in order to develop character and advance the story (often privileging non-diegetic music over dialogue). If the MAD MAX soundtracks present a “bath or gel affect in which music immerses film narrative” (Gorbman 1987, 59), they do so without trying to hide their status as non- diegetic sound. The strongly codified harmonies, melodies, rhythms and modes of orchestration commonly associated with Hollywood films of the classical era also are employed by the MAD MAX films to interpret, illustrate, heighten, announce and comment upon the abundant on-screen action. Sometimes, quite simply, it is a case of the eye following the ear. In this sense, the films demonstrate a coincidence, as Jerrold Levinson has suggested, “between film music to which we intuitively accord narrative significance and film music for which we implicitly hold an internal cinematic narrator accountable” (Levinson 1996, 257).
THE SOUND & IMAGE RELATIONSHIP
Before moving to a discussion of the MAD MAX trilogy, it is first worth briefly reviewing some of the pertinent debates surrounding the role of the soundtrack. Do sound and music follow the image, “invisibly”, or as some critics have it, “inaudibly”? Although always set in quotes, the concept of the “inaudibility” of the soundtrack is commonly cited to explain how film music functions seamlessly in narrative cinema. Like “invisible” continuity editing, the soundtrack, it is argued, has been developed to “result in the spectator not normally hearing it or attending to it consciously. It’s volume, mood, and rhythm must be subordinated to the dramatic and emotional dictates of the film narrative.” (Gorbman 1987, 76) Though critics such as Gorbman stress that of course music can always be heard, they nevertheless assume that music is relegated to the background, at least in the practice of many composers and sound mixers who follow conventions established in the so-called classical period of Hollywood cinema.
In his study of background music, easy listening, and Muzak, Joseph Lanza argues that from “its inception, the science of film scores helped to articulate the background music industry’s needs.” (Lanza 1995, 56) According to Lanza, background music “on both sides of the screen minimises discontinuities of space and time and draws the subject into suspended disbelief.” (Lanza 1995, 56) Both cinema scores and muzak are calculated to be heard and not-heard at the same time; to express drama while being as inexpressive (subjectively speaking) as possible. Since film music is behind or underneath the action (in the same manner that Muzak is deliberately designed to be only vaguely heard in the background), it is often asserted that the audience does not hear the score in the background. Though adherents to this view acknowledge that the score undoubtably works on an unconscious level, it is only when the music or sound becomes “noticeable” or “distracting” that the composer is thought to have failed. Lanza quotes Aaron Copland lamenting the anonymous style and background status of music in commercial narrative cinema. As he put it, film scores are “the most ungrateful kind of music for a composer to write…. To write music that must be inexpressive is not easy for composers who normally tend to be as expressive as possible.” (Lanza 1995, 59)
The connection between easy listening and film soundtracks is illuminating here. Both kinds of music are industrial, anonymous. Their role is functional, not expressive. Both industries compile music into categories, types and moods which can be called upon to fit the action — on screen, in an elevator, or in the workplace.
Commenting on the role of music in narrative cinema, Claudia Gorbman notes that both “easy-listening and film music belong to larger contexts… neither is designed to be closely listened to. Both employ familiar musical language, both bathe the listener in affect. Easy-listening music (at least in theory) helps the consumer buy, the patient relax, the worker work; its goal is to render the individual an untroublesome social subject. Film music, participating as it does in a narrative, is more varied in its content and roles; but primary among its goals, nevertheless, is to render the individual an untroublesome viewing subject: less critical, less ‘awake’” (Gorbman 1987, 5)
Both types of sound-scapes are produced with the intention of working in the background of consciousness, somewhat underhandedly. Very seldom, it is asserted, does the music in the cinema or on an easy listening radio station come to the foreground. According to this view, the very familiarity and quiet ubiquitousness of this kind of music helps mask its audibility. This is what Gorbman means when she discusses narrative film music in terms of its “unheard melodies”. Though film music serves certain important narrative functions, it eludes the film viewer’s perceptual awareness during the viewing experience.
However, as Jeff Smith contends, such claims are often overstated. “Far from being ‘inaudible’, film music has frequently been both noticeable and memorable, often because of the various demands placed upon it to function in ancillary markets.” (Smith 1996, 230) By questioning the degree to which music is “inaudible”, Smith directs our attention to the ways that music is brought to the foreground, asking “whether there are moments in a film in which its music shifts toward the forefront of the viewer’s perception.” (Smith 1996, 230) While he accepts the concerns of many composers and producers not to distract the viewer from the action, he suggests that the pragmatics of music production don’t necessarily translate to the audience who attends the screening.
Jerrold Levinson puts it this way: even “when the music hovers in the penumbra of consciousness, it is rarely very far from being consciously focused, as is perhaps reflected in the fact of being immediately noticed if stopped. If non-diegetic film music were generally unheard, or not consciously noted by the viewer, then there would not be much of an interpretive issue for the viewer of how to construe such music in relation to the rest of the film.” (Levinson 1996, 250)
Indeed, it is well worth asking whether there is necessarily anything wrong when background music comes to the forefront of perception. It can just as easily be argued that greater awareness of recorded sounds (in the cinema or in the elevator) can only enhance the experience and perception of the recorded product. The recent revival of easy listening music does just that. What was once relegated to the background is now consumed very self-consciously. Played deliberately and at high volume, music by Juan Garcia Esquevil, Enoch Light, or the Mystic Moods Orchestra acquires a very different meaning to that originally intended by its producers or broadcasters. Similarly, the rise in popular sales of film soundtracks may indicate a shift in the general appreciation (perception?) of film scores, if only for a relatively limited number of fans and enthusiasts. It should be noted, though, that these soundtrack CDs now often comprise largely pre-recorded or ‘needledrop’ music used in the film (or music loosely based on the film) rather than ON THE underscore or original composed music. The film industry now recognises this and consciously incorporates popular ‘tracks’ in film soundtracks, as will be discussed in relation to MM3.
In the same manner, we might ask how this sort of foregrounding works in films that highlight the soundtrack rather than relegating it in to the background. The MAD MAX films are a good example of this. Contrary to what is often argued, the MAD MAX scores function explicitly at the level of narration, working with the audibility, conventionality and recognition of the soundtrack in order to create what we might call “sonic character” and “sonic narrative”.
THE MUSICAL MOTIFS OF MAD MAX
Consider the following sequence from the start of MAD MAX. This sequence demonstrates the work of the composer in conjunction with sound mixers and editor, particularly the work of Roger Savage. The FULLY ORCHESTRATED opening music plays over the title in a grand Bernard Herrmann-esque manner. It cuts out abruptly, replaced by the high pitched hums and drones of souped-up car engines. This is the film’s first of many car chases through the lonely roads of an outback Australia sometime in the near future. Throughout this sequence, we hear nothing but a carefully orchestrated sequence of mechanical sounds, the rumble of police pursuit vehicles, screeching wheels, and sirens all rhythmically edited to match the fast moving images. This foreshadows the emphasis on the sonic ambience of cars in action featured throughout Mad Max (and indeed all o the trilogy).
Though we hear an exchange of voices over the two-way radio, the dialogue does little more than pad out the sonic field created by the wild pursuit. Max, who is not yet part of the chase, is introduced in mysterious close-ups and virtual silence. The other police vehicles are dramatically put out of the chase in a series of impressively loud collisions, leaving the still triumphant subject of the chase screaming maniacally over the airwaves, “I am the Knight Rider, a fuel injected suicide machine!”. A burst of suitably maniac orchestral music underscores the finality of a smashed police vehicle that leaves Max the only officer left to pursue the speeding road felon. For the most part, music does not play under the chorus of these heavily compressed and contrasting sounds of engine noise and screeching tyres.
Even at this early stage of the film, the audience can hear a distinct difference between sounds related to Max and those relating to others. His Ford rumbles at a very different frequency, highlighted each time the sound/image cuts from one car to another. The high pitched sounds of the demented Knight Rider contrast markedly with the police siren and almost calm rumble of Max’s vehicle. As Max runs the Knight Rider off the road, the wailing of tyres and twisting of metal are finally put to rest by the introduction of short sinister blasts of brass, highlighting the finality of the fatal crash. The high pitched brass sounds segue to another short dramatic brass fanfare, which in turn cuts to the sound of a lonely sax played (diagetically) by Max’s wife. Diagetic and non-diagetic sounds mingle, and without a word, the contrasting musical styles –jazz and light pastorale orchestration underscored by dark ominous passages — pre-figure all the excitement and trouble which is yet to come.
This approach to film sound is not of course unique to MAD MAX. The sound plays on the audience’s ability to recognise the meaning of certain clusters of notes and use of instruments to connote a wide variety of meanings. In MAD MAX, these meanings are immediately apparent: the cost of high speed chase is significant; death is all around; lawless bikies are terrifying; Max is the quiet champion of the road; the worst is yet to come. With its abrupt and staccato interplay of intensified diegetic sound and non-diagetic orchestral arrangements, the soundtrack conveys a precise and instantly recognisable set of meanings. Moreover, “even when a viewer fails to recognise a particular theme or leitmotif, the immediacy of the music’s modality, tempo, timbre, and dynamics often encourages spectators to make hypotheses and draw inferences about a scene’s structural features and expressive qualities.” (Smith 1996, 244) The viewing subjects of MAD MAX are seldom lulled to sleep by the hypnotic tones of the soundtrack.
The main problem with psychoanalytic theories of inaudibility is that they fail to answer questions of “how the spectator moves from an unconscious to a conscious apprehension of film music’s effects as part of the film’s narration…. In each case, important elements of the story, characters, and settings would be missed if the spectator were always unaware of the music.” (Smith 1996, 236) The instance cited above provides a good instance of sound’s absolutely conscious role in narrating and indicating character.
As in many action films, there are innumerable instances in MAD MAX where music is foregrounded in order to underscore narrative purpose. The film is full of almost cliched music that announces the foreboding that is about to be revealed (for instance, outside the Hall of Justice soon after the first car chase). Short, instantly recognisable, and comic-book in style, these arrangements clearly signal what is about to happen or has just happened on screen. Although it could be argued that such an approach is obtrusive or redundant, I want to argue that it’s “obviousness” functions to highlight and strengthen narrative events, create atmosphere, underline psychological states of characters, build a sense of continuity and closure, and underscore dramatic action. It does this in a deliberate way that is consciously apprehended by the audience. Here, non-diegetic music clearly functions narratively. (cf Levinson’s list of 15 narrative functions pertaining to music pp 257-58).
Brian May’s chosen musical style obviously reflects George Miller’s stated preference for classical film scores in the manner of 1940s Hollywood composers (eg Max Steiner, Miklos Rozsa or Bernard Herrmann). To the extent that this compositional style is highly codified and recognisable, the stylised borrowings from horror and action film scores draw attention to themselves self- consciously. In this sense, May’s score could be considered to be “functional” music: it “interprets the image, pinpoints and channels the ‘correct’ meaning of the narrative events depicted. It supplies information to complement the potentially ambiguous diegetic images and sounds. It cues the viewer into narrational positions” (Gorbman 1987, 58). Even before the camera reveals the carnage of a high speed collision or the menace of a gang of marauding bikies, the sound cues the audience by providing advance notice of what is to come. “It creates on the one hand an ironic distance between viewer and characters, and, on the other, a complicity with the film’s narrative voice.” (Gorbman 1987, 58)
In this manner, the music and related sounds of MAD MAX function to build sonic characters within a sonic narrative. After the initial chase scenes with Max, the audience has learned to associate a certain set of sounds with the reluctant hero. For instance, when he is offered a new super-charged vehicle as an incentive to stay on the Force, we hear the distinctive sound of “the last of the V8′s” started up for Max. His colleagues express surprise at his initial reticence: “You’ve seen it, you’ve heard it, and you’re still asking questions!” As Max weakens, the rumble of his car is replaced by a low timpani drum sounding ominously, abrupt brass stabs and a sequence of high strings that suggest if he takes the offer, the rest of the gang out on the highway will be out to get revenge on Max.
The soundtrack also directly appeals to its target market, explicitly conceived as “young and action-oriented” (Production Report 1979, 368), an audience brought up on genre action pics and a penchant for loud fast cars. The conventional and easily apprehended orchestral score creates a fictional world that requires little explanation in the dialogue. The same techniques used to create Max’s reluctant hero are used similarly to signal the character of bad guy bikie gang members. The deafening revving sounds of dozens of motor cycles riding into a country town is underscored by dark, ominous Herrmann-esque stabs. When the gang eventually chase an innocent couple out onto the open highway, the sounds of smashing glass and high pitched screams of the woman inside the car are heightened by a crescendoing orchestration of swirling strings and stabbing arrangements reminiscent of Herrmann’s famous score for PSYCHO.
In these instances, the “non-diegetic music may, indeed, generate fictional truths even if only attended with half a mind, or not consciously remarked at all while present.” (Levinson 1996, 260) At such times the score for MAD MAX is obviously brought to the level of consciousness. It is heard as much as the images are seen.
Knowing something of the background and training of the film’s composer helps in our understanding of this sonic blend. Brian May started his career as a traditional composer, and has professed his interest in the classic “symphonic-type score”. (Hutchinson 1978, 33) According to May, his years spent as an arranger for the Adelaide singers and the symphony orchestra gave him “a lot of experience in work that was not ‘pop’ oriented. I knew Bernard Herrmann’s music of course, and was eager to try to emulate him.” He was also “helped by some experienced American film directors and producers who came” to Australia to work on ABC productions, giving “tremendous assistance in some of the techniques necessary for film scoring” (Hutchinson 1978, 32). The ghost of Herrmann and American film scoring techniques is noticeable in more than one instance of MAD MAX. This is not to say the score is derivative, but that it works with the same repertoire of recognisable techniques for signifying suspense, action and melodrama.
When Max’s wife and child are brutally run down, the music returns to a tragic, melodramatic theme, underscored by the rapid staccato string stabs, reminiscent of music from serials of the 1930s. This combines with a kind of symphony of industrial sounds — screeching tyres, layers of METALIC SOUNDS, and engine roars punctuated by lonely gusts of wind. The final section of the film where Max makes good his revenge is carried almost entirely without dialogue. With the music constantly climbing, racing, stopping abruptly for silence, Max is figured sonically as the lone hero, bent on using the road and his vehicle for revenge. “You’re mad!” screams the recipient of his final judgment, as Max drives off into the descending strings and melancholy, still anticipatory, end-title music.
Significantly, many diagetic sounds in MAD MAX are heightened hyper-naturalistic mixes of synchronised sound and a MUSICAL use of mechanical sound effects. “We wanted to synthesise a lot of sound — to harmonise tracks by putting them through digital time delays and Marshall Time Modulators. We also wanted to experiment and give the soundtrack much more body — more oomph!” (Production Report 1979, 368) As a result of this process, the cars sound more like jets, aerophanes or ‘souped-up’ racing cars, than the cars most of us know.
THE MAD MAX SEQUELS
MAD MAX II picks up sonically where the first film left off — out in a post-industrial wasteland. Though still recognisable as genre music — horror, western, chase etc — it is a more refined, less hysterical orchestration of sounds. A crashing, roaring, exploding, grinding, dark music, and a mechanical schwoosh wash over the main title. Then, the voice of the narrator explains the gap between the first film and its sequel: “… All that remains are memories. I remember a time of chaos… But most of all I remember the road warrior, the man we called Max….” As the narrator recounts the passing of civilisation, the spluttering and stopping of machines, the brutality of men feeding on men, we hear how Max “became a shell of a man, a burnt out desolate man… haunted by the demons of his past, a man who wandered out into the wasteland. And it was here… that he learned to live.”
But that’s all we hear from the narrator, who disappears again till the end of the film. The story is subsequently carried by music, sound and a sparse dialogue. The character of Max is further developed sonically. After the prologue, the film cuts to the high pitched hum of Max’s V8 Interceptor. Low drums, a few brass stabs, and an orchestration of the shrill mechanical sounds of his vehicle, punctuated by wind and clicks of metal, introduce the changes the character has undergone. The music (once again composed by Brian May) is reminiscent of a Western, and the action that follows confirms the sci-fi Western themes to be developed narratively.
The question of when to mix the music down for diagetic sound or dialogue almost never arises. Sound and music narrate the action of the image. The soundtrack is not subservient, nor is it in competition with the image. It heightens and explains much of the action which unfolds without the benefit of dialogue to give shape to character, advancing the action. The music is constantly ascending, though never resolving, NEVER arriving. This instantly recognisable technique of creating suspense is combined with rhythmic percussion, brass and string arrangements. This is the ruined West of the future, culminating in explosions, crashes, collisions, hits, scrapes, and sounds of grinding metal. Much of the action of the sequel centres around one of the last stockpiles of petrol in a dry and desolate landscape. Military style drums are orchestrated into anticipatory crescendo. However the soundtrack is uncluttered, and, like the end of MAD MAX, breathes with a sparser diegetic sound interspersed with MYSTERIOUS SOUNDING strings and hyper-realistic mechanical sounds and drones.
Of course, as is signalled by the music from the start, Max becomes the reluctant hero who pilots the tanker. He is a man of few words, but full of action: “You want to get out of here, you talk to me,” he explains at one crucial turning point. The final race to the end of the film is orchestrated in a train-like staccato rhythm, with characteristic string stabs cutting in with appropriate action. As with the first film, the music continues in an anticipatory manner for the duration, resolving itself only over the final credits.
Though MAD MAX II is more subtle and sophisticated in its use of convention, it nevertheless still defines its parameters in recognisable ways (in terms of classical film scoring). The soundtrack represents a development and transformation of the preceeding film, redefining the character of Max and twisting the story into its trademark post-apocalyptic outback form.
There are of course many instances where diagetic sounds (especially musical sounds) provide a springboard for further elaboration on the soundtrack. It is worth mentioning a few here. In the trilogy we encounter a music box playing ‘Happy Birthday’, a wind-up record player, a saxophone, a whistle, and other musical instruments that provide diagetic music and sounds. In THUNDERDOME, one of Tina Turner’s minions plays a saxophone, and Maurice Jarre (composer on the third film) “decided that it should play a featured role in the score.” (Stoner, 11) In THUNDERDOME, “Max, having the superior cunning of the Hero, knows that by blowing a whistle he can reduce the Goliath to a shivering wreck” (Nicoll 1985, 15). Like Max’s wife, Tina Turner requests one of her minions to play something appropriate for her. The Feral Kid in the second film is entertained by Max with a small music box. Here, diagetic music is a further sign of civilisation lost, a fascinating remnant of something that might have soothed the savage beast. Yet even the wind-up Vitrola is a sign that civilisation has wound down, and cannot provide a respite from the roar of engines and clashing of steel.
MAD MAX III (GEORGE MILLER, 1984) marks a break with the compositional style of May, but stays within the parameters of the conventions established in the first two films. It is a full orchestral score (BY U.S. COMPOSER MICHEL JARRE) of over 90 minutes duration, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The score also features an “exotic array of percussion. Apart from the usual timpani, there are snare drums, Swiss cow-bells, tam-tams, wood blocks, and a whip!” (Stoner, 10) But it tends to sit under the action more, smoothing over rather than punctuating important moments, as is the case with May’s scores. Jarre also opts for classical sounds which are woven into diegetic sounds. The score is generally more melodic and tuneful than May’s, featuring more electronic intruments and exotic sounds. Many of these “futuristic” sounds are arranged in hybrids of classical and contemporary rhythms. The music that introduces us to the mutant world of Bartertown, for example, uses an irregular hammer-like percussion, augmented by more classical arrangements.
However, the most notable difference in THUNDERDOME is to do with the non-diagetic presence of rock soul star Tina Turner on the soundtrack. Both the title and end credits feature pop songs by Turner, which bear little real relation to the film — besides the fact they are sung by one of the film’s stars. Jarre’s “Apocalyptic Prelude” for the main title credits was recorded but then dropped in favour of the Tina Turner song “One of the Living”, as was the music for the end titles, deleted and replaced by Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero”. (Stoner, 10) This gives some indication of the extent to which a popular song that will receive airplay and function as advertising for the film is often considered (CUT MORE) preferable TO a less accessible “classical” score.
It is ironic that Jarre should suffer such a loss, given his own contribution to the popularisation of film composition in the sixties. At that time, composers who were “adept at producing commercially exploitable records fell into two categories — those who wrote rich melodic themes that could be played over and over, and those who depended on a hard driving beat, generally derived from rock music. In the first category were Maurice Jarre, Francis Lai, and Michel Legrand. Jarre’s music for Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago won him two Oscars. His melody from Dr Zhivago, “Lara’s Theme”, is the prototype of what producers sought.” (Evans 1979, 194) This shift ALSO marked the historical move of film music into radio and record markets. It also (somewhat ambivalently) marked the introduction and development of a new relation between film music and the listening public. Simply, people started listening to film music outside of the cinema, which in turn encouraged film audiences to pay more attention to it during the viewing experience. This loop between audience and producers, demand and expansion, operates within film production and the ‘industry’ per se, but also reflects a conscious link between the film and music industries and collaborative marketing practices.
As has been well documented, until the recent rise of pop music in cinema, few films scores received much attention from the general public. According to Mark Evans, it wasn’t until the late 1950s when Henry Mancini’s score for “Peter Gunn” sold over a million copies and was voted album of the year that film music made an impact on the pop market. “For the first time, a key element in evaluating the worth of a score was totally divorced from the motion picture itself: Could the score sell records?” (Evans 1979, 192) Indeed it could. But it also REINFORCED a confusion between the score and the tune in the mind of the public. When Mancini won the Oscar for best score with his jazzy Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961, it was the schmalzy song “Moon River” that audiences most remembered. Mark Evans cites one composer who “put it this way: ‘I know what happened. Everybody looked at the ballot and said, ‘Moon River’ was a great score.’ This inability to distinguish between a song and a score would plague the industry for years.” (Evans 1979, 193)
The presence of such easily exploitable pop figures as Tina Turner and Angry Anderson in THUNDERDOME coincided with another factor influencing the use of film music outside the cinema: the growing popularity of cable television and music television. At the same time, Tina Turner’s voice and image were also being used to advertise Rugby League to a mass Australian audience. Consequently the soundtrack of MAD MAX III was modified in order to greater maximise the sound and image products in other ancillary markets.
Many traditional composers were against such trends. Brian May had this to say about the return of the song score: “[A]bout 70 percent of all the new film score albums were just collections of songs. It was like a return to the 1950s. The reason in those days was that record sales of hit tunes helped a film considerably.” (Hutchinson 1985, 88) In the era of cable TV and music television, “a couple of clips a day on cable television from a film is worth gold in advertising.” (Hutchinson 1985, 88)
After the success of the first two MAD MAX films, THUNDERDOME was further marketed as a “cinema event”. The publicity and the launch of MAD MAX III were carefully calculated to gain the most from the cast and soundtrack for the film. George Miller directed two videoclips for the Tina Turner songs, and included scenes from the feature in the clips. According to Gary Maddox, all of this was a highly organised affair, and tells something of the extent to which the marketing of the film is organised around the songs featured in the movie. “For all the publicity generated by Mel Gibson and Tina Turner, all the hype that has surrounded the $13 million film, the launch was a carefully structured affair”, planned well before the film went into production. (Maddox 1985, 16) The film was released in more than 130 cinemas in Japan, and over 1500 in the US before opening in Australia. After the success of the first two MAD MAX films, and THE success OF THINDERDOME in the US (taking $30 million in its first three weeks) the public and the media had a high awareness of the film before the official publicity campaign began. In terms of commercial narrative cinema, such matters (NAMELY MARKETING AND PROMOTION) clearly influence the creative decisions taken by filmmakers. The producers of the MAD MAX trilogy were from the outset thoroughly aware of the importance the soundtrack plays in the success of a feature film. AS THE TRILOGY EVOLVED, MARKETING AND STRATEGIC PROMOTION BEGAN TO INFLUENCE THE CREATIVE DECISIONS TAKEN BY THE FILMMAKERS. IN THE CASE OF THUNDERDOME, MARKETING WAS CONSIDERED MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE “INTEGRITY” OF THE COMPOSER’S ORIGINAL CREATIVE DECISIONS.
Each OF THE MAD MAX FILMS intensifies narrative events by way of foregrounding the soundtrack, rather than relyng on sound to follow image. The highly “sonic” character of Max and the narrative which has evolved over the trilogy is not subservient to diagetic images and sounds. The foregrounded MAD MAX soundtracks present a highly codified though original set of screen events and characters which direct and comment upon the flow of visual action.
As is the case with many narrative films, the listeners of MAD MAX are not rendered any less “troublesome” or any less awake by the soundtrack. Indeed, the ear is constantly stimulated and drawn into the world of the characters and the evolution of the action. And where the ear goes, the eye will surely follow.
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