For George Miller, the sound of slews of asses being kicked is, quite literally, music to the ears.
In Miller’s manic magnum opus of kinetic action, Mad Max: Fury Road, chaos is deployed with a calculated cadence. As Rossatron explains in this expansive video essay, entitled “Action Masterclass: Mad Max: Fury Road – The Rhythm of Chaos”: “When you have action sequences that last almost 20 minutes—ones full of different elements like huge explosions, near-death experiences and moments of character development, how do you make it so that we can not only keep up, but not get either overwhelmed or bored? The answer is rhythm.”
Moments in which events occur that are the polar opposite of the ones that preceded it are cut in rapid succession in Fury Road, Rossatron points out, to steadily escalate both tension and the personal stakes of each character’s journey. Whittled down by editor Margaret Sixel from 480 hours of footage, shots depicting “loud and quiet, successes and failures, fist-pumping and teeth-clenching,” Rossatron observes, establish a pattern of point-counterpoint that builds toward the film’s crescendoing and de-crescendoing climax.
Fury Road‘s sequential shuffle of one step forward, one step back renders “each painful moment increasingly nail-biting and each moment of relief increasingly rewarding.” In the same way that the elaborate choreography of musicals allows a number of participating performers to seize a fleeting moment in the spotlight, so too do Miller and Sixel’s shooting and cutting schemes afford multiple antagonists their own opportunities to become the center of conflict, even if only for a few pivotal seconds.
The parallels between dance, musicality and action cinema that Miller masterfully underscores are made even clearer by Rossatron’s allusion to the influence of John Woo’s balletic violence on Miller’s style. Even Miller’s alternate colorless, “black and chrome” version of the film, the video speculates, is a direct result of the film’s preferential treatment of rhythm over mere spectacle: “George Miller has stated that his preferred version of the film is in black and white, with only the musical score to accompany the image. This makes sense, as the film endears so much toward musical structure, with rhythm a huge part of that,” Rossatron argues. “Each enemy is a verse in the greater song and each verse contains lines of their own risk and reward.”
Action moviemakers: Watch the video, then ask yourself, what are your favorite “songs” of cinematic action? What makes them work? Let us know in the comments below. MM