Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mad Max

There are multitudes of humans out there creating original work. They create despite financial hardship, lack of broad acceptance, and appalling self esteem. Some are hardly known. Some are known to immediate family only. Still, they create. It's what they were born to do.

Director Adam Elliott and producer Melanie Coombs are creating truly original work. They did it before they were relatively well known, and they're doing it despite the Oscar that sits on the mantlepiece of their success.

After winning the golden statue for their short film, a stellar, bitingly funny work forged in clay about a character named Harvey Crumpet, they moved ahead with a feature length movie also forged in the same pliable fruit of the earth.

Mary and Max, sculpted and pressed into fruition over a period of five years, is the result. It is an amazing piece of cinema.

For me, it resonated in surprising areas. It is set in New York City and Mt. Waverley, the Melbourne suburb where I was raised, and where I am currently writing this letter of appreciation to the film's sturdy makers. Actually, I am writing this in the very same house where I was born, raised, beaten, fed, denied basic liberties, schooled, berated, encouraged, and caught in the act of teen intercourse.

In just three weeks, my parents will leave this house forever, and my four-and-a-half decade base will exist no longer.

The Mount Waverley of Mary and Max is the same Mount Waverley of my childhood, but it's filtered through the eyes of a man who grew up just seven L-shaped streets away from me. Mr. Elliott recalls the browns of the suburb and the close proximety of neighbors. He recalls fascinating details and equally fascinating personalities like the man whose agoraphobia (misdiagnosed by Mary as homophobia) kept him two steps from living. Most importantly, he recalls the neuroses of suburbia I knew so well.

I recall more green because I spent so much time in the nearby woods of Scotchman's Creek, a dense, unruly chunk of urban Amazonia whose mysterious status was reduced to make way for a major freeway named The Monash. I never met a Scotchman or a Scotsman there, but I did meet a man who chose to remain in shadows. He lurked often in the woods beside the rope swing that catapulted me into the clouds. This fella had no name. He wasn't big on formal introductions. He often beckoned as you flitted past, or parked your pre-teen rump on the swing's wooden saddle . "Want a chocolate, mate?" he'd ask, his tone friendly but forced like an unwanted erection in an unyielding orifice. I liked chocolate, but I didn't want the chocolate he'd probably pre-broken and unwrapped. I once imagined that it had been pre-licked, too.

Years later, the man, who was really an overgrown boy, was arrested for keeping inappropriate company. His youthful followers melted away, I suppose, and buried their experiences in head closets. Now and then I'd see these boys outside the house of the man who preferred shadows, long after he'd relocated to the iron bar motel. Nobody moved into that house for two years. It was as if time was required to erase the stench of molestation. Does molestation have a stench?

The world of Elliott and Coombs isn't overzealous with color. Colors -- reds especially -- are signifiers. Their New York is black and white. Mostly, anyway. This is a fantasy afterall.

Their Mount Waverley is brown with cherries of glistening red.

Stars are associated with this film -- in order to keep the money men less anxious, I suspect -- but they're kind of irrelevant in terms of status. The story and unique animation are king and queen. The voice work of the main characters -- a lonely girl and a lonely man -- is, nevertheless, superb. The supporting players aren't too shabby, either.

One of my earliest experiences with quirky, character-based clay animation, as opposed to the Willis O'Brien and Harryhausen type, was Bob Gardiner and Will Vinton's short subject Closed Mondays ('74), a superb ambassador for the medium. Mary and Max joins that immortal club.

This year, Henry Sellick's Coraline, certainly a cousin of Mary and Max, beat the latter to the international box office.

If you fancy an extraordinary study of loneliness, nostalgia, friendship and choking mental illness, don't walk or run to to see this latest creative expulsion from the Elliot/Coombs workshop of deliberately soiled creativity. Limp fast!


  1. Looks quite the amazing film. It seems a shame that it's already being swept under the rug so to speak. Thannks for the post, Phantom.

  2. Can I just say that not only is Adam Elliott a tremendous artist, but a courteous, charming and gracious human being?

    Watching the Russians bashing gays on the news recently, I realise to what an enormous extent gay people shit all over us panic stricken heteros in terms of basic humanity. Who could even imagine think about bashing such a group when they are represented by rare and soul enriching types as Adam?

    Larry Kramer the gay activist said that gay people are the most 'creative, interesting people in the world' and I don't believe I will argue with him; we 'straight' folk have a lot of baseless hate to answer for, and none of it is creative or interesting...

    Anyway, I had the distinct honour of interviewing Adam while this project was a mere twinkle in his eye, and he was a real gentleman; the complete antithesis of the 'Josh Hartnets' of the world as typified in Bruce Beresford's book.

    (Incidentally, Bruce Beresford is also as close to a gentleman as you will get in that town, and I cringe when I read of the man who directed the 'Breaker', 'Black Robe', and...oh bollocks, you look them up- being dissed by that precocious, and supremely unworthy infant Hartnett)

    Bruce must feel like saying to this jumped up piece of dick snot 'who the fuck are you again'??

    Anyway, big thumbs up to the team for this terrific film. I don't give a shit how it is being received, whether it makes the big bucks, etc. Tarkovsky didn't have to care (don't take my word for it, look it up) and neither should Adam.

    Some artists should be left the fuck alone to do their work, and let the 'Wolf Creeks' and the 'Saw's' cover the shortfall in profits.

    Adieu, mon amis...