Paul ‘Cundalini’ Johnstone Talks MAD MAX And Its Fan Culture
As the Sydney Premiere of BEYOND THE WASTELAND at Skyline Drive-In approaches, we caught up for a chat with one of the guests of honour at the screening, Paul Johnstone (Cundalini from MAD MAX 1979).
Casting your mind back to your time on the production of MAD MAX, was the atmosphere on-set any different to that of other films you had been a part of, was there a sense that this film would be as groundbreaking for Australian cinema as it became?
MAD MAX was my first film gig – I’d been performing in live theatre, mainly rock musicals like the original Australian productions of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. I had a sense that we were doing something different, but – as I have often said during past Q&A sessions – if someone had told me during the shoot that this film would not merely be successful, it would be the ‘Big Bang’ for an entire genre, I’d have said “I’ll have what you’re smoking…”
At what point after the film’s release, did you realise how large a cultural impact the film had both locally and globally?
In all honesty, it wasn’t until quite a while later. At that stage I didn’t know about the success in Japan which prompted Warner Bros to re-release the film in the US, this time with a semi-decent promotional budget. (And those God-awful US voice overdubs – don’t start me…) The significance of its success was really brought home when I heard that George was planning the sequel, and when I saw it – I quipped that the catering budget on MAD MAX 2 was bigger than the entire budget of our first film. But I didn’t really understand the depth of MAD MAX fandom until I first went to Japan, more than 30 years after the first film was released. Then the events began in Australia, and once the internet became available, I learned that this passion was being expressed all over the world.
Can you recall a particular standout interaction with a fan of MAD MAX over the forty years since its release?
Oh there have been so many. People are so passionate and appreciative when we meet. But there was a very long gap between doing MAD MAX and my awareness of the fandom, because the conventions didn’t start until a very long time after the film’s release.
The first MAX-themed event I attended was the first MMCon Japan, in April of 2014. In the lead-up, the language barrier meant it was very difficult to find out exactly what the schedule would be, and what I’d be required to do. I almost put it into the ’too hard’ basket, but something told me to take the proverbial ‘leap of faith’. And I am so glad that I did, because I was absolutely blown away by the passion and open-hearted goodwill of the people I met. It was just the first of four tours to Japan – each of them a little bigger and more organised than the last. But – back to your question – my mind immediately goes to the first gathering in that inaugural Japanese trip, at a ‘honson’ hotel near Nagano.
We drove into the courtyard – filled with MAX cars and Kawasaki Z-1000’s – and were ushered up into the hotel. When I wandered down to the courtyard, I was immediately surrounded by fans, and one of the first I met grabbed both my hands in his, and said in English “I can not believe you are here.” He had tears rolling down his cheeks. I was so moved by how open he was with his emotions, and soon learned that this was not uncommon among the Japanese MAX fans. There have been many many more standout interactions since then – in Japan and here in Oz – but that moment has always stayed with me.
What do you feel it is that sets MAD MAX fans apart from those of any other particular film or franchise?
I have no direct experience with fans of other films or franchises, but from my observations most of the other major fan groups concentrate on the cosplay – and marvellously so. But while MAD MAX fandom certainly includes cosplay, the stars of MAD MAX aren’t just the characters – vehicles have played a massive part, increasingly so as the franchise grew. While STAR WARS fans have amazing cosplay, you don’t see them actually driving around in Millennium Falcons – but die-hard Aussie fans could find themselves a Ford Falcon XB coupe and make it look like the Pursuit Special (well, they used to able to do that – nowadays they’d have to mortgage their house to do so…!) The vehicles of the MAX world are every bit as big a star as the characters who drive them.
You will be in attendance at the Skyline Drive-In screening in Sydney, what you most looking forward to about the screening?
I’ve met many wonderful fans over the years, but – as is natural – you just ‘click’ more with some people on a personal level, so some of these fans have become valued friends. As it turns out, many of these friends are the stars of BEYOND THE WASTELAND, so I’m really looking forward to seeing their passion acknowledged and expressed on the big screen. I’m truly so happy that they’re being acknowledged and celebrated.
Finally what do you feel it is about MAD MAX, as a film and franchise, that has made it endure over the years?
Well – there is one absolute common denominator throughout all of the MAX films, and that is the sheer brilliance of Dr George Miller. A truly gifted filmmaker, and – in my experience – a lovely human. It’s George’s vision, and his ability to surround himself with people he trusts to share and contribute to that vision, that has created that endurance. Having said that, it’s the fans who’ve truly allowed the MAD MAX world to grow and endure. I mean, many of the most rabid MAXers weren’t even born when ‘my’ MAD MAX was released – they were indoctrinated by their parents. I am truly blown away when I meet these people and hear their stories, and the fact is that without them MAD MAX would merely be a series of successful films. Not many film franchises manage to create both huge commercial success and cult following.
BEYOND THE WASTELAND will have its Sydney Premiere at the Skyline Drive-In in Blacktown on Saturday 26th February with a Special Guest Q&A by Eddie Beyrouthy (Director/Producer), Phil Lambert (Producer), Roger ‘Fifi’ Ward (Actor, MAD MAX) and Paul ‘Cundalini’ Johnstone (Actor, MAD MAX).
SCREENING DATES & LOCATIONS
THURSDAY 24TH FEB 6PM
ACT: NFSA – National Film and Sound Archive of Australia
w/ Q&A by Eddie Beyrouthy (Director/Producer)
& Phil Lambert (Producer)
SATURDAY 26TH FEB 8PM
NSW: Skyline Drive-In Blacktown
w/ Q&A by Eddie Beyrouthy (Director/Producer),
Phil Lambert (Producer), Roger ‘Fifi’ Ward (Actor, MAD MAX)
and Paul ‘Cundalini’ Johnstone (Actor, MAD MAX)
SATURDAY 12TH MARCH 7PM
QLD: Event Cinemas Loganholme
w/ Q&A by Eddie Beyrouthy (Director/Producer)
& Phil Lambert (Producer)
The MAD MAX film franchise has left a significant mark on modern popular culture. Its dystopian, post-apocalyptic themes and imagery have inspired fans from around the globe to create unique fan art, custom-made machines, and to collect memorabilia of all kinds.
Shot in Australia, USA, Italy, France, Japan, and Germany, BEYOND THE WASTELAND follows fans from around the world who go to extraordinary lengths in the name of MAD MAX as they celebrate 40 years of this global cult phenomenon.
Transporting us into the world of MAD MAX, we explore the eccentric world of the fans, their costumes, and their machines as these oddball fans find their place amongst the MAD MAX community. From the world’s largest MAD MAX gathering in the USA, Wasteland Weekend to Japan’s MAD MAX conventions, and Australia’s own The Search for Max event in Clunes.
BEYOND THE WASTELAND not only celebrates life but the ability to change oneself through passion. The documentary also follows original cast member, Bertrand Cadart as he continues his fight against stage IV leukaemia and travels from his home on the Sunshine Coast to the ‘Wasteland’, the desert location of MAD MAX 2 in Silverton for the last time. This is a truly inspiring documentary.