Who Made Who?

Okay, just so you know, this post is not about AC/DC. Though it should be; they might be the greatest rock and roll band of all time. Nonetheless, alternative matters are pressing.

Retrobacktive serves to chronicle anecdotal components inherent to the decade; small milestones that accumulate to a grander legacy than the sum of a generation’s parts. But what, or who, exactly is that generation? When does one generation end and another begin? And what does it mean when it all comes together? Retrobacktive dives into a little self-examination.

What It Means To Be Generation X

Literally it means anyone born between 1961 and 1981. Though that’s only one study’s suggested age range. There are hundreds of them by different historians, demographers, and journalists and no one can agree on exact dates, but generally early 60s to early 80s.

Figuratively it gets even more complicated.

Four years ago the University of Michigan’s Longitudinal Study of American Youth released a report based on annual surveys that described Gen Xers as happy and balanced, with strong educational backgrounds and active lifestyles.

This hardly echoed the general sentiment of a generation raised in Reagonomics and the first Bush patriarchy, which at the time represented the epitome of disenfranchisement. Perhaps it was the threat of nuclear annihilation. Perhaps it was being two generations removed from The Greatest Generation, a culture so steeped in heroism they named it The Greatest Generation. Yes, they earned it, but you’ll forgive the rest of us if it doesn’t feel like there’s a whole lot of room left for self-aggrandizement.

It’s true. In the 80s there was threat of war, but no real war – and it was really more a threat of nuclear holocaust which isn’t the kind of conflict that lends itself well to heroics. The Baby Boomers had Vietnam. Generation X is one of the few generations that can’t define itself by a war (Desert Storm? The Gettysburg movie had a longer running time than Desert Storm).

Okay, so there was no war. That ought to be a good thing. Who cares about the Russkies? They are literally on the other side of the world. And if the world is going to end, might as well enjoy life to the fullest, right? After all,  the Baby Boomers withstood mounting global tension and were still able to embrace a level of decadence seldom seen since Sodom & Gomorrah.

Turns out they might have embraced things a little too much. Generation X arrived in the 80s to face a battlefront with a new enemy called AIDS. While understanding of AIDS may be taken for granted now, 25 years ago it was still somewhat shrouded in mystery, grossly misinterpreted by the public, and much swifter in its shocking mortality. Quick deduction showed the two most common forms of transmission were sex and intravenous drug use. So fun, basically. Fun could kill you in the 80s.

A recession in the early half of the decade, growing incidents of global terrorism, rising crime rates – all readily available for viewership thanks to continued advances in consumer technology; there was plenty of reason to be disenfranchised. Or at least to appear that way. An overarching sense of discordance permeated the youthful fabric of society in the late 80s and early 90s. No one ought to deny that. But Generation X was not a spiritless monolith mired in defeat. It was a victim of circumstance that needed a creative outlet.

Perception is Reality

What would you think if you survived the worst economic depression in American history, the most violent war in world history, then found your grandchildren despondent over a lack of enticing video games? At best you probably would have at least a couple moments of questioning some life decisions. You can’t really blame earlier generations for looking down upon those that follow. The human condition is adroit at fixating perceived notions upon others. And to The Greatest Generation and the Boomers, Gen X was the other. It was lazy, impatient, and irresponsible.  Of course if you ask a Gen Xer if any of those terms are self-applicable, you probably won’t get an enthusiastic response. Ask the same Gen Xer to trade spots with a Millenial and you’ll likely get just as listless a reaction. “Millenials? They don’t know how good they have it (grumbles something under breath)!”

Defining a generation boils down to two problems: One, it’s defined by the preceding generation; two, that generation always forgets about a thing called evolution.

The whole point of human suffering is to evolve and improve upon existence by providing a better world for future generations. So why are past generations so quick to judge the next? Maybe it’s a fear of growing obsolete. Whoever said “youth is wasted on the young” was probably no spring chicken. Vitriol can buy you a lot of emotional assurance. Despite the flagrant hypocrisy it is a time-honored event to be looked down upon by your elder statesmen. Generation X had the misfortune of following a particularly brash generation; the Boomers are alternatively known as the Me Generation. So the odds were never in Xers’ favor.

Where Do We Go Now?

Gen X found a way to respond. Grunge rock gave an ironic limp middle finger to the establishment that said “you think we’re indifferent…and we don’t care enough to fight you.” Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith made hit movies that aptly captured trademark Gen X nihilism, but they did it with tongue firmly in cheek.

But the highlight of Generation X is without a doubt the technology. It wasn’t just the devotion to new fields formerly the exclusive arena of “eggheads” and “college boys.” It was that the stuff all worked!  Who doesn’t have a cell phone today? Who doesn’t use the Internet? Who doesn’t listen to music on an MP3 player? Turns out Generation X was good for something more than sitting around watching MTV.

And another interesting thing the Longitudinal Study found was Gen X’s focus on family. Apparently at some point the disenfranchised youth got enfranchised and decided to create junior ambivalent assholes. Some of these people are called Millenials; others are going to fall into a yet unnamed generation under the working title Generation Z. Whoever they become they’ll inherent a world likely easier but far scarier than any before. That’s progress’s perennial catch, the stake’s always get higher. Yes, the human race moves forward but with every step we widen the margin for error. Sadly the Millenial Generation is a reminder of that having returned to form the distinction of owning not one but two major armed conflicts. Yet hidden at the bottom of Pandora’s Box lies hope, and it seems to be the light every generation crawls to. If there’s one thing that binds all cohorts together it’s the drive to surpass the last generation and improve the next. Reality is we’re all parents whether we like it or not.

So maybe we should just call everyone the Human Generation.

The Human Generation: a Generation of People.






Not A Drop to Drink

Here’s something you probably don’t think much about: what did you used to like to drink as a kid? It’s a strange question, but follow along.

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who drink generic beverages (e.g. Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Starbucks) and those who seek out the unusual. The latter is in the (obvious) minority, but there’s something about the idea of unique flavors, an affinity for life on the margins, that holds an unquenchable yearn for discovery that “taste-ophiles” can’t resist. Sadly nomadic consumers can rarely satisfy the financial needs of niche brands enough to sustain them. So a lot of cool drinks have come and gone throughout the years that have left a void of variety and even worse, deliciousness. This has become a recent point of contention upon discovering the truth behind the “disappearance” of one of the greatest sodas ever made: Hires Root Beer.


Food and beverage articles are no stranger to Retrobacktive. But in the past they have mostly lent to whimsy and nostalgia. But the case of Hires Root Beer is a tragic tale of deception, intrigue, and “murder.” Take this hyperbole with a grain of salt, but in lesser terms what Dr Pepper Snapple Group has done to Hires Root Beer is a shame. First, because it is (or at least was) arguably the best tasting soft drink on Earth. Second, it is unarguably the longest continuously made soft drink in the United States… but not for long.

Years ago you got cans of sodas from vending machines. You could only get cans. Why? Because bottles were made of glass and would break when released into the pickup bin. They still have vending machines today; they’re soulless and ugly and practically deliver your plastic bottle of liquid sugar in a bow. It’s exorbitant, but hey, things change. Old vending machines carried an air of mystery; their inner workings a secret that magically delivered refreshment at the push of a button. They usually displayed a big banner highlighting either Coca-Cola or Pepsi, and there was always one big button on the machine typically offering one of the two flagship sodas.

Well, here’s some news: never been a fan of cola. What the hell is it? Coca plants? What’s with the caramel aftertaste? Why is it so dry? Coke or Pepsi? Neither. And in fact now as an adult I pretty much hate soda in general and rarely drink it. But there’s something about that brown Hires button on the side of a vending machine that brings back memories of sipping a cold, fizzy beverage on a hot summer day.

Now the whole point of Retrobacktive is to examine those artifacts of the 80s that have gone the way of the Dodo. But this seems particularly cruel. Technically speaking you can still get Hires Root Beer in select parts of the United States. Very, very select parts. Why? Because Dr Pepper Snapple Group is attempting to kill Hires Root Beer via slow, painful attrition. Here’s what happened:

Charles Elmer Hires created the formula for his eponymous soft drink in 1876. Hires was a pharmacist who initially grew his product’s reputation by touting its “medicinal” properties, which was not uncommon for future soft drink makers to do for their “tonics.” Despite his day job, Hires was something of a marketing guru and even found ways to broaden his beverages appeal during the temperance movement, when anything with the word “beer” in it was frowned upon.


Hires died in 1937, but the company he founded remained family operated until 1960 when it was purchased by Consolidated Foods. Here is where the trouble begins. From this point on Hires Root Beer found itself the prodigal orphan, bounced around from one home to another. Consolidated Foods sold Hires Root Beer to Crush within two years; Crush was bought out by Proctor & Gamble in 1980; they then sold the brand to Cadbury Schweppes in 1989. When Cadbury Schweppes divested its soft drinks division in 2008 it renamed itself Dr Pepper Snapple Group and Hires Root Beer’s fate was sealed.

The problem is Dr Pepper Snapple already has a famous root beer brand, A&W. Similar to the VHS/Betamax format war, two entities exist that cannot occupy the same space. Dr Pepper Snapple sided early with A&W, but instead of halting production of Hires completely they have slowly “encouraged” bottle suppliers to handle only A&W. So if you happen to live in a part of the country that still has retailers with Hires on the shelves, snatch up those 12-packs (that’s the only way you can buy Hires now), because one by one Dr Pepper Snapple Group is going to infiltrate every bottler to phase out Hires.

Antiquity is an ugly world. Heritage less so, but still rings with a echo of dangerous sentiment, particularly in a culture bred in violence and oligarchy. But we are talking about soda here; it’s relatively harmless.* Detach yourself from the evaluation of traditions and you may still find the little pleasures in life that are worth preserving. A phone call from a friend when you are sad. Fireworks illuminating the night sky in July. A cold can of root beer on a hot day. Countless dalliances that may seem trivial are under seige from social media or groups of overly-sensitive activists. It’s a shame Dr Pepper Snapple Group can’t realize this and consider that perhaps preserving America’s oldest soft drink would be the sort of small gesture that might give the rest of an ever-changing world some healthy pause.

Not to mention it’s the best tasting root beer ever. Sadly now the exiled Atlas of the soft drink world.

* I am aware of the United States’ current epidemic of obesity, and that “harmless” is a relative term. Again, perspective: no one ought to be under the impression that soda and juice are anything more than liquid sugar. If you suck down 20 Cokes a day, on top of candy and french fries and cheese – cheese, cheese, and more cheese; this country is unhealthily obsessed with cheese – you do not have a “disease.” You are just a moron. Please drink responsibly.

We’ll Bury ‘Em in Supergroups

The musical “supergroup” is a cultural phenomenon that owes its birth to the 1960s, notably with the creation of Cream. So the 80s can’t claim this one. But as usual it takes it to excess. We are talking about a decade where execution often took a backseat to ambition. Fortunately for music fans there were a few cases where talent and authenticity collided. They’re worth a listen.

  1. The Traveling Willburys

No list of supergroups should start – let alone be complete – without Nelson, Otis, Lefty, Charlie T Jr., and Lucky Wilbury’s bohemian outfit of “half-brothers.” In 1988 George Harrison (Nelson) whimsically put together the musical brood of himself, Roy Orbison (Otis), Bob Dylan (Lucky), Tom Petty (Charlie T.) and Jeff Lynne (Lefty). They only released two albums (1988’s Traveling Willburys Vol. 1 and 1990’s Traveling Willburys Vol. 3 – apparently they can’t count). Roy Orbison died upon completion of the first album. And although ideas of a tour were suggested by Harrison and Petty, an actual traveling Traveling Willburys never came to pass. Nonetheless, the first album was popular enough to win a Grammy and reach triple-platinum status in the U.S.

2) The Firm

It was the supergroup rock fans had been salivating for. Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers in the same band. Hopes were high, but for the band members, which also included former Uriah Heep drummer Chris Slade and bassist Tony Franklin, expectations were more conservative. Page has maintained he never expected the group to record more than two albums, but given his next big project featured a similarly idyllic pairing with former Deep Purple/Whitesnake vocalist David Coverdale, it’s not hard to image the legendary guitarist in a characteristically restless mood.

3) The Power Station

Like most of the supergroups of the time, The Power Station was thrown together as a lark. While on a brief hiatus Duran Duran members John Taylor and Andy Taylor (they’re not related) began collaborating with Chic drummer Tony Thompson on a cover of T. Rex’s “Get It On (Bang a Gong)” for former model Bebe Buell. Buell’s involvement was dismissed when Robert Palmer became interested in contributing vocals, and by late 1984 The Power Station had formed, taking it’s name from the recording studio in New York City where the first album was recorded.

Despite Taylor, Taylor, and Thompson’s intentions to maintain the group with a cast of revolving singers, The Power Station broke up in 1985 with its various members returning to their former roles – save Andy Taylor who went on to record as a solo artist until his return to Duran Duran in 2001. The Power Station attempted a reunion in 1994 but were hampered by the death of bass player Bernard Edwards.

4) Mike + The Mechanics

A supergroup whose members may not seem “super” on their own, Mike + The Mechanics is the brainchild of Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford, who enlisted Paul Carrack (formerly of Squeeze), Paul Young (Sad Cafe), Peter Van Hooke (Van Morrison) and solo/session player Adrian Lee to create a side project absent of his Genesis counterparts. Despite plans as a one-off project the band chose to continue after the critical and commercial success of its eponymous debut album.

Mike + The Mechanics remain active, though Rutherford remains the only original member in the band. Although its members were not as widely known as many other supergroups of the 1980s, Mike + The Mechanics remain one of the most successful and celebrated English collaborations of all time.

5) The Highwaymen

It wasn’t all rock stars taking part in the big collaborations of the 80s; country got in on the action, too. Outlaw country had grown immensely popular as something of a western music response to the counterculture of the 60s and 70s. The four biggest “outlaw” acts of the era came together in 1985 to form The Highwaymen; Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash recorded three albums between 1985 and 1995.

Jennings and Cash’s deaths in 2002 and 2003, respectively, ended any hopes of a Highwaymen reunion. But their collaboration marks another example of the fleeting brilliance that ought to remain indelible in the annals of time.

Max v. Max

If anything can strike the proverbial chord of the Eighties it’s a little “Oz-ploitation.” That’s the term used to describe the glut of Australian movies that permeated the North American landscape beginning in the late 1970s. It lasted a good 10 years. And it wasn’t just movies; Australian culture became a global bastion of celebrity, with music (INXS, Icehouse), models (Elle MacPherson), and TV personalities (Paul Hogan – he began his career with the long-running comedy show The Paul Hogan Show, and his tourism ads prior to Crocodile Dundee launched the phrase “shrimp on the barbie.”)

Despite the schlock-filled nature of the Australian New Wave of cinema, several releases went on to become critical classics. But no other film’s legacy is as indelible as Mad Max. Showcased in a golden age Retrobacktive entry, George Miller’s first three Mad Max films sparked a worldwide fascination with dystopian cinema, and the iconic image of leather-glad bikers roaming through wastelands established a zeitgeist not seen since Spielberg’s Jaws kept everyone from going into the water a half-decade earlier.Therefore it was only a matter of time before Max Rockatansky got the re-imaging treatment.


Unless you’ve had your head buried in the Outback, you may have noticed Hollywood ran out of original ideas sometime around 2001. Virtually every blockbuster released now is a re-imagining or re-tooling of some film/tv/theater/literature (yes, comic books count) relic. And the big hit this summer was Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth installment in the Mad Max series. Not only lauded as the summer blockbuster of 2015, it’s been called one of the best action movies of the last 15 years. So ever the contrarian, Retrobacktive wants to know: is the praise worthy? Does Mad Max: Fury Road stand up to its predecessors, or has the melted attention span of a digitized world fallen deeper into ambivalence, satisfied with any route bearing resemblance to former greatness?

If you will, a Retrobacktive breakdown.

Max v. Max: The Production

To be fair Mad Max: Fury Road is not a re-imaging in the truest sense. First, the film was written and directed by George Miller, the original creator and director of the first three Max films. Typically a re-imaging denotes a new production company and director coming on board to present their vision of a previous work. When the work fails to recapture the fervency of the original (almost always), it’s usually blamed on the new director’s artistic deviation from the source material. Mad Max: Fury Road was initially in good hands with George Miller at the helm. No one can argue his vision as it is his intellectual property… seemingly; we will delve further into this detail shortly.

Another element in Mad Max: Fury Road’s creation was its legendary languish in development hell. An astonishing thirty years passed since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the last of the original three films, was released. When a studio re-images a film it’s usually because the source material was long abandoned (“long” =  a couple months) or far passed its glory days. Miller never intended for a thirty-year Mad Max absence. Preliminary concepts for a fourth installment even included Mel Gibson reprising his signature role. But a number of setbacks, including the September 11 attacks and the deflation of the Australian dollar, stalled production. By the time Miller settled on a script Gibson’s age and controversial persona caused the two to part ways. It was inevitable that a new Max would bring a new quality to the series, and thus the illusion of a pure “sequel” was shattered.

Conversely, the first three films in the franchise rolled out smoothly, save one tragic exception. During pre-production for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Byron Kennedy, the series’ original executive producer and ultimate champion, died in a helicopter crash while scouting film locations. The death shook Miller irreversibly, and he nearly abandoned the project.


When MMBT was released, however, it met with critical praise and further cemented the legacy of the series. As a whole the first three films were released within a span of six years, lending each other a certain relevancy. The biggest obstacle in creating a coherent storyline thirty years after the last installment is the loss of a built-in audience. With a worldwide gross of over $374 million it’s clear Mad Max: Fury Road found new patronage, but how many even knew Mad Max was already a franchise? Or that Mel Gibson rose to fame through his role as the Road Warrior? Unfortunately if something looks like a re-image, and works like a re-image, it probably is a re-image.

Max v. Max: The Story

Here is the eloquence of Mad Max: it’s a simple story. It takes place in the near future. The world has gone to hell after running out of fossil fuel. The highways have become wastelands, home to bands of sadistic thugs who live beyond reason and mercy. A thin semblance of order is maintained by the Main Force Patrol, whose top pursuit man, Max, kills a notorious gang leader during an escape attempt. The gang’s surviving members exact revenge by killing Max’s wife and son (“son…” this is important). Overwhelmed with grief, Max goes “mad,” steals a Pursuit Special, hunts down the gang members and kills them all in some egregious manner or another.

Of course he finds no solace in retribution, leaving the door open for sequels and a lot of philosophical insight into the concept of vengeance. But overall, a fairly straightforward theme. Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome play further upon the notion of redemption, namely Max’s…because, you know, the story is about Max. It’s his name in the title.

Mad Max: Fury Road, however, is left in limbo. Going back to the misguided premise of a re-imaging, the events in Fury Road seemingly take place after Max’s wife and daughter… wait, what? That can’t be right! Max didn’t have a daughter. He had a son. His son is an actual character in the first movie. That’s quite a gaffe in the storyline! And what makes it so mind-boggling is that it’s not some new director/writer with nonexistent research skills who made a critical error. It’s George Miller, the original director and writer! How could he have missed this? If it was intentional, what are we, the audience, supposed to make of it? So there’s problem number one.

Number two: at the beginning of Fury Road Max still has the V8 Pursuit Special… but this car was destroyed in Mad Max 2. Now if Max kept the vehicle for the entirety of the new film then we could infer the events took place between Mad Max and Mad Max 2. Except they destroy the car within five minutes of the movie’s start (a shame in and of itself). So this movie doesn’t even really exist within the timeline of the original character? To hell with continuity? The first three films followed a fairly well-structured trajectory. This gave the sensation of a greater opus. The non-linear construct of Fury Road makes the film feel non-canonical.

The story isn’t all bad, though, but not entirely great either. As the actual plot of Fury Road goes it has a character wrench working for it…and against it. As opposed to focusing on Max’s continued despondency (to Miller’s credit, it’s time for something new), we have a story about a world devoid of water (though the battle for gasoline had a much more relevant tone given the mechanized fall from grace in the initial entries), where women are valued as material goods. A lieutenant for a local warlord steals his harem of women, ultimately defecting in search of vestigial signs of humanity. Under fire, Imperator Furiosa finds aid in her mission by allying with Max, also an escapee from the warlord’s prison. They work together to save as much of the harem as they can, but it’s Furiosa who takes the lead in much of the organizing and fighting. It might be unfair to say Max is secondary, but his role is far more restrained than before. While this does steep the film in realism (it’s absurd to think one man would consistently find himself in one violent encounter after another and never play second-fiddle; no one is Superman all the time), it still is slightly misleading. Again, it’s Mad Max: Fury Road. We bought tickets to see Max, thus Max ought to be front and center. Unless, of course, George Miller is using Mad Max as a springboard to launch an Imperator Furiosa franchise. In which case, touche.

Max v. Max: the Man


Mel Gibson as Max in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

There’s no use in analyzing flavor. And that’s what we would be doing here attempting to argue who plays a better Max Rockatansky. Purists will advocate for Mel Gibson. Anyone new to the franchise – which is to say anyone under 25 – probably isn’t even aware Mad Max was the movie that launched Gibson into international stardom. Tom Hardy has become Hollywood’s fair-haired child since his breakout role as Bane in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. Given the impressive 30-year gap in the series, it’s nearly impossible to codify all the small, and timely, intricacies each actor brings to the role.

But everyone has an opinion.

Mad Max is an original story – believe it or not that used to happen in cinema. There is no source material outside of the film to draw inspiration upon. Gibson’s portrayal is wholly original. Comparing Hardy to Gibson would be like asking “who is the better inventor of Basketball: Michael Jordan or James Naismith?” Well, Naismith is the one and only inventor; Jordan is just a skilled player of Naismith’s game. Tom Hardy may be a talented actor, but he is only playing Mel Gibson’s role in a movie. The better question: is Tom Hardy the best actor to replace Gibson?

The strength Hardy brings in his performance as Max reflects the actor’s earnestness; he never appears to be posturing and maintains a sense of calm that Gibson himself provided effortlessly in Mad Max 2. But Gibson also had an aloofness that personified Max’s despondency. Gibson often didn’t seem to know what he was fighting for, whereas Hardy comes off a bit more calculated.

Despite any perceived shortcomings, Hardy did a fine job filling in Gibson’s shoes…or boots in this case. And are they good boots? Good, but different. In discussing Mad Max: the Man, one can’t leave out the look. Max’s iconic image owes as much to Gibson’s portrayal as it does to the uniform. Sadly, Mad Max: Fury Road is lacking here.

Throughout the first three movies Max’s wardrobe changes to accommodate the character’s arc and existence over time. The definitive image, however, belongs to Mad Max 2. Here we have Max in his battered, former MFP pursuit uniform. It’s been customized (and damaged) to facilitate utility in a degenerating world. It’s functional. It’s symbolic. And it’s black. And black is always kind of bad-ass. In contrast, Hardy’s wardrobe is bland. It maintains a sense of realism; it’s gray, and dusty, and looks desert-worn, but it’s missing the rock-star accessories Gibson’s had. In Mad Max 2 they called the main antagonist the “Ayatollah of Rock n’ Rolla.” That’s really Max. His look anticipated the music video age and inspired many of the fashion trends that found prominence in the 80s. The new Max’s appearance is workable, but unlikely to spark any new look.

Faces of Max

Faces of Max

Overall, Hardy’s version of Max is akin to Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal as James Bond; it’s solid and enjoyable, but not as enduring as the original.

Max v. Max: The Villains

Every great story needs an antagonist, and the villains in the Mad Max franchise are some of the most colorful ever created for the screen. A ruthless collection of muscles, leather, and masks, many of Max’s opponents are only thinly separated from the hero himself, and Max often struggles in discerning his own motives from theirs. The most iconic of these characters is Lord Humungus, the hockey-masked behemoth played by Swedish weightlifter Kjell Nilsson in Mad Max 2. Humungus was aided by Wez, the mohawked biker with a crossbow attached to his wrist played by Vernon Wells; Empire magazine voted him the greatest movie henchman of all time.

Lord Humungus played by Kjell Nilsson.

Lord Humungus played by Kjell Nilsson.

In Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome fans were treated to a vicious screen turn by Tina Turner as Auntie Entity, the conniving leader of Bartertown. It remains Turner’s last movie performance save a bit part in the 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Last Action Hero.

So what about the villain in the first Mad Max, the Toecutter? And what about Immortan Joe from Mad Max: Fury Road?

It’s the same guy! Despite 36 years separating the films, the two characters are both played by actor Hugh Keays-Byrne. And to his credit, Keays-Byrne does a remarkable job disassociating the two bad guys; Immortan Joe is a megalomaniac with a severe god-complex. The Toecutter closer resembles The Joker, a sadistic wanderer who more inspires than leads a pack of similarly sadistic wolfhounds.

Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe.

Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe.

Immortan Joe has all the grandeur of Lord Humungus, but he’s missing a key ingredient in a good henchman. Toecutter had Bubba Zanetti; Humungus had Wez, and even Auntie Entity had Ironbar Bassey doing most of the brawling with Max towards the end of MMBT. The antagonistic lieutenant is one of those oft-overlooked cinematic additions that typically augments a story’s depth and provides additional insight into the mindset of the villains. It’s in virtually every James Bond film, and is played to near perfection in George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy thanks to Boba Fett and arguably the most complex henchman of all time, Darth Vader (think about it). It’s possible George Miller was trying to avoid the glut of villains that often appear in, and plague, the Marvel movies, but the absence of a henchman in Fury Road dulls the plot and keeps the audiences reliant on the action, which brings up the final point…

Max v. Max: the Action & Overall Feel

You can call them what you want; post-apocalyptic sci-fi films, Australian new wave cinema, dystopian road movies. At the end of the day Mad Max is literally and figuratively about high-octane action. This is what Mad Max: Fury Road excels at. It easily outguns the first and third films. Many will argue the action in Fury Road tops Mad Max 2, but such a subjective claim is likely rooted in relevance – excitement favors freshness and if one were to critically examine Fury Road and Mad Max 2, side-by-side it ought to be obvious that the latter borrows too heavily from the former to explicitly discern itself as the more kinetic installment.

But credit where it’s due, Miller does an impressive job eschewing the ubiquitous CGI that has become summer blockbuster de rigeur. He needle threads his action into Fury Road seamlessly with a fine, if not simple, plot. There may not be as many memorable characters as the previous films, but Miller’s tone and frenetic pacing are there. It’s enough to make Fury Road a commendable entry, but also serves as a reminder that some milestones are a gift of time. The series can live on, but likely in perennial comparison of the original three. Perhaps, like Miller, the audience is better off embracing a new Max that exists for a new generation.

“As for the Road Warrior, that was the last I ever saw of him. He lives now only in my memories.”

…and on DVD. And any other number of streaming services.

Hey, the 80s Are Still Here!

Well, at least Retrobacktive is.

Personally I feel the return has been triumphant. We’re getting six to eight hits some days…that’s incredible for a site that has zero brand visibility. Nonetheless, I feel bad. As the author it is my responsibility to ensure a steady stream of fresh content onto Retrobacktive‘s main page. There has been a sizable dearth since resurrecting the blog over a month ago.

The delay in contribution is partly do to an ambitious undertaking with the working title A Cold and Unconquerable State. This is to be a serial of blog posts reflecting on major incidences of The Cold War during the 1980s. Much research is required to provide these posts with the diligent journalism they deserve, and as such they are languishing in development hell.

There have been attempts to drive content via new and updated pages on Retrobacktive, and I encourage readers to visit the new “I Want My…” page which includes seminal 80s music video files. Of course additions to these pages do no give the appearance of vitality that main articles do.

Thus it would seem creating a new page wouldn’t provide much vigor to Retorbacktive’s metrics. Fortunately I don’t care about metrics. I care about catharsis and posterity. So there’s going to be a new page focusing on existential considerations of the decade and notions of what should have been because of it. Some of these posts will find their way to the main page, tidbits to entice a closer look.

Until then, thank you to those followers (especially you Germans; you know who you are) who have taken the time to stop by and keep this little shred of history alive.


Then & Now

Since its inception virtually all of Retrobacktive’s feature posts have focused on some tangible relic indelibly interwoven into the fabric of Generation X. Movies, albums, celebrities, even fruit juice have shined front and center as the perdurable stars of the show. Suspiciously there has been little attention to those esoteric components of the decade. The soul of the 80s, if you will.

It’s not a coincidence. Retrobacktive was cultivated in the catacombs of classic journalism where the word “I” is shunned and only hints of advocacy are allowed to permeate the context of the story. It’s a terse, matter-of-fact style; some might even call it boring.

But then there’s that voice. The inner firebrand, hand at the holster, ready to say, “you know what, this is how it really is, and you’d better believe it.” Might not fly on the front page of the New York Times, but this ain’t the Times. Are you here for the Times? You made a wrong turn on the Internet.

So here’s a thought: what’s changed since 1989? A lot, undoubtedly; we’ve covered this. But is it better or worse? Modern conveniences hold a powerful sway over society, but there’s a virulence to nostalgia with a way of luring people from their Apple-Ikea bliss. The past, after all, lives in a vacuum where only the good survives. Oh, there’s more than enough room for an “Everything Awful About the 80s” article. But for now let’s focus on the good old times, and what truly made yesteryear so bitchin.’

— Things That Were Awesome in the 80s —

1.) Phone calls

Alexander_Graham_Telephone_in_NewyorkSo first off, this list is only going to make sense to people who have souls. The modern world has morphed us into timid, ineffectual communication wimps. And most people are content to ideally stand by and accept Facebook as their artificial intelligence life planner. Here’s an idea: take a virtual trip back through time, pick up the phone and call someone. Thanks to all the passive forms of communication that exist today, no one has to actually own any social responsibility anymore. There was a time when that kind of flakiness was restricted to L.A. But now thanks to Facebook, email, and instant messaging, people have all the time in the world to come up with lame excuses as to why they can’t interact with you – or more commonly they can just leave any personal engagement into the infinite void of cyberspace. At least in the 80s if you were an asshole you had to be smart enough to come up with a quick lie over the phone. The world has always been full of assholes; okay, but can we at least have smart assholes?

2.) R-rated Movies

Movies come up a lot in Retrobacktive. It’s because they used to be good. Sure, there are some good movies today, those gems that poke their way out of the woodwork come Oscar season. Good movies were perennial in the 80s. Today you have to filter through the endless deluge of vapid Hollywood slop that pours off the summer movie conveyor belt. And it’s all rated PG-13. When the dollar usurped humanity as the universe’s most precious commodity (somewhere around 1999) the film industry jumped on board and said “let’s make every movie as palatable to the most amount of people as possible.” And the de rigeur MPAA rating for this new world order was PG-13. Excites kids; doesn’t offend parents. Everyone is happy… except discerning adults who would like to see Bruce Willis call someone a “motherfucker,” blow that character’s head off and actually see blood come out if it. At least we still have Quentin Tarantino.

3.) Music

No. Before you get excited, I’m not going to suggest music was “better” in the 1980s. Such a debate is an exercise in futility on par with arguing which fruit is the best fruit in the world. What was better, though, was how you got your music 20-plus years ago. Imagine going to a centralized location where all your friends are hanging out. You get to physically stand at the precipice of all your favorite artists’ cutting edge releases. Eyes and ears are intertwined as you scan the infinite aisles of invigorating artwork and listen to new and exciting tunes blasting over the PA while you shop.

That’s going to a record store, not slouching over your Mac while fishing through frustration over the digital pawnshop that is iTunes. Allow me to break my fourth wall to drive home a harrowing truth: until three months ago, I had not bought an album of music in seven years. Seven. Years.*

Call me antiquated but I never want to have to resort to tech savvy to listen to AC/DC. Music is elementally beautiful. Why must it’s delivery be so convoluted? I don’t like giving people money for anything I can’t hold in my hand and walk out the door with. Otherwise it leaves entirely too much trust in the hands of corporations and brands that have proven to be positively untrustworthy. But we’re modern people; we’re lazy and cheap, so Apple can perpetually spoon feed us shitty Taylor Swift songs then take them away every time they decide to update their software.

4.) Star Wars

Poster art by Tom Jung, 20th Century Fox

Poster art by Tom Jung, 20th Century Fox

Arguably the greatest movie trilogy ever. A bottomless well of childhood memories steeped in the immortal archetype of good versus evil. Here George Lucas architects the engine of imaginations for generations to come.

Then those stupid prequels came out. It would be bad enough to have to merely live with the memory of Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen’s emo-Anakin Skywalker, but that Lucas went and re-cut the original films to fit the narrative of the prequels sullies the whole series. This is the ultimate example of the danger in changing something for change’s sake. We get it, George; you’re a tinkerer. But even the strongest diamond can turn to dust if you chip away too long.

5.) Beer

For the record, craft beer is great! And it’s been great for awhile; the past 10 years have brought some outstanding brews to the flavor-starved lips of beer aficionados around the world. But the crest in this wave is about to break. Look, there’s always going to be room for experimentation and those outliers who push the envelope and aim for something higher. But not everyone has to buy into it.

The biggest beer breakthrough in the 80s was Bud Light. They took flavorless beer and made it more flavorless and less caloric. But it was still pretty much beer. The common thread that bonded beer in the Eighties was it tasted like beer. No one walked into a bar and asked for something “hop-forward,” unless they wanted a pogo stick thrown at them. No citrusy, piney notes, or orange garnishes, or glasses that looked like they were blown by a bunch of epileptics on PCP. And it was filtered. All of it!

Hippie Beer Rep: “We’re independent! We don’t filter our beer; we keep it pure! Whoo, go Kombucha ale!”

Me: “Dude, if I want sand at the bottom of my beer, I’ll drink it at the beach. Stop being cheap; buy a filter.”

Not sure how anyone else feels, but is all the craft beer starting to taste the same? It’s not the breweries. It’s our taste buds’ ability to adapt. You can only guzzle so much of something before it loses it’s inherent integrity. At least 25 years ago it was easy and inexpensive. Hey, sometimes beer-flavored beer is just beer-flavored beer. Good enough.

*It was Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor by the London Symphoney Orchestra. Still not sure it was worth it.