By the mid-eighties I knew I was going nowhere as far as the Australian Film industry was concerned. My two Super 8 epics, “My Survival as a Deviant!?” and “Darling It Hurtz”, were of the no-budget, Z-grade demimonde variety, and “The Thief of Sydney” was too politically suspect to get me State sanctioned and thus able to raise the millions needed to achieve the high production standards demanded by the critics. Also I was too antagonistic to authority, I couldn’t help but satirize Elite society’s pomposity, couldn’t be trusted to be decorous at Awards nights, I was an upstart and a guttersnipe, undeserving of any real money, never allowed to move on to thirty-five millimeter feature films, the so-called big-time, thus my talent was doomed to be buried alive in the Underground.
I was at a loss as to how to proceed, doors kept shutting in my face whenever I inquired as to my next project. In my usual fugue I was wandering down Harris Street, Pyrmont, when I met a mate who told me I should hurry over to a casting agent on the North Shore for they were looking for deviant types like me for a big movie. “Mad Max 7 – Beyond Chunderdome” was in preparation and they wanted guys with pinheads to be part of the crowd in their grand, post-apocalyptic soap-opera.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t have given a damn, I wanted to be a writer/director, not a lowly extra, but a small flashbulb went off in my head, “Yes! That’s the way to get discovered in the movies, stand out as an Extra, my ugly mug will shine out from the crowd, I’ll be the best Extra they ever clapped eyes upon!” I’d read in the Daily Terror that Tina Burner was to star alongside Mal Glibson in the extravagant blockbuster and I’d adored her since my early teens, “River Deep, Mountain High” being one of my theme songs, I’d sung it in every back street and dark lonely park in my youth’s travails and I’d suffer any humility just to be near her.
Plus I thought it would be a good opportunity to watch a feature film crew in action. I rang the casting agent and got an appointment where I was asked to pull a face like a nuclear fall-out victim for the Polaroid camera. My mug-shot was so Boschian gruesome the female casting agent waxed enthusiastic, declaring I would get a featured extra’s role, “the man who drank water!” She outlined my scene: refugees were coming in from the desert to an oasis called Barfer Town and Max was about to buy some water at the front gate when I get to push him out the way and grab the water for myself to drink. And then throughout the movie there would be shots of me slowly disintegrating, my face and body falling to bits, for the water had been radioactive and I had actually saved Max’s life by glugging it down. I relished this role, my big break in the movies, and I threshed about in my bed at Pyrmont Squats practising my one word line, “Water! Water!” in as many different desperate intonations as I could muster, “Water! Water! Waattteerrrr!”
The big shoot was in a disused rock quarry at Homebush, on top of which they would eventually build the stadiums for the Olympic Games. It was quite a journey to get there; from Homebush Railway Station a motley crew of deadbeat characters were picked up in a Landcruiser and ferried to the site. I got packed into the back of the vehicle with the luggage, excitement and awe bubbling from my fellow extras up front, chortling how honoured they were to be part of such a huge production, and how the movie should make millions. I couldn’t resist wisecracking, “Big deal, millions also get made from DDT, so what?” A chilled silence engulfed the car for the much of the journey until a very camp fuckwit said, “Did you know Mal was seen kissing a guy in a nightclub?” “Bullshit! That’s your homo fantasy. He’s actually a hardcore Catholic with 7 kids and hates poofs.” The driver/stuntman nearly swerved off the road as he gave me a quirky look and I gave him a wink.
The set of Barfer Town was a simulacra of a grungy countryside village, like something out of “Robin Hood meets the Flintstones”, containing pseudo-businesses like mouldy bakery, bloody dentist, greasy mechanics, the requisite blacksmiths’, funky cafés and brothels, and at the heart of the town a huge cage-like structure called Chunder-Dome. I was made to get into long queues to sign on, to get my costume on, to get make-up, to be given vague instructions as to what that day’s shoot would involve, and to get my morning tea. I discovered the whole set-up was rigidly structured into a hierarchy with stars, director and cinematographer at the peak of the pyramid, next came the stuntmen and technicians, with the extras on the absolute bottom, crushed into malleable paste to glue their movie together with. This hierarchy was given visible shape with roped off areas being no-go zones for the peasants, especially the dining tent for the stars and the area where their personal caravans were parked.
I discovered how rigid this class system was, getting severely embarrassed in the process, when I wandered through the ropes from my lower-level slaves’ tier and tried to eat off the second class diners’ table. The head stuntman was reaching for a piece of strawberry shortcake and I couldn’t resist quickly snatching it from under his nose. The macho brute growled at the nasty little pipsqueak, me, and to show me I was in the wrong place he jabbed his thumb over at a nastier table where a crowd of begrimed extras was fighting over a stack of sausage rolls. Brought down that I was of the lesser breed, I cheekily marched off with the shortcake anyway.
Standing in the tiresome queues, standing about for hours till the shot was ready, I was made privy to the urgent concerns of the other extras. Most of them were professionals going from one movie, television show or commercial to another, and they forever gossiped about the project they worked on last week, the Union dues they got paid, the fight to get overtime on this shoot, and pondering what they would be getting for dinner. Like background Muzak for this mundane showbiz gossip was the buzz-word, “Mal Mal Mal”, for the great action-hero star was just taking over Hollywood and ordinary people were flabbergasted by his celestial status, the horde of extras, crew and stuntmen referring to him in august tones as if he were some new Messiah come to save the world. “Mal Mal Mal” mumbled like a mantra till I was thoroughly sick of hearing his name.
The Big Man himself finally showed up and sat at the premiere dining table in the specially roped off area and I just couldn’t deny myself the perverse pleasure of standing outside the ropes, only 7 yards away from him, and staring evil-eyed at the Superstar as if he was some exotic beast in a zoo. And thus, right at the starting gun, I did not endear myself to the great Mal.
To compound the antipathy, the costumer had dressed me, “the man who drank water!”, in bizarre fashion, baggy shorts, a woman’s battered girdle wrapped around a tatty dressing gown, with a Catholic scapula hanging like an eye-sore around my neck. I was supposed to be a kooky dude coming in from the desert after a nuclear holocaust and was dressed accordingly, but Mal was a die-hard, extremist Catholic and his red neck swelled in annoyance when his blues eyes clapped upon the sacred scapula dangling around my atheist punk neck. He knew me for the irreligious pagan that I was and throughout the interminable three weeks of movie shoot, before I got ejected, he could barely abide my presence near him.
The costumer got me very excited about my role, but she couldn’t decide on my ‘look’, changing something at every dressing. First I wore crazy sunglasses, then an eye-patch made out of a metal tea-bag strainer, then reading-glasses with the glass smashed. With all these costume changes I was wrongly accused by the uppity assistants of interfering with the stylist’s design and they pushed me about as if I were a run-away window dummy, driving home to me how low on the pecking order I actually was. All the extras were supposed to be coming into Barfer Town with a load of junk to sell or swap and so they were made to toil in the midday sun carrying great loads of crap back and forth as part of the action. Every time an uptight assistant director approached me to carry an armload of rubbish, I would refuse, announcing I was “the man who drank water!” and thus not required to carry anything, for all I had to do was colorfully rot to pieces.
How I loved smirking at their smarmy grimaces at my temerity in disobeying their grand orders. In the dressing tent, I had my own costume bag labeled “Toby Zoates”, as if I were special, a minor star, a starlet even, yet always aware I was dirt for I caught the assistant costumers sniggering at me, they thought I had pretensions to ‘Somebody-hood', akin to the great Mal, when, in reality, on the set I was an absolute nobody.
The production designer wanted the Barfer Town denizens to look like a rough bunch of cut-throats so half the extras were motor-bike gang members from Hells Angels and the Bandidos, fat, burly macho-men covered in beards, leather and tattoos who spent their free time in between takes stuffing themselves at the caterers’ tables and moaning about the world being taken over by poofters. Their beady eyes would then alight upon me, lying on the ground looking pathetic in my tatty girdle and dressing gown, I could only glare back with a punk snarl, I was a loner and thankfully excluded from fraternizing with them in the extras’ recreation tent.
Amongst the epic cast of millions I met a poofter friend from Sydney’s nightclub circuit, one Simon Reptile, and with this compatriot in tow was able to poke fun at all the pompous posturing of the actors and crew, ever milking a laugh from all the cinematic chaos, rising above my humiliation and compensating for my frustration at not being a star of even the dimmest luminosity.
The other notable fag on set was the great Hollywood survivor, Frank Thring, still creaking along after all those camp portrayals of decadent tyrants in ‘1950s sword and sandal epics, vastly overweight and ancient as the hills. Trussed up in ridiculous black leather bondage gear, he only had a bit part as the appraiser of junk that the derelict humans brought to the front gate of Barfer Town, him locked in a cage and croaking seven words of bullshit to a blank-faced Mal Glibson who was trying to break into the dump. Like a huge, pallid dugong dragged from its watery depths, Frank looked as if he might drop dead at any moment and here he was heaving his hairless bulk about a rock-quarry for yet another load of celluloid schlock. No matter where the poor dear plopped down his vast bulk some fungus faced moron would approach him and whine how he loved him in “King of Kings”, “Ben Hur”, “Quo Vadis”, “El Cid”, the list of biblical epics endlessly droned on and on till old Frank would grunt and wave a limp wrist in dismissal, like Pontius Pilate flicking off the Christians.
He was reduced to demanding that a space of a hundred yards be kept clear all around him and absolutely no extras, fans or gronks be allowed to approach. George Griller, the director, was forever molly-coddling him, massaging his blubber, whispering endearments and promising fringe-benefits, afraid the biblical legend might either storm off the absurd, dinky set or even drop dead from the tedium of dealing with so many rank amateurs.
I had just published my short story about growing up gay in Melbourne, “Alec Farthing” in the anthology “Being Different” and as Mr.Thring himself was possibly the most notorious poof Melbourne ever created, I was hoping that maybe the old blob had heard about my bold-arsed tale. Late one night when sitting up on top of Chunder Dome waiting for the action to begin, I noticed the illustrious stage-director, James Oggleby, who was assisting Mr.Griller in coaching the actors, whispering into Frank Thring’s ear and then pointing over at me. The celebrated thespian heaved his entropic bulk up to look around, then fixed one piercing eye, with raised eyebrow, upon abashed little me. Old Frank seemed curious, and I fantasized him mentally passing on the baton of “Knight of the Fag Garter” to me, he gave me a curt nod before collapsing back into his seat.
During the shoot I found myself sitting next to the infamous old queen, me and Simon Reptile giggling like little fairies, but he didn’t have us chased away, and we didn’t dare interrupt his solitude with foolish compliments he’d already heard a thousand times. Instead I sang to Simon a sweet melody popular at the time, Frank with his ears pricked up, I was hoping to lull the giant screen star into a relaxed meditation, and then bask in his charisma for the long minutes without him feeling self-conscious.
One hot day in the lunchtime break I was out back of the set, sun-baking and singing to myself in mindless bliss, not realizing the caravans behind which I was hiding were those of the major stars. I was stretched out half-naked, my baggy shorts loose around my spread legs, when suddenly the door of the nearest caravan swung open and Frank Thring stood towering on its threshold, eyes zeroing in on the enticing view of my crotch exposed in the baggy shorts. We both hovered in mid-air for infinite seconds, me chuffed that the grand master of celluloid campness was ogling insignificant, little me but I quickly grew uncomfortable under the torrid gaze and sat up, shutting my legs and closing the gap in my shorts. The mammoth star arched his eyebrow, turned up his miffed nose and faded back into the darkness of his caravan and for a long time I cherished my ability to attract the eyes of an all too human legend, who’d seen up close so many hot stars like Jeff Hunter doing J.C., and old Frank indeed died not too long after the movie wrapped, and how marvelous for me to have sat next to him for such a little while.
In the caterer’s tent were two very handsome men who stood around exposing their muscles, seemingly extraneous to all the cooking and serving going on, and who soon confessed to me that they were hustlers from a famous Sydney Escort service, their real job to lend succor to the needs of a major star they couldn’t name. In my pornographic imagination I fantasized about who they were there to service, such were the perks awarded a reticent star to get him to hang on the set of a shlockbuster for all the tedious hours it took to make a movie. So handsome were these fellows that I cringed with envy, yet I also knew that for certain eminent artists who had trod a long, long, arduous road to perfect their craft, the sky was the limit in keeping them happy and they were worth it.
I ended up getting three weeks work in “Mad Max 7”, kept on because of my supposed mini-role wherein I would appear in several shots over the duration of the movie disintegrating from nuclear disease. After one week the set had become like an all-nurturing home for me, the routines settled into, fed at appropriate times, friends to enjoy the cinematic party with, the klunky false facades of Barter Town shops familiar and affectionately leaned against like furniture in the lounge room one grew up in. I could easily move permanently into such a Freakzone, it was total fun acting out the histrionics expected of such apocalyptic desperadoes. It amazed me that when “action!” was called most of the extras froze, like rabbits in a searchlight, barely giving a squeak or shaking a leg, milling about dumbfounded as if they didn’t know what they were there for.
Whereas I, on the other hand, relished the screaming and chanting, the running and clambering, hamming it up as only a starving, mad refugee would. I overdid the hysterics, reaching for cinematic veracity, when in the celebrating crowd scene I threw water into the unsuspecting face of my dear friend, Simon Reptile, whose agonized, spluttering face in mid close-up made the mis en scene that much more Hyronimous Bosch surreal and hilarious. In another scene, when Barfer Town was being blown up and we were all made to run about in a panic, I espied a woman clutching a bunch of onions to her chest as she ran screaming to and fro, and I reasoned that in such a situation a desperate, starving madman would try to take advantage of the chaos.
So, in camera, I ran up to the woman and attempted to wrest the onions from her, only she was having none of it, these were her precious props that she’d been lugging about for days and her very identity was now dependent on them, and she clung to the onions vigorously till I had to maniacally toss her about before I could wrench a few of the mangy vegetables from her iron grip. In this way I imagined my thespian talents would be noticed and I’d climb the pyramid of movie madness to the pinnacle of stardom.
After a few days of impatient drooling, I finally caught sight of my soul-music idol, Bina Burner, who strode around the set like a noble queen, compliant with the director, jocular with the lesser luminaries, gracious with the lowly extras, speaking pleasantly to everyone. Many deadhead gronks took this as intimate familiarity and chased her about the set asking inane questions like, “how does one succeed in show business?” She would diplomatically reply with, “lots of hard work, honey, lots of hard work”, then try to get out from the hold the guy had on her, totter on her giant silver boots to some safer haven only to have yet another dingbat grab a handful and spray adulation into her face.
She was supposed to be the queen of Barfer Town and lived atop a dodgy tower out of the reach of the murderous peasants below. She would zoom down on a flying fox to the brutal festivities fighting it out in the Dome, she was hunched over in a heavy, silver chain-mail dress and at times had to sit for hours in her precarious seat, swaying in the wind, while they readied the shot, her contemplating the crazy predicaments she got put through for celluloid immortality. She caught me watching her and smiled into my eyes, hugging herself with a little shiver as if to say, “It’s cold up here.”
When the flying fox finally worked, she was supposed to land in the royal box built halfway up the cage of Chunder Dome and from the balcony watch the gladiatorial contests with other aristocrats like Frank Thring and Wimpy Underson of Aussie rock’n’roll fame. I noticed a mob of extras, eager men crowded under and around the box, I thought they were maneuvering for the overtime such positioning would bring as they’d be constantly required for the long shots of the action hamming it up in the royal box. But they always had their rubber necks craned, noses pointed straight up between the bars of the box’s floor, and Alec realized they were all struggling for a peek up Bina Burner’s dress, her reposing above them with her long, long legs crossed demurely, chain-mail gathered tight around her.
Wimpy Underson strode about the royal cage like a puffed up dwarf but couldn’t act if his punk life depended on it, strapped into the regulatory apocalyptic black-leather bondage gear, he had a shrunken head on a stake jutting up from his back collar and made us extras laugh every time we looked at him, you couldn’t tell the difference between the two ugly heads. Wimpy muffed his one line on every take. “Kill him! Kill him!” he squeaked, honked, growled, shouted, repeated over and over in every inflection except true severity so that the huge crowd on the set grew restless and scornful, causing me to pipe-dream doing the role of “the cruel Captain of the Guards” in a nasty, camp manner, much like a young Frank Thring, and being so much better than Wimpy, I’d get the best supporting actor award in Hollywood.
Big Mal himself was ubiquitous, being in every shot, one couldn’t move without tripping over him. Not so good-looking in real life, Alec wondered what all the fuss was about, chain-smoking Marlboroughs, his face flushed red-raw, he sat in the midst of a pack of squalling extras without acknowledging any human presence, like he was frozen at the South Pole. He would stare into space while many a zealous fan called out his name as if they were long lost buddies, they could’ve been on fire and Mal didn’t care, he was a demi-god, existing in a parallel universe, mere mortals unworthy of his attention. Who could blame him as every fuckwit on the set tried to get a piece of him, the costumers, the caterers, the cleaners, he never got a moment’s rest, there was always some importunate moron clinging to his sleeve trying to soak up a bit of his star-power.
I laughed about it with a friendly extra, an African–American girl who seemed as scornful as me, we’d even made a pact we would be the only people on the lot to eschew kissing the celebrated, big arse of Mal Glibson. He’d spotted us laughing at him while he chatted up the assistant-costume dresser. The very next day I saw my fellow cynic hanging about Mal’s caravan, smiling adoringly up him while he huffed and puffed and looked over at me as if to say, “Fuck you, buddy!” It looked to me like she was hoping to get a touch-up, as if it was a zombie-virus pandemic with nobody immune to the charm of fame.
It was unbearably hot in that rock quarry in the midday sun and the extras were expected to endure all the toil without a drink, forbidden to leave the set to get relief from their thirst. I threw a mini-temper tantrum and just couldn’t put up with such nonsense, I often sneaked off to the caterer’s tent to pilfer the cold orange juice from the huge fridge. Striding into the cool shadows of the canvas shed, my silly girdle flapping about me, I almost stopped mid-stride from shock, there was big Mal sitting at a table reading a book, totally alone and ripe for a fond fan’s harassment. The ‘monstar’ looked up with dread on his face, as if thinking, “Oh God, now this dickhead will try to befriend me!” We stared into each other’s blue eyes for an infinite second, then automatically I gave my punk snarl and, ignoring the great icon, I strode to the fridge and noisily gulped down a whole carton of juice, one eye on Mal as if to say, “Well, what are you gonna do about it?”
Maybe Mal got miffed he wasn’t getting the star treatment, like “Who did this weird looking, nobody-extra think he was?” Or maybe he felt relief, I was one of the few who didn’t want a piece of him, and hoped nobody gave a shit what I thought. Continuing to disregard the bug-eyed luminary, I filched two more cartons of juice to take back to my parched fellow extras, I was scared Mal burned holes in my back as I marched off, with nary a word of greeting, explanation or gushing fandom. Goodbye Mal Glibson, and yet the weirdest thing is, for quite awhile I dreamt that some day I would get to claim Mal as “my good friend”, and I’d get to know him, as if we’d been accidentally flung on a Pacific Island together. But I also thought he was an uptight religio-maniac and of course my intuition came true two decades later when all the world found out he was nuts.
(I was like a tiny gnat in a great cane toad's presence, I'm sure I didn't register on his radar, he carried a huge weight, "star of the movie", it was up to him to make these potboilers succeed, and I was a little bastard if I thought I could rattle his tight-rope walk. In reality, such were the strictures of hierarchy, stars breathing a different atmosphere from extras, I never could actually get in his face.
In between takes I blabbed gormless twaddle to my compatriot, Simon Reptile, within earshot of Mal, the celestial one. “The Pope was seen drunk and fondling teenage boys around a swimming pool in South America!” gossiped Simon. “Oh yeah?” I crowed, “Well dig this. The Prime Minister of India, Moraji Desai, drinks a glass of his own piss every morning to keep fit and healthy!” Mal’s eyeballs rolled, it was too much information for him, he urged the production crew along to hurry up and blow apart this end-of-the-earth hole called Barfer Town.
I’d settled nicely into Barfer Town, discovering all the lurks and perks, I gave my utmost in hysterics in the short moments each take required, then lounged back in some secret, shady sanctuary I’d unearthed in one of the many rickety establishments littering the set, amidst the piles of teeth, false and rotten, at the fake dentist’s, behind the bar at the klunky neon-lit “Atomic Café” or laid back on the manky sofa at the town’s tumble-down brothel. One of my acquaintances, a punk-rocker with star-glazed eyes, had the non-role of being a male prostitute in this post-apocalyptic bordello and on “action!” had to sashay up and down the balcony, swiveling his narrow hips and pouting his lips, throwing kisses to the gnarly, uptight motor-bikers.
In the feed-break, eenthusiastic, he told me how this would be part of his claim to fame. When all the “action!” was over the poor boy looked stunned and deflated to find that all the macho gronks like the bikers and body-builders on set sneered in his face and treated him like he really was a gay whore, throwing lewd remarks and insulting threats at his back, he walked on eggshells, it reminded me not to take all the grandiose theatrics of crew and actors too seriously, I didn’t really belong.
Hours were spent sitting around waiting for the shots to be ready and I always had a book hidden inside my girdle to while away the tedium with. Then came the day, when I was hiding behind Chunder Dome, leaning back relaxed against its cage-like structure, knees propped up, legs spread, reading about metaphysics in the sub-atomic world with “The Dancing Wu Li Masters”, smoking a joint and oblivious to the hustle and bustle of the movie business going on about me. Suddenly I felt as if pinned under a magnifying glass, someone’s hot eyes upon me, and I slowly looked up from my book to get the shock of being locked into big Mal’s glaring blue eyeballs.
Those cold, burning eyes at first shifted to the title of my book then down to land accusingly upon my crotch and, on following his cue and looking down, I observed my balls were hanging out of the baggy leg of my hoisted up shorts. I hastily covered my irreverent nakedness, slamming my book shut and stubbing out the joint, then giving Mal a winsome smile and resigned shrug, the great idol’s mad face set in a grimace, he strode off to conquer the rest of Barter Town. I got the crazy idea that from that moment on, with that searing confluence of antipathetic gazes, Big Mal really had it in for me.
After the first week the novelty of rushing about a movie set wore off and the monotony of endless waiting grated on my impetuous nature. At first I’d been passive, doing only what I was told, obediently following the assistant director’s nerdy instructions for those shots wherein I was supposed to appear for a flashing second, looking more worse for wear each time in my big role as “the man who drank water”. I’d stood apart from all those professional extras who pushed and shoved to get in prime positions for the camera angle, not only winning celluloid glory but getting more work and overtime, as once their mugs were captured they’d be required for further takes. When they all fought over the sausage rolls or rushed the tea-lady at lunch break I disdained to join in the fracas, such desperation below a budding star of my proportions.
But I got bored with toeing the line, ultimate fun could be squeezed from the absurd scenes, I needed to stand out more if ‘They’ were going to take my abilities seriously, so I refined the art of getting myself in every shot, slogging it out with the pushiest of the extras. No matter what the scene, I would somehow contrive to stagger into shot gasping for “Water, waterrrr…”: in between Mal’s legs during the gladiator fights, over Wimpy’s shoulders while he shouted deadpan, ineffectual orders, or popping up in the royal box while Tina Burner was attempting to make her grandiloquent speech, I tried to be as omnipresent as Big Mal himslef. If us mob of extras were asked en masse to climb up Chunder Dome, I led the mad scramble to the top, as if I were leader of the pack.
And just when I was feeling right at home in Barfer Town, in fact climbing the hierarchy and eyeing a niche in the echelon of powers that ran the dump, somewhere on the Royal box would do, “They” blew the place up with cork-board bombs, for “Mad Max” was finally dismantling this den of iniquity. The extras had to run about in mindless panic while huge booms and whooshes of flames erupted all around them. Many of the fools acted like headless chickens and ran straight into the detonations while the assistant-directors shrieked warnings and stunt men chased the erring zombies throughout the chaotic scuffle.
I myself ran speedily between the explosions, weaving in and out of the flames, lithely navigating catastrophe, the stuntmen unable to catch me and all the crew screaming fit to kill. In mid-shots, I relished taking spectacular, hammy leaps, crashing through the frame like a flying fish, to belly flop dramatically in the dust directly in front of the camera and flail about as if wounded mortally. When they got the daily rushes the director and crew must’ve gnashed their teeth at the sudden appearance of a mangy pinhead in every sequence, with even Big Mal upstaged and playing second-fiddle in all the action.
Many other pompous extras also thought they were stars-in-the-making, poncing about in their ludicrous garbage gear, sycophants ever ready to assist the assistants in badgering the hired underlings, especially the so-called Royal Guards, who wore bondage armour made of cast off car parts and marched about power-drunk, in the breaks bossing the poor citizens about, taking their roles of apoplectic pigs over-seriously. In false obeisance, I cheekily lent against the chest of one of them and surreptitiously plucked off his badge of rank, a V8 logo from the hood of an old Chevrolet, the poor fellow staggering about the set searching for his lost manhood for the rest of the shoot.
There were two muscle Mary body-builders, matching male and female, who had the unenviable job of winding a crank that hoisted Tina Burner and retinue up to the lofty heights of her palatial tower next to Chunder Dome, looking right proper arses as they did so. These two steroid junkies flexed their ugly, blown-up bodies in the weedy faces of all the Barter Town boffos to prove some kind of supremacy, noses stuck in the air because they looked the freakiest of Freaks and thus got a few more nano-seconds of glorious screen time. They had brains like dinosaurs and acted accordingly and I was pleased to ignore them whenever they pushed their way through the milling crowd of us lesser beings.
One day, while hiding out blowing a joint in a bomb crater, a fellow ‘featured extra’ dropped in on me, and in the bottom of that ditch we had a heart to heart talk. He was a sixteen year old school boy who had previously been discovered for the lead role of Kon Camera’s “Making It”, and gotten good critical raves for his role as a cheeky, wayward youth. In “Mad Max 7” he was to play the leader of a tribe of children stranded by the Apocalypse at a hidden oasis in the desert, and mad Mal arrives as “the Walker”, their savior who leads them to the chosen land. The kid was hanging around the early part of the shoot to get a handle on the whole shebang and he raved about the excitement of participating in such a venture and wondered aloud if he might not have a glorious career in Movieland.
I couldn’t help but be cautious, telling the lad to not get too worked up as a lot of it involved false consciousness, glittering fool’s gold and “the boulevard of broken dreams”. “It’s best to get another trade you can fall back on in lean times” was the wisecrack advice I gave from the Working Class’s book of perennial platitudes. Who knows if he took any notice of the cranky old punk in the bomb crater, and while he was good as the feral tribal teen, “Beyond Chunder Dome” as a movie was a mish-mashed bomb and did nothing for anyone’s movie career, not Tina’s, Wimpy’s, Frank’s or even Big Mal’s, who’d already made it anyway, and not that kid in the bomb-crater either, for he never made another movie.
Most cringe-worthy of all the ‘featured extra’s was a little character called “Master Blaster”, who rode about on the shoulders of a giant thug and had all the denizens of Barter Town in fear of his wrath. He was Mal’s big challenge in the gladiatorial contest, eventually getting killed off by an arrow in the neck. As he dies his helmet is pulled off to reveal his hidden identity and, shock horror, he turns out to be a real Downes Syndrome person, the result of all that nuclear fall-out. This small man got flummoxed by the contrary directions thrown at him by the flurried crew and asked, “What? What?” continuously. All and sundry went overboard in pampering and encouraging the little fellow, egregious solicitations and saccharine smiles rained down till he got in quite a tizzy from all the fuss and, suffering heart palpitations, had to be taken off home by his ever attentive parents, leaving me to chew my lips pondering the extraordinary lengths movie-makers go to for color and shock.
After a couple of weeks of cinematic hysteria and laid-back hilarity, the production was devolving into a wild party, drugs and alcohol flowing freely, discipline wavering, the hierarchy disintegrating, extras fondling the stars, the assistant’s plaintive directions ignored, the set threatened to implode. Certain ratbags climbed the Chunder Dome drunk as skunks and dropped their booze bottles onto the heads of the illustrious director and his all-suffering stars, getting themselves sacked on the spot. The cast of thousands dwindled day by day as the dickheads were weeded out, I was chuffed to find myself as one of the elite thirty vagabonds to be relentlessly kept on, fed lobster and oysters, coddled and placed shot by shot in the build-up for my big, “featured” bit part.
Then the momentous day came and I had to march with a long line of bedraggled refugees as they straggled into Barter Town. The big scene was to happen at the front gates, an old bum peddling water gets waylaid by a desperate pinhead, me. It was midday, scorching hot and I was lost in the long queue trailing down the hill to the gates of the fabled land. I was seemingly forgotten, they hadn’t even put any special effects make-up on me to make me look contaminated and diseased. There was a commotion down the front of the line from whence rushed a snooty assistant-director, peering into every grimy face till he alighted upon my ugly mug and grabbed me peremptorily by the wrist. “Your big moment has come!” he squeaked, leading me red-faced embarrassed by my limp wrist down the line of disgruntled, no talent wannabe thespians in their silly trash-can suits and dish-cloth dresses.
We arrived at the front gates of Barfer Town to be greeted by George Griller the Director, Bean Assembler, the celebrated cinematographer, and Mal Glibson, superstar extraordinaire, all fumbling about an old geezer on a dilapidated bike clutching a water-can. They looked up and the snippy assistant announced, “The man who drinks water!” The director and the cameraman took in my outlandish presence, perhaps wondering where they’d seen me before, then both looked to the Megastar to see if he approved. Mal seemed to sniff the air, smelling a rat, eyeballs shrinking, aghast at the thought of being seen next to this deviant, especially as he had blue eyes more baby-blue than his. His jaw squared, he shook his head in disapproval, “No, not him!” The director and cameramen turned their backs on me and the assistant hissed, “Sorry, not you. Go to the back of the line please.”
I stood for a few moments dumbfounded, watching the assistant then pull from the crowd a grungy fellow with handle-bar mustache, looking like one of the Furry Freak Brothers and, with Mal’s nod of agreement, the stunned chap was quickly informed, “You are the man who drinks water!” The assistant then turned to me, again taking me lightly by the wrist as if I was germ-ridden, and led me all the way back up the line, past all the smug, desperate post-holocaust faces, to dump me at the very end and, with nary another word, scurry off back to his masters.
I was dazed from all the heat and light, and slipped into a white-hot fury, “Action!” was called and the line of desperadoes shuffled into Barfer Town, me having to eventually trudge past Mal and crew floundering by the geriatric Water-seller. The “Man who drinks water!” mumbled and stumbled and couldn’t fart to save himself, the take was ruined and they all had to march to the top of the quarry to stumble into Barfer Town all over again. On the next take, Furry Freak Brother continued to be hopeless and the old mug with the water fluffed his lines. Each time I reached the site of their melodrama, I was more angry than the last, my eyeballs popping, bleached hair standing on end like two devil’s horns, veins throbbing in my forehead, I was humiliated beyond redemption and I cursed the lot of them, a dragon breathing lightening bolt actually shot from my third-eye and zapped the Siverscreen demigods. On the third take Mal’s cloak got caught in the wheels of the bike in the middle of the water-haggling and he nearly got strangled, and I smirked in his face, my curse was taking grand effect.
On each subsequent fluffed take I watched the director stammering invectives over the camera to the cinematographer, sending a tight beam of scathing fury in their direction, and I could’ve sworn I heard a “ping!” and “sizzle!” sound leaking from the high-tech gizmos. Every take got ruined by some mishap, usually the “man who drinks water!’ unable to mutter a word, or the ancient on the bike would totter and fall, till finally they disposed with “the man who drinks water!” scene altogether, kicking Furry Freak Brother back into the crowd, going with Mal simply refusing the water proffered. All the while George and Bean fussed over their camera, poking and prodding, mystified as to where the problem lay, as nothing was going right, even the camera wasn’t working.
The extras were made to labor back and forth, up and down a steep ridge, broiling under the harsh sun, for take after take, till on take number fourteen even I was fed up with the endless slogging through veils of sweat and dust, my fury relenting. On reaching Mal and his malcontents, George Griller and Bean Assembler both looked over to me, their wizened eyes looking deep into mine and seemed to beg, “Please, take off the curse, we’re dying here!” I cooled off and acquiesced, aiming a healing beam from my third eye at the camera gear and suddenly the camera-assistant announced all was well and every one rushed into place to try for one last time. With me calmed down, the fifteenth take went like a charm, Mal got to knock back the dirty water and march through the Gates of Barfer Town, and they were all relieved to call it a wrap, kick back and leave Barter Town to sink into it’s own void, except Mal, who grew ever uptight and had the world to save.
But my naïve movie-lot wonder had been blown away, I festered with resentment and disrespect, I viewed the movie pageant with a sour eye and sowed the seeds of rebellion in the ears of all the disaffected proles drudging as extras near me. I envisaged staging a revolution, me directing the movie of the refugees taking over Barfer Town, staking George Griller and his aristocrats on the spikes of Chunder Dome, and twirling Big Mal about on the end of giant elastic bands till he was so dizzy he wouldn’t know whether he was Max or Maxine, then throwing him to his fans to be torn to pieces and devoured. I urged my compatriots on, to party like it was the end of the world, to disobey the orders shouted through megaphones by the assistant directors, to shake the bars of their Chunder Dome cage, all of it making for graphic desert bandit hysteria, just what the director wanted for the gladiator and destruction scenes.
And so the production kept me working, as just a nobody slave, and I resigned myself to my fate, three weeks highly paid work, contentment at participating in celluloid madness and grateful for the sausage rolls I snatched from under all the grasping peasants’ hands. When asked by the casting agent how I felt about being in the movie, I waxed ecstatic, “It’s like being in “The Last Days of Pompeii”, a lot of wild fun!” I should’ve known it couldn’t last. I’d been rushing back to the Pyrmont Squats every night and regaling my anarchic colleagues with tales of the day’s exciting happenings, the movie stars, the action, the hilarious catastrophes, unwittingly igniting their own lust for fame and fortune.
One day, when late for work, I made the mistake of getting the inimitable Sylvia the wood nymph, female nemesis of my Punk life, to give me a lift in her red Combie-van out to the Homebush rock quarry film set. Stars crackling in her eyes, she begged me to somehow get her a job on the glitzy movie lot but I’d resisted her pleas, knowing her for double-trouble, telling her I was a powerless nobody with no connections, and anyway, one had to have gone through weeks of casting and costuming, not just rock up out of the blue and expect star treatment, all this blabbed in the car-park of the movie-lot. Not suspecting her aroused ardor for the glamorous life, I left her to go put on my costume and make-up, thinking she would resignedly go back to the scungy squats.
Instead she brazenly snuck into the costume tent and put on assorted rags to meld with the faceless mob of grumbling plebs, a dab of dirt smeared across her mug as post-apocalyptic make-up. Next thing I spied her standing in the line for signing on to the casting books, and I asked her what the fuck she thought she was doing, she could get me sacked from my precious job and end my promising movie career with one mindless blunder. She totally ignored me, no matter what I pleaded and reasoned with, swaying her hips and batting her eyelids at the ogre like biker dudes posturing in their garbage Guard’s get-up and getting them on-side. The prim smile on her face sent me into paroxysms of annoyance, I cursed her loudly in the cruelest invective my vivid imagination could dredge up,
“You fucking bitch! You’re just two orifices on either end of a shit-bag and you only exist to stuff them with more shit!” All the extras, the casting agent, the crew, even Big Mal hovering nearby in his omnipresence, heard my horrid verbal diahorrhea, and shuddered and tittered, the redneck bikers glowering with menace and threatening to punch me out for insulting a lady.
Regardless of my protestations, she managed to sign onto the extra’s books, bullshitting them with some ingenuous story of being cast late and filling in for a sick sister, the harried crew waved her on, the movie was crashing to it’s conclusion and extraneous extras didn’t figure in the grand scheme of things. I reconciled myself to her presence, she’d won out and good luck to her, but apart from the occasional chit chat I kept my distance from her, watching her flirt with the grumpy biker thugs, waiting for the inevitable imbroglio she would create. They were shooting the gladiatorial Chunder Dome sequences and I had for many days reserved a specific spot for myself clinging to the bars halfway up the cage of the Dome. Sylvia, out of punk perversity, insisted on sitting on a bar close to my head so that I had her fat arse in my face all through the excitement of Mal being flung about on the end of thick elastic bands while being chased by a chain-saw wielding Master Blaster.
I gave her continuous shoves, pummeled her balloon butte to putty to get it off my nose, swore all the filthy epithets I could muster, even when “Action!” was called and we were all supposed to be listening raptly to Tina Burner, I punched and shoved yet she only smirked and endeavored to wriggle her bum, pushing it further down upon my head till I thought I’d suffocate within her fleshy folds. I was about to give her an almighty whack when a burly Hell’s Angel, clinging to the bars nearby, leaned across and snarled, “If you keep it up, cunt, you’ll get your fucking face smashed in! Leave the poor girl alone!” I gave him the finger then moved to the top of the Dome, leaving the bitch to bat her eye-lashes and thank the oaf for protecting her from such a wicked creature.
They could have her I thought, with only one last thing I had to say to her. As we trundled, fuming, back into the city in her van, I pleaded, “ You got yourself a job as an extra, great, I’m sure you’ll have fun with all those gronky desperadoes on set, but please, please don’t bring any of the junkie scumbags from the squats with you tomorrow, they’ll fuck it for me!” She bashfully acquiesced but this entreaty seemed like a red rag to a maddened cow for sure enough, the next day she turned up with six of her fellow fuckwits from Pyrmont Squats, real bad-arse junkie misfits, Barfer Town types who she snuck into the wardrobe tent and then down into the rock quarry. As they stumbled about without a clue as to what extras actually do they were eventually spotted, questioned and Security was called to escort them from the set, Sylvia in the lead. They brashly proceeded to slip back into Barfer Town amidst the chaos of derelict nuclear-bomb refugees swarming in and out, and creating a ruckus everywhere they went, being very stoned and drunk as always, they were soon noticed and again flung from the premises.
This went on all day, a small guerrilla war of infiltrating terrorists outwitting uniformed guards, a mini-drama to parallel the destruction of Barfer Town by “Mad Max” and his anarchists. The last resort was when this tawdry gang of squatters was caught milking the crew’s cars of petrol to fuel Sylvia’s horrid red postal van so they could escape back to the city, for the tight bimbo had forgotten to fill up before the big trip. The police were called and the aberrant gang told never to return. When the crew asked around who was responsible for bringing such louts to the set, I was pointed out as the culprit and I discovered the next morning that suddenly my great thespian services were no longer required, as ever I was persona non grata, my movie career shattered.
When I got back to the squats I cursed Sylvia with merciless vitriol for the contretemps, my silver-screen triumph squashed in the bud; when I told her I’d been sacked all she could reply was, “So what? Who do you think you fucking are, Sir John fucking Geelgod? You're a bum like the rest of us.” In blind wrath I smashed all the crockery and foodstuffs off the shelves of her kitchen and dragged her around by her hair till her junkie boyfriend had to drag me off and fling me in a cold shower. Pyrmont Squats sure was the place for a reality check. The “Mad Max” incident was yet another nail in the coffin of my brilliant non-career as a movie star, where rarely through a fault of my own I was branded a troublemaker.
When the movie finally came out, as I expected, it was a real turkey and I was surprised to find they’d somehow managed to edit me out of all those scenes I’d done my utmost to stand out in, my special “man who drinks water!” appearances, my histrionic belly flopping and Chunder Dome scrabbling, there was not one glimmer of my startling pinhead. Except for one flashing moment, on the dreadful trudge into Barfer Town, the fifteenth take of my cursed, non-featured scene, the back of my bald head is glimpsed for a second dwindling into obscurity, as if the director got his revenge on me and had a good laugh too, a joke for me on the vagaries of celluloid immortality.
Weirdly, I did get my face in the commemorative picture album for the schlock extravaganza of Mad Max 7, photographed clinging to the bars of Chunder Dome right behind Mal on his lacquer-bands, my fist raised, about to punch Sylvia in the butte. I laughed also for it was the ongoing cosmic joke of the universe farting in the face of my dreams and pretensions.