Australian Beef & Mushroom Pies
It's the end of September here in Austin and that means one thing -- FANTASTIC FEST!!! So, I'm going deep for the next week watching films and to tie in with it, I decided to go with one of the great genre action films of all time, a film that redefined and reinvigorated the genre.
When I told a friend I was going to feature Mad Max this week, she wondered if Mel Gibson had so damaged his career at this point as to make it impossible to watch him on screen. And it is a bit strange to watch this young (24 year old) Gibson, back before you mostly associated him with being a crazy Jew-hater. But as I told my friend, that while I personally might have disagreed with Charleton Heston politically, that didn’t make Touch of Evil a bad movie. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard, but you have to be able to, on some level, accept a work of art divorced from its creators.
MGM is releasing in the US a new DVD/Blu-Ray edition of the movie next week which for the first time will allow Americans to hear the actors’ voices and not the poorly-dubbed version first released in the States. Also, Mad Max will be airing on AMC tonight at 8PM & 10PM EST, on IFC Saturday, Oct. 2 at 11:30 PM EDT. Honestly, I haven't a clue whether any of them are the dubbed version or not it. Amazon on Demand has it available for streaming, as well. Sometimes we just get what we can get, so please read, watch, eat, and enjoy.
Fifi: They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well, damn them! You and me, Max... We're gonna give them back their heroes!
Max: Ah, Fif. Do you really expect me to go for that crap?
Fifi: You gotta admit I sounded good there for a minute, huh?
Up until the 1970's, there was virtually no film industry in Australia of note. By the early 70's, however, a few action films (e.g., The Man from Hong Kong) were starting to attract attention. Then in 1978, George Miller unleashed his first feature film, Mad Max. It inspired, confused, and outraged the Australian film industry. Australian Producer/Critic Phillip Adams first advised investors against investing in the film, then later called for a boycott of the film and wrote in the news weekly The Bulletin in 1979 that it had “all the emotional uplift of Mein Kampf” and would be “a special favourite of rapists, sadists, child murderers and incipient Mansons.”
At the same time, the Australian Crime Prevention Council President also demanded the film be banned. “[O]nly a very small minority of Australians could consider [Mad Max] worthwhile entertainment,” he declared.
And yet, for 30 years, the AUS$380,000 film “held a record in The Guinness Book of Records as the highest profit-to-cost ratio of a motion picture ever, conceding only in 2009 to Paranormal Activity.”
The Australian Film Institute Awards (their Academy Awards) nominated Mad Max for Best Film, Best Director, Hugh Keays-Byrne (who plays Toe-cutter) for Best Supporting Actor, and Best Screenplay. However, it only took home awards for Best Editing, and Best Sound.
Film critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and former director of the Sydney Film Festival, Paul Bynes, recently noted: “The influence of Mad Max would be hard to overstate. Some would say it is the most influential movie ever made in Australia. The film had a profound effect on filmmakers and audiences around the world. It redefined the idea of what kinetic action cinema should be, along with audience expectations. It also threw a well-timed wrench at the polite veneer of much Australian cinema.”
“Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was the first Mad Max, in that we had a very tough time making it and a very low budget,” director Miller recalled. “I had no idea that filmmaking was so tough. I thought if you planned it well and you shot it as best you could, everything would be okay. But we ran out of money and I basically had to cut the film myself, and I was confronted with all my mistakes, day after day after day. I couldn’t figure out why something was or wasn’t working, and I honestly thought we’d lost all the money of our friends and investors.”
Though Miller always had another career if filmmaking didn’t work out. He had not only finished medical school, but was a working doctor when he embarked on Mad Max. He himself has noted that the depiction of violence many objected to in Mad Max had a lot to do with what Miller had seen in emergency rooms and trauma centers as an intern. When you watch the movie, the close-up shots of death are shocking because they do seem somewhat clinical, like photos taken from medical textbooks.
“Being a doctor, you know, affected me a lot. It’s pretty brutal what can happen to a human being and I could never reconcile that so it did influence my filmmaking a lot,” he's said.
As for Mel Gibson, the story goes that he'd gotten himself beat up in a bar fight a day or so before he met Miller who supposedly was taken by his bruised face and that’s what got him hired for the role.
BACKGROUND & CONTEXT:
Okay, gear-heads! This one's for you!
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “muscle car” as: “Any of a group of American-made 2-door sports coupes with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving.”
The 1973 XB GT Ford Falcon. A car that might have been forgotten by time except for the fact that it was featured in Mad Max. It's usually known by fans as "the Interceptor," it's name in the movie. It isn’t even “technically” a “muscle car” as it was only made and sold in Australia. According to Car & Driver magazine: “The XB Falcon is a straightforward muscle car with a solid rear axle hanging on leaf springs in back, a simple unibody structure, and an Australian-built 300-hp, 351-cubic-inch Cleveland pushrod V-8 underhood hooked to a four-speed manual transmission. The styling looks like a frappé of '71 Torino and '71 Mustang, and that's very much how the Falcon XB drives....”
But today, “[a]s there were only 949 XB GTs ever made they have become a very collectable Australian Muscle Car. There are probably less than 500 GTs remaining now. The value of these collectables has increased dramatically over the last few years to the point where you can not even consider using one for a replica Interceptor.”
When the first Mad Max was completed, the car was no longer needed, and was modified back to being a street car (basically by removing the blower and the side pipes). It toured around Melbourne at shopping centers, car shows and such to help promote the film. But when the sequel was announced, the Falcon was remodified again and put back to use. When The Road Warrior was wrapped shooting, again the car was junked but some fan bought and restored it, putting it back on the road doing car shows and exhibitions. The car then made its way to the National Motor Museum of Australia, at Birdwood, South Australia but was later sold and can be seen today at the Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in Keswick, England.
So, might you want a Hot Wheels '73 Falcon XB edition? Not fancy enough? How about a die cast scale model of the Interceptor for $124.99? Not big enough? How about a full-sized replica or the parts to convert your own, so you can both drive around your sub-development, and drive your spouse “mad?”
Since I have yet to venture to "the land of down under," I've never actually had a real Aussie meat pie. I emailed some friends there, but they hadn't any advice. So I looked at about a dozen recipes to come up with something that I hope is at least close to authentic. They seemed to run the gamut from nothing more than ground beef mixed with Worcestershire sauce and ketchup, to more elaborate ones that seemed a bit too fussy. I'd be interested in any Aussie readers who have constructive (let me repeat - "constructive") advice about this recipe. All I know is they sure tasted mighty fine....
According to Janet Clarkson in her book, Pie: A Global History, pies originated as a way to preserve the yumminess of a meat's juices that would otherwise be lost on a spit. Meat was cooked in what was essentially a baking dish made of dough. The dough encasement also made the food portable and preservable. "These early pie crusts were called 'coffins'.... the word originally meant a basket or box." But the crust of these coffins were pretty hard and almost impossible to eat. It wasn't until around the 13th century when someone got the idea of adding some fat to the dough and thus inventing pastry.
In the late 18th century, Brits were moving (by or against their free will) to Australia and brought their love of and recipes for meat pie with them. Again, Ms. Clarkson notes: "For the urban poor, meat was a prize, and if they had it at all it was likely to be in the form of a pie bought (or stolen) from a cookshop or street trader. These first migrants came to a country ideally suited for wheat-growing and grazing, and indeed the later wave of free settlers were lured to the colony with the promise of 'meat three times a day.'" (That promise is not so far from the truth today, as the average Australian eats about 12 meat pies a year, which my math adds up to over 250,000,000 meat pies annually, though other sources double that figure.)
According to the Australian Consumers Association, the meats allowed in a meat pie are: buffalo, camel, cattle, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry, rabbit and sheep. "Everything except the foetus of an animal."
It should also be noted that in the colonial days here in America, English Puritans believed mincemeat pies to be evil (along with celebrating Christmas) and some New England states actually had laws against both pies and Christmas.
Australian Beef & Mushroom Pies
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makes 4 individual pies
1 1/2 pounds stew beef (or chuck cut 1/2" cubes)
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup red wine
3/4 cup beef broth
1/2 cup water
4 ounces portabello (or baby bello) mushrooms, roughly chopped
8 ounces diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 bay leaf
1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with 2 tablespoons water
1 medium egg, separated
butter, for greasing pans
2 sheet pie crust pastry - you may need only one, but have 2nd just in case
2 sheet puff pastry - same as above
ketchup, for accompaniment
1. Preheat over to 375*.
2. Mix flour, paprika & salt. Dredge meat in mix. Brown meat in batches in frying pan using 1/2 the oil and then place in ovenproof casserole or pot.
3. In same pan, adding remaining oil to lightly-brown onions & garlic (don't let burn), then add to pot.
4. Stir in wine, broth, water, tomatoes, tomato paste, worcestershire sauce, salt, thyme, pepper, and bay leaf. Cover tightly and put in oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove bay leaf. Add cornstarch slurry.
5. Let cool to room temp. Up to here can be done up to 3 days in advance (refrigerate - if more than an hour until ready to use after cooling).
6. When ready to make pies, grease pie pan with butter (even if its non-stick pans).
7. Roll out pie crust dough and cut about 1/2" wider circle than rim of pan rim. Snugly fit the dough into the pan. Repeat for each pan.
8. Now, roll out the puff pastry and cut circles about 1/4" wider than the pan rims. Reserve.
9. Fill each pie pan about 3/4 the way full with meat mixture. Do not fill to the brim.
10. Using a brush, paint the edge of the pie crust with egg white, then lightly press puff pastry circle on top. Use a fork and firmly press down on the edges to seal. Repeat for each pan.
11. Now brush the top of each pie with some egg yolk, then using a sharp knife, first cut any excess dough around the edges, then cut one or two small slits on the top to let the pies breathe. (NOTE: Pies can now also be held in the fridge (seal tightly with plastic wrap) until ready to use.)
12. In a preheated 375* oven, cook the pies for about 30-35 minutes, until done.
13. Serve hot with a dollop of ketchup on the top or side. Enjoy!
Mad Max Screenplay (MS Word doc)
IFC George Miller Page
Mel Gibson & George Miller, Canadian TV interview 1985, YouTube
Mel Gibson, Playboy Interview July 1995
NY Times Critic AO Scott on Mad Max
How to Build Your Own Mad Max Car, MadMaxCar.com
Mad Max Unlimited, Makers of Mad Max Replicas
Australian & New Zealand Meat Pies, Wikipedia
Mad Max DVD/Blu-Ray edition
Hot Wheels '73 Falcon XB edition
Interceptor die cast scale model
Mad Max: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
The Mad Max Movies, by Adrian Martin
Pie: A Global History, by Janet Clarkson
Norpro Nonstick Mini Pie Pans, Set of 4