Beautiful Badlands
Ashley Crawford, Reviewer
The Age
August 13, 2006

There is nothing subtle in the impact of Brendan Lee's latest exhibition.

There is nothing subtle in the initial impact of Brendan Lee's latest show. The viewer is chased, bailed up and faces the black eyes of a sawn-off shotgun, the stygiant win barrels the only thing in focus, the Australian landscape blurring in the background. You know time is up.

Lee's photography has the instant appeal of film noir transposed onto the outback. Many of his references are clear cut, referring to numerous Australian filmic elements. But, to a large extent, Lee's badlands are most distinctly a homage to Mad Max. Given Mel Gibson's recent travails, he may appreciate the gesture.Then again, he may not, given that Lee has replaced Gibson with the more gritty visage of actor Adam Considine.

Considine is the central figure in a powerful, 48-minute video installation. It's a strange amalgam of impressionistic montage and hard-core road film. Clouds filmed from the top of the Westgate Bridge are combined with footage from a helicopter, tracing the route of Max's black Interceptor in the first Mad Max film. The clouds floating across the top of the imagery give the video a spooky, dream-like quality. This is emphasised when the viewer inadvertently interrupts the speeding Interceptor with their own shadow. Because of the position of the projector, you become a part of the scenario. Indeed, you become road-kill. Lee juggles a dangerous mix of pure homage and creative licence in these works. But rather than an easy rip-off of the original, he simply increases the iconic image of the Australian vigilante that Mad Max encapsulated, but adds the psychotic flipside of the same myth seen in the 1975 film Mad Dog Morgan.

It is nigh impossible to know which side of that coin Lee and Considine fall on, but you do note the pressure of the forefinger on the trigger and the simple fact that the gun is pointed straight at you.

Elsewhere, Lee has investigated the realm of Max's adventures and reinvented them. In one chilling image he captures a sign reporting the number of Werribee/Laverton Road Accident Victims, "431 this year". This all-pervading sense of mortality, rendered in gritty black-and-white, has a strangely profound air. It may be an ultra-hip pastiche and appropriation of existing film motifs, but Lee has rendered it all with a distinct sense of individual vision.

For some time, Lee has been investigating the inherent elements of anxiety, aggression, violence and seduction that are the by-products of what he describes as "acceleration culture". Like a home-grown Quentin Tarantino (without the Hollywood budget), Lee has filmed a shoot-out in a Chinese restaurant ( Shootin' from the Hip) and a gangland face-off based on For a Few Dollars More ( Takin' a Shot). But The Beautiful Badlands is his most concise, and indeed, poetic, exploration to date.