Archive for July 21st, 2016

85. Zardoz (1974)


By Roderick Heath

The success of Deliverance (1972) turned John Boorman into a major figure on the cinematic landscape, and gave him the opportunity to do almost anything he wanted. Almost. He first tried to realise an adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and after the potential expense scuppered that project, Boorman remained excited by the idea of tackling an invented, fantastical world. An idea had come to him whilst working on Tolkien for a tale set in a distant future where extreme science fiction ideas could commingle with motifs and atmosphere out of mythology, the realm to which his thoughts were increasingly turning as he contemplated the unease of humanity with itself and the world it lived in. The result, Zardoz, has been extremely divisive work since it was released. There’s no doubting that if Boorman had set out to make a film that would dazzle and provoke some and strike others as bewildering and absurd, he could not have done better than what he managed with Zardoz. Aspects of the film have even retained a kind of fame though decontextualized, like the mantra “The gun is good, the penis is evil,” and the sight of Sean Connery in a red loincloth, still eternally provocative to the kind of adolescent mindset pervading the internet. From its very first moments, Zardoz announces its strangeness, its odd humour, and its sly understanding of itself as post-modern trip through the idea of myth-making. A man’s face hovers in the darkness, drifting closer to the screen, playing the chorus to the tale he himself is author of, protagonist in, and creation for. He is Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy), made up like a Renaissance actor’s take on an alchemist or a pharaoh, confessing quickly that he too is just another made-up character for a tale before asking the audience, “And you, poor creature—who conjured you out of the clay? Is God in show business too?”


Frayn has many secrets to be unveiled in the course of Zardoz, not least of which is that he is the title character, or at least pretends to be. As in any good myth, the death of a god is the pivotal act. In the post-apocalyptic wastes of 2293, Zardoz floats high above the desolate Earth, a giant, floating carving, a fearsome godhead worshipped by the remnant human population known as Brutals. Zardoz preaches a grim testament, encouraging his followers to take up the creed as anointed holy warriors who call themselves Exterminators and wear masks based on Zardoz. These adherents have been charged to kill their fellow humans and wipe the infesting remnant of their species from the face of the world. Zardoz delivers them loads of guns for their purpose. But one of the loyal Exterminators, Zed (Connery), sneaks into the godhead when it lands by hiding in a load of grain, and discovers it’s actually a kind of hovering aircraft, loaded with goods and stores and people in suspended animation, and captained by Frayn. Zed shoots Frayn, who falls from the craft. The Zardoz head lands in an enclosed commune, one of several scattered about the countryside, called the Vortex. Shielded by invisible force-fields, the Vortex is an oasis of green and summery pleasantness in the otherwise forsaken land. Zed explores the Vortex and enters one of the houses, a seemingly ordinary old country house littered with keepsakes and relics from a forgotten world. He discovers a miraculous crystal on a ring that projects Frayn’s image and links to a supercomputer that answers all of Zed’s questions – except for the truly important ones. Zed is soon discovered and apprehended by the inhabitants of the Vortex dubbed the Eternals, a collective of humans who have, thanks to advanced science, achieved life stasis, effectively making them immortal. Even Frayn, dead at Zed’s hand, is already being regrown, his foetus suspended in plastic in the laboratories of the Vortex. (more…)

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 © 2016 by James Clark

      Brian De Palma—a science prodigy and high school wunderkind—could, no doubt, have carved out a peppy career in some corner of what practitioners call “hard science.” At the doorway (in the form of Columbia University) of this generally considered to be fulfilling life, he turned away in favor of becoming a movie maker. Some might jump to the conclusion that he realized he didn’t have what it takes to pursue a “hard” endeavor. My guess is that he came to realize that science isn’t hard enough.

Whereas classical rational science is about managing the architecture of a brilliant intellectual past in order to discern growth potential which could up the ante of discovery, it also functions as a form of church which sustains taboos against regarding sentient entities as logically more cogent than aggregations of elemental particles. It is, I think, the matter of that hostility and coercion which induces, despite the many attractions of scientific research, the drastic turnaround into personas and their seemingly unacceptable, unpredictable actions. Exciting as dynamic scientific discoveries may be, even more exciting (to De Palma) are the truths and consequences of dynamic courage which only full-blown human sensibilities can discover.

The métier which De Palma has settled upon is not without its possibilities of profiting from the architecture of its own brilliant past. Much has been said about his being suffused with the work of Alfred Hitchcock. But that rather ordinary tip of the iceberg traces to Continental avant-gardists as suffused with the energies of the surreal, where humans count for much more (reality) than mathematical flecks. The sensual priorities of this repository entail a remarkable sense of embattlement with mainstream dictates. (In view of this disposition it is well to note that two distinguished colleagues of his generation, namely, Ridley Scott and Michael Mann, present close accompaniment to De Palma’s modus operandi. Mann is particularly significant in being [unusually, for this situation] explicit about his indebtedness to Jean-Pierre Melville—a preposterously underestimated giant—and his own formative years as a close associate with Surrealist jack-of-all-trades, Jean Cocteau.) (more…)

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