by Anuk Bavkist
The very first words heard in On the Silver Globe come from none other than the film’s director, narrating over his own opening footage to help guild his viewers through the ruins of a film that was never meant to see light of day:
“You will see a film made ten years ago; a shred of a film; a two-and-a-half-hour story, one-fifth of which is missing. That one-fifth dating back to 1977 when the film was annihilated, will never be recreated. In place of the missing scenes you will hear a voice which will briefly explain what was to be. We are bringing On the Silver Globe to an end in the year 1987.”
Partially adapted from The Lunar Trilogy /Trylogia Księżycowa (1901-11) written by his great uncle Jerzy Żuławski, Andrzej Żuławski’s science fiction epic is a handful. Divided in two acts, the first of which chronicles last surviving astronauts (2 men and 1 woman) whose spaceship crash on an “Earth-like” planet. Their story, captured by one of the survivors and presented as a video diary and filmed like highly stylized found footage, recalls a kind of perverse retelling of Adam and Eve as two of the astronauts continuously mate and give birth to the planet’s first society. Due to constant inbreeding and the fact that the “Earth-like” planet’s maturation rate is double that of normal human rate, the society grows, evolving into a primitive culture that worship fire and mythologize stories of Earth. Years pass and the last living of the three astronaut sends out his video diary to earth, prompting the arrival of a new astronaut, Marek, to the planet years later. The second act follows that same society, who are now under attack by telekinetic bird-like mutants known as Shern, as they lean on Marek to fulfill a religious prophecy.
An auteur of excessive hysteria, Andrzej Żuławski’s grotesquely operatic storytelling and maximalist mise en scène are on full display is this singular cinematic oddity. Żuławski’s brand of cinema is nothing if not unsettling: utilizing extended POV style long takes, often executed with frenetic energy, and skewing the frame with tight wide angle shots, creating disorienting perspectives. This is a maddening world, presented in the most intimate and unnerving way possible. But as the apocalyptic images slowly escalate (from mass orgies to bizarre alien rituals to moments of war and torture to characters openly screaming and philosophizing to the heavens), it may be the direct cuts to banality that leave the most lasting impression: montages of the Polish country side, footage of homes whizzing by as shot from a car window, children hanging outside a storefront, a static shot of men and women walking down an escalator one by one etc. All of these moments, dispersed through out the film, are from modern day Poland (or, more accurately, 1987 Poland) and intentionally break the flow of the film. Underneath each shot, Żuławski’s narrates what the next chronological scene of the story was supposed to be.
Andrzej Żuławski’s follow up to his incredibly successful French production, That Most Important Thing: Love/L’important c’est d’aimer, saw him returning to his homeland to embark on his most ambitious project. A passion project that required two years of the director’s life, involving extensive location shooting (from the Caucasus Mountains in Eurasia, to the Crimean Peninsula in Russia, to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia) and a level of costume and production design far more ambitious than anything the director had done before. Sadly project would be shut down by the Polish Government, led by Deputy Minister of Culture and Arts Janusz Wilhelmi, as film was nearing completion. Everything surrounding Żuławski’s opus, from the costumes and set decorations to the final reels, were to be destroyed. And yet, here it stands today. Saved, as Żuławski lets us know at the end of his film, by “film studio workers, wardrobe specialists and art designers” who “preserved for many years in warehouses and their private apartments whatever they managed to salvage from the destruction.” Finished at the end of Communist rule in Poland, On the Silver Globe was finally released a little over a decade after it’s initial death. Żuławski’s broken masterpiece may never truly be appreciated as a fully formed piece of cinema, but I’d at least argue it survives as some just as powerful: a definite statement made by the unbreakable will of a collective cinematic vision.