Saturday, November 10, 2012

It's the wonderful, funderful world of Zardoz!

Hi keeba and hello, movie lovers! Are you in the mood for some off-beat stimulation, film-wise? Because if you are, do I have a movie for you! It features a bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape; a floating head that burps guns; a strange chap who looks like TV host Svenghoolie; a weird collection of folks who spend their days making organic, gluten-free bread; and best of all, Sean Connery, 007 himself, appearing in both a jock strap (which he fills out with his enormous package) and a wedding dress.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Zardoz" (1973)!

No need to thank me; we haven't discussed the movie yet.

Let's begin, shall we? A disembodied head wrapped in a bright blue bath towel with a mustache and beard inked on by a Magic Marker floats around on screen. This fey fellow, who calls himself Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy), yammers on about being a magician and a puppet master. He warns the audience that what they are about to see could come to pass if they aren't careful. Then Arthur grandly pronounces, "Is God in show business, too?"

If He is, He should fire His agent.

Cut to a barren, over-cast landscape known as "The Outlands" where men on horseback wear two-sided masks and worship a giant flying head called Zardoz. When Zardoz settles on the ground, a booming voice proclaims,"The gun is good! The penis is evil!" Translation: the penis shoots seeds that lead to babies that eventually grow into people. The gun, on the other hand, shoots bullets that kill people so no babies can be born. Killing is good! "Go forth and kill!" Zardoz commands. To help things along, Mr. Z belches out an avalanche of guns. The deity's followers gleefully snap up the fire arms and start shooting up a storm. The resulting chaos resembles a massive NRA wet dream.

Excusing himself from all the fun is a chap named Zed (Connery), who scrambles into Zardoz's extra wide mouth shortly before it zooms off. Zed, you see, is both a "Brutal" (someone who lives in the Outlands) and an "Exterminator", a fellow trained by Zardoz to kill people. Normally, Zed enjoys his job ("I love the moment of their deaths--when I am one with Zardoz"), but today he's on a mission. He senses that something isn't quite right in the Outlands and believes that Zardoz isn't playing fair.

After drifting over hill and dale, Zardoz finally lands in the courtyard of a ramshackle farm. Zed climbs out and pokes around a bit. He's discovered by some locals who overwhelm him with their psychic powers. Splayed out on an examination table, poor Zed's memories are played on a wide screen TV as a haughty gal named Consuela (Charlotte Rampling) explains to a gathering of interested bystanders just who and what he is.

And who are these people? They are "Eternals", a collection of smarty-pantses who posses all the knowledge the world has even known. They spend their days making organic, gluten-free bread and arguing over such lofty matters as the mysteries of Pi and why the show "Manimal" was cancelled. They don't live in the low rent Outlands; instead, they bunk in the much more pleasant "Vortex", which is protected by an invisible fence.

The Eternals are a testy bunch, probably because they have developed beyond the need for sleep (they "meditate on Level 2" instead) and they no longer have sex or procreate. They also can't die. Should, say, an Eternal fall victim to an accident, a place called The Tabernacle (more about that later) begins growing them a replacement body exactly like the old one.

Being immortal, however, isn't all it's cracked up to be. With no sleep or sex, the Externals have had to come up with new activities to amuse themselves--baking loaf after loaf of bread isn't for everybody, except, maybe, Sarah Lee. Should the Eternals decide some poor sap has begun thinking too negatively or too independently, they deem them a "Renegade" and punish them accordingly. How? The Eternals "age" their offenders, anywhere from weeks to months to years. Remember, Eternals can't die. Thus, when forcefully "aged", an Eternal goes senile. No longer a part of the Eternal elite, Renegades spend their endless days dressing up in costumes and dancing to elevator music--it's like being banished to "The Lawrence Welk Show". Talk about Hell on Earth.

Now, you have probably begun to wonder, "Auntie Bee, what's this bread thing?" Glad you asked. Bread, as you know, is the staff of life. Over in the Eternals neck of the woods, however, bread is the only food the Renegades and Apathetics can eat. Who are the Apathetics? They are Eternals who are infected with a strange disease that turns them into glassy-eyed zombies. These folks can't do anything, they can't die and they have to have munch on something. That explains the massive bread making operation.

But back to Zed. The Eternals have probed his mind and discovered some interesting tidbits. Back in the Outlands, the Exterminators were pretty content just killing people. Then Zardoz suddenly started teaching the Brutals how to grow grain (true to their nature, though, the Exterminators shot any farm workers who slacked off). Some Exterminators (like Zed) were allowed to breed (i.e. rape). Later, Zed was taught to read by Arthur Frayn who is, surprise, surprise, the voice of Zardoz. On a more personal level, the Eternals also learned that if they needed to stimulate Zed sexually, all they had to do was give him a clear view of Consuela's barely covered chest and he firms up right quick. (Consuela is both irritated and intrigued by this.)

The big question facing the Eternals is what to do with Zed. Like an exotic pet, he's cute now, but what will happen when he grows up? One faction believe Zed is a threat to their way of life and must be killed. Another faction, led by a gal named May (Sara Kestelman), believe that Zed can help improve their society and must be saved (it's also hinted at that May would love to stimulate Zed herself). While the Eternals bicker among themselves, another Eternal named Friend (John Alderton) sort of befriends Zed. It's he who explains that with the Renegade and Apathetic populations increasing, the Eternals risked running out of food (and remember, nobody can die, not even of hunger). Therefore, Arthur Frayn, who was in charge of monitoring the Outlands, came up with a cunning plan: teach the poor jerks stuck in the Outlands to grow grain. If the order came from Zardoz, it would be followed without question. Put the Exterminators in charge of the whole operation, as well as the mass killing they do so well. The Outland population would remain in check (they can die), the Eternals would have an endless supply of grain and everybody gets an eternity of free sandwiches. What could go wrong?


Nobody figured on Zed sneaking off and meeting up with his fellow Exterminators from time to time. Or that the Eternals' invisible fence could be breached. Or that being immortal would become really dull. Or that people would miss having sex. Or that baking endless loaves of bread would get on a person's nerves after a while. Or that death isn't such a bad thing if it's part of a natural life cycle. Or that sneaky Arthur was looking for a way to break The Tabernacle and bring an end to the Eternals' immortality, without telling anybody about it.

Actually, for being so smart, the Eternals are really dumb--don't you hate it when that happens?

Anyway, "Zardoz" builds up to an amazing, eye-popping, head scratching conclusion. A bunch of Eternals, lead by Consuela, figure out Arthur Frayn's Zardoz plan and decide to snuff Zed out pronto. Crafty fellow that he is, Zed has hid among the senile Renegades by donning a wedding dress. Friend then hustles him over to The Tabernacle, where Zed gums up the whole works. The fence that protects the Eternals is breached and hordes of Brutals and Exterminators suddenly swarm in. By wrecking The Tabernacle, the Eternals are no longer immortal and they are thrilled about the prospect of finally dying. Thus, when the Exterminators start shooting, the Eternals happily throw themselves into the lines of fire. Some Eternals (like May) escape to start a new colony with the knowledge that they are no longer immortal. Still, the Exterminators thin their ranks pretty fast.

Amid all this commotion, Zed and Consuela meet up to discuss their relationship. Turns out the haughty Consuela likes Zed and they decide to get married. Using the miracle of time lapse photography, viewers are then treated to a wordless sequence where, in rapid succession, Zed and Consuela have a son, raise the child, the kid grows up and moves out and Zed and Consuela age and become skeletons. All that is left of the couple are their hand prints on their cave walls and Zed's beloved Webley-Fosbery. "Zardoz" is over now, except for the credits...and the blame.

John Boorman wrote, produced and directed "Zardoz", and he's either a genius or a crazy person or both. I'm convinced he drank a truck load of booze and smoked tons of something much stronger (and less legal) than tobacco when he thought up this flick. Floating heads? Two-sided masks? Sean Connery in a wedding dress? Dialogue like "Stand behind my aura"? If you can come up with a better theory, I salute you. But I bet I'm right.

That doesn't mean, of course, that I'm not impressed. Think of the sheer guts John Boorman needed to make this wacky fever dream of a movie. After he wrote the script, he had to drum up investors, hire a crew, cast the actors, direct the actors ("OK, Sean, we need another take! Please readjust your bridal veil!") and edit the footage. Next, Boorman had to find a studio, show the suits the final cut and convince them to release his movie.Then he had to organize a publicity campaign, release the film to the general public and calm everybody down when the critics ripped "Zardoz" apart and it didn't make money at the box office. And after all that, he still had to find the strength to continue his career in order to make "Excalibur", "The Emerald Forest" and "Hope and Glory"!

John Boorman, for going above and beyond the call of duty, Junk Cinema salutes you! Zardoz has spoken!