A-Z of Space

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Never mind the Golden Globes, Andrzej Zulawski has THE SILVER GLOBE.

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Jings. Cripes. Crumbs. Wow. Sheesh. Jeepers. Wow. Whew. Blimey. Crikey. Golly. Gee. Gosh. Whoa. Strewth. Heck. Flip. Jehosephat. Bismillah. Criminy. Holy cow/moley/crap/shit.

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Not sure if I actually enjoyed this.

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But it’s like nothing on Earth. Authentically alien science fiction.

Zulawski’s usual tropes — a camera that flies at the actors like it wants to rip their throats out, and actors that fly at the camera like they want to repay the compliment — are combined with amazing costume design, locations (beautiful Polish desolation and industrial enormousness) and a real megabudget, all at the service of a madly poetic concept, which I couldn’t really follow thanks to mystifying subtitles. Only gradually did I realise that the subs were just plain WRONG a lot of the time. With everything else being so weird, it seemed quite plausible that a character might be saying “Perhaps it’s the time to say the Republic is in real danger, and that we are cowards who must protect courage, and sexes, and the beauty of the  body, and search for love.” I mean, in a film where a character delivers a monlogue while suspended in mid-air with a twenty foot needle jammed up his jacksie, anything seems possible. But when a character told the familiar story of the appointment in Samarra, and told it very badly, it became clear that garbled translation was robbing the film of much of its “sense”.

The film is long — 2hrs 37mins — but incomplete, having been shut down by the Polish authorities before completion. Footage lost when the film was in limbo appears to be permanently gone. Cast and crew hid as many of the costumes as possible, in hopes that filming might one day recommence. But there’s no longer any prospect of the film being completed according to plan. In the end, what we have is Zulawski’s beautiful reconstruction, where his own V.O. fills in the missing action, over shots of trees, churches, despondent Poles descending escalators… This material actually provides a breathing space in his rather overwhelming epic.

Apart from the distracting mistranslations, there’s the fact that most of Zulawski’s cast shout every line — A-Z is a director who always favours the excitable performer, and has managed to hype even relatively restrained players like Sam Neill into a state of hysteria, while provoking fits of madness from Isabelle Adjani that go beyond even herself in craziness. Here, a casual viewer might surmise, to paraphrase Ray Walston in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, “They’re all on drugs!” But they’re not, they’ve just been subjected to Zulawski’s secret method of directing-to-a-frenzy.

Plus, due to Zulawski’s decision not to fully adjust for daylight, they’re all pale blue, like Scots. The tinting creates a rather airless quality, which adds to the stifling effect of a story that tends to sit still for long periods (the second half-hour pretty much takes place entirely on a beach) even as the camera rushes about like Ian Charleston in CHARIOTS OF FIRE.

BUT! It’s a masterpiece. Or at any rate, an extraordinary thing.

I suspect the film’s partial destruction drove A-Z into the arms of Sophie Marceau… leading to a successful collaboration, career reinvention for both of them, and a child.

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With the heavy design, limited palette, and wide-angle lens vibe, the spirit of Gilliam (without the  humour — near as I can tell, without ANY humour) is invoked, but you have to remember that when this film was made, Gilliam hadn’t directed any solo features… Strangely, THE SILVER GLOBE resembles this Scottish lager commercial more than it resembles anything else…

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32 Responses to “A-Z of Space”

  1. Brilliant. Polish Sci-Fi. Reminds me of the completely nuts Polish one sheet for “Powrot Jedi!”. I have to see/endure this one. That second still positively screams Gilliam. Watch out for a blog about Starcrash soon. I’ll see if I can get it to you as well. Worth watching, but only with some form of alcoholic stimulant.

  2. I bought this DVD a year ago and haven’t managed to find myself in the correct mood to watch it yet. I don’t know if there actually is a correct mood, but somehow I don’t think my girlfriend would care to have two and a half hours of badly translated Polish weirdness inflicted on her… She’s very tolerant, but tolerance has its limits. Also, there’s always the hope of a more official release with decent subs.

  3. I would prefer to watch something like, say, Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate.

  4. >a camera that flies at the actors like it wants to rip their throats out, and actors that fly at the camera like they want to repay the compliment

    Or as I commented to a friend: …it’s as if the camera were a metaphysical gun; one that fires itself in a spasmodically destabilized trajectory, before hitting a character and immediately (re-)animating them into a fit of psychosis…

    It’s truly a masterpiece, and that final image of Zulawski reflected in the window sent shivers down my spine (the “new” footage never felt superfluous in the slightest).

  5. i love this film but it isn’t my favourite zulawski. that honour goes to ‘the devil’ for me.

  6. Yes, I think the new footage completes the film in a wonderfully poetic way. I hardly ever felt I would prefer to actually see the scenes he was describing.

    Great description of the camera/acting style, there. Since the camera is often part of a character (I think) it makes sense that its presence would cause a burst of activity…

    From my experience with Fiona, I’d say you may have to watch this one solo. But she has since expressed regret at not managing to “stay with it”.

    I like The Manchurian Candidate as much as the next man — I wrote a piece here about how its flaws fail to flaw it — but this is something else. Not necessarily better, but a completely new experience that’s worth having because it’s so strange. Like drugs without risk.

    I guess it would be risky if you were making a film and watched this part way through…

  7. I have The Devil — will be watching v soon. Got a couple more lined up, and will probably watch them while I’m “in the groove”.

    Eastern European sci-fi is a very varied thing — but beautiful because the design sense is utterly different in each country. US sci-fi changes its look very slowly, is quite conservative, in fact. But check out In the Dust of the Stars on this blog for another take on sf!

  8. I’ve just found The Important Thing Is To Love, and that’s a treat to look forward to – Kinski meets Zulawski! If only the soundtrack was by Normski…

  9. Yeah, I’ve got that one as well. Meant to be one of his very best. Major Romy S.

  10. I really want ‘The Important Thing is Love’ and have done for ages but it is absolutely extortionate to buy… The Important Thing seems to be having the money to buy Love, or something like that. In The Dust of the Stars sounds and looks brilliant so i will be seeking that out.

  11. I’ll do you a swap if you want to get TITITL for free. I managed to get it along with A-Z’s two early TV works, alas unsubtitled, but TITITL seems to have decent subs. I’ll be able to say more once I’ve watched it.

  12. The remastered Mondo-Vision is coming out soon (and if the first release is anything to go by, it’ll be well worth the wait): http://www.mondo-vision.com/

  13. Nice! They look like they’ll be a company to be reckoned with.

    I have a ratty VHS of La Femme Publique with no subs. It looks pretty incredible (not just because Valerie Kaprisky is possibly the World’s Most Naked Actress in it) and I long to see it with proper translation.

  14. Mondo-vision look great and i can’t wait for those releases. I didn’t realise there was a new release of La Femme Publique, so thanks for posting that link.

    And thanks so much for your very kind swap offer but now i know they are on the horizon i might hold my horses. if you don’t have (which i doubt) ‘My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days’ then I am more than happy to lend… love the blog, colin.

  15. Thanks! Yes, I’ve got MNAMBTYD, still to watch it though.

  16. —-
    With everything else being so weird, it seemed quite plausible that a character might be saying “Perhaps it’s the time to say the Republic is in real danger, and that we are cowards who must protect courage, and sexes, and the beauty of the body, and search for love.”
    —-

    For some strange reason, I suddenly formed the image of Rab C. Nesbitt.

  17. Well, it might work as a drunken rant… unfortunately, everybody in the film is sober, although far from calm.

  18. david wingrove Says:

    Just a quick note on the ‘blue’ tone of Silver Globe. That must be down to the print quality on the DVD. By an amazing stroke of luck, I got to see the film on screen in Warsaw. The colour scheme was rich and vibrant – nothing faded or ‘blue’ about it.

    In fact, I was so amazed by the film that I saw it three times. Knowing it was an ultra-rarity, I figured I might never get the chance to see it again, so did my best to sit down and ‘memorise’ it. I can honestly say I’ve never done that with any other film…EVER!

    Zulawski, to my knowledge, has only made two ‘blue’ movies:

    Sadness and Beauty: an abysmal soft-porn flick from the 80s, co-starring him and Charlotte Rampling and NOT directed by AZ. If you ever meet either of them, it’s kinder not to mention that one.

    The Blue Note: a film about Chopin and George Sand, possibly his masterpiece and one of the most beautiful period movies of all time.

  19. The Blue Note is available, but not with subs, I think.

    Thanks for the info re Silver/Blue — good to know that the film would probably be a lot easier to take with a fuller colour palette, although the blue looks quite nice. Hope there’ll be a better release of it one day.

  20. Andrzej Zulawski’s La Femme Publique was released last year on DVD, on the Mondo Vision label, with optional English subtitles.

  21. Yes, I saw it on their site. Even without having seen it with subs, I’d recommend it for it’s visual extravagance and energy.

  22. My favourite Polish director is perhaps Andrzej Wajda.

  23. Wajda was Zulawski’s mentor — he was inspired by Kanal, I think, and later worked as an assistant for him. The Third Part of the Night has a substantial Wajda influence in the chase scenes, but it’s all filtered through A-Z’s particular imagination, so it ends up pretty different.

  24. There is also a film by Bill Mousoulis called Blue Notes which I like. It is made up of stories about people who feel “blue” in various different ways.

  25. That sounds interesting. Can’t find a trace of it to download, alas.

  26. I have a copy. I can send it to you if you wish.

  27. A second trade already! Cool, I’ll send The Hard Way back with it.

  28. Now that has me excited! I got the Femme publique special edition one and it is brilliant!

  29. I hope I can afford to buy a few of those soon. Not enough Zulawski out there. A friend encountered the man himself lately, and found him “fabulously indiscrete” about his life, work and actresses.

  30. He is also fabulously indiscrete on the audio commentaries as well, I think a lot of people have been quite surprised that his views on other directors and actors aren’t cut out of them.

    It’s interesting that you compare the aesthetic of the film to that advert – it’s not actually supposed to look like that!

  31. Hi!

    I almost wonder if the ad people saw a faded video of the film and based the look on that — but I guess the main resemblance is the caked makeup and gurning.

    MUST get my hands on a Z commentary now. He says a few critical things in the interview included with 3rd Part of the Night, but nothing seriously inflammatory. Very complimentary about Wajda.

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