Este post foi escrito para a série Hit Me With Your Best Shot do blogue The Film Experience de Nathaniel Rogers, sendo que é aqui apresentado em inglês, ao invés do que é usual neste blogue.
Let me tell you something. Despite having only started participating in this series last year, I’ve been following The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot since its first season and I’ve mostly tried to watch all the films that were featured in it. Consequently I had to suffer through some bad ones like 1966’s Batman, Mommie Dearest, Can’t Stop the Music, Barbarella and Showgirls. None of them were as difficult to watch as the cinematic catastrophe that is John Boorman’s 1974’s attempt at making a low-budget sci-fi epic, Zardoz. Some of those previous works were intelligently subversive in their mainstream movie incompetence, while others were stupidly terrible and amazingly fun to watch. Zardoz isn’t intelligent and it certainly isn’t fun.
The film follows Z, an Exterminator in a post-apocalyptic future, whose purpose in life seems to be simply to kill everyone in sight, at the orders of a god, called Zardoz, that manifests itself in the form of a giant flying stone head. One day, he enters the monumental statue, and is transported to the Vortex, a place where life still seems to thrive, unlike the barren land he inhabits, and where the Eternals live. From then on, the film explores the way in which eternal life might perniciously affect humanity, as well as constructing around Z a somewhat classic narrative of a messianic chosen one that is there to save the human species gone astray because of their unnatural hubris. Only instead of love, Z’s gift to humanity is hatred, violence, death and sex.
Zardoz is, as many of its defender’s claim, an ambitious project full of ideas. I have to agree with this, but I must also add that ambition doesn’t necessarily imply quality, and that while it may be full of ideas, they’re often offensive and juvenile, if not downright stupid. Despite that, the main problem is the way in which it seems everyone involved in the project made it with the sincere belief that they were creating a deep, thoughtful and insightful work of art with meaning and importance. The result is a joyless mountain of suffocating pretentiousness, the likes of which are usually exclusive of Philosophy students’ drunken ramblings on their first year of college.
The tragedy of all of this is the fact that most of the people involved in Zardoz aren’t particularly untalented. After all, John Boorman is the man that directed Excalibur, Geoffrey Unsworth shot Kubrick’s 2001 and Charlotte Rampling is a goddess of screen acting, just to name a few. Consequently, despite its abject stupidity, its invariable joylessness and its soporific rhythm, Zardoz is full of surprisingly enticing images. Therefore, picking a “best shot” was much more difficult than I was originally expecting.
For a while, I was thinking of choosing a shot from one of the film’s best sequences. One of them is its ironic introduction that features two ridiculous floating heads, the immortal line “guns are good, the penis is evil” followed by a waterfall of guns being vomited out of a giant stone mouth, and Sean Connery shooting the camera, in a vain attempt to destroy the film before it can go on or to kill the audience in an act of mercy.
The second sequence that captured my attention was the film’s most widely celebrated one, where our protagonist is gifted with humanity’s knowledge and history in a psychedelic sequence that utilizes naked bodies and projections. The technique reminded me of some of James Bond’s best intros and thus transported my mind to a much happier place than Zardoz.
Thirdly, there’s the scene where Boorman decides he’s going to make an homage to Welles’ Lady from Shanghai, peppered with some hilarious visual details like Sean Connery’s red high-heeled shoes that are probably there to give us another reference to The Wizard of Oz. Sean Connery as Judy Garland mixed with Rita Hayworth, who would have thought?
Quickly I rejected the idea of picking a shot from the film’s best scenes. After all, they almost suggest a mildly amusing experience, and Zardoz is anything but. My next possible choice came in the form of the film’s most hilarious moment, where Boorman constructs an entire scene around his protagonists’ capability to have an erection, which is prompted by the cold magnificence of Rampling’s Consuela rather than an array of pornography he’s showed. There’s no other scene that better encapsulates the film’s relationship to sex. Unerotic, cold, ridiculous and terribly juvenile.
Alas, that didn’t completely satisfy my snarky intentions. So we come to my best shot and runner-up.
In my runner-up, Sean Connery is seen against a transparent wall that separates the Vortex from the outside world. The picture is as strangely memorable as it is comical. The way the actor’s face is presented is, for example, deeply unattractive and quite ridiculous, but the scene itself is constructed with the utmost seriousness. When I look at this shot I see myself, trying to run away from the film but kept inside its spell by the imbecilic masochism that made me watch it three times in order to write a proper entry for this week’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot (I don’t think it worked very well).
But, despite the miserable empathy that the above image awoke in me during my time of cinematic suffering, that isn’t my choice. Behold my best shot:
In this shot we can observe Sean Connery’s Z being shown the contents of what seems to be a mausoleum of human culture and art. While one of the powerless and emasculated Eternals talks in the background, Z peruses the paintings, and promptly ruins a supposed Van Gogh painting by piercing a hole through it. A mindless crime against art presented as something meaningful, basically my entire personal experience of Zardoz encapsulated in an image.
(It has nothing to do with the rest of this article, but, as a person that occasionally works as a costume designer and that studied it in college, I must say that this film’s wardrobe is one of the greatest atrocities I’ve ever seen in any 70s film. And I’m not just speaking of Connery’s red diaper.)