Videophiled: ‘Zardoz’ on Twilight Time

Zardoz
Twilight Time

Zardoz (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) is one of the most fascinatingly misguided sci-fantasies of the seventies, a truly strange social satire with counterculture echoes: think of Brave New World by way of The Wizard of Oz (which is where the film gets its title). Sean Connery stars as Zed, a savage barbarian of the polluted plain who wears an animal skin kilt and a bandoleer and sneaks into the city of immortals courtesy of a giant flying stone head that disgorges weapons from its mouth. Zed thinks he’s headed to heaven or Valhalla but ends up in a decadent, decaying society of bored, senile, impotent aesthetes, and he’s kept around as a kind of pet.

It’s the kind of weird, pretentious, not uninteresting mess you get when ambitious directors create original sci-fi works, with not-so-subtle references to class warfare, social insularity, and big brother-like government manipulation. Religion is the opiate of the masses, war a form of population control, and reading and education is the key to salvation. You know, exactly what the radical revolutionaries of the sixties were telling us all along. But, coming from Boorman, it is gorgeous and strange, shot on the lush hills of Ireland (some of the same locations were used in Excalibur). Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman, John Alderton, and Sally Anne Newton co-star.

John Boorman recorded a commentary track for its DVD debut and it’s included in this Blu-ray debut. It’s a bit spotty, but he still has a fondness for the film (“I was trying all kinds of things. Perhaps too much.”) and is happy to reminisce. Among the tidbits: Connery’s part was written for Burt Reynolds, and the Communist paper gave the film a rave review only after Boorman signed a note swearing the giant head was not modeled on Lenin.

New to this disc is a commentary track by film historians Jeff Bond, Joe Fordham, and Nick Redman. Also includes radio spots and the original theatrical trailer.

It also features, like all Twilight Time releases, an isolated audio track featuring the musical score and an accompanying booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo.

Most Twilight Time releases are limited edition of 3,000 copies. Zardoz is an exception: it is a limited edition of 5,000 copes. Unless otherwise notes, every release reviewed here is limited to 3,000.

More Twilight Time releases at Cinephiled

Why ‘Goldfinger’ at 50 remains the definitive James Bond movie

Goldfinger was the third Bond feature but the first Bond blockbuster, an instant smash hit that turned the series into a phenomenon. Fifty years after its Sept. 17, 1964 London premiere, which was overrun by fans fighting to get into the theater, it remains the definitive big-screen incarnation of the world’s most famous secret agent.

Sean Connery and Shirley Eaton in 1964's 'Goldfinger'

“Of all the Bonds, Goldfinger is the best, and can stand as a surrogate for the others,” wrote Roger Ebert in 1999. “If it is not a great film, it is a great entertainment, and contains all the elements of the Bond formula that would work again and again.”

The first two Bond films — Dr. No and From Russia With Love — were both unabashedly sexy and brutishly sexist, cartoons of glib machismo with martini wit and international flair. Sean Connery brought his Bondness to life with a mix of charm, arrogance, elegance and rough-and-tumble toughness.

Today you can see them as time capsules of Mad Men fantasies of masculinity with comic-book action. Goldfinger not only ups the ante on every level, it adds a few new elements that made the series.

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Blu-ray: ‘The Wind and the Lion’

John Milius occupies a curious place in the culture of American filmmakers of the seventies. In the age of new, young, maverick voices, he’s the rugged American individualist with conservative politics and iconoclastic heroes. He’s fascinated with military culture and imperialist adventure, caught up in the tension between American isolation and intervention, in debt to the romantic ideals of honor and duty idealized in John Ford’s cavalry films, and celebratory of the glory of battle, whether in war, on a surfboard challenging waves, or swinging a sword in the age of barbarism. In an era of secular liberalism, he’s the wildman conservative of mythical heroes and combat veterans, but he’s also more than that, as David Thomson notes in his Biographical Dictionary of Film: “He is an anarchist, he is articulate, and he has an unshakable faith in human grandeur….”

The Wind and the Lion (1972), the sophomore feature of the film school-trained screenwriter turned director, takes on a romantic tale of rebellion and response, honorable ancient codes and modern military might, and the first stirrings of the United States of America, the modern, maverick young country in a political culture dominated by the history-seeped empires of old Europe, as a world power. And it does so in a cagily budget-minded take on the sweeping military epics and colonial adventures of the 1950s and 1960s, a sensibility appropriated in the opening seconds of the film as Jerry Goldsmith’s grandly dramatic score plays under the credits etched into the handsome parchment of a yesteryear Hollywood frame.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Blu-ray Debut: “The Man Who Would Be King”

Peachy and Danny: friends forever

The Man Who Would Be King” (Warner)

John Huston originally wanted to make this film in the late 1950s with Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable. It would’ve made a hell of a picture. And, as a matter of fact, it did, only with Sean Connery and Michael Caine as Danny and Peachy, the ambitious British soldiers/con-artists​/Freemasons turned adventurers in India. Huston’s adaptation of Kipling’s story manages to be both intimate and gloriously sweeping, a larger than life tale on a magnificent canvass (Morocco’s mountains – standing in for Afghanistan – create the breathtaking backdrop) grounded in the strength of friendship and camaraderie, and elevated by a magnificent score from Maurice Jarre, who works a classic hymn into a rousing theme.

It’s pure Huston: an impossible quest, an out-of-reach grail and an ironic twist leading to a supremely glorious failure. More than any other of his seventies films, Huston is able to turn their story into a strange sort of triumph by remaining true to his characters, right down to the riveting conclusion and the haunting coda narrated by Caine. He offers wonderfully old-fashioned storytelling—muscular​, dramatic, grounded in character and driven by magnificent twists of luck and fate that arise like poetic justice dished out by a wry god—for the modern age. The colonialist perspective on the Indian and tribal populations as childish, foolish and backwards peoples is sometimes offensive to modern eyes but it certainly captures the attitude of a 19th century British soldier of fortune in India, relating his tall tale of a true story to his Mason brother (Christopher Plummer as Rudyard Kipling). It is, in short, one of the most rousing adventures of the 1970s.

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Thunderball on TCM

I wrote about Thunderball, the first James Bond film I ever watched (and still one of my favorites for that reason) for Turner Classic Movies Online this month:

Adolfo Celi and Sean Connery
Adolfo Celi and Sean Connery

Dr. No (1962) launched the James Bond cinema franchise, From Russia with Love (1963) is embraced by many fans as the best of the series, and Goldfinger (1964) is still the iconic 007 film of the 1960s. But Thunderball (1965), the biggest, most lavish, and longest Bond film at that time, was the most popular of its day. After the huge success of Goldfinger, producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman spared no expense in Sean Connery’s fourth turn as the suave super spy. The movies had transformed Ian Fleming’s debonair but ruthless British agent into a brawny cold warrior battling international supervillains and Sean Connery was the key ingredient in this new Bond. He straddled high class sophistication and working class grit, bringing a mix of charm, arrogance, elegance and rough-and-tumble toughness to the role. By Thunderball he had the character down pat from the cocky grin to the steely confidence that told men and women alike that he could handle anything.

Continue reading “Thunderball on TCM”