Once upon a distant English future, or stretch of its past long buried in the bog and/or under small beach pebbles of Stonehenge-y time, savages in maskies roamed the English countryside, raping and killing indiscriminately, all recruited into this action by a giant stone head that floated gamely o'er ye mossy banks and occasionally spat them out more guns and ammo and booming instruction that sounded a bit off, connecting 'penis' and 'gun' and shooting life and death and all that like something scrawled by a drunken 9th grade Columbiner after he's assigned Jung's "Man and his Symbols," dropped acid with his burnout brother, and watched Wizard of Oz while ruminating about how no girl liked him at school.
That must be it. John Boorman has taken acid with his mates and watched Wizard of Oz while listening to the soundtrack to Marat/Sade. And that is how the 'henge was stoned.
'Painting for Surreal' Groucho mustache) and winds up in the presence of a group of intellectually advanced immortals, surrounded by an invisible force field and living off the land in a perfect encounter group breathing exercise group mind mime troupe sense of order. Darned only in taffeta robes so clearly demarked 'Eloi' as to affront any rambling Bevin Boys' morlock club cocktail coterie's cognizance of couth, these fey libertines don't quite know what to make of our young thug from the other side of the bubble. His own mind's been wiped in advance so they can't scan him and find out what happened to the Groucho behind the floating head. Some of the girls, especially in the scientist ladies, particularly lovely Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) react with hostility demanding him executed immediately; and May (Sara Kestleman), who's definitely turned on with much less resistance, and also wants to probe his mind and find out what happened to the man behind the curtain, who was out and about in the world beyond the wall, arranging the pop control and now is reborn as evinced by the new womb growing inside the wall. Which is weird, as there are no children around --thank 'Oz for small favors.
The 60s was all about psychedelic openings (to free love and eastern philosophy and renewed interest in the far-out writings of "Crazy-Cat" Carl Jung) but this opening became as a giant mouth of macho hungry ghost gimme gimme, one of hairy chested Burt Reynolds guffawing. Nonetheless, self-awareness led to a form of macho beyond Freud's "one direction" sense of phallic symbolism. Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces man, it led to Iron John by Robert Bly and the men's movement.
To Freud, a gun was a phallic symbol, i.e. for ze penis, but Jung's break with Freud was that the penis was also a gun, i.e. neither was the be-all, that the idea of "the phallus" wasn't necessarily tied to some infantile anxiety formed at the first sight of mom's "missing" genitals, but that the phallus itself was a pure signifier, en par with the circle or zero. He couldn't know then that this binary of 1 and O was the basis for all DNA coding, fractal-like but he dreamt it and knew the collective unconscious bore it out with Excalibur, with the spear that pierced Christ's side, etc. A new, less ashamed kind of self-aware sexist macho psychedelia was emerging, only this version was Sean Connery in an orange diaper leaping like a macho Athena from the stone head of mighty Zardoz.
As far as loopy but pungent satires on the vanity at the heart of masculine identity. It's one fuck-all fractured crystal light show that--had anyone been listening to it at the time, instead snickering--may have woken us up to the value of death as the only key to life.
But at the time, which was 1974 to... now (or later), we weren't necessarily ready to have our yarbles handed to us by the --we just saw Sean Connery with his black ponytail and traffic cone orange diaper riding a horse and a big stone head flying around and rolled our eyes in embarrassment. And then he's the only fertile still-erect male in an isolated society of enlightened immortals, his big red bulges gazed upon lustily by the gorgeous-eyes of Charlotte Rampling. Her and the others stand around in multi-colored robes in weird configurations that evoke one of those planets on Star Trek that's all Ancient Greece-y so old character actors can recite Aeschylus. Tacky, man. For some of us, the ponytail itself was enough to bid us exeunt.
But Boorman is the great chronicler of castration anxiety and it's perhaps that anxiety that kept us (okay, me) away so long. I only finished watching as it happened to be on TCM while I was in another room and half-listening, half writing something else, and gradually its savvy to the genetic con job called reproduction drew me in. Emasculated in jumpers, "them panties", or even (below) wedding dresses, Boorman's oeuvre never shies from (figurative) crotch shots (as in Walker's final punch to the gangster's crotch while that awesome crazy black singer with the light show rails on behind the curtain in Boorman's Point Blank ). In facing the dread of castration anxiety so astutely, his films have Freudian breakthroughs right there on the screen. Burt gets a chance to shoot arrows at rednecks, and Richard Burton gets to throw Linda Blair against a wall and start to strangle her while half-molesting her at the same time. Running from the problem just gives it more juice--you got to clamp down hard and don't let go, like a pit bull.
Taken as an infantilizing hybrid of anal phase fixations, Connery's macho hairy chest and that orange outfit finally doesn't tap into the kind of revulsion most children feel for their own diapers by the age of three. Grown into middle-age, his infantile garb and attitude is as bemusing for us as it is for the immortals within the sanctuary. Personally, a vast regimen of SSRIs have removed 95% of my sex drive and I couldn't be happier about it. Maybe that's why now I understand how the UK's weird macho fey switcheroo makes boys into men by first making them women. Connery's Zed is somehow now all the more masculine for being so feminized, so objectified. Hustling the food in and out at the long banquet tables where the 'adults' discuss his fate (whether they should ice him or let him live), he's like puppy, his sexual heat is the equivalent of soft black velvet painting sad eyes.
DEATH BEFORE DISHESAs a side note, I used to love to watch nature documentaries as a kid. All the death was just fascinating, but now the endless stream of fear, hunger, death and birth that is the ecosystem of the ocean--my poor krill--now makes me feel like I am waking up to the fact Earth is a prison it takes thousands of lifetimes to escape--if ever. With ever gulp some whale is devouring enough little lives to populate a country. But it doesn't end, for gobs of krill come alive in little eggs again, just to be eaten by something that will itself be eaten. ZARDOZ makes me wonder: Has our slow poisoning of the seas been something the sea itself--the collective consciousness of all marine life along the food chain-- wished upon itself, the way the Immortals wish Sean Connery's big long gun upon them? We have to get past that tacky sci-fi cliche of the fertile man with hot space bitches standing in line for his seed, and then we get the true man-behind-the-curtain of that seed itself. Man is here, screams this potty pisser lost in a eloi/morlock cocktail. Man is now! Guns are good. Guns bring death, and death is the liberator that will free the blighted earth from a doubling from its current 8 to 16 billion of our toxic viral footprint.
KING OF SATURNALIA
One of the chortle-inducing factors that throw people attempting to fathom ZARDOZ is its storyline, so straight up men's magazine fantasia as to imply instant camp. It's been used in everything from Ulmer's Beyond the Time Barrier, to Queen of Outer Space, Cat-Women of the Moon, Missile to the Moon, and of course Invasion of the Star Creatures. Here in this future the 'eternals' are all polymorphously perverse, way past such tired schticks as reproduction, death, or presumably genital-based ejaculatory orgasm. Never aging or reproducing. Perfect population control. The only drop is is when one disagrees with the many unified mind and then he is sent to some kind of eternal wedding/Princeton Reunion pavilion out by the stables, with other members of the clan, forced to endure old age (and the same old Caretaker-style records) for all eternity rather than reincarnate and halt their aging at the proper 'late 20s/early 30s' time like the rest. These rebellious immortals, labeled renegades, are sometimes guilty of nothing more than bad vibes (which unnerve their 'group mind), so their punishment is, in addition to not being able die or be young again, the relentless slow dancing.
To this pavilion comes Zed like an angel of deliverance with sweet death - which for those who've lived a century or more in this small 20 acre or so place, all around a lake - lovely land really, with an old castle commons that has what looks like bunch of inflated condoms (an effect I'm sure is intentional), it's time to go. In this way he's like the link between Conan the Barbaria (compare his sneaking onto the head and killing all aboard as if by habit to Conan and his friends' attacks on Seth's temple and orgy cave) and Alex in Clockwork Orange, whose brute savagery is initially controlled by a brutalizing form of aversion therapy (which mirrors our revulsion/attraction towards the violence ourselves, our being 'unable to look away' as it were) and then by an undoing of that same therapy, to leave him better prepared to kill and ravage his way to a fruitful cure, a union with the Earth as it used to be, when savagery saved us all from tough decisions, morals, trash night, and guilty consciences.
It's a big Kubrick-satire bid, this Zardoz, fracturing itself along fault lines that bridge Clockwork Orange to Barbarella. It's an announcement to the world that he, Boorman, can be as much a macho priapic/cold misanthropic, less geometrically precise but still bonkers to the point of mind expansion and Dark Heart of Conradian consciousness as Kubrick. Can he? Maybe not, but you can tell he 'gets' it - he gets the deep shit Kubrick's digging up, and basically Boorman just acquires a similar shovel and starts looking on his own tract. He finds some shit all right. Deep, deep, deep shit. And he doesn't need a Terry Southern to apply black humor (ala Dr. Strangelove), he just gets it by taking acid while gazing at Men's Adventure magazine covers and laughing hysterically at all the phallic symbolism.
|We're all hooligans in the nursery|
And lo and behold, I really relate to a lot of the crazy split-subjectives and all the mass mind meditation and heavy breathing. I mean I really REALLY relate. (Imagine me saying that last part while rolling over you, pulling at your collar). The Immortals' whole vibe is one of those 70s theater encounter groups, or any tight-knit acting class or troupe that does little weird everyone vocalizing and waving their arms in unison outcasting or accepting one of their number into the group mind, the way EST paved the way for a billion offshoot 'encounter groups' for people afraid of being touched or opened up to get to their own heart of it all.
Dig this groovy statement by the iRing (their male version of Siri or Alexa) when discussing Zed's propensity for laying around in his cage, dreaming, a hobby which the Immortals find to be a huge waste of time: "Sleep was necessary for man when his waking and unconscious lives were separated," and that plus their longevity is a clear explanation for their enormous power, their mental faculty which gives them more or less the ability to age each other through group mind telepathy and live in a life of perfect order and balance.
This utopia is the dream of every loving group of 'awakened' individuals. If they have achieved 'total consciousness" meditation takes the place of sleep and almost every other need. "Second Level" as the Immortals call it seems to be a communal shared alpha state where bad vibes can lead to your arrest and aging of up to five years.
(Clockwork, Goldfinger: Paradoxically, these Brit cock-and-ball stories are way
more macho than Leo avenging (yet again) his murdered child and/or wife (below)
in The Revenant:
Let us return to the subject at hand, if you dare, castration - or fear thereof. Successfully completed reproduction, from the 'gleam' in your father's eye to your firs sharp inhale, spanked by a hand almost as big as you are, kick-started into the world like a wonky television-- it's one looong castration. The schlong goes in, bur it don't come out; if you have any yarbles they're long gone.
Emasculation and neutering affect our British macho man at every turn, from the lase
r coming right at Bond's crotch in 'ahem' Goldfinger to Clockwork's Aubrey Morris clasping hard down on Alex's niblik back at the house where he's spatchka-accruing to be right as dodgers for this after.
In America, home of the wee narcissist manchildren who need to stand on crates hidden under the frame and have ramps built for them to kiss their willowy ginger co-stars, our balls are so precious that we refuse to even mention castration, as if the words themselves are serrated-edged. Puer aeternus complexes rouse Maria von Franz from a stone sleep; rhe ginger beer equation, set up by half-dead spouses, advocates a tired guilt over rowdy strutting. Just making flirty eye contact dooms a girl either to smash cuts to joyless animalistic rutting (on HBO or AMC) or stalking (HAIR, FEAR and whatever's on Lifetime). The only guys badass enough to 'go there' as in castration are Tarantino and Rodriguez (as in RR's Planet Terror). (2)
As Leland says Mesa of the Lost Women, this is my order: be nice unto all ages and sans sexual advances. The problem facing most guys is that when they're most desirable is when they're less likely to realize it, but also that--thanks to media--they confuse being attracted with being attractive, and the first problem invades the second, so that hearing a girl you like doesn't like you like that makes you think you're misreading signals. In other words, your ego is such a bitch it uses your own insecurity to turn you into a persistent douchebag.
There's the person who says no to his drive to go cavort with the younger girls, and the guy willing to ridiculous to his wife and every other girl his own age; he'll see them sulking on the sidelines, glaring from behind strollers, as he walks with a girl young enough to be his daughter if he'd had kids at 20. Who does that old dude want to be with, a sulky old cow berating and belittling his every word, or some starry-eyed waif who thinks he's charming and sexy, even if it's only because she has an unresolved Elektra complex? The Leighs and the Loaches trundle home, not forgetting to pick up bread and the Guardian--reading in bed to the knots that they keep in a jar by the door - whore is it foe, all while Kubrick and Boorman stay up 'til all hours dropping acid with these precocious hot geniuses and contemplating, not their aging selves in the ceiling mirror--not their crags and sags and graying hair,--but their eternal faces--neither old nor young, neither virile nor withered, neither growing nor shrinking, nor strutting nor cringing, but the eternal face, as frozen as the angry godhead in Zardoz as blank and meaningless as the Godhead in you know what (I shan't spoil it if you haven't seen it.) The house began to pitch and such was rich so bitchy he snitchy ding god godnd/fvstofrewu
When the going gets too weird, Zed eats a single leaf from Mama Mcree's psychedelic flower. And that one thing leads to another by a kind of parenthetical association that would be lost on American viewers the way it was me if I hadn't just seen High-Rise. But since I had, I felt awareness of some kind of weird British shared secret, the sort where psychedelic mind expansion, socialized education, and the BBC merge together to help the male psyche shatter, so that the phallus becomes the devouring vagina dentata instead of just being devoured by it, and this is truly the union. For your casual bullet had picked its immortal's brain pan destination before you were even born, my son.
A KNOT-TREWN NOT TRUE is still Naught-less
The first thing the old man realizes--the old codger played by Peter Ustinov in Logan's Run or the old Bowman looking at himself in the mirror in 2001 and seeing a young astronaut staring back--is that all the young kids are reflections of himself-- two segments of a long, single organism--the head and tail of an ouroboros serpent, closer to each other than they are the middle. There's no escape from the void of devouring, and no one shares that certainty more than the old man entering the maw of the unborn child who just left it. Once inside its scaly tunnels, the 'I AM' part of the surviving soul realizes that even death itself is just a chimera, a tunnel on the endless looping track. Familiarity with acid's perspective allows this 'we are one thing, split into infinity to get a better look at itself' as almost a side effect to the experience of 'frisson.' We get to see how different it would all go down were we unfastened from the signifier-signified chain of structural indemnity and allowed to float free and easy in the zero gravity of Mad Hatter tea party disruption, where word association no longer has any relevance as a game or trick or strategy.
So in a game of word-association, the word 'chair' doesn't provoke "sit" but "aced" as in "I aced the lane through the chair" (or "I chased the plane through the air" in Imbecilic) / and 'milk' doesn't provoke "cow" but a terrified scream of "gloves!" (1)/ as in an archaic memory of touching the fleshy warm udder of a cow once with bare hands at the 4H Fair) and "sky" doesn't provoke "blue" but "Skirl" etc.
Half the time, they're not even real words, but two or three words Frankensteined together in a kind of accelerated overlapping wave collision between free association, bad pun, and scrabble befuddlement. When given full controls of the voice, the subconscious can be terribly glib and--to a sober man--incoherent. To an incoherent idiot, however, cogent as the Dane is wrong.
If you can breech that structuralist surf, I'd say Zardoz is a film that's the story of a male psyche having a split dialogue with itself and its own adult sci-fi pulp roots--the kind of 'adult sci-fi' that's long gone but was all the 70s science fiction you could ever see, prior to Star Wars and Spielberg. Of course its a dialogue that has no ending. It goes on in the hearts of bull dykes struggling in the heavy mantle layers of some giddy fake-Earth ending to some mid-70s episode of Charlie's Angels (the girl football team episode). (3)
Why and why not are inevitably going to be so linked as to be indistinguishable. Are you going to buy the next world a cup of coffee, or are you going to act sulky, alone, like a little bitch, until you're so old that it's considered obscene just for you to even hit on people your own age? A 990 year old in a 20 year old body we call a vampire, but a hit from the side -- end of knee -- end of career. We call that the 80s. Are you 'winning' or are you awake? There can't be both. Humility or cock swagger are a fine duality, but -- humble cock swagger? Now you're 'unified' and don't it feel kinda strange?
1. Of course that's a reference to Crispin Glover in Wild at Heart!
2.We've already talked about this when I attacked the copout movies Hard Candy and Teeth.
3. I apologize that this ramble ends with a discussion of dyke presence in a girl football team episode of Chalrie's Angels episode 41 (season 2), "Angels in the Backfield" but it seemed trenchant at the time, to merge a discussion of men evolving into a male/female whole soul into a female-starring detective series from the 70s chronicling the struggles of a female football team and one of those rare, rudimentary appearances of lesbians. I stilck by it, even now, out of the hospital, and presumably all better.