Here’s something interesting: an unfinished Polish science fiction film from the seventies that seems to have become a horror movie by default. It was apparently intended as an otherworldly epic a la DUNE, but many pivotal scenes were never shot. What remains definitely doesn’t work as sci fi, but excels as a dark, hallucinatory depiction of violence and madness, proving that a failed project can sometimes be more interesting than a successful one.
The director of this 160-minute oddity was Poland’s Andrzej Zulawski, whose earlier DIABEL was banned by Polish authorities for over 15 years. THE SILVER GLOBE (NA SREBRNYM GLOBIE), based upon a three volume early 20th Century tome written by the filmmaker’s great-uncle Jerzy Zulawski (and which has, incidentally, been translated into every language but English), had an even more torturous history. In 1978 Polish authorities halted its production before filming was completed, ostensibly due to budget overruns. It wasn’t until eight years later that Zulawski, encouraged by crewmembers, finally pieced together the footage, with hasty voice-over narration to fill in the missing scenes.
Critics weren’t kind to THE SILVER GLOBE upon its eventual 1987 release, while Zulawski dubbed it a “broken thing” and subsequently distanced himself from it. It’s an unsatisfying film, certainly, but also a fascinating and utterly unique experience. There’s no question that Zulawski and his collaborators have created some extraordinary imagery—we can only wonder what might have resulted if they’d been allowed to finish shooting!
Much of the narrative was flattened by the truncated production, as were many of the philosophical issues Zulawski intended to explore, but I was able to appreciate what he was after: a thoughtful, complex spectacle with a scope and ambition that remain unrivaled, or would have, at least, had the film been fully realized.
Three astronauts, two men and one woman, decide to leave the Earth and start a new civilization. Landing their spaceship on a desolate planet not unlike ours, they set to work reproducing and end up with a bevy of offspring who grow into a band of fire-worshipping pagans. These folks, who look like extras from THE ROAD WARRIOR, take to worshipping the single surviving astronaut, whom they dub The Old Man, as a God. He in turn gives them a number of rules to live by and then promptly disappears.
Back on Earth, Marek, a lovesick scientist who’s just been dumped by his GF, is looking to find out what happened to the original three space-nuts and travels to the planet himself—a sequence, BTW, that is related entirely via voice-over narration over a lengthy shot of folks ascending an escalator(?). Upon arriving, he finds that its nomadic inhabitants have grown into divergent bands enslaved by mutant birdmen. The nomads take Marek for the reincarnation of The Old Man, and treat him as a God. He leads them into war against the birdmen, but this false messiah’s subjects eventually grow disenchanted and end up crucifying him on a beach.
As with other Zulawski opuses like POSSESSION, LA FEMME PUBLIQUE and SZAMANKA, the filmmaking is frenzied and psychotic, with spastic camerawork, distorted lenses and hysterical acting combining with bleak, colorless coastal locations to convey a vivid atmosphere of moral disintegration. Come to think of it, this film’s concerns are similar to those of DIABEL, Zulawski’s previous movie made in his native Poland (in between he helmed the French drama THE MOST IMPORTANT THING—LOVE). That film portrayed a land succumbing to anarchy, while in this one it’s an entire world paralyzed by madness.
Zulawski includes plenty of unflinching gore and sex; standard sci fi-movie hardware and special effects are conspicuously absent (casualties of the aborted shoot) and the earthbound sequences are severely limited, leaving us with a bloody and bizarre drama of brute survival in a primitive landscape. The costumes and production design are impeccable, ensuring that, if nothing else, THE SILVER GLOBE is a visual stunner. It also includes some of the most outlandish sights I’ve seen in any film, including a tribal ceremony that degenerates into a vast orgy, and an outrageous scene featuring dozens of people impaled atop incredibly tall spikes.
THE SILVER GLOBE (NA SREBRNYM GLOBIE)
Zespol Filmowy Pryzmat/Studio Filmowe Kadr
Director: Andrzej Zulawski
Producers: Jan Wlodarczyk, Ryszard Barski (1976-78), Tadeusz Lampka (1986-87)
Screenplay: Andrzej Zulawski
(Based on “The Moon Trilogy” by Jerzy Zulawski)
Cinematographer: Andrzej Jaroszewicz
Editor: Krysztof Osiecki
Cast: Andrzej Seweryn, Jerzy Trela, Iwona Bielska, Jerzy Gralek, Elzbieta Karkoszka, Krystyna Janda, Andrzej Lubicz-Piotrowski, Jan Frycz, Wieslaw Komasa