The Wizard of Zardoz
It floated into view on movie screens 42 years ago tomorrow, a head-scratching, eye-popping, audience-baffling wisp of cinematic smoke that has as many detractors as it has followers to this day. It has a permanent place in the cinema firmament of dystopian spectacles, recently entered by 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, a Best Picture Academy Award® nominee with which it shares certain R-rated elements of weaponry, costuming and societal warfare between haves and have-nots – and scenes which trigger outrageous laughter and the chill of savage violence, all in the pursuit of unmasking the man behind the curtain who fancies himself a demigod. Though it shreds the title of its namesake inspiration The Wizard of Oz, writer/producer/director John Boorman’s infernal yet possibly eternal Zardoz (1974) remains one helluva head trip. Like Oz’s gregarious carny barker Professor Marvel, Boorman and his enormously persuasive agent David Begelman were able to seduce a product-hungry Twentieth Century-Fox into presenting this next moviemaking project from the white-hot director of the smash-hit Deliverance (1972). Just as Marvel’s doppelgänger later reappeared as the fantasyland’s imperial wizard, Boorman turned conjuror to produce a futuristic fable of amazing visuals filmed in Panavision by the great Geoffrey Unsworth, imaginatively designed by Anthony Pratt and dreamily realized by effects magicians Gerry Johnston and Charles Staffel. Boorman marshaled all these formidable forces on his own Irish stomping grounds for an economical $1 million in a pre-CGI age starring Sean Connery, himself on a quest to escape the constraints of being James Bond, as a lean, mean killing machine in service of a mysterious deity embodied by a massive floating head that spewed forth rifles and ammunition like a Vegas slot machine for the lethal purpose of population management. As the hovering Arthur Frayn intones: “Merlin is my hero. I am the puppet master. And you, poor creatures, who conjured you out of the clay? Is God in show business, too?” In a contest of the noble savage vs. the soulless elite (among whom are Sara Kestleman, John Alderton, Sally Anne Newton, Niall Buggy and, behold, another current Oscar® nominee (for 45 Years), the always fascinating Charlotte Rampling) that may or may not reignite the vitality of our species, Boorman detonates a “sparkling display of fireworks, brilliantly shot and directed” (Tom Milne, Time Out Film Guide). Twilight Time’s awesome hi-def Blu-ray of Zardoz, derived from a 2015 4K restoration, features Boorman in an Audio Commentary whose highlights include some observations chronicled here: http://filmschoolrejects.com/features/35-things-we-learned-from-john-boormans-zardoz-commentary.php. Film historians Jeff Bond, Joe Fordham and Nick Redman also weigh in on another Audio Commentary that peeks behind the curtain and uncovers more facts and fancies about this still-levitating, still-infuriating, still-dazzling journey over an eccentric rainbow.