Zardoz

Movie Information

Zardoz, part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World, will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, March 13, at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. Info: 273-3332.
Score:

Genre: Sci-Fi Fantasy
Director: John Boorman
Starring: Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman, John Alderton, Niall Buggy
Rated: R

I screened this film last week for co-critic Justin Souther and another friend. By the time I got home from the showing, an e-mail awaited me from the other friend. It read, “What the f**k did we just watch?” Considering that this is a question I’ve been working on without resolution for some 30-odd years, I couldn’t answer him. John Boorman’s Zardoz (1974) is the kind of movie that could only have been made in the years between 1965 and 1975. It seems incredible today that it was made for a major studio—20th Century Fox—and given a general release, but was only mildly unusual in 1974 when filmmakers ruled the scene and experimentation was encouraged. Whatever else Zardoz is, it’s certainly experimental. We are, after all, talking about a singular vision of the future that’s most famous—or infamous—for featuring Sean Connery wearing a large red diaper. This is simply not your everyday sci-fi/fantasy flick.

As to just what it is, that’s another matter. Put bluntly, it’s an incredibly pretentious collection of often-clashing ideas, startling images and drug-culture nonsense. That last is almost certainly how it got made in the first place—the studio figured that stoned-out audiences would get off on all the trippy pictures and just accept the rest as somehow profound. In this regard, they erred, since Zardoz was a colossal flop. Boorman’s radical vision was—and is—too radical. Oh, the story line is easy enough to follow—assuming you accept the basic premise of a class system constructed on the humbuggery of The Wizard of Oz (hence, Zardoz) and the idea that Zed (Connery) finds himself unable to “pay no attention to that man behind curtain.” The problem lies in what the damned thing means or attempts to mean. At points it seems to be attacking the very culture it was aimed at, and it’s hard not to wonder if even Boorman knew exactly what he was trying to say. That said, he says whatever it is in a fascinating manner of the kind that only a truly great filmmaker could. Boorman’s visuals and his use of music—especially the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony—are extraordinary. His daring to attempt such an ambitious film greatly outweighs its muddled quality and occasionally laughable dialogue. If nothing else, Zardoz is unique. Catch it now—just in case the rumors of Boorman making an animated film of the actual Wizard of Oz turn out to be true.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

36 thoughts on “Zardoz

  1. Chip Kaufmann

    You are right in surmising that Boorman is attacking the culture that it was aimed at. I remember reading in an interview with Boorman years ago that the idea for the film came about as the result of a dream he had after a visit to a California commune in the late 60s (communes being a way of cutting yourself off from the outside world) and imagining what it would be like to spend the rest of eternity gazing at your navel.

    The part of Zed was originally written for Burt Reynolds as a followup to DELIVERANCE (hence Connery’s mustache and hair) but he was unable to do it. Who knows why Sean took the role but he gives the role a dignity that Reynolds couldn’t have. It was shot on Boorman’s estate in the Wicklow mountains of Ireland and was made for $6 million (low even for the time when you consider the effects).

    The prologue at the beginning of the film was added after it had wrapped because Fox executives saw the first cut and said “What the …?”. Reviews were mixed at the time but even the negative ones praised Boorman as a filmmaker for trying and creating something different. You are also right that it could only have been made in the 1968-77 period. Boorman followed this up with EXORCIST 2: THE HERETIC (a guilty pleasure of mine as is ZARDOZ). It’s astounding that he ever got funding again. Of course he redeemed himself with EXCALIBUR in 1981.

  2. TonyRo

    I had no clue about this movie until a few weeks ago. My buddy and I are huge Connery fans and when I explained the premise to him, he oculdn’t believe it. Basically this things been at the top of my Netflix queue for the past few weeks with a “Long Wait” status. Boo!

  3. Dionysis

    I saw this when it was released; I didn’t really understand it then, but do recall (vaguely) some impressive visuals. I picked up a copy of this on DVD about 5 or 6 years ago, and it remains unopened today. That it is the subject of a review has somewhat piqued my interest, so I may give it a viewing this week.

  4. I had no clue about this movie until a few weeks ago. My buddy and I are huge Connery fans and when I explained the premise to him, he oculdn’t believe it. Basically this things been at the top of my Netflix queue for the past few weeks with a “Long Wait” status. Boo!

    I can change that “boo” to a “yeah!” if you shop local.

  5. Sean Williams

    It would just be too awesome if all N.R.A. rallies began with an enormous stone head thundering, “The gun is good! The penis is bad!”

  6. Ken Hanke

    I can change that “boo” to a “yeah!” if you shop local.

    And I know he’s got at least one copy because I gave him one!

  7. Ken Hanke

    Boorman followed this up with EXORCIST 2: THE HERETIC (a guilty pleasure of mine as is ZARDOZ).

    I feel no guilt about liking either one — for the gestures of making them, if nothing else!

  8. S. Rogers

    Sometimes tells me if Sean Connery had worn a cape and cowl instead of a red diaper, Ken Hanke would have docked this movie a star and a half on general principles.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Sometimes tells me if Sean Connery had worn a cape and cowl instead of a red diaper, Ken Hanke would have docked this movie a star and a half on general principles

    Of course, I would have. That would have made the whole thing unbelievable.

  10. Rilee

    Chip, I agree about Connery giving the role of Zed a dignity he wouldn’t have otherwise had: in fact I would go as far as to say it wouldn’t have been the same film if Lancaster had played the part, and I even think that having Lancaster play the part would be grounds for docking it a star and a half – hell maybe even TWO stars! (snrk)
    This has been a favorite film of mine since I first saw it, and I have never suffered any guilt over that fact. I watched it every time it ran on cable, then when I saw it on Deep Discount for $10 I ordered it immediately! Now I can watch it whenever I want (buahahaha)
    I think that even at the tender age I was when I first saw it, I fully understood what it meant, but maybe that was easier for me because I was just coming of age at the tag end of the hippie golden age, at a point where the movement’s centrifugal disintegration was tending to pull everything in its orbit to pieces, and I saw a lot of destruction around me: broken marriages, abandoned children, con artists running over people I loved, even suicides and a murder. I could fill a screen-play with what I saw in my young adult years (if I could only write). When I saw that, I just said “Yeahhh, that’s it!” Of course if you feel at the age of 18 like you’re Zed and Consuella watching their son leave, then that doesn’t bode well for the rest of your life, but that’s another story.

  11. F.A. John Doubleclutch

    This has been one of my all time favorite movies. This is the only movie I am compelled to watch every few years and it never fails to capture my interest. This is truly one of Connery’s classic roles. I had never heard of the Burt Reynolds connection but I am glad that didn’t happen. I just wouldn’t be the same film without Connery’s presence. I suggest those unfamiliar with the film watch this again soon to fully appreciate the work.

    This movie captures a flavor of the sixties and early seventies that was unique to those times. That is to say if your kids ask what it was like during this time period sit them down and show them this movie.
    I must admit I cannot recall ever watching this movie with anyone. I guess that’s so I can avoid having to explain to someone what is going on during the movie. It’s good to go into this movie with an open mind and the proper attitude because this movie is a heady little trip to say the least.

  12. Chip Kaufmann

    A fascinating comment, Rilee, which goes to show how the right film at the right time can have a tremendous impact on you whether it’s a good film or a bad one.

    For the record though (as mentioned earlier), it’s Burt Reynolds not Burt Lancaster. Lancaster in 1974 would have been 61 and too old for the role.

  13. Ken Hanke

    I suggest those unfamiliar with the film watch this again soon to fully appreciate the work.

    It definitely not something you can watch only once and really process.

  14. I suggest those unfamiliar with the film watch this again soon to fully appreciate the work.

    Except for the misstep of EXORCIST II, I highly recommend all of John Boorman’s work. He has a solid career. POINT BLANK is in my top 5.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Except for the misstep of EXORCIST II

    Hey now! If you know what you’re getting into, it’s at the very least interesting. Anyway, how many people ever got to make what was essentially a $14.5 million (1977 dollars, too) art film?

  16. Rilee

    Whoops! I had Reynolds face in my head, and of course you had just said it was Reynolds, so I don’t know why, but I wrote Lancaster. Thanks, Chip. I really enjoyed seeing all of this background info as well. Puts another layer of perspective on it.

  17. irelephant

    I’d watch it again. There is no substitute for Connery in a red diaper, finger-wagging hippie gals in see-through tops, and generally incomprehensible shenanigans. In fact, I never want to figure out what it is or what it is about–that would ruin the picture for me.

  18. Chip Kaufmann

    I know of at least 20 people that I took to see it back in 1974. As I recall at least 14 hated it calling it right wing and reactionary, 2 were indifferent, while the remaining 4 liked it at lot and saw it multiple times.

    I drove from my hometown of Greenville SC with some friends (in a VW bus no less) to Asheville to see it at the old Terrace Theatre located behind the current Innsbruck Mall. After the movie we had a lively discussion over hot dogs and beer at the old Tunnel Rd Lums which is now Mack Kells.

  19. Ken Hanke

    I never want to figure out what it is or what it is about–that would ruin the picture for me.

    There’s much to be said for that attitude. I liked Mulholland Drive a lot better when I just found it sinister and incomprehensible. Then when I saw it again it started to make sense — not only did I like it less, but it worried me that it started to make sense.

  20. irelephant

    Certainly cause for concern. I empathize with you, my dear sir. I presume that might be one of the hazards of your trade–eventually gleaning an understanding of obscure David Lynch pictures. S’pose it’s not in the end fatal. Just let me know if things that are really out of the ordinary begin happening, such as sitting through wayans brothers’ movies twice or having Jerry Bruckheimer’s name tattooed on some intimate part of yourself. There is help to be gotten for symptoms like that–mostly shamanic deposession ceremonies in pizza-oven-hot sweat lodges, but nonetheless there’s help. Oh! but a quartz crystal enema and a chakra spinning are free with every deposession ceremony. Got to love that failing economy!

  21. Ken Hanke

    There is help to be gotten for symptoms like that

    Symptoms? That sounds more like tertiary cinema psychosis.

    Keep this up and Zardoz could be bigger than breast-feeding, circumcision and Ayn Rand combined!

  22. Ken Hanke

    I know of at least 20 people that I took to see it back in 1974. As I recall at least 14 hated it calling it right wing and reactionary, 2 were indifferent, while the remaining 4 liked it at lot and saw it multiple times.

    It intrigues me that so many saw it as right wing and reactionary. I can see where they get that — assuming that you question absolutely nothing about the 60s and can’t deal with any criticism of the era — but it seems a little harsh. Even more, most people who dislike it in my experience just think it’s pretentious and incomprehensible.

  23. brebro

    I bought it on DVD last year on Amazon for $4.99, just because I vaguely remember seeing it on TV in the 70s. I can’t get anyone in the house to watch it with me yet though, so it is still shrinkwrapped. At least I finally opened Barbarella.

  24. Keep this up and Zardoz could be bigger than breast-feeding, circumcision and Ayn Rand combined!

    In my mind, ZARDOZ is already bigger than those things.

  25. Ken Hanke

    In my mind, ZARDOZ is already bigger than those things

    What a breakput quote that would make!

    “Bigger than breast-feeding, circumcision and Ayn Rand combined!” — Orbit DVD.

    If they ever remaster the DVD…

  26. irelephant

    “Bigger than breast-feeding, circumcision and Ayn Rand combined!”—Orbit DVD.

    If they ever remaster the DVD…>

    That’s f**king hilarious!

  27. Dread P. Roberts

    “Bigger than breast-feeding, circumcision and Ayn Rand combined!”

    Wow! I have not seen this movie, but after reading the posts on this review, I almost feel it would be incomprehensibly foolish of me to delay such an excursion of cinematic bliss. I must rent this movie ASAP.

    I liked Mulholland Drive a lot better when I just found it sinister and incomprehensible.

    The first time I saw “Mulholland Drive” I hated it. The very fact that it’s haunting nature lingered in my mind, forced me to re-evaluate what it was exactly that I had been subjected to. Once I started looking at the movie with a different mindset it was more enjoyable. I have a feeling that “ZARDOZ” might just be a similar sort of thing. The difference is both age and expectation for what I am getting myself into. I believe those two things should help my viewing experience in this instance.

  28. Ken Hanke

    I have a feeling that “ZARDOZ” might just be a similar sort of thing. The difference is both age and expectation for what I am getting myself into. I believe those two things should help my viewing experience in this instance.

    Quite possibly, but this is weird in a somewhat different way than Mulholland Drive. In other words, don’t be expecting David Lynch. Do be expecting something very much of its era.

  29. Dread P. Roberts

    I watched the trailer for “Zardoz”, and it sort of looks like “Logan’s Run” on an acid trip.

  30. Ken Hanke

    I watched the trailer for “Zardoz”, and it sort of looks like “Logan’s Run” on an acid trip.

    Sort of — except it predates Logan’s Run by a couple years, so more properly Logan’s Run looks like it sans acid.

  31. brebro

    I don’t even care what is going on in Zardoz any more, but PLEASE tell me what the *F* Mulholland Drive was all about. I don’t even have a Donnie-Darko-sized clue about it!

  32. kjh.childers

    Ken
    Had a chance to view this recently.
    Always looking for that one movie to push the edge …
    Just as did “The Ruling Class” – haven’t stop thinking about that one yet.

    As for Zardoz … it reminded me of my initial reading of “The Great Cosmic Mother” by M. Sjoo. It all seemed a conjuring of Expressionismus, Ancient Egypt and TexMexMurder Squads!

    As the film ends … it creates a mythology … the first Man …born of the gods!

  33. jack1516

    This makes two movies that I liked but didn’t think Ken Hanke would. Zardoz and Drive Angry though Mr. Hanke got more flack for likeing Drive Angry but I don’t know why. I know those two movies are unrelated other then they break the rulse somewhat and are not in any true particular class. I’d like to see a current rundown- 2011 list of strange movies Mr. Hanke likes, a list of sorts just to get him into more trouble-so to speak :)

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