Day #149/365: Phase IV – lost celluloid flickering (return to), through to Beyond The Black Rainbow and journeys Under The Skin
File under: Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #22/52.
Renowned designer Saul Bass (think The Man With The Golden Arm if you’re wandering who that is) only made one film: Phase IV.
Something of a favourite around A Year In The Country. If I was only going to get to make one film then I would hope it would equal this.
In some ways it’s a film which could be said to fit with other ecological disturbance films of the 1970s (No Blade Of Grass, Soylent Green, Silent Running etc) but this is a much stranger piece of culture and I expect Paramount Pictures were a little suprised when they saw what they had financed.
Essentially two scientists and one young lady they rescue are held hostage in a desert research facility by ants who seem to have gained some form of collective consciousness and higher intelligence.
In some ways it could be seen as an alternative mirror view of the rising of the apes in other films…
Now that could easily result in a man vs beast horror exploitation film (and some of the posters attempt to show it as that) but this isn’t that story. It’s a much stiller, more contemplative film which has something else, something otherly running under it’s surface, which more or less literally explodes in a psychedelic coming of age sequence at the end…
Well… sort of.
I say sort of because there was a full flight-into-and-through-the-new-world fantasy sequence filmed as an ending but it wasn’t used for the general release and it has only fairly recently been shown to the wider public via a limited cinematic outing and has never been officially released for home viewing.
The film that most people have seen ends with a taste of this new world but it’s but a brief taste.
I can understand the logic of film studio executives thinking they wanted to try and salvage something a little more normal from the film they’d been presented with but it was too late really and to have cut this quite frankly fantastic sequence feels like a crime against culture.
I have to say that this is quite a beautiful and beautifully shot film. A strange beauty but beauty nonetheless. It’s not all 1970s grim and grime and there is some kind of utopian undercurrent to what occurs.
And it’s one of those films that though not all that well known (and the semi-lost ending hardly at all), feels as though somehow or other it has reverberated through and influenced culture since it’s inception: some of it’s themes I can recognise in much later big budget Hollywood science fiction films and I can connect it’s very particular take on psychedelia to the videos made for Broadcast and The Focus Group (see Day #33/365).
Along such lines… It’s not a long hop, step and jump from the atmosphere and lost ending visuals of Phase IV to Beyond The Black Rainbow and it’s Arboria Institute. Not always a pleasant film but an astonishing, hypnotic dream of one; or a Reagan Era fever dream to quote it’s author…
Or even from there and before to Under The Skin and it’s dream like processing sequences…