Zardoz (1974), Phase IV (1974) and Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) could be gathered in a left-of-centre, science fiction and fantasy orientated corner of more exploratory cinematic culture that to varying degrees incorporates and/or draws from psychedelic culture and imagery and associated dreamlike or altered reality states, often in pastoral or nature orientated/connected settings.”
“Zardoz was written, produced and directed by John Boorman.
The plot involves a future Earth ruled by immortal Eternals, an advanced sect of humans who live a luxurious but aimless life in an area known as the Vortex, protected by an invisible barrier from the wasteland of the outside world which is inhabited by Brutals who carry out forced labour farming.
The Eternals have created a false god known as Zardoz, which is represented by a huge flying stone head and is used to control and intimidate the Exterminators, who in turn control the Brutals through the use of force.”
“The secluded paradise of the Eternals is a curious mix of advanced technology, new age-isms and a kind of indulgently folkloric ritualised way of life set in what appears to be an almost village like insular idyll; the Eternals partake in a liberal, democratically decided and also underlyingly conformistly oppressive way of life, with its functioning and continuation only enabled because of the forced labour farming carried out by the Brutals.”
“Watching Zardoz is a dreamlike, at points hallucinatory or psychedelic, stepping through the looking-glass experience, notably so when Zed crosses over into the crystal based Tabernacle which controls the Vortex and when he is absorbing all the Eternals’ knowledge outside of time and the real world.”
“…while undergoing the absorption of knowledge process a projected lightshow of collaged and drifting images representing this knowledge plays over and completely covers his and the Eternals’ faces and unclothed bodies as they float disembodiedly across the frame in what becomes a swirling, speeding up carousel of faces.”
“It is an exploratory, dissonant, challenging blockbuster or spectacle film, one which questions society’s actions, accompanied by references to 20th century cinematic fantastical fairy tales and philosophy, while also being full of ‘I can’t actually believe that this was allowed to come to the big screen’ moments.”
“All of which is complemented by a former James Bond wearing what can only be described as revealing futuristic Mexican fetish-bandit wear. To use a phrase from the film itself, this is one of those times when popular culture goes ‘renegade’.”
“Phase IV is the only film made by renowned designer Saul Bass and as with Zardoz it is a cultural oddity, and Paramount Pictures were probably more than a little surprised when they saw what they had financed.”
“In the film two scientists and one younger woman they rescue are held hostage in a desert research facility by ants which they are meant to be studying but who seem to have gained some form of collective consciousness and higher intelligence due to some unknown cosmic event.”
“…it literally explodes in a psychedelic coming of a new age and order collage of imagery sequence at the end. Well,sort of… There was full-length journey into and through the new world fantasy sequence filmed as an ending but it was not used for the general release. The film that most people have seen ends with a glimpse of this new world but it is merely a brief view.
The full sequence had a limited public cinematic outing when a version of it was found in 2012 at the Academy Film Archive in Hollywood, USA but it has never been included as part of an official release for home viewing.”
“It is… a film that though not all that well-known (and the semi-lost ending hardly at all), seems to have somehow or other reverberated through and influenced culture since its inception.
“In particular, lines of connection can be drawn from Phase IV to Beyond the Black Rainbow which was written and directed by Panos Cosmatos.
The plot of that film centres around the Aboria Institute, a new age research facility founded in the 1960s by Dr Arboria which is set in “award winning gardens” and dedicated to finding a reconciliation between science and spirituality, allowing humans to move into a new age of perpetual happiness.
In the 1980s his work was taken over by his protégé Dr Barry Nyle who despite outward appearances of charm and normality is actually mentally unstable and has thoroughly corrupted the Institute and its aims.”
“The lines of connection and inspiration between Phase IV and Beyond the Black Rainbow are not a direct transference and replication, rather, as also said by the director it is in an ‘abstracted, vaguely recognisable way’…
This sense of non-replication can be linked to the representations of the 1980s when Beyond the Black Rainbow is set, which do not create a detail-perfect simulacra but rather a reflection of that time which in text that accompanies the film’s DVD/Blu-ray release has somewhat aptly and evocatively been described as “a Reagan-era fever dream”.
Although referring to a different time period than the late 1960s to 1970s, which much of hauntological-leaning work tends to, Beyond the Black Rainbow shares with that area of culture a sense of the reimagining or fragmented recall of cultural memories which are explored and used in order to create a parallel world view of previous eras…
Watching it can instill the sense that you are viewing an overlooked David Cronenberg film from that time.”
“Also, in a similar manner to sections of hauntologically-labelled work, Beyond the Black Rainbow has a strong sense of being a rediscovered lost artifact; this is a film which could have tumbled from the further reaches of an early 1980s video shop’s shelves but one from that “fever dream” rather than being passed down directly via historical reality…
…Somewhat appropriately considering the above and despite such things being more or less obsolete and no longer widely manufactured, alongside the DVD and Blu-ray editions it was also released on limited edition VHS videocassette by Mondo, who alongside such things specialise in limited edition posters featuring commissioned artwork reinterpretations of films.”
“If the film could be a rediscovered and refracted Cronenberg project from a parallel world, then its soundtrack could well be a Tangerine Dream-esque soundtrack from that world.
The soundtrack is by Jeremy Schmidt (working as Sinoia Caves), and utilises mellotron choirs, analogue synthesizers and arpeggiators to create a period aesthetic and atmosphere.”
It puts me in mind of the further reaches and undercurrents of what has been loosely labelled new age music, including some of the work that can be found on the compilation I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age in America – 1950-1990 (released in 2013 by Light in the Attic) such as Wilburn Burchette’s “Witch’s Will” which, as with the soundtrack to Beyond the Black Rainbow, creates an atmosphere that is restful, draws you in and yet is also portentous and unsettling.”
“…Beyond the Black Rainbow is not always an easy and often an unsettling film, so if you should seek it out then tread gently but it has a visual beauty, entrancing atmosphere and sense of cinematic and cultural exploration that makes it a somewhat unique film experience.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 51 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.