On the Silver Globe (1988)
Directed by Andrzej Zulawski
Saturday, March 17 at BAM
Over a decade in the making, Andrzej Zulawski’s On the Silver Globe is perhaps the tragically underheralded Polish director’s crowning achievement. It’s an overwhelmingly odd post-apocalypse sci-fi space-travel picture that was famously shut down by the Polish government during its initial phase of production in the late 1970s and is somewhat gloriously “a broken thing” according to its author—although his way of coping with the missing footage should be regarded as one of the great cinematic saves of all time.
Based on a novel by Zulawski’s uncle, the film tracks a settlement, founded by Slavic astronauts on a distant plant after Earth’s demise, over the course of the several millennia in which the new society’s modern customs, pushed to their breaking point by resource scarcity, give way to phantasmagoria dominated by pagan madness, unvarnished carnality, alien warfare, quasi-religious sacrifice and deity worship centering around the astronauts themselves. Missing footage has been replaced by shots of everyday Polish life in the 1980s, over which narration, seemingly pulled straight from the stage directions of the screenplay, informs us of what we missed. Still unrelenting despite the inherent compromises on display, the film displays Zulawski’s penchant for coaxing unhinged performances for his large cast and for indulging in long, roving takes in which his character’s flights of fancy play out for wide-angle lenses placed right in the middle of the action, as if by some deranged Malick. Although it’s not called as much, this is surely the centerpiece of BAM’s Zulawski retro, “Hysterical Excess.”