On the Silver Globe
New Digital Restoration • Muenzinger Auditorium
"On The Silver Globe," now playing in a jaw-dropping and necessary restoration, concerns no less a subject than the beginning of civilization, the foundation of religion and man's fundamental violence. Its science fiction scenario is well worn: astronauts land on a foreign planet and, with no means of getting home, accidentally create a new human race from scratch and become mythic figures, like gods, in their lifetimes. Andrzej %9;uławski, the mad genius behind this lunatic "Birth of a Nation," was forever changed by the experience of making it and having it halted in its tracks by authorities. There's a very good chance you too will be altered in some small but crucial way after witnessing its boundless innovation.
The first 'act' is %9;uławski's "Rite of Spring," a gonzo creation myth. A brutal tribe of hunters finds an artifact. They discover the fallen object is a sort of film, a record of a failed mission to another planet with breathable air that was meant to be a replacement Earth. Earth itself has fallen into decay and people go through the motions of capitalist indulgence, imprisoned by outdated social customs, because they can't come up with a new way of life.
Only three astronauts, Marta, Piotr and Jerzy, survived the landing on the new world, and filmed their misbegotten trip with body cameras. Marta, pregnant by one of the casualties of their spaceship crash, has a son who ages twice as rapidly as he would have on Earth. Marta's son grows to manhood and impregnates her three daughters—two by Piotr, one by Jerzy—and soon there is a functioning feudal tribe that views Jerzy as a kind of wizard.
The second act concerns Marek, the next man to make it to this sister planet. We learn the only reason Marek was sent to this distant star in the first place was because his girlfriend, an actress, was sleeping with a fellow officer and they wanted to get rid of him to continue their affair. In the final act, they must live with each other knowing they sent Marek to possibly die a million miles from anything he knows or loves, while Marek grows into a sort of Christ/Buddha figure who is flooded with information about existence and sees that he is not in control of his own destiny.
"On The Silver Globe" is not only one of the greatest science and moral fiction movies ever made, it also presents a rare entropic quandary. After his damning second feature "The Devil" equated the Polish government to an imp whispering vile conspiracy in the ear of a shell-shocked prisoner, director %9;uławski was cordially invited to get the hell out of Poland and never come back. His permanent exile wasn't to be. When his next film, 1975's French-funded "That Most Important Thing: Love" performed well abroad, the cultural authorities waved a white flag and let the prodigal back in their borders. He knew exactly what he was going to do when he got back home.
He set about adapting his great uncle Jerzy's sci-fi novels, "The Lunar Trilogy," some of the most celebrated and influential European cult tomes ever written. It took him two years to write the script and have it meet the strict dictums set forth by the cultural ministry, and the shoot itself was no picnic. In 1977, with four-fifths of his film complete, %9;uławski's production was shut down by Vice Minister of cultural affairs Janusz Wilhelmi and he was kicked out of Poland for a second time. Seems Wilhelmi didn't dig the screenplay's equating state and religious authority, nor its insistence that both are corruptible constructs (caves figure heavily into the action, students of philosophy).
The really interesting part comes next. %9;uławski rebounded with the deeply wounded and wounding paranoid divorce drama "Possession," which led him down a path of similarly abrasive psychodramas about men in thrall to women—stand-ins for his artistic obsessions—and the political obstacles to their romantic unions. Most conclude with physical and mental breakdowns and murder. The patchwork "On The Silver Globe" debuted at Cannes in 1988 and has been haunting viewers ever since.
Looking at the restored images and hearing the renewed soundtrack of the newly restored print one can at least imagine how audiences must have felt seeing it for the first time. The film existed for years as an oppressively colorblind dirty secret; the DVD transfer looked like something smuggled out of Poland in the guts of a political prisoner. Now it's as complete and luscious as it could ever be and for that we should all be thankful. Its fusion of the primal and the futuristic is still a shocking design to behold.— Scout Tafoya, RogerEbert.com
On the Silver Globe
Tue October 18, 2016, 7:30 only, Muenzinger Auditorium
Poland, 1988, in Polish [w/ Eng. subtitles] , Color, 166 min, 1.66 : 1
Director: Andrzej Żuławski, Writer: Andrzej Żuławski, Cast: Andrzej Seweryn, Jerzy Trela, Waldemar Kownacki, Iwona Bielska, Jerzy Gralek