Criterion Prediction #24: On the Silver Globe, by Alexander Miller
Title: On the Silver Globe
Director: Andrzej Żuławski
Cast: Andrzej Seweryn, Jerzy Trela, Waldemar Kownacki, Iwona Bielska, and Elzbieta Karkoszka
Synopsis: A group astronauts escape earth and land on a nearby planet that supports human life. They gradually die off and are survived by Jerzy, who becomes deified in the eyes of the inhabitants who go on to base their religion on the stories of planetary travelers, not unlike Jerzy’s expedition. Later on, Jerzy sends a video diary of his exploration back to Earth. In response to Jerzy’s communique, Marek sets out to the silver globe and is greeted as a savior who can free the populace who find themselves at war with the Szerns who are the native residents of the titular planet.
Critique: The structure of Żuławski’s controversial epic might be knotty, and a bit perplexing, but the final product is rewarding and inspiring once you learn about the troubled production. Two years into it, the newly appointed vice minister of cultural affairs Janusz Wilhelmi shut down the film and ordered all materials pertaining to the project to be destroyed since he interpreted the story an allegorical reflection of the Polish struggle against totalitarianism. Żuławski cobbled the remaining film together, but without the sets and props he resorted to voiceover narration to tether the scenes together. The final product is a profound visionary experience; the depth and texture of this film is astounding. On the Silver Globe needs to be seen to be believed. Yes, the story is a bit confusing, but the otherworldly conception and unbridled artistry is astounding. The gaps in narration enhance the surreal habitat of the film. Perhaps in some ways, I’m making excuses for a movie because it’s so easy to get bowled over by the director’s visual indulgences, but there is a rich stream of hearty sci-fi coursing through the veins of this journey. The cinematography is mind-bogglingly hypnotic. Shot in 1977, the gravity-defying camera movements would honestly give Emmanuel Lubezki a run for his money. Sometimes it’s hard to sell an individual film as a direct descendent of a genre; occasionally, people are disappointed by minimalist (or unconventional) interpretations. Long story short, this isn’t Tarkovsky’s Solaris, or Godard’s Alphaville – not that I don’t love said movies, but Eddie Constantine in a Ford Galaxie might let down unassuming viewers expecting a more conventional dystopic sci-fi yarn. Though the film is anything but conventional, On the Silver Globe does embody the genre in a more recognizable fashion than Godard or Tarkovsky.
Why it Belongs in the Collection? I will admit that I am piggybacking on the recent passing of Andrzej Żuławski and the inevitable resurgence of interest that occurs whenever a famous director dies. However, the event of his death has only accelerated the inevitable selection of this film for this week’s column. There are plenty of terrific films in The Criterion Collection, but the best movies always seem to be the wild cards that are wholly distinctive but commonly associated with their inventory – F for Fake, Salò, or Man Bites Dog come to mind. Given the credentials of Żuławski’s film, it’s safe to say that it fits the bill as one of those offbeat entries. It’s so stylized that a still shot from any moment of the film is guaranteed to catch your attention, and a 4K restoration would turn this hallucinatory sci-fi epic into an object of interest for any curious fan of unusual movies. There’s a 3 DVD set of the director’s work (along with The Devil and The Third Part of the Night) that features On the Silver Globe, which you can find online, but the transfers aren’t all that great. Kudos for keeping this film alive, but Żuławski’s visionary film deserves better. Furthermore, Criterion has a certain balance in content, one release is followed by its equal regardless of being radically different in style and genre (for instance, Lady Snowblood coming out the same month as Charles Vidor’s Gilda). The introduction of On the Silver Globe would expand the collection of challenging and boundary-pushing titles as well as introduce a superlative director to a wider audience.