Though the story of a Soviet film being halted halfway through production and destroyed for being socially incendiary is common, Andrzej Żuławski’s sci-fi epic On the Silver Globe is within a class of its own. After fleeing the oppression of Communist Poland to Paris and achieving critical success there with another film, Zulawski was invited back by the Polish government (hoping to prove that Communist states could be hip, too) to create a masterpiece of his choice.
Sensing great opportunity with a budget and shooting access almost unprecedented in Soviet film-making, Zulawski commenced shooting in 1975 in a plethora of locations scattered as widely as the Baltic shore, Crimea, and the Gobi desert. In 1977, with roughly four fifths of the film completed, production was shut down permanently as the film was perceived by the Minister of Culture to be a clear allegory of the struggle between the Poles and their totalitarian government. Over the next decade, Zulawski cobbled together the reels of film that had been secretly preserved, and the pieced-together film premeired at Cannes in 1988.
The result is a film that is as confusing as its production design and visuals are beautiful and dazzling to behold. In all honesty, you’ll likely need to consult Google for a plot summary. Astronauts crash on an Earth-like planet, create a new pagan civilization, and send a video diary back to Earth. The diary is found on Earth, and another astronaut sent to investigate the crash on the silver globe is perceived upon his arrival as a Christ-like figure by the now Medieval-like civilization who can save them from alien bird-monsters. An orgy and war ensue. Meanwhile, the Christ-astronaut’s celebrity girlfriend back on Earth is having an affair with his friend. Cue the TV screens, cars, and wailing guitars. Where footage is missing, Zulawski has substituted with narration paired with completely unrelated footage, the effect of which is both poetic and confusion-propelling.
The visual payoff, however, is worth all three hours. The future, the birth of civilization, astronauts, monks, cave lairs, stunning Eastern European cityscapes, opera, tribal music, rock n’ roll, terrifying bird monsters, face paint, Christ references, orgies, trance-like monologues–this film pursues it all with a totality that is mesmerizing, despite its length and twisting plot line.
We have no doubt now that the Knife’s Karin Andersson’s facepaint is inspired by this movie… Expect On the Silver Globe inspired wares from THE COVEN soon.