Friday, May 20, 2011

It’s the End of the Gab as We Know It!

Werth: Good day, Wise!

Wise: Don’t you mean goodbye?

Werth: Why would I mean that?

Wise: Haven’t you seen all the placards in the subway proclaiming that May 21st, 2011, is The Rapture?

Werth: Oh right... I forgot to write that in my Turner Classic Movies day planner.   

Wise: The Rapture is the beginning of the end of the world when all the faithful are whisked into heaven while everyone else sticks around for the coming plagues, persecutions, scourges and disasters.  

Werth: If you ask me, all the faithful leaving would make those of us left behind a lot happier.

Wise: That might depend on who the faithful actually turn out to be.  But while we wait to discover whether we’re among the elect or the damned, let’s talk about our favorite end of the world movies.  

Werth: Ooh! Yes, please! When I think of movies about the end of life as we know it, one dilly springs to mind, 1964’s The Last Man on Earth.

Wise: And not the last man on Werth?  

Werth: Based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, (now you know where they got the name for the re-make) Last Man chronicles the attempts of Dr. Robert Morgan to stay alive after a mysterious disease has swept the world and killed everyone including his beloved daughter and wife. 
 You might think it wouldn’t be so hard to stay alive if you were just by yourself, but unfortunately the bacteria doesn’t just kill people, it turns them into vampire zombies that come to Morgan’s house every night and try to kill him. So Morgan’s days are spent gathering garlic, making wooden stakes, burning bodies and wandering around the deserted city knocking on doors and killing the undead wherever they are sleeping. Kind of like the Avon Lady of the Apocalypse.

Wise: No soap on a rope or Skin-So-Soft for the zombies?

Werth: And to play this last bastion of virile manhood on planet Earth, the filmmakers chose the one and only Vincent Price.

Wise: Was Mickey Rooney busy?

Werth: Matheson went on record to say he didn’t think Price was the right choice for the part, but Price lends a solid dignity to this cheap affair. Much like some of the schlock-fests Price made famous, his austere, patrician quality raises the material above the level of the typical B-horror film. 
He’s very serious about escaping the vampires, even though they are laughably weak. He just pushes them over and runs by while they gently hammer at the set with pieces of prop wood. He is tender and loving with his child who can’t seem to look away from the camerman as she lies dying. His many voiceovers have a wonderfully detached quality, making us feel for this man who must be so, so lonely and scared—even if the whole point of the multiple voiceovers was so the movie could be cheaply cross-dubbed into English and Italian.

Wise: For a horror movie, it doesn’t sound very scary.

Werth: It’s not really. It’s more atmospheric than anything else. It was shot entirely in Italy and the 60’s housing developments are creepy in that they look disused and deserted, but they must have been places where real people were then living. Some say the gritty look laid the groundwork for George Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, and you can definitely see similarities in their bleakness. Last Man has that wonderful “What would I do?” quality that makes these loner, post-apocalyptic films special. 
We watch Price drinking his coffee and listening to the record player while his former best friend (now a zomb-pire) howls and bashes at his front door. We can’t help but wonder what we would do if we were the last person on Earth. 

Wise: The film I’m thinking about is more post than apocalyptic. 

Werth: You always add a twist.  

Wise: Just call me the M. Night Shyamalan of film bloggers.  

Werth: Just tell me you’re not reviewing The Village

Wise: Produced, written and directed by John Boorman, Zardoz (1974) depicts a future earth where all the intelligence and beauty has been gathered in a hidden zone called the Vortex where a band of immortals spend their days in blissed out monotony.  Meanwhile, the rest of the planet is populated by ignorant warring tribes called Brutals who worship an all-knowing floating head that dispenses guns and gathers tributes of grain, ensuring that these savage people are in a constant state of conflict.  A Brutal named Zed (Sean Connery wearing a costume that looks like something Vincente Minnelli would have designed for a low-budget BDSM film) stows away in the head and is taken into the Vortex where the Eternals live in paradise.  

Werth: Sounds like a nightclub.
Wise: No nightclub is as weird as the Vortex.  Once Zed is discovered by the immortals, he falls under the mind control of Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) and May (Sara Kestelman) and is turned into a slave so he can be observed.  Because the Eternals underestimate his intelligence, Zed is able to undermine the rigid social divisions and bring about a reconciliation between the Brutals and the Eternals.  Best of all, there’s also a trippy flashback to a demolished library where Boorman reveals the source of Zed’s knowledge is linked to one of my all-time favorite books.  

Werth: The Wizard of Zard-Oz? Zardoz with the Wind?

Wise: I’m not sure that Zardoz is a great movie, but it’s certainly worth seeing.  It’s Connery’s second film after he quit playing James Bond and it’s interesting to watch him attempt to find a new star persona.  Plus, John Boorman was still a Hollywood golden boy after his huge success with Deliverance, so Zardoz is something of a passion project for him, although what makes a director turn from redneck rape to sci-fi morality play is beyond me.  

Werth: So, Wise, what are you packing for the Rapture?  

 Wise: Some shades, obviously, because it’s going to be shiny in heaven.  And a toothbrush because who wants to spend eternity worrying about tooth decay?  How about you?  

Werth: I’d probably go with a pair of clean undies and Joan Crawford’s My Way of Life. Someone’s got to remind people about good manners after the apocalypse.

Wise: Well, if we’re still around next Friday, tune in for more Film Gab!

No comments: