The Penis is Bad, the Gun is Good.
December 5, 2006 6:11 AM   Subscribe

The story, set in the distant future, involves a group of immortal intellectuals who lives isolated from an outside reality of unbridled savagery and brutality. No, I'm not talking about Metafilter, but Zardoz. The Penis is Bad, the Gun is Good. In the future the real threat isn’t Islamofascism or rogue Kryptonians, but bored immortals who dress like Belgians and can’t get it up. Did I mention Sean Connery in red S/M short shorts? You just can't make movies this wonderfully terrible anymore. (previously on MetaFilter, in the pre YouTube era, here)
posted by Meatbomb (61 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

God help me, but I do love this movie.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:25 AM on December 5, 2006

Man, I'm tired of people's problem with this movie. Self-indulgent: yes. Silly: often. But there are more ideas and a hell of a lot more ambition in this pic then in any 20 Multiplex hack jobs.

20 years from now NO-ONE will be talking about The Island. But they'll still be talking about Zardoz.
posted by jettloe at 6:29 AM on December 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

I love springing this movie on unsuspecting people. "Oh, I'm just watching an older Sean Connery film, want to join me?"
posted by cobaltnine at 6:30 AM on December 5, 2006

The first few minutes are extraordinary - a huge stone head flying over County Wicklow, descending to vomit guns over a horde of barbarians.

It then get seriously weird.

It really is a totally hopeless and completely adorable movie.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 6:33 AM on December 5, 2006

Ambition? If you listen to John Boorman's commentary on the DVD, he gives up on defending its excesses about two-thirds of the way through and says "Sometimes, watching this film, I can't quite believe my own hubris" and chuckles nervously.

This used to be my absolute favourite bad movie, and it's still in the top five. Waaaay back (i.e. the '90's), I used to have a ZARDOZ website up and running, but these days the only part of the site that remains is the guestbook, which I kept up because it's a pretty funny read. Sample comment:

"I'm not sure Zardoz has changed my life, but I don't think I will ever be quite the same, after having seen it in a rather delicate condition. I have been transmitting a negative aura on second level ever since."
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:41 AM on December 5, 2006

<Sean Connery accent>Zshardoshh!</Sean Connery accent>
posted by slimepuppy at 6:44 AM on December 5, 2006

Actually, the penis is not bad, it's evil. Get it right.

And give me a break, jettloe, the movie is utterly ridiculous, the Island is just shit, with a few neat action sequences, but does it have its main actor running around in a giant red diaper and bandolier? No. I guarantee you that if a movie were made today that feature such a ridiculous costume, people will be talking about it in 30 years.

I used to work in a video store and we had a picture of Connery in his red suit hung up on the wall and we added a stick on word balloon to his mouth and change the dialogue whenever we were in the mood. One of our Scottish customers, who considered Connery a national treasure, was seriously offended and kept offering us increasing amounts of money to buy the poster. I think he got up to $100 before he gave up.

Incidentally, one of the reviews of reviews of the recent The Fountain contains the phrase, "Zardoz, anyone?" Man, could they they have been further off the mark? Though plenty of people have walked out of what I consider this year's most stunning release (I've already seen it twice), none that I saw do it were laughing, which is usually the reaction most people have to the first 5 (and following 100) minutes of Zardoz.
posted by dobbs at 6:47 AM on December 5, 2006

The penis is neither bad nor evil.

Penis mightier.

Learn your Connery.
posted by PreacherTom at 6:48 AM on December 5, 2006 [2 favorites]

The seventies was just a good time for unusual films. Boorman also made Excalibur, and for oddness Zardoz needs to contend with the sheer oddness of Ken Russell's oevre (including Lisztomania at the end of which - spoiler alert - the spirit of Franz Liszt, surrounded by his women, swoops down from heaven in a space ship shaped like a church organ to shoot down Wagner / Hitler /Frankenstein's monster, who's marauding Europe with his guitar-gun, with a laser beam. Liszt is played by Roger Daltrey and Ringo Starr plays the Pope. Now that is how they don't make them any more).

Even relatively normal films could be a bit strange - for example, The Wicker Man or The Final Programme. I think it was a sort of golden age of frankly peculiar film-making.
posted by Grangousier at 6:59 AM on December 5, 2006

Re: dobbs; I'll take bad art - art that at least tries to do something and fails - over hack work like the Island filled with product placement. If people can't see the difference between a drunken man's nature poem and an anonymous hacks ad for shit-cream then we're at an impasse....
posted by jettloe at 6:59 AM on December 5, 2006

Too many oddnesses in there. I'm flying without a thesaurus here.
posted by Grangousier at 7:00 AM on December 5, 2006

Boorman, ya mountebank. Yu've made a film full of anal bum covers! Well, yu won't be doing that to Nigel Terry, mark my words.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:13 AM on December 5, 2006

> swoops down from heaven in a space ship...

Well, I know what I'm renting the next time I'm in the mood for some grade-A cheddar. Cheers, Grangousier.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:13 AM on December 5, 2006

Just for the record, unless it isn't really obvious, I adore this horrible trainwreck of a film. The first time I saw it was in the back seat of my parents' car, the drive in late night double feature, my math tells me I must have been six. I knew I was too young to be watching, and so did my parents, so I pretended to sleep but had my eyes glued to the screen the whole time.

Everything I learned about sex and drugs and the future I learned from Zardoz.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:36 AM on December 5, 2006

Two Connery memes collide:
posted by GuyZero at 7:48 AM on December 5, 2006

The movie is an example of how fucking far Connery fell after Bond. And yeah, you *can* make movies this bad, still. They're just not put out by huge-budget studios.

Hell, Troma's still in business, right?
posted by talldean at 7:56 AM on December 5, 2006

Troma wishes it could make this movie.
posted by deliquescent at 8:16 AM on December 5, 2006

Metafilter: No, I'm not talking about Metafilter.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:31 AM on December 5, 2006

Oh man I loved Zardoz. In my mind anyway, it was part of a whole series of weirdly important films of around the same era, an exhibition of changing cinematic styles and morals.

Although a bit earlier, I compare it to, of course, Barbarella, Candy, and perhaps highly influential later in Dave Lynch's films.
posted by elendil71 at 8:32 AM on December 5, 2006

The seventies was just a good time for unusual films.

I am absolutely certain that this fact reflects the cultural influence of LSD.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:35 AM on December 5, 2006

Zardoz rules. I had a series of coincidences that centered around Zardoz a year ago.
posted by Liquidwolf at 8:48 AM on December 5, 2006

This is a modern day tribute of sorts. Keep watching, you'll see.
posted by pepcorn at 8:50 AM on December 5, 2006

And yeah, you *can* make movies this bad, still. They're just not put out by huge-budget studios.

Which is sort of sad, in a strange way. I think this may've been what jettloe was getting at. These days, a studio will just put out a totally predictable braind-dead sfx shitshow like Pearl Harbor, which is bad and - worse - boring in the same ways Independence Day and Twister were.

Whereas Zardoz - there's one singular, wholly unique brand of crap right there. It has evident ambition and sufficient intellectual pretense that when it fails so completely in every way, there's a kind of grandeur to it.

And maybe it did take Olympic-calibre faceplants like Zardoz - the willingness to attempt such feats, you know? - that also brought us A Clockwork Orange, Godfather et al.
posted by gompa at 8:58 AM on December 5, 2006

I don't care what Zardoz says, my penis is just misunderstood.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:59 AM on December 5, 2006

I love how as soon as the giant stone head starts in with the "penis is evil" bit, the the men in red diapers stop cheering and kissing their guns and just stare.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:59 AM on December 5, 2006

I love this movie, ever since I first saw it as a young teenager one night on a black&white TV in my parents' basement. Bless whatever PBS programmer thought to air it back around 1979.

When I was at a used bookstore earlier this year, I stumbled across the novelization! I bought it of course, and it is sitting in my to-be-read stack.
posted by fings at 9:07 AM on December 5, 2006

Hey, Liquidwolf, you going to share this set of coincidences?

You can't just leave that hanging. Don't tell me, you were hanging round the local park in your favourite red diapers and suddenly, a giant floating penis just popped in out of nowhere?

Mate, happens to me all the time. ALL THE TIME.
posted by lowest.common.denominator at 9:14 AM on December 5, 2006

Metafilter: Involves a group of immortal intellectuals.
posted by Mister_A at 9:28 AM on December 5, 2006

A true classic from the sci-fi cheese vault.

When I first got together with my ex-wife, her eyes went wide with wonder when I showed her my VHS copy of Zardoz. The fact that I owned it, much less knew about it, made me golden in her eyes.

And as far as Connery falling from his lofty Bond status to be in this flick, witness one of the first things Mark Hamill appeared in after the Star Wars films, the completely-forgotten, rancid Slipstream. Now there's a bad movie that's just, well, bad.
posted by dbiedny at 9:28 AM on December 5, 2006

It's really not bad. The worst thing about it is the costuming and recurrent psychedelia, which I think we can forgive given when it was made.

Beyond that, most of the time it's a fairly uncompromising introduction to an effectively alien society. Here's what's going on, fuck you if you can't figure it out. The problems people are trying to solve spring more or less directly from the qualities that make their society alien.

It's not really terribly stupid. On the verge of some calamity, a group of people Do Something that makes them effectively godlike and immortal, helped along by a powerful computer that also stores everyone's memories. After umpty years, some of them get existential angst and want to die, but the machine won't let them because that ain't what it's for. So they embark on a breeding program to create someone who can be educated and provoked into destroying (?) the computer so that they can finally die. That someone is Zed (Connery), who unsurprisingly doesn't do exactly what they want.

The silliness is just in the clothing and some of the frippery used to tell the story (ie, everyone licking Seannery's magic psychedelic sweat).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:34 AM on December 5, 2006

I'm not surprised that Zardoz invokes interesting coincidences. If I remember Boorman's introduction to the novelization correctly, he reports it being "transmitted" to him by some higher intelligence... right around the same time Leary, Dick and Wilson were recieving their StarSeed/Valis transmissions.

And if you think what I just said sounds crazy, you haven't seen Zardoz.
posted by Paddle to Sea at 9:39 AM on December 5, 2006

So where is Zardoz, anyway?
posted by xod at 9:46 AM on December 5, 2006

Zardoz is a great film. It is second only to the original Planet of the Apes - which is the best film ever made. I am so serious.

Zardoz gets extra points because there are boobies in it. I always thought POTA should of had boobies. But you can't have everything.

More movies like these need to be made. They're fucked-up, original, and wierd. They're smart. They tell good stories. They manage to get a cast that can act. And you never forget them.
posted by tkchrist at 10:19 AM on December 5, 2006

I kind of like this film. Like A Boy and His Dog, the post apocalyptic costuming and anti-utopian society looks weird, but the film makers really were trying to do something complicated with the story.

Boorman got to make this because he had just made Deliverance, so it's not like he was incompetent. He just went overboard. It's the problem of telling a science fiction story where everything is too far out there. The audience doesn't have anyone to follow whose behavior makes any sense to them. In the context of the world he creates, Boorman has his characters acting rationally (sort of) within their universe.

It's just that their world is so totally weird to us that makes it offputting. They just aren't acting like people of today would act. At all.

You have to admit, though, it's hysterically funny that Boorman would take freakin' James Bond, Mr. Universe, and dress him up in a red diaper.
posted by MythMaker at 10:25 AM on December 5, 2006

If you like Zardoz, you might like Meet the Hollowheads and Death Race 2000.

Oh, I liked The Island better when it was called Clonus.

The Power Nap, providing all you B movie needs.
posted by The Power Nap at 10:31 AM on December 5, 2006

I have not tried this, but I'm betting Zardoz and Begotten would make a damn fine double feature
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:44 AM on December 5, 2006

Metafilter: I have seen the future and it doesn't work.
posted by arcticwoman at 10:49 AM on December 5, 2006

What ROU_Xenophobe said. Zardoz isn't a bad movie, but it's a movie that runs with its assumptions and doesn't apologize if you're too limited to follow. Boorman may be amazed today at his earlier hubris, but sometimes you need hubris to undertake something really ambitious and different. Of course sometimes it doesn't work, which is why hubris tends to get a bad rap, but when it does work we tend to call it "greatness."

Of course we'd expect a MeFite who takes his nick from Iain M. Banks to have no trouble following Zardoz, and *cough* it should be pretty obvious why I like it myself.
posted by localroger at 10:57 AM on December 5, 2006

A seminal (quiet down, youse) movie of my early sci-fi days. How can you not love Boorman crazziness.
I already have Excalibur (contrast and compare for extra goodness), now I gotta get Zardoz.

As ROU sez, remove the crazyness and you have a classic meme: Bored Immortals Saved by the Underclass, or Specialnessman: Get Us Outta Here.

remake starring Keanu Reeves...
posted by djrock3k at 11:35 AM on December 5, 2006

Oh, man, I love Zardoz. John Boorman is the master. I think he might even be better than the great Ed Wood and John Waters too!

The Island was shit. And a bad and blatant ripoff of 'Clonus'.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 11:42 AM on December 5, 2006

Where? Here?
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 11:44 AM on December 5, 2006

While reading this thread over my shoulder, my girlfriend asked, "What's Zardoz?" Ohhh, is she in for a treat now. Odd, because I make it a habit to subject treat new friends to Zardoz whenever possible, and I was sure I'd made her sit through it.
posted by lekvar at 12:20 PM on December 5, 2006

Metafilter: why hubris tends to get a bad rap.
posted by nickmark at 12:28 PM on December 5, 2006

Has anyone mentioned that it's inspired by the Wizard of Oz?

posted by Astro Zombie at 12:30 PM on December 5, 2006

Zardoz has always been in the category of so bad its good. My roommate in college subscribed to the theory of aesthetics that quality was a sort of circle, that if something was bad enough then its uniqueness and originality made it brilliant. He was the type to scour garage sales for old LPs made by outsiders and then subject the rest of us to all sorts of outlandish shit.
posted by vacapinta at 12:39 PM on December 5, 2006

I wish TCM would run it so I could watch it uncut. Saw it about 10 yrs ago for the second time and it's undoubtedly ambitious and weird but I think the edits messed it up for me.
posted by wrapper at 12:43 PM on December 5, 2006

I keep threatening to inflict this upon my wife. Perhaps now is the time to do it . . .
posted by InnocentBystander at 1:52 PM on December 5, 2006

The lengths people go to stick up for this movie amuse me. High-brow and/or lofty ideas, in and of themselves, do not a good movie make. At its top-dollar best, ZARDOZ is a textbook example of some intriguing concepts fumbled into a dog's breakfast of a movie. And that's being charitable.



posted by The Card Cheat at 2:34 PM on December 5, 2006

Fun facts:

Connery was a replacement for Boorman's first choice, Burt Reynolds, who dropped out for some reason. (Maybe after the first costume fitting?) God Bless you, Mr. Reynolds.

The floating Frayn-head prologue was added after the first press screenings were met with puzzlement. That's right, it's supposed to make the film easier to understand. So was the glossary that critics were handed on their way into the second press screening.

posted by Paddle to Sea at 2:46 PM on December 5, 2006

Sometimes I get the feeling that Hollywood was submerged by a tidal wave of narcotic drugs in the 70s. Some scriptwriters definitely were...
posted by Skeptic at 3:03 PM on December 5, 2006

The movie may have its adolescent moments, but when Charlotte Rampling or Connery are on the screen, I'm struck by how charismatic and gorgeous they both were and still are. With a different cast, this movie could easily have turned out to be completely forgettable.
posted by loosemouth at 3:16 PM on December 5, 2006

Astro Zombie : Has anyone mentioned that it's inspired by the Wizard of Oz?

Wizard of Oz

Anyone who was paying attention. :p

I would seriously like to remake this movie. I think a low budget approach but with modern technology could end up being a great combination when applied to this script.

I wonder if I could get Bruce Campbell to star?..
posted by quin at 4:48 PM on December 5, 2006

Crap: Wizard of Oz

[swing and a miss]
posted by quin at 4:54 PM on December 5, 2006

I'm here. I noticed this party late. This is my name on MeFi and pretty much any other site I try to log into. It's a good login--not popular, so it's often available, but the cool kids like MeFiers "get it", so it's recognized by a few.

I had no idea about this movie until my roommate and I, back around '99 or so, were watching a Sci-Fi Channel documentary on sci-fi films. Suddenly they do a short--very short--piece on Zardoz, and basically all they showed was the guns vomiting out of the stone head. Roomie and I freaked. We had to find this movie. Luckily Seattle must have the best video stores in the country, and got it in no time, and since that time have been preaching the Gospel of Zardoz.

Yes, it's bad. But it's smart bad. I'll take that over the dumb bad anyday (I think someone mentioned The Island...good example. I think we all know dumb bad when we see it). At least amidst the ridiculousness of it all they give you something to think about. And like most Boorman films, it's beautifully shot. Boorman, on the DVD commentary, says something like “I think we tried too many ideas in this movie”. It's a product of the coked-fueled 70s, but remember the 70s was also a period of period of experimentation, and produced some of the best-regarded films ever made. Zardoz is a by-product of when that experimentation gets out of control. ZARDOZ....
posted by zardoz at 6:24 PM on December 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

"...Seattle must have the best video stores in the country..."


One of these days I’m going to make an Exterminator costume.
posted by Tenuki at 7:26 PM on December 5, 2006

I have not tried this, but I'm betting Zardoz and Begotten would make a damn fine double feature

I'll have to disagree. Begotten is one of the masterpieces of forgotten cinema. It is one of perhaps a handful of movies that is truly unlike anything else I've ever seen. (Incidentally, The Fountain would fit in that handful as well.) It's unfortunate that Merhige has strayed so far from it.
posted by dobbs at 8:19 PM on December 5, 2006

I'll live with apathy. I'll make my peace with erectile dysfunction. I can even handle living with people who babble goofy shit.

But I am not dressing like no damn Belgian. That is not open to negotiation.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:36 PM on December 5, 2006

What have you got against Belgians, jason's_planet?
posted by Meatbomb at 9:06 PM on December 5, 2006

Nothing, sir. Nothing at all.

Some of my best friends are Belgians.

But did you see that video?
posted by jason's_planet at 9:38 PM on December 5, 2006

Isn't Belgium just France with more chocolate?
posted by tehloki at 10:30 PM on December 5, 2006

Late to this thread, but last night I watched John Boorman's Exorcist II: The Heretic, and thought to myself after an hour, "Why, this isn't even half as entertaining as Zardoz." Damning with faint praise, I suppose.
posted by Prospero at 5:00 AM on December 6, 2006

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