Andrzej Żuławski’s 'On the Silver Globe ' was filmed in 1976 and 1977 but only completed in 1987. It is a cult fantasy film recognised by the 'Taste of Cinema' website as the best non-Hollywood science fiction work in the history of cinema.
The fate of Andrzej Żuławski’s film was full of drama and, for a long time, it seemed that On the Silver Globe would not be completed at all. The project was particularly important for the director because it was supposed to be an open adaptation of The Lunar Trilogy written by Jerzy Żuławski, the artist’s great-grandfather, between 1903 and 1911. When the authorities unexpectedly allowed the film to be made, the artist returned to Poland after several years of forced emigration in France.
Żuławski maintained that On the Silver Globe was created under poor conditions. Despite this, the production was on a big scale and the film was shot on the beaches of Łeba, in Wieliczka salt mine, and the Gobi desert among other places. Although the budget did not allow for the use of special effects, costume and stage designers showed great inventiveness in creating a futuristic universe.
Unfortunately, due to a decision by Deputy Minister of Culture Janusz Wilhelmi, the project was suddenly interrupted in 1977. Wilhelmi most probably did not like the message of the film, although fear of the commercial failure of an unconventional adaptation may have also been an important factor. The director received modest funds to finish the production only in the mid-1980s. The film was then supplemented with scenes in which the artist, from outside the frame, on a background depicting Warsaw of the time, summarises fragments which were never produced.
On the Silver Globe focuses on the theme of establishing a new civilisation. The film starts with a scene where two men find a record of an expedition to a foreign planet. The first part of the story presents a video diary made by the participants of the expedition and their descendants. In the recording, four astronauts arrive on the planet to create a new, better society in an environment resembling Earth. Stuck with each other, the isolated heroes quickly begin to doubt the mission and tensions and quarrels surface within the group.
The astronauts give birth to a new civilisation, but, from generation to generation, the population becomes more and more savage. When, many years later, Marek (Andrzej Seweryn) arrives at the site, he sees people enslaved by Szerns – bird-like creatures native to the planet. Marek is given the role of a mythical saviour who will save the oppressed population. However, will he really give people freedom?s
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on the silver globe
Fans of conventional science fiction may be disappointed with Żuławski’s film because On the Silver Globe is difficult and devoid of the features characteristic of the genre. The plot is only a pretext for a philosophical discourse on the nature of man. In the director’s view, the history of civilisation on a foreign planet becomes a distorted reflection on the history of humanity on Earth.
There are many biblical themes in the film: the founding of the community resembles Genesis whereas Marek is clearly the equivalent of Jesus Christ. However, unlike in the Scripture, the divine is only a product of desperate people who create myths to soothe their existence. More than in deconstruction of religion, Żuławski is interested in the spiritual side of man. Are we able to overcome our animalistic nature and rise above the needs and desires of the flesh? It is precisely these doubts that continue to haunt Marek.
The film’s violent, unconventional form is combined with its existential theme. In a way reminiscent of the concept of Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, the creators expose the extreme physical experiences of the characters and, at the same time, reflect on their need for transcendence. Actors wind up in convulsions, shout in pain, are covered in blood, dirt and mud. The camerawork is also feverish and ‘aggressive’. Żuławski and cinematographer Andrzej Jaroszewicz used subjective shots in the first part of the film. The later sequences are also filmed violently and dynamically, additionally using wide-angle lenses that distort the image. The gloomy atmosphere is also built using dirty-blue colours, phenomenal scenery and costumes which reflect the primitivism of the depicted reality.
Although On the Silver Globe has gained cult status, it will not appeal to the sensitivity of all audiences. For some viewers, Żuławski’s adaptation will be an audio-visual philosophical treatise, while for others it will be the proof of the director’s bad writing – pretentious and pompous in some scenes. Undoubtedly, On the Silver Globe captivates with its visual side – brutal and imaginative images, for example in the crucifixion scene, are very memorable. Even if it is difficult to agree with the opinion that Żuławski’s film is the best work in the history of the genre, one must admit that it remains one of the most original.
On the Silver Globe
- Director: Andrzej Żuławski. Screenplay: Andrzej Żuławski. Cinematography: Andrzej J. Jaroszewicz. Set design: Tadeusz Kosarewicz, Jerzy Śnieżawski. Music: Andrzej Korzyński. Starring: Andrzej Seweryn (Marek), Jerzy Trela (Jerzy), Grażyna Dyląg (Ihezal), Waldemar Kownacki (Jacek), Iwona Bielska (Marta), Jerzy Grałek (Piotr), Elżbieta Karkoszka (Ada), Krystyna Janda (Aza) and others. Production: Pryzmat Film Group (1976-1978), Kadr Film Group (1986-1987), Poland 1987, colour, 157 minutes.
Originally written in Polish by Robert Birkholc, translated to Polish by PG, Jul 2019
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