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“On the Silver Globe,” “The Valentino Collection”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: Andrzej Zulawski’s “On the Silver Globe,” Polart, 1987]

What we talk about when we talk about “lost film” pertains, more often than not, to celluloid allowed to decay into nitrate goo, usually at the hands of neglectful businesses who saw little reason to preserve films once they’d had their theatrical run. But Andrzej Zulawski’s “On the Silver Globe” (1987) is another kind of lost altogether — a berserk, one-of-a-kind science fiction epic, conceived and fashioned by Europe’s most notorious hyperbolist, the production of which was halted and destroyed in 1978 by the censors in Poland, who probably didn’t know what in the name of a pagan god to make out of Zulawski’s outlandish, gory, screaming-mimi footage, but saw clearly that it wasn’t what the Politburo had in mind when it came to Communist culture. Zulawski expatriated to France in a depressed rage; after he returned to a democratized Poland in 1986, he was convinced by Film Polski and the loyal cast and crew to assemble the film anyway, shooting new footage, recording narration to fill in the story gaps, etc., for a kind of honorary screening at Cannes. After that, “On the Silver Globe” vanished — Zulawski did not want it publicly shown, and it quickly became one of the most hankered-after unseen films of the modern age.

In fact, when I wrote about Zulawski and “On the Silver Globe” for Film Comment five years ago (I’d seen a bootleg), I labeled the film (and I promise, this will exhaust my self-quotation rights for the next decade), “one of cinema’s most appalling, breathtaking follies, and the most frightening art film you will never see.” That is, until now — somehow, someone wrested it from Zulawski’s embittered grasp, and here it is, sans explanation, on DVD. Newcomers to Zulawski’s filmmaking might be discombobulated even if the film weren’t a fragmentary cobble-job: the tone he doggedly attains, the manner in which he ratchets up his cast and camera, is as close to skull-splitting psychotic frenzy as movies have gotten. No actor reads lines realistically in a Zulawski film when he can howl them in maddened agony; no shot simply captures a landscape when it can scramble and catapult and race like a starving cheetah. “On the Silver Globe” is, of course, a special case (the only Zulawski film to ever get a theatrical release here was 1981’s “Possession,” a portrait of dissolving marriage that involved a Carlo Rambaldi monster and a measure of procreative-sexual unease that makes David Cronenberg look like Nora Ephron). The story is pulled from a famous series of Polish science fiction novels, the “Moon” trilogy, written by Zulawski’s own granduncle, and here it is mostly told in narration over footage of contemporary Warsaw: A disastrous mission to the Moon (Zulawski used the Gobi desert and the shores of the Black Sea) spawns a primitive society that, a few generations down the road, hails an investigating cosmonaut as their messiah and warrior-king in the battle against a race of winged mutants.

But it’s the primal, ghastly originality of Zulawski’s Dantean visuals that brand the memory: armies of black-robed savages dancing through mysterious rituals on white-sanded beaches; the sea water in flames behind a slow-motion shore battle between moon-men and mutants; tribal dramas played out in what looks like a hand-carved cavern the size of a warehouse; cinema’s most appalling crucifixion; a mob of heretical victims impaled — as in, Vlad-the-Impaler-impaled, through the rectum — on 25-foot, intestine-roped stakes on the same beach, captured by Zulawski in a crane shot that launches high enough to hear one of the poor bastards choke out a few last words of protest. “On the Silver Globe” is an unfinished thing; it’s both difficult to say it’s a successful film as it stands — that was certainly never Zulawski’s intention — and to imagine what it might’ve amounted to, almost 30 years since its plug was pulled. But you’re not likely to see anything remotely like it, ever.

A more traditionally lost-and-found box of rarities, the new Flicker Alley two-disc set of Rudolph Valentino vehicles acts like an immaculate time machine, not to a silent-film era of auteur masterpieces, but of the simple, empathic melodramas easily captivating Americans in a TV-less world. Herein lies the allure of archival effluvia for the hardcore cinephile — a sunset filmed in a classic iris-halo in 1921 retains an inevitable poignancy that, far from being beside the aesthetic point, encapsulates what is sad and beautiful and memorial and human about cinema. Then there’s Valentino himself, an icon as legendary for his unprecedented popularity among moviegoers (well, female moviegoers) as for that popularity’s peculiarly short shelf life (only five years or so, from 1921’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” to his spectacularly mourned death in 1925, and even the latter half of that period saw Valentino’s star waning). Today, he’s an oddity: an inexpressive, Italian-born snake-like gigolo-type (which is how he was branded by a disdainful masculine press), half angelic nancy-boy and half dolphin-esque hunk. (No one, not even Douglas Fairbanks, displayed so much well-defined buffness, and no one in Hollywood would until 50 years later.) He was clearly the first male movie star made famous only and exclusively by his ability to ignite the loins of his female viewers. All other considerations were off the table.

The DVD set is comprised entirely of his non-hits — not the movies that created a nationwide craze, but the films that otherwise shored up Valentino’s strange and precarious career and serve as a background to understanding his phenomenon: pure romantic hokum as a well-meaning society heir in “A Society Sensation” (1918), the three-reel version of which was edited down from six and re-released in 1924 to capitalize on Valentino’s fame; swarthy villain work in the Marguerite Namara melodrama “Stolen Moments” (1920); “Moran of the Lady Letty” (1922), a blithely enjoyable yarn about a stranded society fellow taken aboard a mercenary ship and shown the ropes, a project that was conscientiously devised to macho-up his image; and “The Young Rajah” (1922), a faux-exotic return to Sheik-dom that survives here only in pieces, abetted by stills, original intertitles and promotional materials. Naturally, the set is bubbling over with supps: promotional ephemera, stills, vintage shorts, new docs, bio info, a map of Valentino’s homes and famous funeral site, original tribute songs from the ’20s, a 1925 audio recording with the mysterious memorial-attending “Lady in Black,” rare trailers and scrap footage, and, preposterously, a good deal more.

“On the Silver Globe” (Polart) is now available on DVD; “The Valentino Collection” will be available on September 11th.


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…


A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.