Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fantasy Phallus Fallacy: SATURN 3 (1980)

"You're inadequate, Major... in every area."
Nothing's easy when you're young, and when you're old nothing's hard, as the saying went... before Viagra. Oh foul Pfizer, accursed stumbling block towards the stars, removing man's chance to e'er unyoke from the leaden ox cart of longing, lust, shame and regret! It used to be that after a few decades of plowing away, sewing the oats as it were, men could leave that field and retire to pasture. What choice did they have, sulk and stomp their hoofs? Have one more girl pat them on the back before rolling over and lighting a cigarette in quiet disappointment? After about five of those pats in a row, bro, even the stubbornest satyr would just give up and go fishing instead.  But now, alas middle-aged men never need to unyoke from the oxcart of endless hungry ghost tail-chasing desire. Barred by drugs from exiting fertility's prison, men remain screwing into the grave, unable to enjoy the kingly wisdom that comes with accepted impotence.

And like the 'canon' of 'straight white male' literature at the time (Cheever, Updike, Albee, Nabokov, Amis, etc.), cinema dealt often with this very issue. In the 60s-70s, adults did not live to amuse their children or live in constant fear something will happen to them. Instead, parents played bridge, swapped spouses at key parties, and went to the movies regularly, and left the kids at home with a babysitter. At the movies, male impotence was considered such a major event in a man's life that some auteurs addressed it in nearly every film (Kubrick, for example). It's easy to forget just how many damn writers there were at the time chronicling their Great White Male's slow softening. All of them living comfy livese ensconced in the Ivory tower or some other perch of bourgeois comfort (to fall from), their mid-life crisis invariably consists of bedding one of their fans, students, or child's babysitters, and of course faculty back-stabbing ("that's how you play 'get the guests'"). Full of drugged or drunk debauchery and fearless examinations of the disintegrating straight white male alcoholic psyche and sometimes a hot young thing as the last life ditch life preserver in a Jon Krakauer-level storm. Still just an illusion, a mirage, even if she's real but at least your mind thinks it's real, til it doesn't.

But, more than just a boot out the gates of fertile Eden, it was a chance to see the sign posted on those gates, a flaccid scythe like a "fasten seat belts" light above one's head within mortality's 707, a reminder to stow the bags, make out a will, and put all tray tables in upright positions, if you'll pardon my French. And to begin to prepare one's soul for immanent departure.

Hearing the phrase "no atheists in a foxhole,"
God invented war. Impotence was its first lobbed shell.
General Ripper's bodily fluids draining like a sinkhole,
a muddy black paintbrush crotch, rinsing out
between holy branch water and blinding rage fluoride.
And I shall say no more.
I'd not let God hear further of what turns macho atheists
into priestly eunuchs.

Acrylics never dry just right
but with a gel gloss finish we can pass it off
as free abstraction.
We can write a thing on "the Lost Generation." If its the 1920s,
Hiroshima is safely stored behind the decades yet to come,
and no one else will print your tales but the dirty books guys.
So we added a bunch of sex,
to get it banned back home.
Ka-ching. Free advertising.

And kids, that's how 'the Great White Male' invented art and literature: as a way to say fuck you back to God, to blow it up, at least in effigy, to be just blasphemous enough to be banned, and so make dollars, to become immortal by sneering at death, thus warding God off foxholes as recruitment tools. And God didn't take it personally, anymore than a good dad would take offense over a child's bedtime tantrum. Good for his lungs, to scream like that, God might say.

And thus, cinema was born, screaming in silence.
D.W. Griffith urged soldiers to throw down their arms as brothers (in Intolerance)
What a chump. Luckily no one listened.
They were too mad at him
for the Birth of a Nation. 
(We wanted to be the only child.)


1980 came like a reverse thruster, and a male star fading out of virility's fickle spectrum was still something to base a whole film on, like a reverse fireworks display.

I can only imagine it's intentional that 'Saturn 3' is also the name of a hospital temp. monitor.

Kirk Douglas plays "the Major" i.e. Adam, a hydroponic botanical scientist trying to solve a rapidly dying world's food shortage. He's staying on Saturn's third moon, in an octopus-armed hydroponic garden complex inside the moon rock. The star of the show, this cool serpentine bachelor pad is all for him to putter around in, chillin' like a villain in his bathrobe, with a cute dog and a babe half his age (Farrah Fawcett-Majors, no less) as his dutiful, sensual assistant. What a life! Cut off from the world for months at a time,  they work, laugh, shower, 'make love' and sup off the only continuous supply of fresh fruit left in the galaxy.

What it all boils down to isn't fruits and vegetables but 'breeding rights.' You can call it indulgent, but in the late 70s, virility wasn't a little blue pill away, so a man hiring some girl half his age to feed him when he's 64 didn't seem predatory, at least no more predatory (or pathetic) than some old lion fighting to keep his pride when younger challengers are ever in eyeball range.

Today, from the lofty vantage atop our endless chemical boners, we can watch Kirk jump rope and run laps and throttle a much younger man while wearing nothing but a bath towel and think he seems pretty vain, and more than a tad scared. Who is all this for? He already has the "It" girl of the mid-70s in his bed (we all had the poster). Kirk's Major is not a narcissist so much as a satyr afraid his horns are coming loose. It's not like Kirk is one of those simpering fading male stars desperate to keep our fickle love from wandering off. He doesn't care if we love him or not, he doesn't even care if we respect him or not. He just wants us to think he's still virile. He's just taking that mirage U-turn all male actors take when they see the road they're on has no more exits, just dead end credits rolling into view on the horizon like a distant ominous fog, but they still have time to try and slow down.

You can kind of see it in his eyes in the picture above - the short guy drive to seem virile coupled to the "this girl's only 100 pounds but she's still crushing my rib cage - WTF!?" old guy anxiety. Dude,
And as his 'assistant,' Farrah Fawcett (no stranger to sci-fi fear of aging--she was the plastic surgeon assistant in Logan's Run) was facing her own issues of obsolescence. Farrah was still the girl  on the wall of every boy in America but by 1980 her poster's edges (my copy anyway) had yellowed and ripped from scotch tape residue and time. She'd made a major mistake when she quit Charlie's Angels after the first season, for she instantly earned our collective displeasure, like Chevy Chase when he left Saturday Night Live. Leaving the vehicle that made you a hot ticket after a single season was--and is--considered a kind of betrayal, at least to us fans. In doing so Farrah became embedded in our minds as the kind of girl who tricks you into thinking she likes you but then you realize she's hanging on your arm solely to make someone else jealous. She was 32 when she made this movie, and Kirk was twice that and they've supposedly been together alone up there for three years. Adam makes sure the young male eyeing his figurative pride, interloper Benson (Harvey Keitel) knows this, knows that even after three years alone together, and at his age, things are still 'working' for them.

Needless to say, we jealous Angels fans were secretly pleased Saturn 3 got bad reviews. I was tickled pink. But now, so much older and socially aware, I feel little either desire or contempt for Farrah, I can only feel concern. She seems so very thin I can't help but wonder if she's anorexic. Besides, we all loved Cheryl Ladd by then anyway.

Irregardless, now that it's on a gorgeous Blu-ray, the film glows -- a unique example of 70s 'great white male in decline' science fiction, truly 'adult' rather than matinee serial stuff. We can appreciate it's finger on the pulse of mature themes like environmentalism and overpopulation alongside the hip clout of Playboy and all the great groovy privileges the college-educated, middle-aged straight white male was permitted. And most of all, it's finger is on the pulse of such permission's immanent extinction. Our private little sanctuaries from worries about the ozone layer, population levels, our revels in the libidinal excesses of patriarchally-coded sexism were about to replaced: ET was coming and the nuclear family (often sans father) would now be the protagonist. The dad had made his bed and could now lie in it: the middle-aged man facing his own immanent "abort time" while gallivanting with girls half his age and taking tons of free drugs, long live the family he left behind: sainted hard-working, often absentee mother, and the support group of dewey-eyed children investigating strange noises.

But in SATURN 3, among other things, we're clearly still meant to see things from Kirk's wearily responsible aging male shoulders. His jealousy of a younger man and fear of being kicked out of this blue and red-veined Eden and replaced by a psycho robot (Benson names him with a subliminally apt verb: Hector), all coincide with the relentless disillusionment and demoralization that is the inevitable by-product of longevity (especially of the childless variety). "The Major" makes joking threats about planning to "flush" Benson and his robot into space but these threats seem petulantly (anal phase) infantile rather than genuine (he should do it and keep quiet about it, make it 'scan' as an accident to not rile Farrah's liberal feathers). Alas, the only time Kirk's Adam is courageous is when he declares that he's old and ready to reach "abort time." A combination of Carousel in Logan's Run, a belated trip to Planned Parenthood, and a firing from the global collective via Skype, the 'abort time' idea never really pans out but makes for interesting subtext, as Adam seems genuinely relieved when anticipating his own death -- and maybe those men who've struggled for so long to appear young and virile to their much younger girlfriends that it's aged them even faster understand why he would.

So twentieth century in his ideals and patriarchal sense of white male entitlement it's like he must have just come out of cryogenic deep freeze, Adam wants us to know he can still be flirty and happy with a babe half his age, though when they're supposedly being flirty and loving alone together, his tendency is to shout in her face and bug his eyes and roll his mouth around. This clowning makes it seem like he's trying to distract a crying infant rather than converse with an adult, especially in bed. At least Benson uses his indoor voice with her, even if it isn't exactly "his" at all but rather dubbed (the Brit producers of the film were alarmed by Keitel's Brooklyn accent) so it sounds like it's coming from another room. 


Though directed by the generally great Stanley Donen, this troubled production originally was to be directed by award-winning Kubrick/Star Wars production designer John Barry. It was his story that--back in 1978--priapic British bad boy novelist Martin Amiss adapted. And true to his rep, the production design is gorgeous, easily the best part of the film. According to common lore, Kirk's titanic male ego and a difficult-to-control seven foot robot threw first-time director Barry for a loop and after a few days of floundering, Kirk basically launched a one-man mutiny, forcing producer Donen to step in and replace him. Too many cooks means Saturn 3 doesn't really pull far enough in any direction to make much of an impression, but it's really not that bad, especially now that hindsight has disintegrated the lingering schadenfreude. I won't go so far as to say it's great, but if anyone had the right to mishmash the style, look and sound of 2001, Star Wars and Alien with the pre-Lucas sci-fi of Kubrick, Charles Heston dystopia films and emergency botanical ark ships (all the rage in the 70s, i.e. Silent Running), it's Barry, for he designed so very, very many of them.

And the idea of getting 'white drunk male in disintegration' author Martin Amiss to write the script was a good one as this kind of thing wasn't done in sci-fi, where the audience demographic were teenagers, not men in the midst of that midlife crisis where one still thinks of their immanent "flush" with a fuck you to the world instead of quiet panic, for whom virility seems to be simmering just out of reach on the cutting room floor (look fast for nudity flashes for both Farrah and Kirk). Luckily there's a whole site devoted to the strange saga of this film, Gregory Moss's indispensable Something is Wrong on Saturn 3.

One thing wrong of course is that it's initial thrust was misunderstood - it fails as a thriller but succeeds as a study in male sexual anxiety. If Roman Polanski had directed it, Saturn 3 might be considered a classic: he explored the 'young virile outsider who joins a semi-retired or vacationing hedonistic May-December couple for head games in some enclosed isolated space' plot myriad times from as far back as 1962's Knife in the Water and Cul-de-sac (1966) and as far forward as 1992's Bitter Moon. And of course, if it came out in the mid-60s-even early-70s, during the height of the 'socially-minded' adult sci-fi period (Soylent Green, Silent Running)

"This is literature, baby"

I think Kirk wanted this role because it let him harpoon his own priapic Adonis image, just as his frequent co-star (they had great chemistry) Burt Lancaster had in 1968's The Swimmer. It seemed only fair, and competitive, perhaps that--since buddy Burt stayed shirtless all the way through this 1968 cult classic--Kirk should throttle a young upstart while totally naked, be shirtless in the shower, and walk around with a towel on as he exercises, jobs and frolics with a woman young enough to be his daughter in Saturn 3. Since, in The Swimmer, Burt blows his chance for some May-Decemberism by getting too traditional and possessive with his young blonde tag-a-long Julie (Janet Landgard), Kirk takes note, and he and Farrah start the film already hooked-up for three years! 

As any serial monogamist can tell you: three years is the magic number. After three years, no matter how great the sexual chemistry, things are just starting to get routine, whatever you needed from the other person has been permanently absorbed into the psyche. The subtextual veins of breakdown begin to appear on the rock. It's long enough to emerge from the spell and realize one's complicity in the fucked-up future (the broken marriage's effect on the dog, or the kids). Spending these three years living as privileged bachelor w/sexy young thing in comfortable food-rich isolation, avoiding his same-age friends before they can exclude him from bridge parties, the Major has been doing what few men his age get to: actually living out the full term of his midlife crisis. It's a good run, that three-year tour, but the bill is a mother. There's no way to pay it, except through one's own subsequent and permanent oblivion.

The SWIMMER, living the American dream, Kafka-style.
No one wants to end up like Burt at the end of The Swimmer, hammering at his own locked screen door, or whimpering that Barbara Hershey is his only link to the outside world ala Von Sydow Hannah and her Sisters -- that's chump stuff. A real man knows he has to act like he's fine even when the walls close in, so she can leave without feeling guilty. If he can do it with a sneer, buddy, that's so punk. He can even pretend he's only pretending not to care. He can sit on a rock and howl her name (not the younger woman, but the ex-wife--like Donald Pleasance howling for Agnes at the end of Cul-de-Sac), but he can't grovel.

What redeems Kirk's Adam in my jaundiced eyes is that he genuinely doesn't give a shit about the outside world, with or without her. But he also knows it's inevitable she'll leave him, and if she stays around as he gets senile it will be even worse.

In space, no one can hear you scream, but neither can they see you snivel. If a man cries in the woods and no one's around to see it, he's still cool. That's the rules.

So snivel away, Major Adam. Pain can be endured better without the humiliation of some girl trying to snap you out of it because she thinks you're faking, or "being ridiculous" as one girl sneered at me when I was in a K-hole. Don't you dare care if she won't believe you're in a pit, dug by malicious elves made of white noise static, there's no time for that when you're on the floor in a K-hole in a packed rock show - Califone at the Knitting Factory, 1998, broh.

But when you're alone on a moon, you can simper and clutch the old photographs in peace, and enjoy every last self-indulgent choking gust of sob in peace. You can be naked, just for one day...

In the Gloaming, damn right.
But on Saturn 3, the term "day" is meaningless.

And  when no one's around to care one way or the other, you stop performing your little dance and the crushing anxiety dies instantly. Man, were you ever tired of having to hold back your gasses and suck in your gut all the the time your lover was over. Trying to act frisky and carefree when all you wanted to do is sit in a rocking chair and listen to "In the Gloaming" like Joseph Cotten in Niagara? Forget it.

Maybe that macho exhibitionist brio can help explain the years 1992-3 when among other things Keitel himself was full-frontal naked in not one but TWO different art house hits, The Piano and Bad Lieutenant. Can it be that working with Kirk on this film planted some kind of priapic vanity seed that bore nudist fruit when he he was finally old enough to have his own mid-life crisis?

The decision to create this beautifully-modeled robot chassis ("the first in the 'demi-god' series) - the ribs made of metal plates and muscle and tendon as pressurinzed tubing - with such a dumb little BoBo the owl meets a hermit crab eye stalks speaks to a genuine castration complex, for all his height and strength, this monster got no game, and no Cialis, only unattractive obsession. 


What's vexing is that, beyond the character of Adam, Kirk Douglas the actor seems to be suffering from the vainglory of being both short and Napoleonic complex-ridden (which made him such a good villain in noirs like Out of the Past and Strange Love of Martha Ivers) and old/"inadequate" in character and age-centric vain reality. He makes up for these "areas" by making sure both we and Benson see him with his robe open (a hundred sit-ups a day!) and in bed with Alex, not just once, either. He's a mix of Hugh Hefner and a Jack LaLanne. We vainglorious males on our third mid-life crisis can only wince at the veiled joint pain in his eyes as he cavorts and frolics. Martin Amiss' vast knowledge of mid-life crises male vanity must have expanded tenfold when observing a titanic ego like Douglas' while on set: "When actors get old they get obsessed about wanting to be nude," Amiss noted in an interview. "... and Kirk wanted to be naked.”

On his first night he offers Alex a 'blue' and preemptively blows his chances with her by saying "you have a lovely body. May I use it?" as if she's just a kind of overside Kleenex. Naturally the answer is no - but we remember how poorly he took the 'no' to his pilot license in the films' first scene/s. "That's penally unsocial on Earth," he says after noting the Major uses Alex for his own 'consumption', adding that there "we use each other's bodies for pleasure." Noting the old Major is "obsolete, and frightened of the new ways," Benson refers to sexual permissiveness as 'hospitality' and mentions they now eat dogs on Earth rather than have them as pets. A real keeper, old Benson.

Despite his crass and psychotic manner, Keitel is impossibly gorgeous here, especially in his reptilian green space suit. It's his strangely remote non-Brooklyn voice (dubbed by Ray Dotrice's) that makes us uneasy - it's so void of any life, pleasure, or compassion. The idea of wanting Alex, but not having her, 'consumes' him and he doesn't know how to handle it. They're literally from different worlds, and though we never see this future Earth we imagine it like in Soylent Green, overpopulated, polluted, and underfed, albeit with a lot more pills.

As the days/nights progress Benson builds his only friend, a robot who soon turns on him when it absorbs his psychotic obsession with Alex. Benson keeps barging in on the happy couple in bed, showing off all the machine's new developments like a kid who never gives his parents a chance to make him an organic sibling rival. Benson shows off Hector's six-brain thermos (stacked like Pringles in an electrified saline solution) and between the brains' deductive power and Harold's steel-ribbed physique (modeled after the sketches of Da Vinci), Benson has made a gorgeous intimidating monster, as good a use for all that sexual frustration as any. Was it Kirk who demanded the head of Hector be nonexistent, so to speak, the imposing threat's member lobbed off in pre-game castration?

If you think this picture above is hot, just stare at her eyes and teeth for a few minutes and imagine 
being a ten year-old and this is your very first ever poster (indeed it was one of 'THE' first ever posters, 

certainly the first ever sold rolled up and available at the 7-11 counter where we got 
comic books and tried to see the Playboy cover behind the brown partition.
Staring staring at it for hours while half asleep in the early AM, still half-dreaming,

super impressionable and easily terrified the way kids are. 
Note the way the smile becomes desperate, pained, demonic, mocking, evil,

 the eyes wide with terror and pain as if she's experiencing that terrible agony at the
dentist when your jaw muscles start to ache from having to bare your full row of teeth,

 open for so long at the dentist, now alternate that with that she's a devouring demon 
(in the semi-dark her eyes and teeth seemed to glow, as if under a black light)

I'm running out of breath (30 years of smoking), but the film has a lot more noteworthy weirdness going: the Elmer Bernstein score hovers over the weird, half-assed attempt to be Kubrickian-style opener - like a kid eager to be as cool as Richard Strauss without ripping off Also Spracht Zarathustra too overtly, so tempering his timpani bombast with ominous little Jerry Goldsmith Alien pipes and (his own) thunderous string rumblings while the equivalent of an Imperial cruiser travels (silently ala 2001- no engine roar) over the top of the screen towards the infinity point, as was the style of the time. The genius behind the music for both CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON and ROBOT MONSTER, Bernstein is always way better than the material calls for, but he never overdoes it. Frankly, it's not his best work, and during the lengthy chase scenes, the robot stalking the pair of lovers with relentless shambling determination through the winding blue-red-yellow pipe-lined, cavern-etched tunnels, there's no music at all, leaving what should be ominous suspense moments strangely flat. (verdict: a Carpenter carpet score of heartbeat style low-end synths would have put it over big).

Either way, John Barry's set design and costumes are all awesome, a fusion of insect arthropod designs with astronaut suits like some cross between 2001, Star Wars, Microcosmos and Tales of Hoffman (below).

Another one of the cooler ideas at work is that Benson has a jack in the back of his neck to connect to a thought radio to download himself--muscle memory, reasoning, and--alas--obsession--into Harold - connecting them and lifting and lowering his arms, etc. What he can't know, of course, is that a mighty Caliban is forming from the earth and ether. We realize why sanity was so important for this mission.

The problems too are many. Though he's in a dashing vaguely reptilian flight outfit and insect mask, his impassive features and dubbed voice wailing in voiceover monotone about the older vs newer model man, there's no real conceivable threat from either the robot or Benson against naive Alex here, so nothing is at stake. The robot has no means of reproducing ala Demon Seed. So the real threat is just to the masculine vanity of Adam. His need to prove male omnipotency (in every area) was already considered the height of harpoonable offenses even back in the 1980s; sensitive astronauts were too busy staring down their younger selves in the bathroom mirror.

Diabolik's pad; External view (deep in the caverns)


I'm partial to SATURN 3 because whenever I get the chance to sleep really, really late, I dream about a cavernous refuge just like Alex and Adam's groovy pad/greenhouse set-up. A deep basement bunker that's part Dr. NO's secret lair and part the bomb shelter in TERMINATOR 3 (and probably SILENT RUNNING which I haven't seen - as I don't want to imagine being stuck on a ship alone with Bruce Dern), it might seem weird that the villain's secret lair in a Bond movie, or a bomb shelter hewn from rock deep underground, is my happy place, but I'm a Pisces, and need lots of alone time to not feel too self-absorbed when socializing, which is a very hard balance to make. But I think it's tied into relapsing, as there's barrels of whiskey down in my fantasy cave, and always W.C. Fields tapes (and harkens back to basements of my youth), air conditioning -- as there's no long such a dichotomy as night and day, no time when one should be asleep or awake, no curfew or bed time or wake up time, just drunk time and oblivion. Drinking any other way is really just a tease.

So SATURN 3 really resonates for me, personaly, as a kind of mid-life crisis fantasia, especially being certain you, your girl and your dog are the only biological organisms around. With its miles of multicolored neon tubing and build-in rock, oxygen producing plant life, the Saturn 3 hideout rocks an aesthetic that's like how I used to remember Space Port and Spencer's Gifts as a child in the 70s when the Montgomeryville (PA) mall first opened. It was a real future we could at least dream of dwelling in, even sit in the massage chair and imagine we owned it. The Major's hydroponic pleasure palace reminds me of that, part Hefner mansion and the Overlook too, with samples of HR Giger biomorphic architecture (the hallways 'ribbed' with a spinal cord ceiling), its winding black rock tunnels bespeak of both freedom and insulation, everything a May-December romance needs. Long winding tracking shots find the pair jogging through the tunnels, snogging, showering, exercising and sometimes even working, like being able to sleep in the mall and walk around in your bedroom pajamas and socks along its long hallways, feeling perfectly safe, especially from younger male competition for what you're 'consuming' so uninhibitedly.

In general though, what makes so many men like myself imagine, as a kind of veritable 'happy place' deep-deep underground (or underwater), with vats of whiskey, weed, movies and one or less (younger and therefor more impressionable and less judgmental) women, is a chance to escape, not just from nagging wives and mothers-in-law, work, and the IRS, but aging and/or dying, failures in family and all the things which maturity and linear development all but ensures wear a man down like an icicle sharpened on a grindstone. For my one buddy's dad, it was always Das Boot, watched alone in the corner of his study with a big snifter of cognac after the wife had gone to bed; we turned him onto another (almost) all-male seafaring film, the John Huston Moby Dick. He folded it into the repertoire. For Howard Hughes, of course, as we all know, it was the (also all-male) Ice Station Zebra. You get the similarity - submarines are pretty "deep deep down" (i.e. the underground lair in Danger: Diabolik. It's the repository of all the aging male's dreams, the happy safe zone of sleep outside space and time and consequence, a place to frolic with your young gorgeous lady friend or at least drink and work alongside hard-working and hard-drinking men without wives around to point at the clock and frown.

But then, the sub is torpedoed by the shrill alarm clock or the wife waking up to trudge downstairs and give you an angry sleepy stare- resentful you'd do anything fun without her, though she turns all fun to stone with her touch. The ship is sinking even lower, so quick! Desert Island discs! The ship going down fast; your library is too damned vast. She's coming back from the store any minute to resume her harangue, so quick, flee! Grab what you can. What do you grab?

I doubt anyone would grab SATURN 3 in that situation but they should, because it's a movie about grabbing those same discs, so it's meta. Besides, none of us have or likely will experience that opportunity to actually be marooned on the desert island, so we don't know what we'll be in the mood to watch when we're there. When I was leaving my wife for another woman, shhhh, 13 years ago, I grabbed together a decent notebook full of essential movies and we drove the hell out of there, my Alex and I. Luckily my wife cooled down and didn't set fire to the rest of my collection as she promised. That's as close as I came. The girl I was with found it impossible to pay attention to any of the cool films I tried to show her, only POISON IVY. She loved that, as I love it. And I loved Tom Skerritt in in, as the dad who falls off the wagon (love that convert morning vodka pull) after being seduced by a young prime-of-her-hotness Drew Barrymore while wife Cheryl Ladd slowly dies of some respiratory illness up in her silken boudoir upstairs and 'plain' daughter Sara Gilbert begins to realize her hottie friend is blowing up her spot. That'll teach you to try and make friends, Sara Gilbert!

That's why the idea of Benson/Hector compromising the Major's situation works in SATURN 3, because it gets that the 70s mustache is coming off with or without our aid. The aesthetic of every straight white male's man cave, even if he is self-aware enough to laugh sardonically at his own absurdity, reflects this grim gallows' void lurking in the heart of sexual gratification, of 'sleeping around'. It's a tale of a time when, before he was saddled with a career, a wife, and children, a man was free to roam the galaxy in his private mobile sanctum, wall-to-wall carpeted van and kickass hydrophonc speakers, 8-track player blasting rockin' tunes, getting high as a kite, and tooling around exploring the vast emptiness around their home planet township. Barbarella's own ship resembles this - with crazy colors, some bizarre shape halfway between a lipstick and a triple dildo, and inside pink wall to wall carpet and  a big mirror screen. Sooo sexy, without guilt or slut-shaming either, those two things invented by shrewish wives, insurance salesmen, and priests around your kitchen table while you're gone three days or weeks at a time and come in reeking of perfume, sex, and alcohol/cigarettes/pot...

Fuck those sober idiots! I'm not peein' in no damned cup, mom!

III. The Magus Becomes the Hefner: 
Jungian Archetypal Comparison between 

From R-L: Daughter (Anima), Magus (non du pere/ forbidding father), Robot, young interloper 

From L-to-R: (Daughter-age) Lover, reprobate (ex-magus / 'primal father'), young interloper, Robot

Simmer awhile with the comparison maybe of 1953's Forbidden Planet with Saturn 3 and the archetypal resonance is clear. The anima was a nubile daughter whose suitor was MIA. They met, but he had to go to war, so courtship was over a weekend, but everyone was back in the early 50s, so the innocence was losing its patina fast. The father was no longer a celibate guardian, the 'place holder'. In the crafty eyes of Wilder, he began 'banging' cocktail waitresses and secretaries and every unmarried woman--maybe now liberated by widowhood--was expected to be a slut for any man who left a $100 tip or promised a raise. Their angry wives at home were busy too though, starting women's lib and raring to shove their sexuality right down their husbands' throats, which I applaud, naturally,.

Where am I going with this? How can I know? Inside every red riding hood is a grandmother skin-wearing old wolf and vice versa. The anima and magus/sage on their island, alone together, Pai Mai and Beatrix Kiddo on the hilltops, this is where knowledge is passed. The magus need never be jealous of his anima leaving him, never crave the insurance she stays faithful to the end, so he doesn't die alone by the radiator (not sure why, but there's always a radiator). To endure as her magus/father figure he must, in a sense, merge with the young man who takes his symbolic place (who comes at first against the patriarch's wishes, i.e. he 'intrudes'). In other words, the magus is not just himself, not just her father or the figure who worries he'll soon be dying alone by the radiator, but the ultimate signifier - pointing to naught else but the mirror. We look to see him but he is not even reflected, so merged is he with the infinite. BUT he can see you. As in Mozart's The Magic Flute (where he's called Sarastro - bellow left) and Shakespeare's The Tempest (Prospero), his mission is to give up his mission, to pass the torch and vanish.

The young man earns his right to take his place only after a trial by fire (namely to test courage and resolve) and showing all needed qualities for the role of the patriarch. If he passes he allows the magus to abdicate his role as ultimate signifier. That's the trick, only the undeserving of power seek to keep it. The magus' daughter's wedding is a symbolic death of his own split/self; he can merge full with his anima and be the indulgent grandfather instead of the stern authority who sets the curfews (i.e. John Wayne after the climactic fight that ends Red River - watch him closely and you see the change, the way his whole body and mood lightens from passing the load). This is how he is able to not have to actually die to be free of his anxiety about his "little girl's" welfare without him. Unless he's devoured by his own primordial freaks of the Id before he has time to have a heart attack chasing his grandchild through the tomato plants, he dissolves again; from the Fisher King and now.... reborn as the cleansing fire in Harry's eyes. There wasn't enough time, Michael.

But then... there never is.

We can consider in Forbidden Planet, how Morbius' daughter Alta is just at the 'ripe' age right when Nielsen arrives, as if summoned by Morbius's own Krell-boosted will, ala Prospero's storm-heralding spell in the Tempest. Morbius' dire warnings and protestations are merely part of the rite of passage (mirrored for example in all the warnings before the initiation rites in The Magic Flute). In Saturn 3, Adam keeps encouraging Alex to go down to visit Earth, albeit without him, even before the obsessive young nutjob arrives with his robot. Adam is facing his own realization that one shouldn't let one's younger paramour see you get too old, lest they lose their glowing image of their father/benefactor/mentor as a cool character instead of an old pantaloon-and-slippers grandfather-type, soft and "inadequate in every area" sulking in the motel room, making models of old model T cars and smoking furiously to "In the Gloaming" while their Marilyn dances with the young bucks outside in a provocative pink dress listening to "Kiss" while the Falls roar below.

Comparing the Saturn 3 and Forbidden Planet we also see the effect two decades of shifting cultural mores on sci-fi fantasy, which--more than any other genre--is generally the only genre that manages to be both very intellectual and very immature at the same time. As in Shakespeare's Tempest, Saturn 3 and Forbidden Planet offer a distinctly male-centric myth, both an older man reverie of an island paradise of self, with a devoted anima (Ariel / Altair / Alex), an alchemical mastery of elements (fairies / a planetary space complex / the Krell) and--as a side effect--the monsters of the unconscious (Caliban / Hector / Monster from the Id). This is a playland beyond the young man's obsessions with sex and hedonism; this is a playland of learning and comfort, and above all a playland without competition. No young buck is available to whisk away the daughter (or younger lover).

Just as with Adam and Alex's little love bunker under the Saturn moon's surface, in Forbidden Planet, the Krell wonders (left) are all Morbius' alone to explore. He doesn't even bring Alta down there - it's a giant massive man cave / den all to himself, alive and ever-humming and ready to erect whatever's needed from the ether. A similar relationship between a magus, a mancave giving him access to tremendous power, and a much-younger companion to keep him grounded, can be found too in the long-running BBC series, Dr. Who. What makes Saturn 3 alone of these films so definitively of its era, is that takes it to a romantic angle, reflecting both the 70s sexual openness, and the vanity of its male star. And how, paradoxically, we feel the most sympathy for him in trying to get it up (before Viagara) even at his advanced age. As the other magus characters--Prospero, Morbius, Sarastro--are beyond the need to prove virility, we're not forced to see the terror of impotence and age gushing behind their eyes.

The age difference between Saturn 3 lovers Kirk and Farrah is 32 years; 
the age difference between Forbidden Planet's daughter Anne Francis and father Walter Pigeon - 33 years. 


Despite or because of all this, I've long had a soft spot for Saturn 3. I was still in the throes of my Charlie's Angels fever when it came out (though not quite as vivid as it had been a few years earlier) and thought the derision heaped on Farrah for leaving was quite sexist and vile. My scrapbook laden with photos torn from magazines (especially concerning Kate Jackson). The Farrah poster was on my wall but by then starting to peel at the edges. I knew it wasn't her fault she'd left a hit show after one season only to have a movie career fizzle out from under her. That was the narrative the press had saddled her with, so the movie's actual qualities were immaterial. While it's not great by any stretch, but it doesn't deserve the sneers heaped on it, most of them by people just looking to kick an old man when he's down. They wanted it to be Star Wars or Alien, to hit the same thrill beats, but it harkens back to the era before sci-fi became gooey and slam-bang. It harkens back to the earlier seventies, with its films of older men facing death through May-December affairs, and sci-fi dealing with environmental issues, amok technology, doomsday and population control. 

Another reason: I'm a fan of Kirk Douglas. No one can yell with such ferocious masculine energy, both child and man in one howl, with the coiled rage of Kirk. I especially love his villain roles, like his 'easygoing bad guy' routine with Mitchum in Out of the Past. or snarling at Stanwyck in The Strange Loves of Mrs. Ivers or Lana in The Bad and the Beautiful. And while yes, his work here in Saturn 3 is the worst performance ever, by anyone, ever, it's also brilliant. An aging hopelessly insecure short guy complex-stricken superstar coasting past the 60-yard line, vainly trying to seem jubilant and airy like his spritely maiden Alex, he comes off instead as delusional and disturbing. You can see the wild panic in his eyes, the way his mouth contorts in grins as phony as a three dollar bill. I can see why less perceptive critics just thought the acting was bad, considering the small cast, and didn't dare dig deeper than the surface in an attempt to find something good (i.e. comparing it to Star Wars and Alien rather than Performance and Forbidden Planet).

All that said, it ends rather on point-- the trick to it is, as Jake Gideon does in All that Jazz, to kick over the board right before you're set to lose the game . The tragedy of the May-December thing is that there is really no honorable way out. You can have kids I guess, but that's kind of expensive, time-consuming, and grandiose (we see the end game of that with Colonel Rutledge in The Big Sleep). You can encourage her to leave, to go see the world and do new things (alone - you're too tired to mess with that dull tourist nonsense) but she won't, not without you. She doesn't want to go, she says, so much as to "have already been." (one of Saturn 3's throwaway great lines). Somewhere in there you know she's dealing with father issues through you, and you suspect it's not 100% healthy, but then again, what is? Meanwhile, her fertility and bloom of youth is passing and you're ready for the old folk's home. Is that really fair? Around and around it goes... 


I can assure you Kirk does a fine job dealing with this merry-go-round of fatalism and self-sacrifice, his viciousness towards Alex, and his final declaration of ah fuck it, is every great white fisher king two-legged Ahab's dream adieu. Sure it's a weird ending, a bit of a downer, but it's real and like Jake's "Bye-bye Life" number in All that Jazz, it's gutsy. 

At the end Alex is on a ship heading back to Earth, it looks like a first class cabin - replete with cocktails and full views of the approaching Earth. Mission accomplished. Kind of. Farrah is the bullet in Turner's brain, riding the Performance Borges photo all the way back to gross urban reality. 


Man, I'm not judging Kirk here, or myself, or any other schmuck who took the red pill, so to speak, as long as they're artists, actors, writers or characters. I'm just fascinated as these kind of things were still kind of shocking even in the 70s, yet acceptable (more so than now). I'm not attempting to justify it, but rather to consider the decade that bore it. Say what you will about Morbius and Altaira, alone together on Altair 4, there's no indication in her manner that some Krell energy incubus Caliban conjured from the most repressed and primordial depths of Morbius's subconscious Krell-brain-boosted mind is making the midnight Leland Palmer creep. That shows us three things: 1) a willingness to please the censors; 2) an almost idyllic faith in fatherly nobility which is admirable especially in today's film market where incestuous creep fathers are the only substitute to deadbeat weekend schmucks or bland Greg Kinnear replacements. and 3) that, with his boring paternal sense of measured scientific curiosity, Morbius has mastered the 'no of the father' Lacan writes of, in that he has relinquished the adolescent insistence on enjoyment, on pursuit of desire rather than knowledge. He gives orders to Alta, but is not threatened when they are not obeyed. Is this not the very definition of the 'good' father? BUT he kills the crew who would take him away, or somehow rain on his little private island parade. 

I've let myself ramble this far to indicate that, masculine identity crisis or no, Kirk is a MAN and his vanity issues are clearly related to being a man when erections weren't guaranteed at $17 a pill, and were therefore priceless. For unless the man is allowed his midlife crisis--the younger woman, the sports car, the space age bachelor pad, the weed/weightlifting weirdness--he can't realize that these things don't work, any more than a picture of the ocean works to quench a raging fire. If he lets go of needing to seem virile, he can finally realize it doesn't much matter how old he is or how boring he rambles: In space nobody can here you wheeze your last. There's a joy in that realization, once the despair wears off. Manly self assurance only comes when it's no longer relevant. Pushing Farrah away and flipping off the world, then, becomes Kirk's final badass diploma, all but handed him by the Wizard of Oz. Whether it was all a show to confuse the 'bot or no, it worked, didn't it? They all got free. Who's watering the plants while you're gone though, Major? No one can say, or wants to volunteer. Either way, it's not your problem anymore, you free-ass mother.

1. Something is Wrong on Saturn 3.
2. The 'boring' part is key, as part of the surrender to the symbolic castration of the social order (symbolized here perhaps by the jack in the back of Harvey's head) is the ability to let go of any need for approval, of being an entertainer, the father as embodier of the order is the "ultimate signifier" - and in making the law so Disney education film boring he asserts its truth.
3.... uh..
4. Wherein Kirk takes over on a ailing swashbuckler pic at Cinecatta when director Eddie G. Robinson takes ill. Robinson reads the pic is doing well so climbs out of bed to go take credit for it, spurred by his Lady Macbeth of a wife - the back-stabbing and egoic insecurity of Hollywood, in other words, trails BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL characters (kind of) across the pond. 


  1. I really like all the tangents and facets of this one, Erich. I only finally saw this movie a few years ago, after having wanted to see it since junior high. First things first: Farrah Fawcett was from the same shithole town I am from, Corpus Christi, Texas. It was a kind of happening place in the 60's and part of the 70's, when she lived there and when I was little, but forced bussing caused a lot of white flight, and the end of the Viet Nam War took away all the sweet, blood soaked money that had flowed into the Naval Air Station (The Blue Angels used to practice their drills over our part of town all the time, which made the future look imaginable and within reach), and of course the ups and downs of the oil industry have played havoc on any kind of stability the economy once had. It is also the first weigh station of gangland drug dealing this side of the Mexican border, so there is a lot of trashiness and poverty and rust and electronics that can't take the humidity. In short, Farrah Fawcett was always a role model for me, because when she left CC TX, she did not look back. She did not have a summer home. She didn't appear in the Buccaneer Days Parade, she worked hard to reach an apogee that would break the pull of that town, and believe me, it takes a lot to break it. The Gulf Coast tidal undertow is deep within anyone born there, but you have to be strong, because to accomplish anything at all, you have to break orbit, and she showed me that it was possible to do so. Most of my 8th grade teachers bragged that they went to school with her, all the coaches claimed to have taken her to the prom (debunked by the English teachers), so to me, as much as I hated her leaving Charlie's Angels, I knew that it must just be time to leave and I wished her well. I also had high hopes for Saturn 3, but that was one of those movies that never seemed to get released (Like that movie with Robert Mitchum and the boxing Kangaroo, or, Times Square).

    Kirk Douglas, on the other hand, should have hung it up after The Fury. When Amy Irving collapses into his arms and he picks her up like a rag doll he must protect, in the lovely wordless shot by Mr. DePalma, That could have been his, I am an Old Badass Grown Man - moment to disappear with. That movie is all over the place, but he is a camel hair coat of masculine stability in it. Ever since then, he has just been in the way. I am sorry he had a stroke and he has a speech impediment now, but when Melissa Leo won her well deserved Oscar a few years ago, and that conceited old geezer wouldn't hand her the statue and get off the stage, but instead started asking her if she wanted to go out dancing after the ceremony, all I could think was, You self entitled, creepy old man. You are everything I never want to be. He Hectored her to the point that if she was going to be remembered for even winning the award, she had to say "Fuck" during her acceptance speech, and then feign embarrassment. God Damn, old man, you have sucked for thirty years. Your time on the stage was literally over as soon as you mumbled your way through reading the contents of the envelope, you should have left. You out Baby Janed Mommie Dearest.

    And that is a drag, because he does indeed have a body of work to be proud of, and for that matter, a son with a body of work to be proud of. What more accolades could an old man want? He wants me to cheer him on for thinking he can hit on Melissa Leo, on her big night? No. He wants me to think he is a viable comedy star because he is old? No. He should have left us wanting more.

  2. And finally, The Swimmer. Burt Lancaster played that character the way he should be played. Don Draper ten years into the past's version of the future. A god of a charismatic man so self deluded he doesn't even know when the truth or the lies start or stop. The concept of swimming home, which worked so well as a short story, should never have worked as a movie, but it did, and it hurt so much to watch it. Lancaster showed great artistic courage in that role, being pathetic, confusing, and sympathetic all at once, and the script and direction were as such that the glares of the party going castmates gave me all I needed to know about his back story.

    And I can't mention Don Draper and The Swimmer without also mentioning Rock Hudson in Seconds. Wow! That is yet another movie of both denial of the acknowledgment of the passing of the years, and the inability to accept one's decisions in that regard. A little more trip hop sci fi than The Swimmer's barefoot & shirtless Psy Fi, but they are almost companion pieces.
    I miss Farrah Fawcett. I never saw her in person. I barely saw any of her movies. She had such a long, painful illness, and she was a unique star, barely registering as an actress or a model or a personality, or a T-shirt iron on, but so much more than all of those combined. When I outgrew my teenage poster lust for her and saw her as a person, with very human frailties, I just wanted to nestle her in the crook of my arm and feed her with an eye dropper until she was well enough to fly away. But I never got to and she died. a

  3. hahah thanks for all this Johnny - the image of feeding Farrah with an eye dropper is both touching and true - as is the epart about barely registering in any media format but transcending them at the same time. Also, "Psy Fi" is a brilliant term - did you make it up, at least in this context? (I know it's a Brit rave fest but the anachronmyms mean different things)

  4. Thanks Erich! The spelling popped in my head as I was typing, so you midwifed it! I love these extended pieces. This is probably the most thinking about Saturn 3 since the accountants broke out their red pens. I know you have had a rough year, and I empathize (visited my family cemetery south of San Antonio this weekend, someone stole my father's VA marker off his grave - probably for the resale of the bronze plaque content. It's hard out there for a Simp). Your writing and explorations into your own insight have been a huge influence on the work I am doing, and a never ending stream of great reads. I am forever in your debt for turning me on to Murder In A Blue World! (have you seen the Criterion release of Judex? 1963? It has everything! A Cat-suited french villainess, taxidermy masquerade heads, a Mysterious Hero who is, by all accounts, just a long haul stalker - I theorize that Wes Anderson's mother watched it on replay loops while she carried her future genius to term)

  5. Great post!

    Correction: Kirk Douglas did not appear in the 1946 The Killers, although he would have been good in the Albert Dekker, William Conrad, or Charles McGraw roles.

    1. Ooops thanks TF - I fixeded it

    2. Kirk Douglas has done some of the finest work in film. Ace In The Hole and Paths Of Glory alone make him immortal. But the more I learn about the man the creepier I feel. Saturn 3- Hell! If he truly raped young Natalie Wood,I'd personally skin him alive in his wheelchair. And he seemed to pass many of his asshole traits to Mikey. Lancaster on the other hand,was also an athlete,aged gracefully in films,The swimmer,Lawman,Valdez Is Coming,Go Tell The Spartans,Atlantic City and appears to have been a class act. I only hope the rape story is false and that Burt knew nothing about it. Nat's Mother was a real piece of work to. And don't even het me started on RJ...

  6. Who knew there was so much to say about SATURN 3?

    I've always like/love/shrugged but come backed to this movie. I recognized the FRANKENSTEIN elements, as well as the "getting too old for this shit in Eden" bit (maybe there's an article for OUTLAND waiting to be written, as it deals with a similar "almost impotent male going out with a bang"). Maybe it's the perpetual 70's kid who will always love the weird bug designs and HEAVY METALeque production design (though for as much money as was spent on the film, there was always a level of almost Japanese GODZILLA cheesiness that befuddled me. Did they really think that filming a spacecraft model in an aquarium was going to pass off as A-budget sci-fi in ANY time, much less after ALIEN and STAR WARS?)

    Maybe it could use a quasi remake in the form of a hentai or something. Or maybe we should just let SATURN 3 be. Regardless, I have my pretty German steelbook to gather dust on the shelf with the rest of my nerd junk in my laughably inadequate boy cave.

    Let's face it: these aren't "man caves" so much as memorials and art galleries of everything we grew up on as a kid, teen and young adult, ie the physical embodiments of what provokes us to want to live, dream and imagine. You may not be able to bottle it up like an elixir to drink, but you can sure as hell by the German mediabook with the cool poster art to sit up on a shelf and bask at (and occasionally fondle).

    PS: love the article on THE NINTH CONFIGURATION. While STAR WARS (at 7) and ALIEN (at 9) were my "coming of age" films, T9C is probably the film I feel encapsulates everything about me (humor, philosophy, politics, etc), so it was nice reading your perspective on it.

    1. Thanks for this detailed post - you rang a lot of bells with your self aware man cave ode. Cling to those fanboy dreams, never let their absurdity make you second guess yourself, if Saturn 3, The Swimmer, and Forbidden Planet have taught us anything it's that awareness of one's own aging absurdity need not always be fatal, as long as you keep laughing, and keep your libido pitched just the right balance between Morbius austerity and Kirk louchness. Too far in either direction is fatal, either through monsters erupting from the repressed or monsters of belated post-mid life crisis self doubt (leading to the Star is Born long swim or the Cialis heart attack) Keep the flag flying right in between and live 4-EVA!

  7. It's Amis not Amiss


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