"If you think you're free, there's no escape possible" - Ram Dass

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fantasy Phallus Fallacy: SATURN 3


"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. It used to be that, after a few decades of plowing away there, men could leave that field and retire to pasture. What choice did they have? Sulk about it? Have one more girl pat them on the back and say happens to all men, sooner or later? After about five of those in a row, bro, even the stubbornest satyr would just let go. And cinema, like the 'canon' of 'straight white male' literature amidst it, dealt often with this very issue, for in the 60s-70s especially adults did not live to amuse their children. Parents played bridge and went to the movies and left the kids at home with a babysitter. They saw James Bond movies and came home and told their kids about it, not vice versa. In our age, when every new Pixar or Disney film makes billions and something like The Neon Demon just withers away, well -- it's clear whose age is being catered to. Thanks to Viagra it's also clear who never needs to --or gets to--unyoke from the oxcart of endless hungry ghost tail-chasing desire. We men are simultaneously disempowered and barred from exiting fertility's prison and enjoying the kingly wisdom that comes with impotence.

It used to be that impotence was considered such a major event in a man's life that some auteurs addressed it in nearly every film (Kubrick, for example). And it wasn't just some whiny boot out the gates of fertile Eden, but a sign, a notice that it was time to turn away from the ceaseless pursuit of pleasure and prepare one's soul for immanent departure, like a "fasten seat belts" light above one's head within mortality's 707. A chance to stow the bags and put thy tray tables in upright positions, if you'll pardon my French.

Desist, snickering footman!
I shall now say naught but Hallelujah. I heard that
hearing the phrase "no atheists in a foxhole,"
God invented war; impotence its first lobbed shell.
General Ripper's bodily fluids draining like a sinkhole,
a muddy black paintbrush rinsing out,
between holy trance and blinding rage.
And I shall say no more,
I'd not let God hear further of what turns macho atheists to priestly eunuchs.

Acrylics never dry just right
but we can put a gel gloss finish over it and pass it off in Paris
as free abstraction,
or write a thing on "the Lost Generation."
Hiroshima is safely stored behind the decades yet to come,
and no one else will print it but the dirty books guys.
So we added a bunch of sex,
to get it banned back home.

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. And God didn't take it personally, anymore than a good dad would take a child's first bedtime tantrum. Good for his lungs, to scream like that, God said.

And thus, cinema was born. D.W. Griffith urged soldiers to throw down their arms as brothers, like a chump. Luckily no one listened.
They were too mad at him
for the Birth of a Nation.

INTOLERANCE (1916)

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 the world's foot shortage. He's staying on Saturn's third moon, in an octopus-armed tunnel under the lunar rock, in a hydroponic garden complex. It's really just a cool serpentine bachelor pad for him to putter around in, chillin' like a villain in his bathrobe and socks, with a cute doggie and a babe half his age as his assistant. Together they laugh, screw and devour the only remaining source of fresh fruit in the galaxy. But no one cares about the garden, either in the film or the audience. The orchids are an excuse for the heat, as Colonel Rutledge says in The Big Sleep. What it all boils down to isn't rutabagas 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.

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. But we shouldn't. He's not a narcissist so much as a satyr afraid his horns are coming loose. It's not like he's one of those simpering fading male stars desperate to keep our fickle love. 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.

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 and she's crushing my rib cage" old guy anxiety. 
And as his 'assistant,' Farrah Fawcett (no stranger to sci-fi issues of fear of aging--she was the plastic surgeon assistant in Logan's Run) was facing her own issues of obsolescence. The "It" girl for a hot second, she quit Charlie's Angels after the first season and instantly earned our displeasure, the way Chevy Chase earned it when he left Saturday Night Live after one season. Leaving the vehicle that made you a hot ticket after a single season was--and is--considered a kind of betrayal. In doing so Farrah became embedded in our minds as the kind of girl who tricks you into thinking she likes you, that you have something really special, but then you realize she did that just to make someone else jealous, someone who was watching and now wants her back. Farrah was still the girl still on the wall of every boy in America, but by 1980 her poster's edges yellowed from tape residue. She was 32 when she made this movie, and Kirk was twice that, 32 years her senior. They've been up there for three years, Adam tells their interloper Benson (Harvey Keitel), long enough for us to imagine they've been having quite a time, and presuming things are still 'hard' for them in the sheets.

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 to very thin in this film, I can't help but wonder if she's anorexic. But the film itself now seems unique and--if not successful in its aims--fascinating as a belated example of 70s 'great white male in decline' science fiction. In the years since it came out, CGI has choked the sci fi aesthetic to a lifeless grey fog and the demographic has skewed ever lower in age. This film is at least truly 'adult', looking to 2001 and Alien for aesthetic guidance rather than just Star Wars and Close Encounters. Even if we live in a world where boners are no longer a national male obsession, we can still appreciate Kirk's need to strut his stuff one last time. 60s-70s dystopias and apocalypses, and all our worries about the ozone layer, population levels, libidinal excesses of patriarchally-coded sexism, and fading boners were about to become old school, man, strictly Charlton. ET was coming and the nuclear family (often sans father) would now be the protagonist rather than a middle-aged man facing his own immanent "abort time" while gallivanting with girls half his age and taking tons of free drugs.

This was not all bad of course, and the idea that we wouldn't have to protect screaming helpless maidens when we got older was quite a relief. Between Sarah Connor, Ripley on the Nostromo, we were receiving a cadre of badass ladies who could blow shit up all by themselves. They didn't need men at all, one way or the other, to save them from the unstoppable forces of death and decay. As boys we felt a great relief; these girls allowed us to stay irresponsible for far longer than we originally feared. 

But in SATURN 3, among other things, we're clearly meant to see things from Kirk's wearily responsible shoulders. His jealousy of a younger man and fear of being kicked out of Eden and replaced by a 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 they seem petulantly infantile rather than genuine masculine tough (he should do it and keep quiet about it, make it look like an accident). Alas, the only time Kirk's Adam is courageous is when he declares that he's old and he's soon himself to reach "abort time" in some combination of Carousel in Logan's Run, a belated trip to Planned Parenthood, and a firing from the global collective via Skype. This 'abort time' idea never really pans out but make interesting asides as Adam seems genuinely relieved when anticipating his own death -- and maybe those men who've struggled to appear young and virile to our much younger girlfriends understand why. 20th century in his ideals and patriarchal entitlement, you think he must have just come out of cryogenic deep freeze, Adam/Kirk wants to let us know he can still be flirty and happy with a young bane like Farrah, though when they're supposedly being flirty and loving together, his tendency is to shout in her face and bug his eyes and roll his mouth around makes it seem like he's trying to distract a crying infant rather than converse with an adult mere inches from his face. At least Benson uses his indoor voice, even if it isn't exactly "his" at all but dubbed (as I guess Brits were alarmed by Keitel's Brooklyn accent). 

Though directed by 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. Alas, star 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 until producer Donen stepped in. 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 on the slick Shout Blu-ray. I won't go so far as to say it's great, but if anyone had the right to mish-mash 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.


And the idea of getting Martin Amiss to write the script was a good one, time has declared. In 1980 the 'slow fall from the top of the mountain' by the Great White Male, boozy and self-righteous and self-loathing in equal measure--greeting his immanent "flush" with a fuck you to the world-- was a little old-fashioned in 1980 (unless it was "literally" an adaptation of a classic novel and given Merchant-Ivory gloss, ala Huston's Under the Volcano). Now that most English Departments in the USA at least are focused in on correcting the balance of old straight white guys to everyone else in "the canon," it's easy to forget just how many damn writers there are chronicling their Great White Male's slow softening. Living life ensconced in the Ivory tower or some other perch of bourgeois comfort, their mid-life crisis invariably consists of bedding one of their fans, students, or child's babysitters.

That's the heavy trip underwriting the Great White Male in Decline novel, and it's certainly very Martin Amiss-esque. Like Cheever, or Fitzgerald, Amiss' novels are full of drugged debauchery and fearless examinations of the disintegrating straight white male alcoholic psyche as his past catches up with him and dying alone... except maybe...except in Amiss, maybe, this girl who had a crush on him as a child now grown to legal age... a last life ditch life preserver in a Jon Krakauer-level storm. And in reality, an illusion, a mirage, even if she's real.

But here Amiss' space drugs and kinky sex seem to be simmering just out of reach on the cutting room floors of the nervous censor and second-guessing producerLuckily there's a whole site devoted to the strange saga of this film, Gregory Moss's indispensable Something is Wrong on Saturn 3. Better even than the film itself.

If Roman Polanski had directed it, Saturn 3 might be considered a classic. He would contextualize the triangle much better: the 'young psycho' who joins an isolated couple (younger woman, older man) for head games in some enclosed isolated space where the younger interloper stirs the older man into displays of virility and dominance which the girl can find alternately childish, frightening, pathetic, or sexy, or all of the above depending on her mood, moment-to-moment: Knife in the Water, Cul de Sac, and others in that vein, like: Purple Noon, Dead Calm and the vast empty "this empty planet ain't big enough for the 'three of us' triangles of Last Woman on Earth; The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, etc.

"This is literature, baby"
I. THE SWIMMER OF SATURN

I think Kirk wanted this role because it let him harpoon his own priapic Adonis image, as his frequent co-star (they had great chemistry) Burt Lancaster did 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. 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 and Farrah start the film already hooked-up (for three years! As any serious monogamist can tell you, three years is the golden number -- it's right when even great chemistry and wild sex starts to get routine), saving us all a lot of unpleasant angst over his antiquated smoov style/ It's creepy enough watching him and Farrah shower together, but while rinsing off we hear them talking. She's fine, talking in an indoor voice, one lover to another. Kirk on the other hand, is mugging ridiculously and shouting in her face, perhaps imagining the foley of the water would be louder or the water was genuinely loud? There's a huge subtextual vein of communication breakdown here on the rock; Everyone is burdened with a mismatched acting style--Farrah doing her mellow low-key bubbly blonde bit; Kirk shouting in her face like she's my deaf grandmother; the (imposter) interloper Harvey Keitel being dubbed with the voice of a different actor; and the robot Hector speaking through cutting and pasting all three of their recorded voices. Kirk's character, Adam, gradually seems to come to the realization--as do all great white males--that this fucked up future they're all living in is all his fault. 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, he's been doing what few men his age get to, actually living out the full term of their 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.
Since no one wants to end up like 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 --if he can do it with a sneer, buddy, that's so punk. He can pretend he's only pretending not to care, but 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.

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, lying on the ground in the at a Califone show at the Knitting Factory in 1998. Do you want her to remember you as a man, or a whining little bitch? Don't care if she won't believe you're in a pit, dug by malicious elves made of white noise static. 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, 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.

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 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. 
THE GAS GIANT

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/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 reality. A frustrated alpha male aging into the soft zone, he makes up for these "areas" perhaps by running around with his robe open at the waist, and being found in bed with Alex as often as possible. Amiss' vast knowledge of mid-life crises male vanity must have expanded tenfold when observing a titanic ego like Douglas': “When actors get old they get obsessed about wanting to be nude," Amiss noted in an interview, "and Kirk wanted to be naked.”

Even without all his posturing, Farrah's Alex prefers "the Major" and there's no doubt that Benson is a grade-A nutcase, Keitel's stunning youthful beauty undermined by his needy sexual frustration and lack of game. He hasn't seen them actually fooling around, or heard Alex's frustrations with the Major's inadequacies in all his areas, so that quote about being inadequate... in every area (top) is just him reacting to his own deranged mental images, seeing Adam as an impotent Cronus, devouring the young girl Benson himself desires rather than returning her to he sea (of boys her own age, i.e. himself).

The story's arc takes an interesting turn when we realize we're following not just Kirk's Major Adam but the untrustworthy Benson --an unstable pilot just denied his space license kills the original pilot for some unknown reason (deranged competitive foreshadowing?) and takes his place and then heads off to visit "the Major,"  In charge of finding some means of growing enough food off world to feed the dying Earth, Benson is there like a hatchet man,To this end he begins setting up this swanky new robot named Hector. On his first night he offers Alex a 'blue' and pre-emptively 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. Yuck. Naturally the answer is no - but we remember how poorly he took the 'no' to his pilot license. "That's penally unsocial on Earth," he says. We "use each other's bodies for pleasure." Noting the old Major is "obsolete, and frightened of the new ways." he refers to sexual permissiveness as 'hospitality' and mentions he eats dogs on Earth. A real keeper.

Despite his crass and psychotic manner, Keitel is impossibly gorgeous here, especially in his reptilian green space suit, and his new voice (Ray Dotrice's). You'd think it would be off-putting but that's why it works for Benson. The smooth voice make us uneasy in ways we wouldn't be it it was that endearing Mean Streets goombah-speak. Hey, Hector - whaddaya dooin'? Etc.

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 a sibling. Benson shows off Hector's brain thermos (stacked like Pringles in an electrified saline solution) and between their deductive power and Harold's steel-ribbed physique (modeled after the awesome if not entirely human 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 top be off, so to speak, the imposing thread member lobbed off at the head?




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.
S
taring 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 good shit going: the Elmer Bernstein score hovers over the weird, 'half-assed attempt to be Kubrickian instead of what it is'-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,  Bernstein, the man behind the music for both CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON and ROBOT MONSTER is always way better than the material calls for, but he never overdoes it. The 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 Harvey has a jack in the back of his neck to connect to the brains to download his muscle and nervous system memory into Harold - connecting them and lifting and lowering his arms, etc. What he can't know, of course, is that his obsession with Alex is leaking over into Harold too, and thus 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 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)

II. WELCOME TO MY DREAM CAVE 

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); even the moldy smell is reassuring. For me, it's the ultimate escape (long as there's air conditioning and an elevator) 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 the whole SATURN 3 fantasia really resonates, especially being certain you, your girl and your dog are the only biological organisms things 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, and everything was new and strange and wondrous, lots of neon and gadgetry - the Sharper Image, projector TVs, Pong. It was like an adult amusement park, like how we imagined our own adulthood would be, all the things we could one day buy. SATURN 3's hydroponic pleasure palace reminds me of that, with samples of HR Giger biomorphic architecture (the hallways 'ribbed' with a spinal cord ceiling), the Death Star shiny black walls, colorful tubes galore, the Dr. No-style hewn rock walls incorporated into the arboreal dell. The set is beautifully elaborately lit, with a winding tunnel and mixture of greenery, rock, and primary color tubing; the feel is strangely both austere and gaudy. Defiantly depicted as a whirlwind of reactionary assertions of masculine identity, a final bird-flip from the crumbling Trans-Am and cowboy hat macho, the Burt Reynolds mustache and rug being slow being peeled off to show a bald screaming baby 80s.

In general though, what makes so many men like myself imagine as a kind of veritable 'happy place' a 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, some bros dropping in and out to drink and watch old movies with, etc. is a chance to escape not just from nagging wives and mothers-in-law, work, and the IRS, but to avoid aging and/or dying, failures in family and all the things which maturity and linear development along the familial curve all but ensures wear a man down like an icicle sharpened on a grindstone. For one buddy's dad, it was always Das Boot, watched alone in the corner of his study with a big snifter of cognac; we turned him onto the John Huston Moby Dick, which we had duped from a rental by filming the screen with his video camera. For Howard Hughes, of course, as we all know, it was Ice Station Zebra. I understood the appeal of the frozen north and the submarine, but I'd never want to be stuck down there with Earnest Borgnine hamming it up as a Russian double agent? But 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.

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. 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 a younger 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 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 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 blowing up Kirk's spot works in SATURN 3, because it gets that the 70s mustache is coming off with or without our aid; it works because, frankly, it's learned not to trust people just because we're lonely and they're hot, it works because it too knows that beneath its confused whirlwind of defiant macho sensitivity structures, the unfulfilled desires for what it can't have (chosen especially for their rarity) lurks absolutely nothing. 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'. In that sense, SATURN 3 is not just a pre-ALIEN pre-STAR WARS science fiction in the SILENT RUNNING x WESTWORLD vein but a male version of BARBARELLA, It's a tale of a time when before he had to be a man with a career and a wife, 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 and their 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!

Well, of course she won, as far as I know. Yet even today the uninhibited great white male in decline has a fighting chance for a WILD BUNCH blaze of glory, as long as he grabs that chance with both barrels, by the horns, and with a finger saying fuck all y'all to the world.

So that's the deal, as long as it's with the fishes, a man can then sleep around all he wants sans guilt sans eyes. Sand and crustaceans consumed the rest. If you dare let go of even blaming the robot, blaming the girl, and instead blaming EVERYBODY, then every week can be shark week, and stiffness will never be a problem again (thanks to Rigor Mortis, the new craze all the older folks used back in the day and still do today where there is only night).

III. The Magus Becomes the Hefner: 
Jungian Archetypal Comparison between 
FORBIDDEN PLANET and SATURN 3

From R-L: Daughter (Anima), Magus (non du pere), 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 in the 50s, coming of age in the arms of a young man who didn't have time to sit around on porches and take walks in the Sicilian Hills; he had to go to war, so courtship was over a weekend, because his combat pension should go to someone and if it will help her stay out of the brothel, or whatever--but the 50s was losing its patina fast - in the crafty eyes of Wilder and his leering Fred MacMurray executives, 'banging' cocktail waitresses and secretaries and every unmarried woman 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,.


Inside every red riding hood is a grandmother-wearing old wolf and vice versa... the anima and magus/sage on their island, alone together, Pai Mai and Beatrix Kiddo on the hilltops. The magus need never be jealous of her leaving him, never crave the insurance he doesn't die alone by the radiator (not sure why, but there's always a radiator), unless he can, 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 of dying alone by the radiator, but the ultimate signifier - pointing to naught else but the mirror, not to see him for he is not even reflected, so merged is he with the infinite, but so you can see you. Or whatever -As in Mozart's The Magic Flute (where he's called Sarastro - bellow left) and Shakespeare's The Tempest (Prospero).

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 good qualities for the patriarch; but if he passes he allows the magus to abdicate his role as ultimate signifier. This enables him to chill out with his parenting. That's the trick -his daughter's wedding is a symbolic death of his own split self and let go of his duty to represent the ultimate siginifier, he can merge full with his anima and be the indulgent grandfather instead of the stern authority who sets the bed time (i.e. John Wayne after the climactic fight in 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 his Krell-boosted will ala Prospero's storm heralding spell in the Tempest, his dire warnings and protestations being merely part of the rite of passage. In SATURN 3's Adam encouraging Alex to go down to visit Earth 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 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 too is very revealing  too in contrast about the effect two decades of shifting cultural mores on sci fi fantasy, which--more than any other genre--is very intellectual and very immature at the same time. As in Shakespeare's Tempest, Saturn 3 offers an array of ages, maturity levels, social classes, of high and low comedy, poetry, tragedy, and terror. All three tales- Shakespeare's and the two sci fi pictures, offer an older man reverie of an island paradise of self --just the ego, a devoted anima (Ariel / Altair / Alex), and a dark primordial vast unconscious of which the magus has developed at least partial mastery (fairies / a planetary space complex / the Krell) not knowing they've opened the door to dark elements deeper than their conscious mind could even see (Caliban / Hector / Monster from the Id). Just as with Adam and Alex's little love bunker under the moon's surface, the Krell wonders are all Morbius' alone to explore- he doesn't even bring Altair 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. 




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. 

In CONCLUSION: 



Sorry if this is all over the place. I'm getting senile. I've always had a soft spot for this film as 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) my scrapbook laden with photos torn from magazines, the Farrah poster still on my wall (her teeth terrifying me in the dead of night --they reflected the moon very well and gave her a voracious succubus look). This movie'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.



See, I'm a fan of Kirk especially in his 40s film noir easy going bad guy routine with Mitchum in Out of the Past and Stanwyck in The Strange Loves of Mrs. Ivers (his first two film roles). But his work here in Saturn 3 is the worst performance ever, by anyone, yet it's 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 for the whole film, 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 to Silent Running and Soylent Green).



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 in Notes on a Scandal), just continuing the lie. 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 "have already been." (one of Saturn 3's throwaway great lines). 



I can assure you Kirk does a fine job, his viciousness towards Alex, and his final ah screw it, I blame everyone and fuck all y'all final declaration of fuck it is every great white paunchy two-legged Ahab's dream adieu. Sure it's a weird ending, a bit of a downer, but it's real - 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.

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. Just fascinated as these kind of things were still kind of shocking even in the 70s. I'm not attempting to justify it, but rather to consider the decade that bore it to the 50s, the more repressed, conservative time. Say what you will about Morbius alone on Altair 4 with his nubile virgin daughter Altaira (or Alta, to her friends), sequestered as the pair me be, as nubile yet confident as she is, there's no indication Alta's visited at night by some Krell energy incubus Caliban conjured from the most repressed and primordial depths of Morbius's subconscious Krell-brain-boosted mind. That shows us three things: 1) a willingness to please the censors (it was MGM, after all, that appeaser of Catholics, that naif, that irresponsible mind control programmer); 2) an almost idyllic faith in fatherly nobility which is admirable especially in today's film market where incestuous creep fathers (ala Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks) are the only substitute to deadbeat weekend schmucks (even if its only on some weird abstracted dream level), or bland Greg Kinnear replacements. and 3) that with his boring paternal sense of measured scientific curiosity (4), 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.


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 throwing a picture of the ocean works to quell a raging fire. VERTIGO Scotty on the ledge might fool someone somewhere into thinking he's still got his vim and vigor, some young thing who'll call him Mr. Smearcase and bat her eyelashes, but he can't fool himself. If he lets that happen 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 response, Camille renouncing her lover at his father's request. so to speak. 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. It's not your problem anymore, you free-ass mother.









NOTES
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. 

6 comments:

  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.

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  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

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  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)

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  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)

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  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.

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    1. Ooops thanks TF - I fixeded it

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