"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 and staring moodily to ceiling. After about five of those pats in a row, bro, even the stubbornest satyr would just let go and find a new hobby. 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, priapism was not uncommon. Parents played bridge, swapped, 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. Barred by drugs from exiting fertility's prison, we remain screwing into the grave, unable to enjoy the kingly wisdom that comes with accepted 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). 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 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 we can put a gel gloss finish over it and pass it off
as free abstraction in Paris
or 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. Free press!
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 immortal.
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.
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 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 and socks, with a cute dog and a babe half his age (Farrah Fawcett-Majors, no less) as his dutiful, sensual assistant. What a life! Together they laugh, 'make love' and sup off the only continuous supply of fresh fruit 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 Kirk 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---who is it for? He already has the "It" girl of the mid-70s in his bed. But The Major's 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.
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.
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.
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. Now that CGI has choked the sci-fi aesthetic to a lifeless grey fog and the demographic has skewed ever lower in age, it's important that this film is, for all its priapic anxiety, 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. All the 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 and 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 these threats seem petulantly infantile rather than genuine (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 ready 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 makes for interesting subtext, 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 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/Kirk 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).
And the idea of getting 'white drunk male in disintegration' author Martin Amiss to write the script was a good one. The self-righteous and self-hating middle-aged man, greeting his immanent "flush" with a fuck you to the world, was considered 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 are focused in on correcting the balance of old straight white guys to other genders and races in "the canon," it's easy to forget just how many damn writers there are that were 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, and of course faculty back-stabbing.
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 (or sometimes a boy) 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 producer. Luckily 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.
|"This is literature, baby"|
I. THE SWIMMER OF SATURN
As any serious monogamist can tell you, three years is the golden number -- it's the moment the great chemistry and wild sex starts is just starting 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.|
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.|
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 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 age-centric vain reality; he makes up for these "areas" 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. 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, the way men get almost teenage insecure yet proud and exhibitionist at the same time: “When actors get old they get obsessed about wanting to be nude," Amiss noted in an interview. "... and Kirk wanted to be naked.”
A Polanski or someone working with a non-A-lister might have made a real KNIFE IN THE WATER-style battle between the two men, but in SATURN, it's never in doubt that Farrah's Alex prefers "the Major" --insecurity and all--and there's no doubt that Benson is a grade-A nutcase. Keitel's stunning youthful beauty is not only undermined by his needy sexual frustration and lack of game, it's dead in the water. 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--the Zeus!--himself desires.
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. 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. "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 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, and his new non-Brooklyn 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.
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. Benson shows off Hector's 6-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 head of Hector be nonexistent, so to speak, the imposing threat's member lobbed off in pre-game castration?
|Diabolik's pad; External view (deep in the caverns)|
II. WELCOME TO MY DREAM CAVE
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.
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|
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.
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.
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.