Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

On the Silver Globe

Entry updated 29 January 2024. Tagged: Film.

Polish film (1988; original title Na srebrnym globie). Written and directed by Andrzej Żuławski, based on the novel Na srebrnym globie. Rękopis z księżyca ["On the Silver Globe. A Manuscript from the Moon"] (1903) by Jerzy Żuławski. Cast includes Grazyna Dylag, Waldemar Kownacki, Andrzej Seweryn and Jerzy Trela. 166 mins. Colour.

A film with a troubled history, On the Silver Globe begins with a voiceover from the director telling us that what we will see is a "shred of a film" (though still a long one). Two years into filming, in 1977, the Polish Ministry of Culture shut the film down and destroyed sets, props and costumes, leaving around one-fifth of the script unfilmed. In part this was due to a spiralling budget, though the hallucinatory mix of Christian symbolism, mysticism, vague anti-authoritarian allegory and an obfuscatory attitude to narrative was never likely to endear the project to the authorities. Zulawski later added a voice-over explaining the missing sections, over shots of contemporary Poland. This version was finally released in 1988.

A group of astronauts from Earth crash-land on an unnamed Alien planet, parts of which have a breathable atmosphere. The survivors found a population (see Colonization of Other Worlds), mostly named after their progenitor, Tomasz, and all seemingly descended from one woman. However it is another man, Jerzy, who is known as "The Old Man", and is regarded by the inhabitants as a godlike figure. Later another refugee from Earth, Marek, is enlisted as leader in a war against the native birdlike Sherns, who are capable of mating with human women to create a reviled hybrid race. Within this broad outline the details of the plot are almost entirely obscure. There are wild leaps in time and place, new settings and characters are introduced seemingly at random, and actors are frequently hidden under layers of mud or extraordinarily elaborate costumes. The dialogue consists largely of woolly philosophizing which does little to clarify matters.

But neither plot or character is relevant to the unique atmosphere of the film, impressively maintained over close to three hours. Żuławski's usual mode is a heightened hysteria, here applied relentlessly. The acting is uniformly unrestrained, with lines screamed or declaimed rather than spoken; indeed performance is central to the film, as the human society places great store by actors who recreate their foundational stories. The vivid location photography takes in desert, seashore and a huge Underground cavern, often with a handheld camera weaving unsteadily through crowds of extras. The scenes shot in modern Poland paradoxically add to the unreal atmosphere, by removing the film even further from sf orthodoxy.

Though there are few parallels for this remarkably original film, the early scenes in particular foreshadow the Strugatski-based Hard to Be a God (2013), directed by Aleksey German, in creating a medieval atmosphere on an alien planet. And the human "gods" here are indeed flawed, inconsistent and rarely successful in their aims. Little wonder the Communist Party objected to this view of authority figures. [CWa]


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies