Zardoz by John Boorman and Bill Stair

I first heard about the movie Zardoz on some internet forum or other where a running joke was to put up disguised links that would lead you to a still from the movie, showing Sean Connery in his bizarre costume from the film (hip boots, red diaper, bandoliers of bullets, beard and ponytail).  It’s not an image you really want to dwell on but it’s hardly an atrocity like the old linkbomb on B3ta.

Anyway the more I read about the movie, the more interested in it I become.  First and foremost, it was written & directed by John Boorman.  Deliverance is a widely-recognized classic, and Excalibur is one of my all-time favorite films despite its flaws.  The other details I picked up from synopses and reviews (the flying stone head, the psychedelic tone, the gratuitous violence and nudity) only made it more intriguing.  Joesky’s review and the endorsements from a variety of bloggers whose aesthetics are interesting made me finally break down and watch it on cable a few months ago.  I watched it late at night, possibly with chemical enhancement like Nyquil or something (when I get a cold or flu I sleep downstairs and watch too much TV), and I found it a little confusing, but watchable.  (Caution: I managed to watch Children shouldn’t play with dead things all the way through so my threshold for what is ‘watchable’ may be abnormally low.)

Anyway, when I came across the ‘novelization’ of the film, which was credited to Boorman and Bill Stair, I grabbed it and figured I’d read it some time — it is a very slim book, as you might expect from a movie tie-in novel.  In fact I read it over the course of a week or so at the gym.  (I try to read something slightly trashy or pulpy so that I don’t have to think too hard but which is still good enough that I look forward to reading it, as motivation to get to on the stationary bike.)

The co-writer, Bill Stair, worked in some design capacity on the film as well, and also co-wrote the script for another Boorman film (Leo the last), but I have not been able to find out much more about him apart from the fact that wrote & drew a comic or graphic novel called Superslave which appears to be fairly rare, and involves some kind of reluctant messiah.  It sounds interesting but is priced way beyond what I’d pay for a graphic novel (currently over $60 on Abebooks and close to that on Amazon).

The Zardoz novel, at just under 130 pages, is a quick read, and gives a few details that weren’t in the film, as well as a fair amount of explanation of what is going on inside Zed’s head, which I didn’t really get from the movie. It also suggests that the ‘brutals’ are not just peasants but frequently mutants, which is not clear in the film. The ‘message’ is much more explicit, and the awkward narration at the beginning of the film is not reproduced, which is a plus.  I can’t say it made me want to re-watch the movie, but if I ever do, I’ll have a much better idea of what is going on.  On it’s own merits, it is a decent science fiction adventure written in a fairly unique voice that compares favorably to other pulps but doesn’t really achieve “greatness.”  As a source of gaming ideas, the flying heads, the vortex, and the pyramid are all interesting locations, and the immortals, brutals, and exterminators might make an interesting population dynamic for Gamma World or a similar post-apocalyptic game; for D&D, they are equally usable, especially if you veer towards science fantasy.

Published in: on March 28, 2012 at 12:00 pm  Comments (8)  
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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m a fan of the movie too, I guess I need to check out this novelization at some point.

  2. […] Zardoz by John Boorman and Bill Stair ( […]

  3. Hi – I was a student at East Ham College of Technology in 1979-1974. Bill Stair taught there and I was one of his students. He was a a very likeable and kind guy, who had a big influence on several of us then. He had worked on several Boorman films – he did the storyboard for Hell In the Pacific, was ‘color consultant’ on Point Blank [each scene has a dominant colour] and co-scripted Leo the Last. I kept in touch after I left college, and when he was working on Zardoz, he asked me to get as many of the L Frank Baum books asI could find in London and send them to him in Ireland where location work on the film was taking place. Which I was happy to do. He also gave me the storyboard book for Hell In the Pacific but I gave it back to his stepson William after Bill’s death in 1991. I attended his funeral – along with director Barry Bliss, Jim Hill [co-creator with Bill of ‘Boon’]and of course, John Boorman. The last time I had seen Bill was just before his death, when he was living in Bristol. I’ll never forget him or his sense of humor. He also gave me a copy of Superslave, which got irreparably damaged in a flood at my house in 2002, and wasn’t salvageable. That’s how I got here, by looking for ‘Superslave’….
    Steve Barrow

    • Hell in the Pacific is a fairly amazing film … I don’t think something like that could be made by the big studios these days. I really need to check out Point blank — I’ve seen the remake, which was ok, but I didn’t realize the original was made by Boorman too.

  4. hi Mike – yes, first, a correction – I was at East Ham college from 1970, not 1979 [mistyped it]. The Hell in The Pacific storyboard – which was actually a loose-bound book which had been drawn entirely by Bill – showed every scene in the film as eventually filmed & edited. Even the scene where Lee Marvin pisses on Toshiro Mifune – all the cuts, from Mifune realising he’s being pissed on, back to Marvin pissing, and back again, all drawn in the storyboard. So the whole thing was drawn out and visualised before, and the completed film followed that exactly. It’s still, today, a great film, I agree.

    Point Blank – when you watch it, you will see that each scene change has a keynote colour scheme, again, running through the whole film, marking the transitions visually. That was Bill’s thing – those subtle touches which perhaps aren’t immediately obvious first time, but once you notice they are there, they seem ‘right’. Again, an early example of ‘neo-noir’ perhaps ? Bill certainly loved the old -by the late 60s disappearing – landscape of LA too…

    He also had a big hand in Leo The Last too – I remember the scene where the money ‘circulates’ in that picture, from the whore, to the pimp and so on round and round, and back again, that again was Bill Stair, as he related it to us. That film – dismissed as pretentious is actually pretty good. I later met up with Brinsley Forde who was in it as a kid actor, this was long after my college days, and 10 years after Bill’s death.

    I also helped out at the film society at East Ham College, and we used to get films in and Bill would come to the screenings too. Like I say, a very inspirational guy. I am sure Mr Boorman would back this up – Bill was a great collaborator with him.

  5. Hi, Bill Stair taught me Art and Design at Filton Technical College in 1986-7. It was way before Boon came on TV. Bill was my fav teacher and inspired me to pursue a career in illustration. When I saw Boon, it had Bill Stair written all over it so i was not really surprised when i heard he co-wrote it. But what a shock that he also co-wrote Zardoz. I have never forgotten Bill. Such an approachable chap.

  6. Correction, it wasn’t way before Boon came on tv, it was around the same time. I just recall Bill acting a bit nonchalent about it even though I think he actually really wanted to tell us about it.

    • I think that that nonchalance was one of Bill’s ‘masks’. But he was a really good teacher , and I think of him with much fondness. He had a nicely judged sense of humour and knew a lot about the film industry, which he would tell us about. .I will never forget him

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