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DVD SAVANT

Zachariah


Zachariah
MGM Home Entertainment
1971 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 93 min. / Street Date August 24,2004 / 14.95
Starring John Rubinstein, Don Johnson, Elvin Jones, Doug Kershaw, Barry Melton, Patricia Quinn, William Challee, Country Joe McDonald
Cinematography Jorge Stahl
Production Designer Assheton Gorton
Art Direction Jeremy Kay
Film Editor Gary Griffen
Costume Design Vittorio Nino Novarese
Written by Philip Austin, Peter Bergman, Joe Massot, David Ossman, Philip Proctor from the novel Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
Produced by George Englund, Lawrence Kubik
Directed by George Englund

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This witless attempt at a counterculture western probably started with good intentions but ended up as one of the more painful trophies of the Easy Rider years. Packaged and polished to appeal to the perceived youth market, it features a script by the Firesign Theater and performances from name rock bands. But its blend of western clichés and hippie buzz is the height of faux-hip Hollywood pretention.

Synopsis:

Zachariah (John Rubenstein) gets a six-gun in the mail and heads out to become a gunfighter, accompanied by his best friend Matthew (Don Johnson). After some adventures with the Crackers, a Rock 'n Roll outlaw gang (Country Joe and the Fish) they find a true test of their quickdraw skill at the nightclub of Job Cain (Elvin Jones). The Fiddler (Doug Kershaw) warns Zachariah away from his quest, but he continues to the sin town of Belle Starr (Patricia Quinn) to find out what sex is all about. Obsessed with being the top gun, Matthew tracks down Job Cain, while Zachariah learns a higher value system from desert hermit Old Man (William Chalee). But Matthew returns to settle their gunfighter standing with a deadly duel.

It came a surprise to find out that Zachariah is supposed to be Siddartha dressed up as a marijuana western, especially because I saw the film only months after reading the book and never caught on. It's an idea that had to be hatched in the office of a Sunset Blvd. agent, with the Firesign Theater people Austin, Bergman and Proctor floating a prefabricated storyline guaranteed to hold water with the touchy and indefinable kid market, the kids that rejected Tora! Tora! Tora! but made Easy Rider a smash. Turn Herman Hesse into a western trip, man, a spaced-out phantasmagoria where gunslingers play electric guitars and time has, like, lost its meaning! (long inhale here).

Perhaps Ken Russell could have gotten away with it by drowning the tale in extravagant visuals, but more likely not. Zachariah's director (the interesting producer of The World, The Flesh and The Devil and producer/director of The Ugly American) cannot do anything with a few costumes, rented horses and lame settings, and relies on his cameraman to dress the film in sunsets and light refractions to make it look like something. The carny set for Belle Starr's sin town looks like a reject from an Up With People revue. Most of the time the show looks like what it is, a bunch of young people dressed up funny and playing around in the desert. The advent of the Easy Rider generation brought the "berserk zoom lens disease" from Italy to the United States, and there are few shots not punctuated by long and artless zooms of the Cinema Killer Kind.

The script is indeed Siddartha. A pair of young wanderers get lost in the secular world of false values and sensual delights. But good ol' Zachariah sticks to his hippie principles, learns from a wise old man (yawn) and comes out smiling. With Country Joe and the Fish in tow as supposed comedy relief, we get lame doper jokes and references to Bonnie & Clyde. Barry Melton is particularly weak as a clownish robber, stealing crates labeled "El Acapulco Gold." Ha ha.

Doug Kershaw plays a looney prophet-on-the-road-to-enlightenment type, with his fiddle stuck firmly under his chin.  1 Patricia Quinn has a different role than that in Alice's Restaurant, and seems to have been hired simply by association (she's with Arlo, dude). And grizzly sidekick type William Chalee (check out his IMDB credits, they're full of interesting titles and edgy old noirs) has little to do but yell at Zachariah like an irate Mr. Natural.

The one actor who survives with his dignity is Elvin Jones as a muscular and intimidating pro gunslinger. He somehow makes a good connection with Spaghetti angst, and comes off as both relaxed and deadly serious at the same time.

John Rubenstein and Don Johnson are pretty boys plain and simple, and with their pouting looks and vacant stares were probably as attractive to gay men as they were straight women. Their talent is almost exclusively their male-model appearance, with Rubenstein approximating the look of Who singer Roger Daltrey and Johnson doing a great impersonation of a blow-up sex doll. Both have been busy ever since although Johnson has had the star career. He must have had a dynamite agent, as he handily survived a trio of awful pictures: The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart and The Harrad Experiment are far worse than this one.

Chalk Zachariah up as a curiosity looksee, a dull attempt to combine an old genre with some executive's idea of the Woodstock appeal. I certainly was curious to see how it held up, so there's no dishonor in giving it a shot.


MGM's DVD of Zachariah looks great, with a richly-colored enhanced image that gives its trendy photography every benefit of the doubt. The music is a rich mono instead of some form of stereo that we'd expect in a 1971 rock picture. I remember seeing an embarrassing trailer for the film, but there are no extras on the disc.

The back cover The Hollywood Reporter blurb points out why Variety was always preferable when it came to film reviews. The Reporter blurb: "Excellent! Touching, Fascinating and Impressive! The Film Commands Complete Attention!"

As Wile E. Coyote would say, Yikes.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Zachariah rates:
Movie: Fair
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 3, 2004


Footnote:

1. My college roommate Steve Sharon was a Doug Kershaw fan and introduced me to his fiddle records. Kershaw came to UCLA once and met with interested students, so we went to see him. He was a great guy, very down to Earth, and explained that he still worked as a math and chemistry teacher back home in Louisiana. I then saw him in concert and he was better than amazing with his instrument. The film clips I've seen of Kershaw all make him look weird or extreme, and don't capture his best playing.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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