Sunday, January 3, 2016

Zachariah (1971)

          The music-driven western Zachariah could have become a touchstone for the stoner crowd, since the picture borrows the framework of Hermann Hesse’s trippy novel Siddhartha, features electrified rock bands anachronistically performing in cowboy towns, and uses the hero’s encounters with sex and violence to illustrate his spiritual growth. Alas, while the concept of Zachariah sounds far-out, the execution is disappointingly mundane. Excepting scenes with contemporary music and/or outlandish production design, the film unspools as a straightforward Hollywood western, complete with slick photography, a straight-ahead storyline, and tense gunfight sequences. As such, Zachariah can’t really decide which audience it’s trying to serve—the movie is too square for hippies, and too offbeat for straights.
          Furthermore, while the relationship between the movies may be coincidental, Zachariah comes across like a hopelessly watered-down American riff on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s demented gunfighter epic El Topo, which hit theaters a year before Zachariah.
          Cowritten by Joe Massot and the four members of comedy troupe the Firesign Theatre (who failed to imbue Zacharaiah with much in the way of humor), Zachariah concerns the title character (John Rubenstein), a country boy in the Old West who dreams of becoming a gunfighter. He buys a pistol through mail order, practices with the weapon, and then embarks on a journey along with his best friend, young blacksmith Matthew (Don Johnson). The lads join a small-time gang (portrayed by Woodstock rockers Country Joe and the Fish), but Zachariah longs to earn fame by defeating celebrated gunslinger Job (Elvin Jones). Eventually, Zachariah’s ambitions derail his friendship with Matthew and send Zachariah into the bed of prostitute Belle (Patricia Quinn).
          Director George Englund weaves music into the entire movie, sometimes stopping the story dead for an onscreen performance (hello there, Joe Walsh and the James Gang!), and sometimes utilizing propulsive tunes as an underscore. It’s all very pleasant to experience, inasmuch as counterculture-era sounds and the outlaw mythos mesh well, but nothing extraordinary takes shape. After all, even though the performances are adequate, the look is colorful, and some the tunes swing, how hip can a movie really be when it includes a supporting performance by future Eight Is Enough dad Dick Van Patten as a carnival barker?

Zachariah: FUNKY

1 comment:

Sir Sweetstick said...

Rubenstein and DJ have great chemistry together, which for me was/is the core attraction of the movie. While I agree with your review with regards to the shortcomings of the movie, there is more here than you are giving credit for. I think if the makers had gone for a straight forward story, the chemistry of the leads would have really made it a much more significant movie.

Can't wait for your review of "Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart" :)