"Your God gave you the gift of the Gun. The Gun is good. The Penis is Evil." - Zardoz
Sick of honoring Saint Patrick's Day by celebrating your Irishness or affinity for Irish culture by going out to drown your innards with copious amounts of Irish spirits? Stay indoors, save some green money, tuck into your own whiskey stash while marveling at the natural beauty of the Emerald isle as framed by British filmmaker John Boorman in such films as Excalibur (1981) and Zardoz (1974) -- could two films made in the same location, directed, produced and written by the same person be more different? I think not.
Gabriel Byrne and Nichol Williamson as Uther and Merlin in Excalibur
And yet one gets the impression that even in within the context of Boorman's adaptation of Arthurian legends the sword Excalibur represents a goodness not unlike that of Zardoz's "God-given gun" while the "evil" penis serves naught but to wreak havoc upon Camelot's carefully constructed peace what with all that adultery and incest going 'round the round table. But Zardoz is one of those films that I find myself thinking about more than I probably should, perhaps that's because no matter how many times I've seen it it completely freaks me out. It is such a strange film that it's almost impossible to believe it actually exists.
Sean Connery in Zardoz
It does exist, of course, and looking past Sean Connery's adult diaper-looking red short-shorts, matching bandoliers and thigh-high leather boots costume -- not to mention the plenitude of naked women that flesh out the cast -- to digest the core of the penis vs. gun debate in this most extravagant of dystopian science fictions is only half the fun. But I digress, and I really shouldn't attempt to mold Excalibur to its freaky, art house contours. Though both of these films were made in Ireland, largely filmed on Boorman's own estate (must be nice!), Zardoz doesn't pack the same atmospheric punch that Excalibur does, but then Excalibur isn't trying to sell viewers on the concept of giant stone God heads that fly around distributing arsenals of firearms to the people down below by ejecting guns by the dozen from it's gaping mouth-hole. Excalibur's magic is a softer, more subtle stuff. Personally, I think it's the best movie of it's kind ever made.
Nicholas Clay and Cherie Lunghi as Lancelot and Guenevere in Excalibur
There is a seemingly excessive use of green lighting used to fantastic effect throughout Excalibur, highlighting what I've always assumed to be the suggestion of magical elements at work within the story (see the green glint on the sword pictured above), and spotting the use of unnaturally green light throughout the film seems worthy of a drinking game. Unlike Zardoz, Excalibur's more unbelievable moments are enveloped within an oft-told mythological narrative so well known that when when the audience is presented with, say, an awkward, huffy-puffy sex scene between a nude actress (Boorman's own daughter, Katrine as Igrayne of Cornwall) and a fully-armored knight (Corin Redgrave as Cornwall, or is that Gabriel Byrne again?) it's not all that surprising. Shocking? Maybe a little, but plausible. Just about as plausible as the Lady of the Lake (featuring Boorman's other daughter, Telsche), whose scenes not only make an argument for her existence showcase some of the more beautiful of Excalibur's Irish locations.
Nigel Terry as King Arthur approaches the Lady of the Lake
All in all, there are plenty of other fantastic fantasy films made in Ireland (Princess Bride is a standout favorite) so if you're stuck inside the house this St. Paddy's Day, or are just plain loath to go out and mingle with the greenery, get a little Irish film fix with either of these Boorman classics. Also, be on the lookout for the Excalibur documentary, Behind the Sword in the Stone, currently in production and featuring interviews with Boorman himself and many cast, such as Nigel Terry, Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Cherie Lunghi and Charley Boorman who played young Mordred in this so-called "Boorman family picture." Check out the trailers for both Excalibur and Zardoz (if you dare) below.