**½/**** Image A- Sound A-
starring John Rubinstein, Pat Quinn, Don Johnson, Country Joe and the Fish
screenplay by Joe Massot and Philip Austin and Peter Bergman, David Ossman, Philip Proctor (known as Firesign Theatre)
directed by George Englund
by Travis Mackenzie Hoover Think back with me, for a moment, to a bygone era when rock was strange: a hippie-descending, proto-glam period when the buzz was off the love generation but a bumbling mystic energy remained--when record producers were getting into bed with the likes of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Mick Jagger could be seen in the gender-bending gangster drama Performance. It was a self-aggrandizing, frequently ridiculous time, but it had a tolerance for eccentricity that's impossible to find in our Britneyfied MTV age and for which I can only be wistfully nostalgic. Lacking both the money and the conceptual force to fully realize its acid-western ambitions, Zachariah isn't even close to being the quintessential flashback to those days (it may in fact simply be cashing in on a trend), but its half-flubbed attempts at pop-surrealism seem a tonic now that the mainstream pop landscape is largely imagined by accountants.
Zachariah (John Rubenstein), a decidedly unmanly young man, buys a revolver in hopes of becoming a gunfighter. After training with his blacksmith buddy Matthew (a young Don Johnson, looking strangely like Ashton Kutcher), the two hook up with inept gunslingers the Crackers (Country Joe and the Fish), who play music better than they rob stagecoaches. But after revamping the gang's criminal techniques and trading bullets with gunslinging heavyweight Job Cain (Elvin Jones), our man Zach gets restless, going from pillar to post in picaresque pursuit of the satisfaction that eludes him. As his interest in gunfighting wanes, Matthew becomes a master of the form, and so the stage is set for a confrontation between the two former friends.
It's a slip of a plot, to be sure, designed for pockets of episodic bliss and little stabs at transcendental significance. Alas, the bliss is largely manufactured. Originally concocted by the Firesign Theatre as a comedy, the script has clearly been mangled into some moneyman's idea of what the kids will like--and despite reports of it being based on Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, Zachariah seems more interested in the prestige of the source than in the source itself; nothing has resonance, either as "spiritual journey" or as a big rock spectacle. (The screenplay is too unconscious for the former, the budget too minuscule to satisfy either.) Zachariah looks in the direction of Ken Russell but lacks the courage to pick up his banner. The results strain to be weird and pretend to be profound without really fooling anyone.
Viewed through the prism of the bling-burdened pop of recent days, however, the film looks practically daring. Poised on the temporal knife-edge between '60s freakism and nascent '70s androgyny, it offers a unique view of styles in transition: It continues to push the waning do-your-own-thing philosophizing with a sexually ambiguous notion of what that thing might be. The effeminate pair of Rubinstein and Johnson look like a couple of infatuated Bowies dealing with the survivors of a Peckinpah raid--they sort of signal the decline of the more stripped-down, manly pop longhairs and look forward to the more theatrical gestures that would characterize the coming period. Successful Zachariah is not, but evocative it is, the kind of thing that might appeal to the 13-year-old Jonathan Caouette in his recent Tarnation: a series of incoherent but utopian erotic gestures in search of some pop nirvana. The kind of scattered thing that current cinema lives to censure, the film is a minor, gentle oddity that made me happier than the boots to the head we've been forced to accept in recent years.
MGM's 1.85:1, 16x9-enhanced DVD presentation of Zachariah has excellent colour saturation and fairly decent foreground detail. If backgrounds betray a little fuzziness, it's a small price to pay for a generally high-calibre transfer. The Dolby 2.0 mono sound is also very good, potently rendering the numerous rock numbers with only a slight hint of softness in the dialogue scenes. There is nothing in the way of supplementary material.
92 minutes; PG; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 2.0 (Mono); CC; English, French, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; MGM