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Zachariah (1971)
Director: George Englund

review by Rob Marshall

"Close your eyes, boy," says the old timer to the young cowboy. "Now open 'em... See the difference?" This is either a major cult film, or a trial, depending on your view of what used to be called progressive rock, and personal tolerance for weird western movies.
   Part musical fantasy, part morality play, Zachariah stars ever smiling John Rubinstein as the title character, who buys a gun through the post and goes off in search of adventure with his blacksmith buddy, Matthew (Don Johnson). Out on the dusty trail, Zach excitedly chases outlaws - the Crackers (Country Joe and the Fish) and beds Belle Starr (Pat Quinn, doing a passable Mae West), before riding off into the sunset. Matthew, after transformation into black clothed city slicker, fights a duel with top gunslinger Job Cain (Elvin Jones, drummer with the James Gang) who performs a thunderous drum solo after shooting one ornery cowpoke.
   This is the problem. There's no actual plot, just a series of showy little dramas, riddled with genre stereotypes mouthing blandly abstruse dialogue (co-written by the improvisation troupe, Firesign Theatre), campy homoerotic undertones, and amateurish use of zoom lenses, cut together with the electric rock interludes. At worst this is embarrassingly dull. At best, it's curiously surreal - with obviously kitsch sets like the exterior building facades, suspiciously vacant performances by New York Rock Ensemble, White Lightnin', the aforementioned Country Joe, and eccentric moments of satirical brilliance that blend western iconography with a hard rocking score to mesmerising effect.
previously published online, VideoVista #29
Zachariah
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