Yes, pumpkins, I know I promised to review "Django Unchained" as soon as I could. But circumstances currently have me grounded and, for the foreseeable future, the only way I'll be able to go to the theater is if one opens up across the street (which isn't likely). I advise patience.
In the meantime, not being able to discuss "Django Unchained", I find I have no alternative than to go to the next best thing.
"No," you say.
Yes, I reply.
"No, no, no," you say.
Yes, yes, yes I reply.
"You don't mean?" you say.
I certainly do mean, I reply. Ladies and gentlemen I give you . . . for your cinematic review edification . . . Mihalis Kakogiannis' 1967 film "The Day the Fish Came Out". The film which Quentin Tarentino might've made had he been a Greek Cypriot director.
And you're all going: "Wait a minute. This guy Caca Genetics---"
Kakogiannis, but go ahead.
"Yeah, him. Whatever. Didn't he do that film "The Trojan Women" which you talked about some time back?"
He most certainly is.
"Uncle Mikey that durn near put me to sleep and then some."
It was based on a play by Euripides, for criminy sakes. What were you expecting? The Roller Derby? Anyway, this is an entirely different film. Boy, is it entirely different.
"Well . . . okay. Hit us with your rhythm stick."
I'll do my best. Anyway: as I ofttimes do I begin with a bit of history. Back in 1966 there was an air crash over Spain. An American B-52 bomber ended up losing four thermonuclear bombs. The bombs were recovered but unfortunately there was some contamination of the area, and the repercussions from that incident are still being felt today.
The Sixties being what they were (and seeing as how Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove" had earned over four million dollars during it's initial theatrical release), it was felt that a wildly satirical film on the subject of those clumsy Americans losing their atom bombs would be an international hoot (and an international hit).
Enter Kakogiannis. He had not yet directed "The Trojan Women" but was riding pretty durn high on the basis of his 1964 film "Zorba the Greek" and so he was given carte blanche to do pretty much whatever he wanted. This resulted in a case of what I call "The Lucas Effect".
Okay, let me explain. Occasionally you'll get a director who'll put out a film that's so wonderful and so inexpensive and so very very profitable that the Money People at the studios will say "(insert name of director) you can do any film you like. We'll back you to the hilt." This is what happened with George Lucas after the success of "American Graffiti". The Money People were expecting more of the same, and what they got instead was "Star Wars". John Boorman does "Deliverance" and once again the studio thought they knew what he's going to put out next. Instead they get "Zardoz".
Same thing with Kakogiannis. He comes out with "Zorba the Greek" and the Money Boys think his next project is going to be "Zorba II", or "Son of Zorba", or at least "Zorba Meets Dracula".
Wrong-O, Mary Lou!
What Kakogiannia does give the public is "The Day the Fish Came Out". Directed by Kakogiannis, produced by Kakogiannis . . . written by Kakogiannis. The dude even designed the costumes for the film. Are you sensing a pattern here, pumpkins?
"It's Kakogiannis' film."
You betchum, Red Ryder! Even taking into account the fact that this was made in the latter half of the Sixties, the film is sort of a cinematic equivalent of the UFO. I mean, you know you've seen something . . . you just don't really know what the hell it was.
The story begins with a NATO bomber rapidly losing power over the Mediterranean. Under orders not to lose their nuclear weapons in the ocean, the two pilots jettison them over the small island of Karos. Not only are the bombs jettisoned but, along with them, a metal box called "Container Q" is also tossed overboard. The plane crash lands in the water near the island, and the pilots (played by Colin Blakely and Tom Courtenay) manage to survive and make it to land. For reasons not entirely explained the pilots are also wearing nothing but their underwear.
Now . . . back at NATO Command everyone's panicking because of the lost bombs (and "Container Q" which must be recovered at all cost). The good news is that NATO Command knows the bombs and Container Q are on Karos. The bad news is that they want the entire recovery operation to go as smoothly and as quietly as possible (the incident in Spain still on everyone's mind). To accomplish this it's decided that the recovery team (led by Sam Wanamaker) will travel to Karos disguised as a development team scouting locations for a possible resort hotel. Everyone go huh.
Thank you. The people living in Karos' only town see the recovery team arrive and immediately go hogwild in expectation of a big financial windfall (think of "Local Hero" only with atom bombs, and written far less charmingly). They leak out the news of the "development team", and the little island soon becomes the vacation spot of choice for practically everyone in the world. To complicate matters, the digging efforts by the NATO people manage to uncover some artifacts, which brings archaeologists on top of everything else (including Candice Bergen, here in her third film, playing a character by the name of Electra: a rather sexually excitable archaeological assistant). Meanwhile the pilots (remember the pilots) are scurrying around the island in search of (A) clothes and (B) some way of contacting NATO (unaware that the "development team" are actually military officials). Everyone go what the heck.
"What the heck?"
Thank you. Oh yes, one further detail. The two bombs are rather quickly located. But searches for Container Q prove fruitless, requiring the NATO people to stay on the island much longer than they originally planned. The container has actually fallen into the hands of a poor-as-dirt farmer and his family. They think that the metal box contains some sort of important treasure and are trying every means under the sun to open it, only to find that the container is well-nigh indestructible. How many of you have seen Robert Aldrich's "Kiss Me Deadly"?
One . . . two . . . three . . . okay. Some of you out there have a pretty good notion of where the story's going in regards to Container Q. In the meantime, though, the audience is being treated to something that doesn't seem to be fish or fowl or good red herring. It's not quite a comedy, not altogether noticeably satirical and hardly dramatic.
My best guess . . . everyone go oh God, Uncle Mikey's guessing.
"Oh God, Uncle Mikey's guessing!"
You people are so nice. My best guess is that what Kakogiannis tried to give us here was a snapshot of the mores among the sophisticates. "La Dolce Vita" meets "Dr. Strangelove" . . . they run off, get married (with "On the Beach" attending the ceremony) and this is the kid they had. Ugly little cuss, ain't it?
You'll notice, for instance, I haven't dwelled too much on the performances of the individual actors. Truth be told, pumpkins, there really wasn't that much in the way of acting. Instead the film seems to be a collection of exaggerated spoof reactions to calamity. As an example: the NATO team show up on Karos and, as they're an all-male crew (all of them wearing regulation short military haircuts), the homosexual innuendos soon begin to fly (probably much more daring back in those days than they would be now). There's also the various citizens of Karos (in various European "What's New Pussycat"-style poses of sexual frustration and related problems) and, of course, the NATO pilots sneaking around in their near nudity. The only person who seems to have her mojo working in some sort of sync is Candice Bergen, playing the most comfortably confident individual in the entire show. In one scene she triumphantly appears among the NATO team, standing above them on a cliff, her radio blaring out Beethoven's Ninth. As an anchor for the entire film, though, she does only marginally better than the bomber which crashed into the ocean. We're just expected to flow along and breathe in all the subtexts.
But I don't totally dismiss this film. It helps, rather, if a viewer accepts it in much the same way as a piece of kinetic sculpture. And it does contain a rather undeniable uniqueness (if only for the fact that I really can't conceive of anyone else making this, but see below). A prime example would be in the soundtrack supplied by Mikis Theodorakis (another artist whose career received a serious boost from "Zorba the Greek"). For "The Day the Fish Came Out" Theodorakis supplies the music to "The Jet": a dance which somehow seems to compel everyone who hears the music to automatically join in (John Baxter, in his seminal work "Science-Fiction in the Cinema", refers to this as perhaps the only genuine SF element in the film. I'm willing to concede the point). If "The Jet" sounds familiar its probably because it contains elements that will show up a few years later in Theodorakis' soundtrack to Costa-Gavras' "Z").
"The Day the Fish Came Out" is enjoyable if people watch it with no other expectation beyond sitting through one director's very personal vision. If you think of cinema as exhibits in a museum, then "The Day the Fish Came Out" is the wallpaper . . . perhaps not ultimately significant, but it's hanging on the wall nonetheless. Earlier I mentioned Quentin Tarentino. If Kakogiannis possessed more of Tarentino's eye for the clever use of tropes (and if he employed genuine wit, rather than innuendo), then this film could've been a triumph. As it is, it's a curiosity. Admittedly one that's difficult to ignore outright, but still just a curiosity.
"So Uncle Mikey, are you telling us that "The Day the Fish Came Out" isn't all that great a movie?"
(Sigh) No pumpkins. Ultimately, what I'm saying is that, if you really desire to be a completist in terms of SF cinema in particular . . . or genre films in general . . . then you've got to sit through an awful lot of frickin' weirdness in order to win your spurs. Case in point.