Saul Bass' Phase Iv
Thu 7 July 2011 // 20:00
(Thu 7th / 8pm / £5/4)
(Saul Bass / 1974 / USA / 79 minutes / Certificate PG)
Although best known for his ground-breaking design work, creating many classic title sequences for heavyweight directors such as Hitchcock, Preminger and Scorsese, in 1974 Saul Bass directed his only feature length film with this curious ecological sci-fi offering. Though rather casually dismissed at the time, it's become something of a cult favourite in the years since and despite some flaws, is well worth a re-appraisal through modern eyes and ears.
In a remote corner of the Arizona desert, colonies of ants have started behaving oddly, building strange towers and geometrically perfect designs, seemingly declaring war on their human neighbours via a series of increasingly aggressive moves that the scientists and statisticians based there begin to study. Slowly we learn of some cataclysmic shift, occurring in phases, in which the ants effectively make a bid for domination and ascent to the top of the world’s food chain, via power in numbers - both physically (there are literally billions of them) and metaphorically (they appear to communicate mathematically).
Arriving at the tail end of the popular creature vs. humans cycle of sci-fi that ran from the fifties onwards, Bass overreaches his potentially absurd material and brings his cool craftsman’s eye to present something altogether more atmospheric and cerebral, resulting in a creepily profound fable that lingers in the mind long after viewing. Making great use of his trademark innovations - stunning macro photography, excellent stop motion and optical effects alongside an atmospheric electronic soundtrack by Brian Gascoine and Radiophonic workshop collaborator David Vorhaus. With minimal cast, dialogue and locations, Phase IV remains a sparse and haunting treat from that great lost era of Hollywood weirdness.