Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece 1969 science-fiction anti-war novel is done marvellous justice by Butch and Sundance director George Roy Hill’s wildly complex, truly bizarre and poignant commentary on the absurdity of human existence.
In this postmodern Pilgrim’s Progress, Michael Sacks is Billy Pilgrim, a middle-aged optometrist who has become “unstuck in time” and is experiencing involuntary time travel.
Pilgrim constantly leaves the present (1968) – where he has a dull existence near the (fictional) town of Ilium in upstate New York with his wife Valencia (Sharon Gans), daughter Barbara (Holly Near) and son Robert (Perry King) – to either return to the past, to the abattoir (Slaughterhouse-Five) where he sheltered from the 1945 firebombing of Dresden as a POW, or flit to the future, where his mating with beautiful young porn star Montana Wildhack (Valerie Perrine) is viewed under a glass geodesic dome by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore who have abducted the couple to display in a zoo.
A wry, intelligent and thought-provoking parable with a haunting surreal quality. The film itself was critically well-received and won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Vonnegut himself was thrilled with it.
Slaughterhouse-Five was filmed in the early months of 1971 in the Czech Republic, in Minnesota, and at Universal Studios in Hollywood. Hill shot most of the film at Prague’s Barrandov Studios and in the city, which doubled for Dresden, while Prague’s Praha hlavní nádraží (Main Railway Station) stood in for Dresden’s railway station.
Billy Pilgrim’s otherworldly home – the geodesic dome on Tralfamadore – was built on a Universal sound stage. Scenes supposedly taking place near Billy’s postwar home in upstate New York were filmed at various locations in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
In Vonnegut’s novel, the Tralfamadorian response to death and destruction – “so it goes” – is repeated 106 times, but the phrase is never spoken in the film.
Valencia Merble Pilgrim
Wild Bob Cody
George Roy Hill