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July 28, 2018

Saturday Evening Movie Thread 07-28-2018 [Hosted By: TheJamesMadison]

A Break

Happy Saturday, all.

Commenter A.H. Lloyd reached out to me a couple of weeks ago because I had not written the ultimate post about Flash Gordon that he knew we all needed, so he went ahead and wrote it for me.

I didn't object. I've written 71 of these in a row and needed a little break. So, without further ado, let's talk about 80s decadence!


Flash Gordon

Greeting, fellow movie Morons! A.H. Lloyd here, giving ThejamesMadison a much-deserved break. Some of you may remember me from the book thread, and maybe a few of you bought my amazing books, which are available for sale via http://www.ahlloyd.com.

Crass commercialism aside, some of you know I'm a big Star Wars fan, and my Man of Destiny series was an attempt to 'fix' the prequels. Tonight I want to go revisit a close contemporary of the original film that has been almost completely overlooked by the popular culture.

Like Star Wars, it's a sprawling, big-screen space opera the looms larger than life and features an iconic, unmistakable soundtrack.

I am of course referring to Flash Gordon.


72. Flash Gordon 01.jpg

Some folks might consider it a knock-off, but that actually gets the relationship backwards. Star Wars drew its inspiration from the Flash Gordon serials back in the day. In fact, George Lucas reputedly wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie, and only made Star Wars when he couldn't get the rights.

So when Star Wars turned into a huge success, it was only natural that Hollywood would figure that a straight-up Flash Gordon film would be a good bet.

Alas, it didn't work out that way. The movie did well in the UK, but was disappointment in the US.

Still, I loved it as a kid and as an adult, I appreciate it even more. There is a lot of depth to this film so long as you pay attention.


Beneath the Surface

That's because Flash Gordon isn't just a space opera - it's an incisive and clever allegory for the US relationship with Europe during the 20th Century told from the European point of view. Once you realize that, it becomes one of the best movies of all time.

Mongo is really Europe with Ming representing the constant threat of dictatorship. Earth (that is, the United States) doesn't want to get involved, but we're dragged into it anyway.

Flash is the archetypal American: big, strong, honest to a fault and hilariously ignorant He has no idea who anyone is, or what's going on, but he's going to do his best to fix it.

The locals are at first contemptuous of his blunt stupidity, but are won over by his bravery and complete lack of guile. In this he's backed by Dale Arden (the archetypal Working Girl) and Doctor Zarkoff, who provides the obligatory the-Jews-are-the-brains-behind-everything-America-does angle. (To be clear, this is from the European point of view.)

Flash Gordon is basically a one-man American Expeditionary Force, knocking over the evil German/Nazi/Soviet Empire and teaching everyone how to put aside their differences and work together.


Actors Doing Their Part

A lot of critics panned Sam Jones' performance as Flash, but his minimal acting skill actually works in this context. The guy's not a galactic superhero, he's merely the pretty-boy quarterback for the New York Jets, and he's probably taken too many hits to the head.

What makes this work is the stellar supporting cast. This movie enjoys the talents of Brian Blessed, Timothy Dalton and of course Max von Sydow.

Max von Sydow is amazing, but let's give a shout-out to Brian Blessed here for a moment. This is arguably his most famous role. If you know the movie, you know what this clip has him saying:

Timothy Dalton also does great work. Just before this scene starts, there's a rather, erm, suggestive attempt to rouse the beast:

Yeah, so Prince Barin is kind of like a Han Solo who helps Luke only after trying to kill him.

Peter Wyngarde does a brilliant turn as Klytus and the Mongo women are delightfully vampish in their respective ways.

Seriously, Carrie Fisher is cute in a girl-next-door sort of way, but Ornella Muti is in an entirely different league. This contrast highlights a key difference between the two movies.

In Star Wars, Princess Leia dresses in a skimpy bikini because she's captured by the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt.

In Flash Gordon, Princess Aura dresses in a skimpy bikini because she likes it.

I'm sure a number of Morons may need to take a moment, but let's press on.

You can tell that the actors are really enjoying themselves. The lavish sets get chewed on regularly and the costumes are equally over the top. None of the monochrome Imperial look from Star Wars here!

No, the stormtroopers in Mongo wear gold armor:

72. Flash Gordon 03.jpg

Speaking of the sets, the Art Deco vibe is amazing. Everything looks like it was lifted out of the 30s, including the space ships with their greenhouse cockpits and swept wings:
72. Flash Gordon 04.jpg

One other thing that sets this film apart - it's got some rather racy bits to it, completely unlike Star Wars. When Princess Auroa is interrogated, it isn't by a floating beach ball with a syringe - she's held down on a table and flogged by a woman dressed as a dominatrix:

Emperor Ming doesn't just sit around and cackle like the geezer in Star Wars. No, check out his swinging bedchamber complete with gold pillows where he can take "his pleasure."

72. Flash Gordon 05.jpg
Ah, European decadence.

What sets this movie apart is that you can enjoy it both as a popcorn flick, and as social commentary on American-European relationships. Watch it once just to enjoy it, and then watch it again and try to pick out the symbolism. There's a lot there if you pay attention.

I can't conclude this piece without mentioning the amazing title track by QUEEN. You know you've heard it, and it's awesome:

Take a look and watch it with fresh eyes. You'll have to agree it's held up rather well.


Movies of Today

Opening in Theaters:
Mission: Impossible Fallout
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
Hot Summer Nights

Next in my Netflix Queue:
The Thing

Movies I Saw This Week:
The Darkest Hour (Netflix Rating 2/5 | Quality Rating 1/4) Poster blurb: "Wait...This isn't about Churchill, but a bunch of dumb people fighting dumb aliens." [Netflix DVD]
Darkest Hour (Netflix Rating 5/5 | Quality Rating 3.5/4) "That's better. Wonderfully engaging performance even if the structure feels just the tiniest bit off." [Personal Collection]
A Tale of Two Cities (Netflix Rating 5/5 | Quality Rating 3.5/4) "Probably the best Charles Dickens adaptation you will ever get." [Archive.org]
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition (Netflix Rating 4/5 | Quality Rating 3/4) [Rewatch] "Obviously a first draft with first draft problems, but I still enjoy it quite a bit." [Personal Collection]
My Man Godfrey (Netflix Rating 5/5 | Quality Rating 5/4) [Rewatch] "Witty and funny comedy of manners." [Amazon Prime]
Enemy (Netflix Rating 4/5 | Quality Rating 3/4) [Rewatch] "Not as opaque as some people say, and really quite engaging." [Netflix Instant]
Kingdom of Heaven Director's Cut [Rewatch] (Netflix Rating 5/5 | Quality Rating 4/4) [Rewatch] "A sophisticated modern epic with fantastic action." [Personal Collection]


Contact

Email any suggestions or questions to thejamesmadison.aos at symbol gmail dot com.

I've also archived all the old posts here, by request. I'll add new posts a week after they originally post at the HQ.

And, please, visit my website.

My next collection of short stories, Old Magic in a New World is now on sale in both eBook and print editions!

digg this
posted by OregonMuse at 07:15 PM

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