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This Ming is a psycho!


Flash Gordon
(1980)


This is one that has great cult/camp appeal but has never really done much for me. And the Blessed factor makes it some kind of modern national treasure. There are aspects of the production I really like; Howard Blake's electronic score is mostly magnificent in a way that only early '80s electronic scores can be (a bit like '60s Doctor Who sound effects in that respect; a lost art). And Peter Wyngarde is marvellous as Klytus, while Topol relishes every ham moment as Zarkov. And then there's Ornella Muti.

But like most Dino De Laurentis productions it's mostly sumptuous set design meeting a bone-headed choice of director (I love Barbarella's camp kitsche, but well-directed it is not). Mike Hodges is rightly esteemed for Get Carter and Terminal Man, but a big budget sf/fantasy vision is not in his box of tricks. Any coherence of the film is all in the music. And for every great design element like Klytus or Muti's costumes, there are a ridiculous red body stockings and paint-on lizard suits. Meaning that you have to watch it for the camp appeal; it's not involving as an action/adventure in its own right, and I think that's what bothered me about it when it first came out.

I found these comments by Nicolas Roeg on how he ended up not making the film;

Although The Man Who Fell to Earth had a rough ride commercially and criti­cally, it led to one movie offer that kept Roeg busy, and filmgoers expectant, for over a year – Flash Gordon.

"I love the Flash Gordon books," Roeg says. "When Dino De Laurentiis first asked me to do the movie, it was a little time after The Man Who Fell to Earth. In film, once you've got something out of you, you feel a bit empty. So I said, 'Well, I don't know, I must think about this.' And so I got all the books together. And I gradually came to the conclusion that Alex Raymond, who wrote them, was a genius, an absolute genius. It took me a long time, but sud­denly I tore into what I felt he was doing! It was extraordinary, and I became so excited at the idea that I said to Dino, 'Look, I'll go away and write. I think I know what I'd like to do with it.'

"Well, it took me a year, almost ex­actly a year, till I'd got it down how I wanted to make Flash Gordon. And I nipped back and said to Dino, 'Look, this is it. It's ready.' And he looked at it and said, "I don't want to make that picture. Please stay and I'll tell you the picture I want to make."'

Roeg pauses, then says, "End of proj­ect! I just couldn't take it on, because I thought to myself, Well, even if I'm well, well below average intelligence and I've taken a year to get it, and then I learn that I could have done it in two days, that'll give me a complex I'll live with for the rest of my life! But anyway, then Dino told me what he wanted to do. It seemed all right, but I think I'll stick with mine!"


IMDB notes: One of his proposals was to excise the trademark cliffhangers and melodrama, seeing Flash as more of "a metaphysical messiah."

Also this:

A questioner asked what had happened to the fateful Flash Gordon. Roeg spent three weeks in a hotel room reading the comics and uncovering some pretty saucy scenes which the cartoon guys had slipped in under the eyes of text-only newspaper editors. Full of lines such as "I'm coming Gordon". When it came to his interpretation the studio were having none of it.

Although, given how sexed-up Hodges version is (for a PG), that might be retrospective invention on Roeg's part.

Shame there's not more out there on his take.

***



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