Directed by Mike Hodges
SBS2 are doing a short season of “b-movies”, kicking off tonight with this little beauty that I don’t think I’ve seen since the mid- to late-80s (certainly never in widescreen as SBS showed it tonight). I will admit to some apprehension, cos I think even back then in my far less discerning days I knew there was something… I don’t know, not right, perhaps, about the film. Back then, though, I just hadn’t come across the concept of “camp”, in which Flash Gordon is a truly titanic exercise; had “camp” not already been invented, this film would’ve invented it. Part of the enjoyment of watching it again tonight, of course, was the Twitter conversation—SBS inspired a pretty lively tweet-along with the screening which added to the festivities greatly—but just seeing the film itself was an impressive experience. Costing some $20m back in the day, you actually can see that money on-screen; all this 70s Italian-style production design, those costumes, even those cloud backdrops… Flash is nothing if not legitimately well-made and amazing to actually look at. (Somehow I wasn’t hugely surprised to learn Dino De Laurentiis initially wanted Federico Fellini to direct it. I do remain faintly amazed that the man behind Get Carter did instead.) And the more it went on, the more impressed I became at the film’s sense of knowing absurdity; making a film that’s transparently ridiculous and also transparently aware of it (in a way that goes beyond the film just “not taking itself seriously”, if you know what I mean) without being tiresome can be a tricky proposition, but somehow Flash Gordon does it. I mean, if you’re like me you’ll still wonder what bills Max von Sydow had to urgently pay that he accepted the main villain part in this—it’s not quite Bergman, is it—and the ADR job done on Sam J. Jones in post-production was obvious enough that I of all people noticed it. But it was a lot more impressive than I’d been expecting from my dim memories of it and SBS’ “b-movie” branding, absurd and unsubtle (even BRIAN BLESSED’s teeth lacked nuance somehow) but joyous. I can’t help but suspect the recently announced remake will merely be absurd and unsubtle.