Flash Gordon 35th Anniversary (Has It Really Been That Long?)

When a fan goes to the effort of arranging an event at BAFTA for Flash Gordon, it’s just rude not to attend.

Lisa Downs recently went to the trouble of arranging a fantastic night for fans of 1980’s Flash Gordon with fantastic results.

Lisa, a filmmaker, decided to arrange the night when she saw just how much Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson had to say to each other over dinner one night – a conversation she was privy to due to the work she has put into creating her documentary Life After Flash.

I’m not a convention girl, being as how I am quite possibly the shyest, most bumbling person on the planet, but how could I not go? Screening of Flash, Q&A with the cast – including the magnificent Peter Wyngarde, my second favourite Bad Guy (Darth Vader wins), and irrepressible Brian Bloody Blessed – and a signed poster? Well, I’m no fangirl, but count me in!

On Saturday, Nov. 28 at 195 Piccadilly, fans were treated to a testament to Lisa’s love. At least 200 people were present for Flash Gordon. Friends were made across the course of the evening – one man stood out in particular; I’ll let you try to figure out why (he may be in a picture below).

The night was, to my mind, a runaway success – I got a hug and kiss off Wyngarde after all – but there was something extra going on, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. One thing I can say is that regardless of having never met, everyone, seemingly without exception, felt happy talking to anyone, and not as someone unknown but as if they had been friends for years. There were celebrities there with no connection to Flash Gordon at all, but even those celebrities were One of Us. They were just as excited as the rest of us.

The paps were out in force, and Lisa was running around like a squirrel with a rocket up her behind as she continued organising, arranging, more organising and generally continuing her hard work as the hostess with the mostest – even at the end of the night, she looked fantastic and ready to do more.

I was standing outside when Jones and his beautiful wife Ramona turned up. He had been subject to criticism back when the film was released, but you wouldn’t have known that from the reception he received. Likewise, Anderson was glowing in front of the adoring cameras, obtaining the welcome of a living legend.

In addition to Jones (“He looks pure. … Sam Jones was perfectly cast as Flash Gordon and did a marvellous job” – Brian Blessed, Absolute Pandemonium), Anderson (“Pristine, subtle, glamorous girl-next-door” – Me, My Blog), Blessed (“Lovably cheeky bugger, real-life Vultan who didn’t need to actually act” – Me, My Blog)” and Wyngarde (“Bags of style and the most delightful voice you’ve ever heard. Great presence, too, and perfectly cast in the role of Klytus” – Brian Blessed, Absolute Pandemonium), the motley crew in attendance was rounded out by composer Howard Blake (composer), George Gibbs (SFX Supervisor), Trevor Butterfield (Hawkman) and Michael Stevenson (2nd AD).

If I deem my videos of the Q&A good enough (which I don’t), I’ll upload them following Lisa’s documentary release.

Absolute Pandemonium, incidentally, is bloody marvellous. You’ll be hooked from the first line of the introduction, but aside from being a brilliantly written piece straight from a very bouncy, bright mind, there happens to be a chapter devoted to Flash Gordon. I warn you, however, Blessed doesn’t believe in chronological order – why should he? After all, writing this now depends on something I did days ago, so back-and-forth seems appropriate.

I caught up with Lisa after the event to discuss her interest.

“I don’t actually remember first seeing Flash Gordon,” she said. “It’s funny because as I’ve been interviewing people for Life After Flash, fans have such clear memories of seeing it in the theatres, with their siblings, or their parents. I don’t have that. I actually thought my parents introduced me but turns out last month was the first time when I showed them!”

I can attest to this. If you see something at the cinema, you generally remember the experience. I personally don’t remember how old I was or which house I was in – I was born well after its release – but the film itself stood out. The colours were as hypnotic as Queen’s original soundtrack.

She continued, “I just remember it always being a part of my childhood….those staple films that you love. The Goonies, Neverending Story, Labyrinth…and Flash Gordon! It’s an amazing film and for me (and I think for a lot of people) the love and passion comes from that connection with your childhood and the nostalgia that surrounds it.”

The film was produced by the late Dino De Laurentiis, who Blessed states in his latest memoir, Absolute Pandemonium, was “one of the most ruthless and feared film producers in the business.” If you’re not familiar with the name, this is the man responsible for such movies as Serpico (1973), Death Wish (1974), The Shootist (1976), King Kong (1976), Orca (1977), Halloween II (1981), Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Dead Zone (1983), Dune (1984); Cat’s Eye (1985), Maximum Overdrive (1986), King Kong Lives (1986), Manhunter (1986), Evil Dead II (1987), Hannibal (2001), Red Dragon (2002), and Hannibal Rising (2007). An eclectic and immortal mix – exactly the sort of person who could successfully bring the comic strip polo-player and the black and white mini-series to the masses and the next generation.

I for one am grateful – without this film, I wouldn’t have spent many nights with a cup of tea and Flash Gordon featuring Buster Crabbe on the TV. Flash Gordon is an amazing character, pure of heart and inspirational.

Interestingly enough, Flash Gordon initially didn’t do well when released. We can blame the Americans for that, although they’ve wholeheartedly embraced the film in recent years. In Europe, Flash was a hit.

Despite the lack of initial enthusiasm across the pond, Flash Gordon went on to achieve its status as a cult classic.

But of course, it wasn’t just the producer and cast who made the ’80s movie a standout.

“For me it’s just as much the film, the content, the music, and the production values as it is the feeling of being a kid again when I watch it, and those memories attached to it. So sometimes I watch it now because I love the film, and sometimes I watch it because I just want to connect to the innocence of childhood again,” Lisa enthused.

“It’s a very powerful film to have such a hold over so many people, and to have such an impact on their lives.”

And she’s right. After all, how many people can’t resist saying “Aaaaah-aaaaah” in response to the mere mention of the word “Flash”? And that’s just the music.

Part 2 of Lisa’s Life After Flash-erview is a’coming…

___

Life After Flash has reached its target on Indiegogo but I’m sure if you want to be part of it, you’ll still be able to help.

Steven Pollard, the man in the awesome suit

 

When you’re photo-bombed by a leg, eat it. [Credit : Kelly Rose]
I was all “Hey, it’s Flash Gordon! GORDON’S ALIVE!” He was all “Hey, it’s a fangirl!” Bloke was all “Hey, it’s Matt Berry – why isn’t he laughing at my jokes?” (There’s a reason for that, bub…) [Credit : Kelly Rose]
Bonding over awesome green dresses and an amazing night

 

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3 thoughts on “Flash Gordon 35th Anniversary (Has It Really Been That Long?)

  1. I was along at the celebration too and completely agree how about what a great night it was and for precisely the reasons you mentioned.

    What could have potentially been a bit of an awkward, luvvy-centric night proved to be enormous fun and from my own experience, the one element that stood head and shoulders above everything (apart from the free bar and nibbles!) was Flash himself, big Sam Jones, who still looks like he could do a pretty good job of saving the universe.

    I was initially a bit apprehensive about approaching him to sign the classic Flash shirt I had under my dress shirt, but he was more than accommodating (he expressed concern at the marker staining my outer shirt – not that I cared at the time!) and although he made off with my marker, which prompted an amusing notion in my mind of a ‘Sun’-style headline ‘Flash Gordon Stole My Pen’.

    I was old enough (but a bit of a scaredy cat back in the day) to see the film at the cinema, but this was the first time I’d actually seen it on the big screen.

    The audience participation was a hoot – most notably everyone joining in with Brian Blessed’s battlecry as he sent in his flying troops, a moment I had half-expected and began recording on my phone. I just hadn’t anticipated such a huge response, which still makes me chuckle when I play it back.

    The Q&A session was priceless too, with Brian Blessed again stealing the show with his narrow chair/wide backside issues, and just about everyone performing their best Dino De Laurentiis impression; “I like-a your fa-ce…”

    The last word though should really go to Lisa Downs though, and again, I agree she was the little blonde dynamo that performed nothing short of a minor miracle to bring everything together and keep the evening ticking over very happily – a compliment I have already passed on down her way.

    Perhaps the evening will be the last time that the group of actors and crew will get together to celebrate their classic film and if that is to be the case, I am pleased that I was there to be a part of what was a fantastic evening.

    Like

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