❉ It could have been so easy to poke fun at such a camp, OTT movie but this film treats its subject with respect and love.
Few cult Sci-Fi films are engrained in the public conscience and as warmly remembered as 1980’s Flash Gordon. Upon its release it was embraced by a generation of kids that were hungry for the next Star Wars (ironically George Lucas tried to acquire the rights to Flash Gordon from Dino De Laurentiis and failed, which lead to him creating Star Wars).It was also helped in no small part, by a blistering rock soundtrack from Queen and the iconic title track written by guitarist Brian May.
The film itself was a glorious, fun, high camp re-imagining of Alex Raymond’s comic strip that sometimes brought to mind similarities with the colourful 1960s Batman TV series and producer Dino De Laurentiis’s other Sci Fi classic, 1968’s Barbarella.
Another factor in its cult status is its fantastic offbeat cast. Max Von Sydow, Melody Anderson, Topol, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, Richard O’Brien, Ornella Muti, Deep Roy – it almost reads like a Who’s Who of cult stars. Even Blue Peter‘s Peter Duncan manages to get in on the action. But what of the film’s lead actor, Sam Jones?
Lisa Down’s documentary Life After Flash does an incredible job of telling Sam Jones’s own story and amalgamating it with the behind the scenes story of the film itself. After Jones clashed with producer Dino De Laurentiis due to his own erratic behaviour, a planned trilogy was scrapped and his career faded into obscurity. It was at a screening of Flash Gordon in Los Angeles, Jones discovered to his horror that his voice had been dubbed by another actor. Coming up against one of the most powerful men in Hollywood had cost him dearly.
The events of his downfall are retold by Jones, his family, friends and colleagues. Jones himself comes across as an immensely likeable guy, who bravely confronts his demons onscreen with a brutal honesty. His story is an emotional journey of a man who hit rock bottom, who suffered depression and attempted suicide after his career diminished. He then worked extremely hard and managed to reedem himself. The film treats its subject with respect and love. Where director Lisa Downs really succeeds with this film, is conveying empathy for Jones and bucket-loads of enthusiasm for Flash Gordon.
It could have been so very easy to poke fun at such a camp, over the top movie but everything that made the film such an iconic part of our childhoods is celebrated respectfully.
The other main strength of Life After Flash is its selection of talking heads. Brian Blessed is, of course, worth the price of admission alone. He recalls how the cast were terrified of De Laurentiis and how he asked him to leave the set (in his trademark boom): “Dino you must FUCK OFF!”. The late Peter Wyngarde reveals why wearing a jockstrap in the film was a necessity. Queen’s Brian May sits by his piano recalling Queen working on the soundtrack and how Freddie Mercury approached his vocals.
This is the first time the movie has been covered with such insight. As well as contributions from Flash Gordon’s other main players we also hear from Mark Millar, Ray Park, Jason Mewes, Robert Rodrigrez and the legendary Stan Lee.
Both Sam Jones and Flash Gordon have enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years. Much of this is due to the 2012 comedy film Ted and its sequel Ted 2 (2015). Edgar Wright also cites Flash Gordon as an influence on Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and it’s difficult to watch Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy films and not see its impact. Sam Jones seems to be the first to acknowledge his own shortcomings but he is also someone who has worked very hard at putting things right. He seems to enjoy the Comic-Con circuit and the well-earned renewed interest in his career.
As someone who adores the original film, I think a documentary of this standard has been a long time coming. It’s the extraordinary story one of the most revered cult films of all time and is absolutely essential for the collection of anyone who grew up loving this movie. There is more good news for fans of ’80s Sci Fi classics, Lisa Down’s next project is a similar documentary on The Flight Of The Navigator.
❉ ‘Life After Flash’ (15) Starring: Sam J Jones, Melody Anderson, Brian Blessed, Topol, Peter Wyngarde, Brian May, Richard O’Brien, Deep Roy, Howard Blake, Peter Duncan. Written & Directed by Lisa Downs. Produced by Ashley Pugh & Lisa Downs. Purchase on VOD | Purchase on DVD & BluRay