I don’t have a favorite movie to be honest. There are tons of worthwhile movies that I adore, thinking of them as old friends. They’re experiences that transport me away from my day to day concerns. How does one choose just a single solitary individual movie to hold above all others as their top choice?
My tastes are broad, too. So it could be a blockbuster like Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is a perfect distillation of so many influences, a movie serial for eighties kids, packed with flying wings and Nazis and a flawed hero with a bullwhip and a hat that never comes off? Or would it be something arty like Jodorowsky’s El Topo or The Holy Mountain, films about image and religion and violence and transformation? Something gory like Fulci’s The Beyond or Romero’s Dawn of the Dead? A movie that will never fit into the time it was released and is still finding an audience, like Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China or The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai? Or maybe Strange Brew or The Kentucky Fried Movie or Beyond the Valley of the Dolls?
Man, this is hard.
If hard pressed, I’ll have to pick Flash Gordon. It’s not the best movie ever made, but the more I think about it, it’s my favorite film ever made. It’s like a warm bowl of soup on a cold winter’s day. Someone tucking you in and letting you sleep in. A cool fresh squeezed lemonade when you’re parched. It is all of these things and more.
When they were planning this movie — and look, I wasn’t there, I was right when this came out — I imagined that they all stopped doing coke for a second — because in my heart of hearts, I fervently believe that every movie pre-1990 was dreamed up with mountainous piles of cocaine for fuel — and said, “You know, instead of making this movie realistic, let’s make it as fake and garish and ridiculous as we can. Fuck it.”
Whereas Star Wars and Alien – movies influenced by the aforementioned Jodoworsky’s abandoned Dune project — envisioned working class spaceships, everything in Flash Gordon is shiny and new and fresh out of Studio 54.
It’s a film daring enough to find its star, Sam J. Jones, from TV’s The Dating Game. Then, take that untested star and match him with master thespians like Max Von Sydow and Topol.
It’s also a film stupid enough to feature a football fight as one of its main action pieces. But I’ll punch anyone square in the face that makes fun of that scene. The cheerleading, the sound effect when Flash gets knocked out, the lizard aliens cheering, Klytus calling plays — it’s really the craziest thing committed to celluloid. This wasn’t some art film or ragtag B movie — this was a major blockbuster motion picture.
And at the same time, it has the greatest soundtrack ever recorded. Queen was at the top of their game — hey, they had just released The Game — and they went nuts on this epic. Pretty much every drum part I’ve ever tracked for my many metal projects starts here, with the loud pounding tribal beat featured in the song “In the Space Capsule (The Love Theme).” I’m listening to this while I type these words and I can envision exactly what is on screen, Dale, Flash and Dr. Zarkov. Man — dialogue all over these songs on the soundtrack, like it should be.
Flash is such an influence on me that I randomly scream things from it just about every single day. Stuff like, “DIVE!” and “Gordon’s alive?!” and “No, daddy, not the bore worms!” or “Ah, well; who wants to live forever?” and “Klytus, are your men on the right pills?” and “Rocketship Ajax approaching!”
It’s packed with everything a movie needs: crazy scenery that isn’t afraid to throw glitter and day-glo everywhere; Ornella Muti steaming up the screen in every single frame she appears in (I didn’t get a ton of the sexual stuff in here until maybe my mid-teens, then I started watching the film all over again from a totally new perspective); both the funniest and most awesome wedding scene in the history of film; a button marked HOT HAIL that Ming just fires at the Earth because he can. I could, can and will go on — it’s that good.
The first time I saw this movie was at the Westgate Plaza Cinema in New Castle, PA. I forced my parents to watch it twice the same day and I was a completely maniac, standing on my seat and screaming, “KILL MING!” until I had to be told to settle down. Then, HBO saw fit to air it every single minute of every single hour or every single day, except for when they showed Burt Reynolds movies like Hooper and Sharky’s Machine. And I watched it every single time.
I should have just wrote this piece like a disjointed screed from a maniac of things that make me go goo goo in this flick: Klytus’ eyes bugging out when he melts and dies; the jump at the end and the YEAH!; the Hawkmen spelling Flash’s name at the victory celebration; Rocky Horror’s Richard O’Brien showing up on Arboria; even an ending that promised more. Well, 37 years later, I’m still waiting.
They say you should never meet your heroes. And I hate bugging celebrities and being a fanboy, but there’s one picture that I have — and Sam J. Jones is in it. That pretty much says it all.
PS – The end of the movie, when they play Queen’s “The Hero?” Let me quote:
“So you feel that you ain’t nobody/ Always needed to be somebody/ Put your feet on the ground/ Put your hand on your heart/ Lift your head to the stars/ And the world’s for your taking”
I can run through walls after listening to that song or watching this movie.
NOTE: This article originally ran on Super No Bueno.