Science fiction hero Flash Gordon celebrates what you could call his 80th birthday this year, and Downtown Ithaca's Movie Poster Store is celebrating on Friday night with another of their comedic-roast movie screenings. Ithaca movie reviewer and comedian Bryan VanCampen will host a screening of the 1980 "Flash Gordon" movie with comedic commentary.
Bryan VanCampen, at right, introducing this spring's screening of "Batman & Robin." 14850 Photo.VanCampen and a cadre of corny comics ripped into "Batman & Robin," widely regarded as the absolute worst screen outing for the Caped Crusader, in a similar event in April, with dozens of attendees. He also hosted a public screening of "Pulp Fiction" at Cornell Cinema to mark the 20th anniversary of his Ithaca Times column.
"While we were roasting Batman & Robin," VanCampen says, "I was having such a good time that I knew I wanted to do this again, and my partner Aaron Pichel was game. So we put out a Facebook poll, and 'Flash Gordon' was one of the two top vote-getters."
VanCampen and a trio of other local comics will provide live comedic commentary to accompany the screening in the style of "Mystery Science Theatre." He'll be joined by Annie May, Ruben RC, and Steve Burke.
Pichel, who owns the Movie Poster Store on the Commons, says the Flash Gordon comic strip, which debuted in January, 1934, was created by a writer and artist named Alex Raymond, "a comics genius with a fluid, dynamic, and powerful drawing style that still wows to this day." He says the strip and the movie serials that appeared later in the 1930s "followed in the footsteps of the popular Buck Rogers science fiction thrillers that started in pulp magazines in 1928 and comic strips in 1929." It starred a handsome polo player (updated to a football star for the movie) pressed into service as a reluctant hero when the earth is bombarded by fiery meteors that turn out to be weapons from the planet Mongo.
The 1980 "Flash Gordon," while it has a campy tone that's similar to the 1960s "Batman" TV series because the late screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. was responsible for both, is still a pretty good comic/sci-fi movie. "At first I wondered if I had made a mistake in picking this movie," says the Movie Man, as VanCampen has long been known. "I was a big fan of the film when it opened here in Ithaca back in Christmas 1980. I’m led to understand that it flopped in the United States, but I kept bringing people back to see it, and I think they liked it, too."
The movie was produced by Dino De Laurentiis and starred Sam Jones as Flash, Melody Anderson as Dale Arden, as well as Max von Sydow as Ming the Merciless and Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin. "De Laurentiis’s production came in the wake of 'Star Wars,' when every studio was scrambling for its own space opera franchise," Pichel adds.
"I think Flash Gordon’s totally watchable and fun. It has lots of primary color to it, a decade before Warren Beatty did the same thing in Dick Tracy," VanCampen says. "It’s also sexy in a way that most space operas aren’t; the genre is pretty chaste for the most part. Flash has a real Betty/Veronica thing going with Ornella Muti and Melody Anderson."
The movie is also well known for its score by Queen, whose anthem rock style was oddly appropriate. "When we watched it the other night, I realized that you can’t make fun of two aspects of Flash Gordon. You can’t make fun of Queen’s music. I think we’ll get the audience playing air guitars and air drums on that scene," VanCampen says. "And you just can’t make fun of Brian Blessed as the lead Hawkman, Vultan. In a movie with an international all-star cast, he kinda steals the movie: a flying Falstaff."
"The roast is not so much a roasting of the character and its fine pedigree, but of the overblown movie that was produced in 1980," says Pichel. He says spectators are invited to dress up as their favorite hero, heroine, villain, or villainess from the movie, or come dressed in pajamas and bring pillows and blankets for a “slumber party” atmosphere, and door prizes and a costume prize will be awarded.
"When we watched it the other night, Ruben RC had never seen it," VanCampen says, "and I think it’s safe to say it blew his mind. He had only seen the soft-core parody 'Flesh Gordon,' which I saw in college."
"When I was doing my research, I found out that Semple felt bad that he gave Flash Gordon the camp approach from the Batman series," BVC adds. "He wished that he had written it straight, and he had written straight espionage stuff like Three Days of the Condor. I sure wouldn’t mind seeing a 'Flash Gordon' movie that was less tongue in cheek, but I’m not sure how seriously I could take it."
Pichel agrees. "Flash Gordon could certainly use the modern movie touch of a Chris Nolan or a good Marvel production. I wonder if anyone is working on it." VanCampen and Pichel are planning another bad-movie roast for August 30th.
The screening begins at 9pm on Friday, July 18th, at The Movie Poster Store on the Commons in Downtown Ithaca. The store, at 135 The Commons, offers posters and other movie memorabilia, as well as comic books and graphic novels, for sale. Tickets are $8 in advance or $10 the night of the show, and refreshments, including a keg of local beer, will be available.
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