Friday, December 7, 2007

Swimming Through the Center of the Sun

The New Beverly is currently running a festival programmed and hosted by Edgar Wright, billed as The Wright Stuff. Wednesday night’s entry was a double bill of two rather legendary comic book films produced by Dino De Laurentiis, FLASH GORDON and DANGER: DIABOLIK, with a few special guests in attendance. Shortly before showtime I was in the lobby when suddenly I was confronted by the sight of Timothy Dalton and Joe Dante embracing. Hey, it’s a LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION reunion! Edgar Wright was standing there between them, looking pleased as punch at what he’d engineered. Back in the theater I spotted DEATH PROOF’s Zoe Bell seated directly across the aisle from me. Sigh. Just another night at the New Beverly.

Dalton of course plays Prince Barin in Mike Hodges’ 1980 updating of FLASH GORDON and was there to do a Q & A with his HOT FUZZ director. The film was preceded by a bunch of trailers for post-STAR WARS sci-fi films like BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, GALAXINA, STAR CRASH, THE BLACK HOLE (a personal Rosebud) and for the Dalton fans, THE ROCKETEER. I can’t explain it, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve never seen the entirety of FLASH GORDON from start to finish. One thing I kept thinking of while watching it was how certain I was that this was surely shot in the stages of Cinecitta in Rome and how I could imagine Fellini storming these sets over the weekend and shooting some impromptu footage. Turns out I was wrong. It was shot in England but the sets and costumes were the work of Danilo Donati who worked with Fellini many times before and after this film. Edgar Wright also pointed out this unique feel that the film has and watching it now, since it’s really not a childhood touchstone for me, that flavor is the most interesting thing about FLASH GORDON. The film feels dated, yes, but except for the Queen music (which, admittedly, is awesome) it doesn’t feel as shackled to the period as things like the BUCK ROGERS show do. Maybe it’s a basic European feel but I kept feeling reminded of a basic mood that can also be found in other De Laurentiis productions ranging from BARBARELLA to DUNE. Even the extensive special effects, while in no way “realistic”, are actually very goofily enjoyable and also correct, considering the artificial tone that is the goal here.

While stars Sam Jones (dubbed by another actor—shades of other sixties productions) and Melody Anderson may be kind of dead wood, there’s more than enough energy from the supporting actors like Dalton himself, Topol, Max Von Sydow as Ming the Merciless, Brian Blessed, SWEPT AWAY’s Mariangela Melato and the spectacularly gorgeous Ornella Muti. Plenty of familiar faces pop up in bits throughout—when you think ‘Is that Richard O’Brien?’ there’s really not anyone else it could possibly be. The film is directed by Mike Hodges who was probably more at home making the classic GET CARTER, but even though I may not be about to become a card-carrying member of the FLASH GORDON cult, it’s a fun movie, especially when viewed with the crowd at the New Beverly.

In the post-film Q&A Timothy Dalton displayed a charm that has been unfortunately absent from too many of his film roles, including when he played James Bond. He may have been visibly taken aback by Edgar Wright’s first question (“Did you f*** Ornella Muti?”) but overall he seemed delighted by the large crowd and how much the audience genuinely enjoyed this film which didn’t do that well here in the states back in 1980. Wright also revealed that Dalton wore a mustache in HOT FUZZ primarily as a reference to this movie.

Joe Dante was on the premises to introduce DANGER: DIABOLIK and, I suppose, give the audience a bit of a Mario Bava primer. Fortunately, I had the impression that a number of other people there were already up to speed on him but Dante is always enjoyable to listen to. He talked a little bit about the director, justly praised Tim Lucas’s epic Bava biography All the Colors of the Dark to the skies and even discussed Dino De Laurentiis, telling the story of how he tried to hire Dante to make ORCA II, capped off by a priceless impression of the producer.

Before DIABOLIK we were treated to trailers for such other sixties epics as KISS THE GIRLS AND MAKE THEM DIE, DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE, OUR MAN FLINT, THE AMBUSHERS. None of which, of course, come close to measuring up to the stylish glories of DANGER DIABOLIK. I’m going to write a full piece on it another time, but for now I’ll just say that each time I see this film I like it a little more. I used to have issues with the episodic nature and how it makes the pace a little pokey and it does, but now I feel more than content to let the movie simply glide along as we revel in the exploits of Diabolik and Eva. The interplay between John Phillip Law and Marisa Mell is spellbinding as they come off as the coolest couple you’ve ever seen. All you can do is dream of being part of a pairing that produces such electricity. As great as the DVD is, the extensive glass matte work by Bava is even more impressive when seen on film. I loved every second of seeing this film again. After a late start, the intros and Q&A the night at the New Beverly ended later than expected so I was a little tired the next day. It was well worth it. DANGER: DIABOLIK has that effect and so do nights like that at the New Beverly.


cecil castellucci said...

love it. thanks for reporting on the new bev /e. wright thing. wish I could be there too. am waving hello from east coast.


WelcometoLA said...

Thanks for that report. And the "money shot" photo, which I never tire of.

Neal Romanek said...

Dynamite report. Wish I'd been there. I wonder if the new "Speed Racer" is taking a cue from "Flash Gordon" - theatrical, ostentatious, with minimal character development.

I'm such a big fan of Alex Raymond's original "Flash Gordon" strips and there isn't much of them in Hodges movie. It's mostly an homage to the Buster Crabbe serials. I haven't seen the movie since it came out, but I do remember Timothy Dalton being just right as Barin (minus the lemon yellow skin).

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

Thanks to everyone for the comments. Sending you all greetings and sorry that you couldn't be there to experience the rush of spending time with Flash and Diabolik. And I never get tired of that money shot, either.

Anonymous said...

I really wish I was on the west coast right about now. Always missing the good stuff....