Flash Gordon ★★★½

Watched as part of the June 2017 Letterboxd Scavenger Hunt
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#26: A Movie That Features A Song By Queen

2017 movie viewings, #86. 1980's Flash Gordon is a nearly perfect example of everything glorious and terrible about being a child during the Countercultural Era like I was. A last gasp of '70s psychedelic and hedonistic excess (unsurprisingly from the mind of Dino DeLaurentis, who made an entire career out of such projects), it's a decidedly adult, disco-tinged take on the classic children's serial, with a half-naked cast who regularly wear either bikinis or codpieces, a self-winking, overtly sexual tone to the entire script, and a soundtrack by no less than the "id manifested" rock band Queen; but since it's based on, you know, a children's project, the adults of the late 1970s thought this would be a perfectly fine thing to present to their children as legitimate children's fare, and thus was my preteen years spent seeing this movie over and over, dozens of times, on the then-nascent cable television.

As just an objective movie experience, divorced from its historical context, it's hard to deny that the film is pretty goddamn silly, a half-baked attempt to update a "Golden Age" science-fiction project into so-called "modern sensibilities;" and it's easy to see when you watch it why George Lucas's "Star Wars" films, being made at the same time, had such a more profound impact with audiences, because Lucas was doing Golden Age sci-fi homage with the right kind of reverence for the source material, while DeLaurentis (who, to remind you, had his first big successes in the gory, X-rated Italian giallo genre of the 1960s) very much had the attitude of, "Zee original Flash Gordon, eet ees so childish and tame! I make a sexy boom-boom Flash Gordon for zee KISS kids!" But then again, this is kinda what makes the movie so delightful almost 40 years later, that it's such an unrepentant, unapologetic trainwreck of clashing attitudes and styles, gleefully embracing the outdated special effects that at that point hadn't changed since the '50s (one of the major Hollywood weaknesses Lucas was tackling with his creation of Industrial Light & Magic, yet another reason people reacted so obsessively to the Star Wars films), and as a result becoming as indelible a sign of its times as '30s gangster films are of theirs. It's with this kind of attitude that you should watch Flash Gordon; not with the expectation of seeing anything even remotely good (because Lord, you're going to be sorely disappointed if you do), but rather to witness one of the most vibrantly tacky artifacts of '70s culture ever made, a reminder of the days when all you needed for a $100 million movie was a shirtless hunk, a staff of rotoscopers, and one groovy-ass soundtrack.

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