"Flash Gordon, quarterback. New York Jets."
"Wot do you meeen ‘Flash Gordon apprrrroaching?'"
"You loony bird!"
The film that unspooled was nothing I, nor anyone else in the theater could possibly have anticipated. Unlike the release version, it began with a kind-of overture, featuring rock music by Queen, leaving the audience wondering if maybe they had been directed to the wrong theater. What then followed was a peculiar blend of high camp, outrageously gaudy costumes, performances ranging from polished hammy sincerity to amateurish woodenness, tacky special effects, and sophomoric scenes of lust and sadism, all set to lively but incongruous rock music. And yet, before it was over, it was almost impossible not to surrender to its crude, energetic charm.
Though only moderately successful, not quite enough to warrant sequels, Flash Gordon never went away. For a generation of moviegoers too young to catch Star Wars when it was new, Flash Gordon became the movie of their formative years, and as documented in Life After Flash (2017), they're as devoted and obsessive as the hardest of hardcore Star Wars or Star Trek fans.
I suspect Life After Flash will leave those who've never seen Flash Gordon nonplussed if not outright baffled by all the arcane but lovingly presented trivia Lisa Downs's film explores, but those with even the slightest bit of affection for the original film will find Life After Flash enormous fun.
About half of the documentary's running time is devoted to the making of the film, the other half, integrated throughout, to the post-Flash life of Sam J. Jones, who played the title character but who quickly fell into obscurity and protracted bitterness. The general approach is not dissimilar to Gil Cates Jr. and Julie Stevens's equally fine (and similarly titled) Life After Tomorrow, about former child actors from the Broadway musical Annie.
Besides Jones, who co-produced, the filmmakers snagged an impressive array of actors and technicians that worked on the original film to interview, including actors Melody Anderson, Brian Blessed, Topol, Peter Wyngarde (who died last year), Richard O'Brien, and Queen's Brian May. Surprisingly given the high cost of licensing film clips these days there's also a wealth of scenes from the Flash Gordon movie, behind-the-scenes footage, and even clips from Star Wars and other Sam Jones movies. The making-of aspect of Life After Flash is mostly anecdotal, though amusing, especially the zestfully told tales spun by actor Blessed, who seems utterly delighted to chat. (Conversely, Topol, while pleasant, seems surprised by all the interest, admitting he hasn't seen Flash Gordon since it was new.)
Chiefly, one gleans that the comparatively inexperienced Jones, whose only previous film credit was a small part in Blake Edwards's 10 (1979), suffered from an inflated ego and/or received bad counsel from his handlers. He butted heads with producer De Laurentiis, and either walked off before or wasn't called back during postproduction. That explains why his voice was mostly, if not entirely, dubbed by another actor (the IMDb claims it was Peter Marinker), whose awesomely wooden delivery might have been intentional. The original Flash Gordon, Buster Crabbe, was no great thespian, but he's John Gielgud compared to the dubbed version of Jones.
Jones's self-destructiveness continued after the movie's release, the actor suing De Laurentiis for failing to produce sequels that had been part of his original contract. After Flash Jones worked as a guest star and regular on various TV shows, including the firefighting drama Code Red (starring Lorne Greene), but parts became a lot scarcer by the late 1990s, and the strain led to divorce and financial hardship.
Life After Flash finds former Marine Jones running a (U.S.-Mexico) border security service, catering to diplomats and company executives, happily remarried with kids, and having found religion. He makes the rounds at fan conventions, mildly bossing volunteers and even other celebrity guests to help him set up shop, but he's certainly friendly and respectful to his fans, to whom Jones feels duty-bound to spend quality time with.
The back-and-forth structure of the film and Jones's forceful presence, opening up about the tragedies and setbacks in his life, and his own self-destructive behavior, is honest enough but lacks the emotional resonance (and humor) of other hard-luck stories, like Stephen Kessler's Paul Williams Still Alive (2011) or the subjects of Sacha Gervasi's Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008), maybe the best documentary of this type. Nevertheless, Life After Flash is entertaining through and through, and fans of the original film won't be disappointed.
Video & Audio
Released by MVD Visual and Cleopatra Entertainment, Life After Flash was shot (at least mostly, around 95%) in HD and presented here in slightly cropped widescreen, about 1.85:1. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix is adequate, with no subtitle options on this region "A" disc.
The supplements are dominated by what essentially are leftovers, i.e., unused footage that for one reason or another didn't make the final cut. There are eight snippets, running about 37 minutes in all. Also included are a trailer and "slideshow."
A must-see for fans of the 1980 Flash Gordon, Life After Flash is most enjoyable and thus Highly Recommended.