Archive for June 9, 2022

Tournament of Death

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2022 by dcairns

The familiar strains of Liszt’s Les préludes, symphonic poem No.3, S.97 (crap name) can mean only one thing — another episode of FLASH GORDON!

TOURNAMENT OF DEATH begins with an even more incoherent recap-titles than usual ~

“When Dale at sight of Flash being tortured betrayed…” — where’s Virginia Woolf when you need her?

“If we had been informed of your coming, a banquet would have been served,” declaims Vultan, making little nervous flaps of his cape with his fingertips. We’ve seen his banquets, they’re not that impressive, and so his fidgeting is understandable.

Flash throws the shovel in the furnace (again) and this time the model of the city in the sky rocks violently, with an explosion several blocks wide engulfing midtown. Yet Flash and friends survive it by hiding behind a low lead wall in the heart of the (vaguely atomic) explosion. Then they come rushing into the throne room, since the city in the sky is, though composed of twenty-odd buildings in the wide shot, is only about three rooms on the studio floor.

Flash is fairly glistening with baby oil, which might allow him to slip by both Ming and Vultan’s numerous guards, but instead he resorts to his old standby, shoving the nearest Hawk Man and sending him staggering dopily under the weight of his wings. He soon has Ming at swordpoint, but incomprehensibly Dale throws herself at him, seizing one greasy bicep and dragging him off-balance, so that Vultan can wrestle him into a half-Nelson. Way to go, girl!

Amusing conversation between sweaty Barin in his nappy and hairy Zarkov in his onesie. Zarkov is worried that the whole city is about to drop out of the air and smash. Barin doesn’t care about all that. “We’ve got to save Flash!”

Flash and Thun face the firing squad — when the, uh, conductor, or whatever he’s called, cries “Ready!” they brace themselves to LEAP. Why? Fortunately, the city’s little gravity defiance problem becomes critical at just this moment. The camera starts Star Trekking about, while everyone staggers drunkenly.

(In LOGAN, I have just learned, when Professor Xavier has his seizures, Sir Patrick Stewart specifically requested camera wobble — from his Trek experience the knighted thesp understood that this kind of thing cannot be done by acting alone! The filmmakers rattled the camera wildly, then attempted to stabilize it in post, creating a weird distortion effect that’s tremendously effective. I like the idea that Sir PS demands camera shake for all emotional scenes. I’d like him to demand shaking stages when he plays Shakespeare.)

The confusion allows Flash and Thun to jog past the firing squad and past a bunch more guards, who stand staring curiously after them as if auditioning for MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL.

Fortunately, the immediate doom of everyone can be averted by Zarkov, who has just discovered/pulled out of his ass “a new ray.” Vultan swears to release all his captives if Z can save him. He swears by “the Great God Tao” — he of the changing appearance, depending on whether he’s a prop from THE MUMMY or stock footage swiped from JUST IMAGINE (and later swiped again by Kenneth Anger, who made the best use of it yet).

Zarkov switches on a Strickfaden contraption and the model city gradually tilts back to the horizontal, while everyone watches and sways, as if about to sing “Kumbaya, My Lord.” It’s very touching. Princess Aura puts her hands over her ears, for unknown reasons. Maybe she’s expecting everyone to sing “Kumbaya, My Lord.”

Flash and Thun come bounding into the throne room AGAIN. That’s the sign of a serial written in real time: chases fights and reversals that bring you back to the exact situation you were already in, with nothing altered. All the rushing and wrestling begins to seem curiously aimless since nothing is advanced. See any 6-part Dr. Who adventure from back in the day. These things can get kind of Bunuelian.

“As the Emperor of the Universe, it is my right to call a tournament of death,” declaims Ming, a relatively rare instance of an actor being allowed to say the title of the episode. Since all the dialogue in the serial has, effectively, speech balloons around it, they should let the cast enunciate the chapter titles as a matter of course. But Richard Alexander has devised an even better approach, saying his line here with a drunken slur. It’s a tribute to the acting profession that you rarely hear them sounding drunk when they’re not supposed to, unless it’s Wilfred Lawson or someone of his stature. FLASH GORDON, however, is not a tribute to the acting profession.

Flash changes into a nifty Prince Valiant costume — chainmail sweatshirt and tight black trousers and silver belt. “Your weapon will be presented to you at the Arena of Death,” says a guard ($1.25 a day). That has such an ominous sound. Couldn’t they have come up with a cheerier name? The guard, who has hilarious painted eyebrows for no reason, helps Flash into his stylish cape.

The arena turns out to be a reverse angle of the throne room. Space is at a premium in the city in the sky. Flash is to fight “the masked swordsman of Mongo,” who, it is immediately obvious, is Prince Barin. He’s already expressed an interest in the fight but isn’t present in the audience. Plus, the m.s. of m. is a big fat guy, the only one in the story who doesn’t wear fake wings.

Barin, masked, caped and bare-legged as usual, cuts a ridiculous figure, but then so does Santo, and he got a whole series of movies celebrating his exploits. Don’t give up hopes of stardom yet, Prince Barin!

I just noticed that Dale’s new gown has a sort of elongated sporran.

Looooong swordfight with multiple nonreaction shots, which starts to become faintly hilarious. Genre convention suggests that Dale and Zarkov should be looking concerned, Ming malicious, Vultan amused. But everyone is just sort of staring. Like they’re all waiting for a drop of water to fall from a fawcett. It’s funny and sort of abstract, as the illusion that they’re actually looking at what the editing suggests disintegrates and it becomes a series of disconnected strips of celluloid.

Flash unmasks Barin, and a defect on the film causes him to acquire a soap bubble around his nose for a single frame.

The tournament of death having ended in non-death, Flash and Barin repair to the nearest bedroom. I’ve got the sound turned off so this is somewhat surprising. No doubt if I could hear the dialogue all would be clear.

ROUND TWO!

And NOW the onlookers look concerned —

TO BE CONTINUED!