It turned out it was a site advertising a documentary about what happened to Sam Jones after the film – Life After Flash. I decided why not and pre-ordered the DVD. On May first, 2019, it turned up at my place, and so I watched it straight away.
Wow. What a story.
First, the extras. There is over an hour of extras. Additional interviews (including with Lisa Downs, whose labour of love this was) deleted scenes, original cuts of scenes, some great backstage stories (especially from Brian Blessed), and so much other stuff. A lot of the time DVD extras are a useless means of making you buy something, but here they really add to the whole thing. Why aren't they in the documentary? What, make the feature presentation an extra hour long? And they would not have fit in well with the pacing of the main feature. That simple. That tells you about the sort of care put into this whole production. Only put in the things that work with other things, not everything they had.
The best bit is the 35th-anniversary reunion featurette (only 7 minutes long), as it feels so sweet and happy and genuine, and they all look really happy in one another's company. Or the extended Peter Wyngarde interview. That was also pretty cool.
Now, before watching the main feature, Lisa Downs, the everythinger of the doco, recommended in an email a drinking game: 1. Every time Brian Blessed swears 2. Every time you see a clip of the original film
3. Every time you see behind the scenes footage 4. Every time you find something funny 5. Every time Sam is signing posters at a comic con
have a drink. This is one game, a game where any of the five things makes you drink… Don't do it! You'll get wiped!
I'll go through a quick overview of the documentary. I'll try not to give away spoilers, but it's a doco; it's not like if I told you at the end of a movie the bad guy ends up saving the world. However, I do apologise in advance, as these things can happen.
We start with a heap of talking heads – fans, relatives, Sam Jones himself. That's because this film looks primarily at Sam J. Jones. We start off at the STCE comic-con. Sam really organises things, and then goes for a prayer walk. The famous people willing to talk about this film are incredible! Even Stan Lee!
We look at the film and the meaning of Flash Gordon the character. Alex Ross (an awesome comic book artist, one of my personal favourites) calls the character the "father of all superheroes". Sam talks about the prolonged auditioning process and dealing with Dino de Laurentiis. Melody Anderson tells similar starting stories (she is still gorgeous, by the way). Filming is made to sound like a non-stop production line. Brian Blessed comes in and I think he is awesome. I am such a fan of the man. This film only confirms my adulation…
The way the film was put together in 1980 is incredible, years before CGI, when there was only green screen and animators. The making of the film is fascinating. The artistry involved was incredible. And then we hit the problems between de Laurentiis and Jones – de Laurentiis wasn't paying Jones, so Jones' management told him to protest and… Sam's career was destroyed by a vindictive old man who made as many crap films, if not more, as anyone else (his remake of King Kong is truly horrendous), and he had Jones' voice overdubbed and had him virtually black-balled. De Laurentiis clearly had control issues.
We now look at Sam's early years. He had a hard time growing up, but the fact he survived is a testament to his own strength of character. We look at the break-up of his first marriage, his mental downs, his everything… It's a tough watch this whole section. But he pulled himself out of the abyss. Wow.
Some of the people brought out at Conventions are odd choices for the public to want to see… and they used Pink Floyd to create atmosphere at the wedding scene?! (Mind = blown!)
We meet movie prop collectors. There were some incredible rescues they had in order to get what they had. (Sideline: Peter Wyngarde is such a great person in interview.) There are so many great little tales with the props. The poster-man talking about how we have lost "art" because of digital technology is so very true. And sad. This goes to the special effects, and Richard O'Brien is great here. However – illusion shattered. The spikes weren't spikes!
Discussion of "campness" comes up. I don't see it as camp, for what it's worth. I like the description of it as "tongue in cheek". Discussion of acting. And this leads nicely into the soundtrack (and we know how much I love the music from the soundtrack). They talk about how important the music is to the film. And Brian May is interviewed. Can this documentary get any cooler? Well, yes, because May is wearing an awesome Flash t-shirt! As a music nerd, this was my favourite part of the doco. I could watch a whole documentary on just the music.
And back to Sam, and his second wife Ramona. He was at a low point because of a serious lack of acting work and what he expected of himself that he wasn't living up to. He had to re-align his life, and so he became a bodyguard / security guy. His description of it is so matter-of-fact, yet it sounds actually quite dangerous. And Sam just accepts it. He looks at peace with that. Nice. His realisation that "it's not about you" is awesome, and his life change is looked at in depth, where many people who go through that are embarrassed by that sort of thing and don't discuss it. Well done to him.
And we go to his resurgence with Ted and Seth McFarlane. And the interviewees talk about it bringing Flash Gordon back into the public eye. Sam's attitude to the public is wonderful to see. And his attitude towards the character is so refreshing – he has embraced it. This is such a wonderful portrayal of Sam Jones as a man. This is so nice. The comments of his family and friends are so wonderful.
Another fascinating fact: The ending if the film was a bit of Sam improv!
This documentary is a work of love, clearly. And it is such a cool watch. I had a smile on my face for most of it. It is such a joyous experience. It gives such a positive impression of Sam J. Jones and the rest of the cast. And the film is not derided, but really, genuinely loved. At the heart of it, though, there is something so enjoyable about seeing a man at peace with himself even after life has thrown him so many curveballs.
And, for the record, I loved Jones' TV series The Highwayman. I started watching it because Mark "Jacko" Jackson was in it, but became addicted to it and was disappointed when it ended. But this is about Flash Gordon and what it has meant to the man in the tank top. As Brian Blessed is asked to say so often (even, apparently, by the Queen!): "Gordon's alive!"
And – you know what? – I am glad I am not the only one who likes the film so much. This is the perfect thing to go along with that movie.