Thursday, November 15, 2012

Flash Gordon (1936 serial)

Warhol, Ming ... and R2-D2.

A couple weeks back, Talespinner Children's Theatre held its 2012 Glam Rock Benefit. Recently the kids and I took in Queen's Flash Gordon Theme music video, and I made a connections between Freddie Mercury's high-pitched "ah-ahs!" and the sheer unadulterated magnificent awesomeness of Max Von Sydow to cobble together some kind of Ming the Merciless get-up, replete with skullcap, dyed beard and eyebrows and green eyeshadow.


Tim reminded me afterwards that the character is another grotesque Asian stereotype, so I feel a little bad about that. But I did win for best male costume. So I got that going for me.

Buck Rogers, a World War I veteran exposed to radioactive gas and hidden in a collapsed mine shaft only to be reanimated five hundred years later, was created in 1928. The success of this popular comic strip character inspired the creation of Flash Gordon in 1934. A dashing young polo player (*snigger*) Flash and his girl Dale Arden are kidnapped by Dr. Hans Zarkov, who is obsessed with finding the origin of great firey meteors that are striking the Earth. They arrive at the planet Mongo, ruled by aforementioned grotesque racial stereotype Ming the Merciless.

The strip more or less follows the adventures of Dale being continually rescued from capture by Ming, and trips to all manner of surrounding planets, defined as all planets are in science fiction by a single weather pattern or dominant animal-inspired lifeform with one, primary emotion (see: Star Trek, Star Wars, and so on.) Sharkman, Hawkman, Lionman, Treeman. You get it.

The first film serial of Flash Gordon debuted in that most-amazing year of 1936. Olympic athlete Buster Crabbe assumed the role of Flash for 13 episodes, and another two serialized series in 1938 and 1940. The video above includes the arrival of Flash, Dale and Dr. Zarkov on planet Mongo, and the introduction of Ming the Merciless. Ming looks pretty stylish for 1936 ... and then he opens his mouth.

Anyone familiar with the 1980 film -- starring not only film legend Von Sydow but also Broadway star Topol, and classically trained British actors Timothy Dalton and BRIAN BLESSED -- might reconsider the "cheesiness" of the costumes and special effects, and appreciate instead the extent to which they created a faithful, cheery modern adaptation of the original short films.


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