Sam J Jones is one of the true enigmas of cult entertainment. The star of Dino De Laurentiis’ bizarrely wonky but much loved 1980 version of Flash Gordon, his image was everywhere at the time, including right here on the cover of STARBURST. Stuffed with memorable performances from the likes of Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde and Topol and propelled by an immortal Queen soundtrack, the film’s success gave rise to inevitable speculation over a sequel. Little did we realise at the time, but Jones was already yesterday’s man, having been fired from the production by Laurentiis prior to its completion, unable even to loop his dialogue (which was dubbed by another actor). So, what had happened to Jones - and what happened next?
These intriguing questions are entertainingly answered in Life After Flash, a new Indiegogo-funded feature documentary from director Lisa Downs which serves both a biography of Sam Jones and as a retrospective on the making of the movie. Jones - looking fighting fit - is at its centre, relating his life-story from boyhood to the present day. Turns out he got a little too big for his boots while making Flash Gordon and rubbed legendary mogul De Laurentiis up the wrong way, leading to his dismissal from the film. It was the beginning of a roller-coaster few decades for the actor before the cultural re-assessment of Flash Gordon found him an appreciative fanbase at conventions - an upturn in his fortunes that coincided with him finding peace and stability in his personal life. It’s a genuinely heart-warming story with a fascinating coda that reveals Jones’ current occupation (outside of fan convention appearances) as a gun-toting security officer escorting VIPs across the US-Mexican border!
Jones’ story is interspersed with interviews with the cast and crew of Flash Gordon, who look back on the film with a great deal of warmth. Brian Blessed and Peter Wyngarde, both gloriously at the stage in their lives when they are way past caring, provide a series of priceless, unguarded reminiscences that had the preview audience we saw the film with doubled up with laughter. Melody Anderson and Topol are just as delightful but much better behaved.
Life After Flash is a 90 minute excellent documentary about Sam Jones and the movie that made his name. Unfortunately, the film runs to 114 minutes and the bulk of this extra running time is padded out by interviews with various guests and fans at Comic Cons who talk about what it’s like to go to, well, go to Comic Cons. While the phenomenon of these events may be sort-of relevant to Jones current life, the connection made is too tenuous to merit the inclusion of these bolted-on talking heads.
A life-affirming tribute to a cult movie and its star who triumphed against the odds, Life After Flash could do without those unrelated interviews but, at its core is a fascinating tale that all fans of the 1980 movie should seek out.
LIFE AFTER FLASH / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: LISA DOWNS / STARRING: SAM J JONES, MELODY ANDERSON, TOPOL, BRIAN BLESSED, PETER WYNGARDE / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10