Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Flesh Gordon - NSFW, Spoilers, WTF

FLASH! AH-AAA!

There, now that song will be in your head for hours. If you don’t know it, then you’ve never seen the epic glory that is Flash Gordon. He’s the saviour of the universe:


You too can forever emblazon your camp science fiction opera on the minds of everyone with the magical music of Queen. Just ask Ben Elton! You can read all about it after the click.

If you haven’t seen Flash Gordon for some reason, then the basic plot is that an evil science ray is destroying Earth, and only an eccentric professor can journey into space and stop it. But a brave, blonde, foolhardy, American football star and his beautiful female journalist friend (they met moments before, on a plane) end up being brought along on the rocket-ride, and all three find themselves in a world that is totally bizarre. Like, absolutely insane.

Against all logic, they succeed time and again amidst betrayal, brainwashing, war and fake deaths with the help of Brian Blessed, fake deaths, mind-sex brain-machines and sheer determined Aryan balls.


But we’re not here today to talk about Flash Gordon (seriously, go watch it. Your friends will thank you). We’re here today to talk about a film that was released six years earlier, in 1974. Flesh Gordon. The title is exactly what I just wrote. Flesh Gordon. Gordon of the flesh. Depending on how you define pornography, this is pornographic, but it's also reasonably tasteful (most of the time).


I didn’t mean the trailer. By no means pornographic, it's just expensive-looking and pretty exciting! But the film itself?

If you haven’t seen it for some reason, then the basic plot is that an evil science ray is destroying Earth by making everyone have spontaneous sex, and only an eccentric professor can journey into space and stop it. But a brave, blonde, foolhardy, ice hockey star and his beautiful female journalist friend (they met moments before, on a plane, when she got naked) end up being brought along on the rocket-ride, and all three find themselves in a world that is totally bizarre sex. Like, absolutely insane.

Yep, here we go…

The professor is a nipple-crazed Scot, and Dale Ardor is half-naked for about 95% of the time, and totally naked for about 17% of the time, which means overall she’s totally naked for 110% of the time. That’s maths! Strangely, the blonde beefcake is pretty much entirely unchanged, which probably says a lot about male fantasy.

The film never entered the annals of cinematic history like its counterpart did. Heh, annals of cinematic history. Sounds a bit like anal. That’s the level of humour we’re dealing with. Having seen it, I know now why the film has been almost wilfully forgotten. This is an extract from the opening text scoll:


“From 1929 to 1933 America had been ravaged by merciless depression. The public needed something to help lift morale and give courage. One of the greatest morale builders was the creation of the super hero: Flash Gordon, Captain Marvel, Buck Rogers, Superman and many others. They possessed the goodness and moral fortitude which the country could admire in its time of need.

In today’s troubled times, we the producers felt there existed a need for more entertaining humour. Realizing America’s respect for things of the past, we, in the spirit of burlesque and satire, have created a new folk hero, with the spirit of the old but the outrageousness of the new.”

Yeah, it’s a manifesto. It’s a damn statement of intent. The producers knew they’d done something stupid, scrambling to legitimize it as satire and burlesque. Probably in the wake of the publicity from the court case that tried to remove some sex scenes. To listen to them, this film sounds like a noble endeavour. After all, the superheroes of the previous generations wouldn’t be appropriate in the mid-70s with their glitter balls, roller skates and Bee Gees. What was needed was something new, something exciting, something modern which still maintained the nobility and virtue that made superheroes popular, like they said. They gave us this:


This is the rocket. Actual line: “Wow, what an incredible likeness!” Because missiles and rockets look like cocks, get it? Engineers and generals are men, and war is a manly thing, and rockets look like cocks? Get it yet? Cocks and rockets, see? It’s a pretty subtle joke about male psychology. It’s okay if you don’t get it.

When the film isn’t being sexual, we discover that some of the production staff enjoyed the 60s a little too much. There are some really cool surreal moments throughout the film:

That last one is described as “some species of penis-aurus”, but described by Dale as “stinky” while it looms over her and she weeps in terror. Then… I can’t be sure, but it looks like it’s trying to either have sex with her or eat her. Admittedly it’s just nudging clumsily at her legs while she easily resists, but that’s exactly what most men do when they want sex. We’ve all seen enough hentai to know what happens next, but it doesn’t, because the emperor’s guards come and take them all prisoner. See? Tasteful!

It’s all very well for the introductory text to say it’s burlesque, but burlesque performers would probably object, since the usual definition doesn't include frequent sessions of group sex.


Don’t pretend you don’t know what’s happening here. It rhymes with ‘gleesome’ and also ‘fdouble penetration’. For some reason the camera hides behind that pillar the entire scene, as if it’s shy. They’re probably not having real sex, I guess, because it’s clearly not shy the rest of the time:

Probably not real sex either, damn it

This is the throne room of Emperor Wang, The Perverted. His throne room is constantly occupied by a writhing carpet of copulation, which is actually a really fun feature for a throne room and I totally want one when I get my own. But it's pretty impractical when the guards try to present prisoners. Look at how free those prisoners are – it’s a joke. Everyone is too busy trying not to step on someone or get bodily fluids on their sandals. I can only imagine the embarrassment when an ambassador or visiting dignitary is petitioning Wang on a serious political matter then slips on a smear of fresh, salty jizz and falls face-first onto some guy’s moist, rhythmically-thrusting ass crack.

There’s a racist undertone to Emperor Ming from Flash Gordon, there’s no denying it. He’s a product of the 1930’s, when the United States' strict policy of hating and persecuting the Japanese-Americans was in full force leading up to the war. In the 70s, people were more enlightened, so when Emperor Wang takes Dale Ardor and Flesh Gordon yells, “take your filthy yellow hands off her, you slant-eyed mumble mumble”, that’s probably satire, right? Probably? I mean, almost definitely. Yeah.


Flesh Gordon is taken away to the ‘sex depletor’, in order for Emperor Wang to absorb Flesh’s essence when he marries Dale. Apparently it will “add immeasurably to the pleasure of [his] wedding night”. Eating parts of things in order to increase your virility, eh? I can’t think of any cultural stereotype associated with that kind of thing…

I know it's just classic toilet humour, but this film gets kind of sinister in some places:


For example, that's a rocket, and the stars are all painted like pornographic astrological symbols, possibly to emphasize the femininity of the interstellar void. When we see it, it's intercut with a sex scene where the princess rides Flesh and screams “come in me, you magnificent giant”. Those are her actual words. Nobody ever says that to me, no matter how many princesses I take to bed.

On their own it’s fine, the sex is just some sexy sex, but with this enemy rocket flying around, covered with spikes like some kind of lethal dildo… It might just be me, I guess, but this is artfully taking us to a very dark place. A Se7en kind of dark place.

The sex scenes might have been shocking once upon a time, but for an internet veteran (like me) they’re completely tame. I can’t imagine the hardcore scenes, now available on the most recent DVD releases (suck it, court-mandated censorship!) are any worse than the average European art-house film. But there are questions about the consensual nature of some bits, since the sex-ray is basically mind control. Oh, and there’s the rape robots, and the time Dale gets forcibly restrained and molested despite her constant cries for help.

It begins when Dale is taken prisoner by this woman:

Nothing is going be simple, ever again

She’s mostly naked, has an eye patch that matches her futuristic single-breast harness (or ‘half-bra’) and smokes a huge cigar in a holder. She evaluates the prisoners as prospective sacrifices for the ritual, eventually picking Dale of course. Then Dale is stripped, strapped down and clambered over by the only black person in the movie:

Who is also a chick. That shouldn't make it better, but it kind of does

This is the whole ritual. During it she screams ‘Get away, get away! Flesh help me’ over and over again. “Good lord Flesh, they’re dykes!” exclaims the professor as they burst in to rescue her. “Dykes?!?!?!!!11oneone” screams Flesh, and rushes to save her. I'd love to say this is a parody of the shocked, emasculated sexuality of the repressed heterosexual audience of the court room and 'establishment', but it's just so clumsy and it is non-consensual. I don’t know what the point of this scene was – it was probably just to have some mixed-race sex. There are so many damn issues here that I don’t even want to talk about it anymore.

After this, there’s almost no real nudity and the plot starts to get real. The mission is on to save Earth. Despite Flash’s new spandex outfit, Dale’s exposed pubic hair and the forest prince’s constant effeminate screams, they’re starting to finally take the stakes seriously.

Ha, just kidding. NAKED CONGA LINE, EVERYBODY!


Woooo! PART-AAYYY! Why so awkward everyone? Let's do tequila shots out of someone's belly button!

At the climax of the film, Flesh, Dale and the professor are about to end Wang’s evil reign and save Earth by using a sacred, magical nipple pastie. But it’s stuck in someone’s vagina. It slid in there by accident, because that’s how vaginas work. This is something they warn you about in the owner’s manual of a floor-orgy: loose coins, batteries and keys will all be sucked up by your vaginas, so please remember to empty them regularly and take off any rings, watches and other loose jewellery before use.

You’d think that, since it’s the climax of the film, the end must be just around the corner, right? Nope! This is where the rape-bots arrive and things get horrible.

This has gone from ‘tame 70s group sex’ to ‘nightmarish delusions of a serial killer’ in about se7en seconds

After them there there’s a narcissistic, eloquent stop-motion monster that kidnaps Dale.

Whatever you’re about to do, I really wish you would not do it

It’s another example of the surprisingly good animation in this film, in the strongest traditions of the greats like Ray Harryhausen. The monster plays king kong with her until Flesh steals a rocket-cycle, flies up to the tower the monster has climbed and shoots it in the arse. It dies and Dale is safe again.

Then the film is finally over.

The softcore sex, uncomfortable racial strangeness and terrible humour are all easily dismissed. The the real danger of this film is much more discreet, but still dangerous and destructive: THEY STEP OUT OF THE ROCKET WITHOUT CHECKING THE ATMOSPHERE.

“Good, there’s oxygen on this planet” - Actual line

The professor takes a deep breath and proclaims the air breathable. It’s the funniest moment of the whole movie, but it needs to be removed in future releases – for the safety of our children! For all we know, a whole generation has already been raised to irresponsibly leave spacecraft without checking atmospheric composition and pressure. When I show my kids this film, I don’t want to have to worry afterwards about them running out of the ship willy-nilly. Sadly this will remove the only redeeming joke in the entire film, but that’s a price we must pay. It should be heavily censored, for the safety of our astronauts and our astronaut’s pale, unhealthy-looking space-children.

It ends with the promise of a sequel. Ha, yeah right. Even the iconic Flash Gordon film never got a… Wait, there’s totally a sequel. It took fifteen years, but in 1989 the film 'Flesh Gordon 2: Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders' was released, which we can study next time. Flesh Gordon 1 was at least sometimes graceful, with an innocence of spirit. Not too funny, but weird (in a good way) and sexy (in a pretty boring way). Flesh Gordon 2 can make no such claim.

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