Monday, August 22, 2005

A 'Somer' movie

What does any open air event crave beside an enthusiastic crowd? Good weather would be my guess. As luck would have it we woke on Friday to downpours unexpected. The plan was to join friends for an evening on the courtyard tiles enjoying 'Flash Gordon' at Somerset House. Film Four & Somerset House organised 5 days of films under the stars and as luck would have it we chose Friday, the only rainy day.

At mid-day swimming to the venue and being completely soaked was not ruled out. Our pal was curtly informed by Somerset House that as no inclement weather was forcast teh show would indeed go on and there was no way to return our tickets. By 4pm the rain was down to a drizzle and by 8pm we congregated at Thai Square just outside Somerset House. The food was fine if a bit sour, solely due to the attitude of the terrible waitresses. Hot dinner in tums, £12.50 a pop tickets in hand, square plastic coated blankets (at £10 each - refundable on return) spread on the courtyard cobbles among 500 Flash fans and we were set.

I haven't ever seen the classic Flash Gordon movie but I do remember reading the comics as a kid. It was entertaining to say the least - and had 500 fans cheering on Brian Blessed (who introduced the screening) and Emperor Ming, and singing 'FLASSHHH' at the top of their voices while glugging down beer. I found this review online and it says it all better than I possibly could:

"There are films out there that can be described as a guilty pleasure - you know they're quite bad, but somewhere deep down in your heart you can't bring yourself to admit it. Flash Gordon is, in my opinion, the guiltiest pleasure of them all. Cardboard characters, lunatic script, embarrassing dialogue, trashy performances (apart from Max Von Sydow), and hilarious special effects... yet the one thing that comes out in the film's favour is that, despite its seemingly countless faults, it is still irresistibly entertaining.

American football legend Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) and sexy babe Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) are aboard a private flight when a weird red-storm forces them to perform an emergency landing. They crash into the back garden of wacky ex-NASA scientist Hans Zarkov (Topol), an eccentric madman who believes the world is under attack from alien forces and who has built his own spaceship to do battle with the enemy. Astonishingly, it turns out that Zarkov was right - and pretty soon, Flash, Dale and Zarkov find themselves on the planet Mongo, battling against its tyrannical emperor Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow), with a little help from Ming's treacherous daughter (Ornella Muti), her lover Barin (Timothy Dalton), and the winged warrior Vultan (Brian Blessed).

Flash Gordon is an absolutely insane film. The set design is remarkable, as is the costume design, and a pounding rock soundtrack is provided by the group Queen. Performance-wise, everyone seems to be camping it up like an end-of-term pantomime, though Von Sydow somehow seems to give his villain a deliciously sinister edge. Some of the dialogue is so awful that it becomes eminently quotable by virtue of its badness (a few samples: "This Ming is a psycho!"; "That must be some planet you come from!"; and - my favourite - "Freeze! You bloody bastards!") Flash Gordon should be a total disaster - an awful shambles of a film with no redeeming qualities. It isn't. Perhaps we'll never know how or why it works, but it does. So let the dissection of Flash Gordon the movie end here - analyze it no more, just enjoy it!"

The hard coble courtyard was well worth it, both for the movie and the stunning buildings that surround it.

Pouring out into the night at 11.15 we crossed the road, via the bust of Jawaharlal Nehru in the courtyard of the Indian Embassy (that all the firangs think is the Mahaatma!) and into the impressive bar of One Aldwych. One is a swank bar with a sophisticated mood and a matching bar list. They have some amazing high back chairs that I want in my own house and seriously large scultpures to match the height of the room that I don't. Huge floral decorations that need ladders to be set up and ambient lighting made it the perfect nightcap point.

This was my first brush with Somerset House which I am assured is a wonderful place to enjoy fountains and coffee in the courtyard during the summer and ice skate in the winter. I vow to return.

One Aldwych: London WC2B 4RH. Tel: 020 7300 1000

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