I caught a matinee of Interstellar yesterday, yet another excellent effort from Christopher Nolan. But the movie itself isn’t what struck a nerve. No, it was a musical cue that lasted for all of about two seconds during one of the film’s climactic scenes and wound up being a false alarm.
I won’t spoil the film for anyone, but as Mr. McConaughey’s [redacted] [redacted] into [redacted], I swear the film’s score, for about a millisecond, sounded just like the well-synthesized section of “In the Space Capsule,” the love theme from that other cinematic sci-fi masterpiece, Flash Gordon.
I wouldn’t have thought too much about it, but I’ve had Queen on the brain ALL weekend. After I got off work late Friday night, I came home to find Queen Live Montreal playing on Palladia at 3 in the morning. It was majestic, and it just reminded me of how I wish I could’ve been a teenager in the late ’70s so I could have seen this band in all its cinematic glory. Alas, it was not to be. Rest in peace, Freddie Mercury.
I was 7 years old when that movie came out, and I’m fairly certain my mom’s best friend Kathy took my brother and me to see it on opening night. And considering a 7-year-old hasn’t quite developed a Gene Siskel-esque eye for fine cinema, I pretty much thought it was the greatest fucking movie I had ever seen that didn’t have the words “Star” or “Wars” or “Pete’s” or “Dragon” in the title. It wasn’t until I was much older – ninth grade or so – that I rode my bike out to the mall and rented it on VHS and realized it was a piece of shit.
But what an entertaining piece of shit!
I mean, when I was 7, I was just captivated by the landscapes that pretty much looked like a bowl of water with a bunch of swirled food coloring. And spaceships!. And lizard men with their eyeballs in their mouths! And dudes with blue blood! And green blood! And Hawkmen!
(Something that I didn’t realize was hilarious until much, much later: the character Flash Gordon was the star quarterback of the New York Jets. I like to imagine him as the heir apparent to Joe Namath, but then he suddenly vanished from the face of the earth, which means they STILL drafted Ken O’Brien over Dan Marino in the ’83 draft. Even in the realm of sci-fi/fantasy, the Jets still suck.)
Anyway, it wasn’t until I was 15 that I realized what was actually appealing were the chicks. The planet Mongo had a thing for draping all its royalty in pink spandex (or less). Better to be comfortable and sexy than regal.
(And while we’re at it, I wish I could still be around for the 40th century, since – as Barbarella taught us – we can get ourselves off with the Orgasmatron in a world that looks like Austin Powers’ Electric Psychedelic Pussycat Swingers Club. So 2,000 years from now, the universe will look like swinging London in 1968? Awesome!)
But, rightfully so, the legacy of Flash Gordon is its kick-ass soundtrack. I got it for Christmas that year as a gift from Kathy’s brother Jeff (who was also a de facto big brother to my brother and me, complete with the cool car and the playful bullying … 12 years older than us, he used to hold us down and dangle spit about two inches from our screaming faces as we thrashed around like marlins on a giant fish hook. I can only hope to have a son of my own someday to bust this move out on).
That record was a proud edition to my ever-growing music collection, which consisted of my mom and Kathy’s discarded 8-track mixtapes, as well as my own Fisher-Price record player, with Kiss’ Rock and Roll Over and a pile of 45s that included “Disco Duck,” “Convoy,” “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” “Brick House,” “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and a double-A-side of “Hot Blooded/Double Vision.”
I can’t think of a better album for the attention span of a 7-year-old. A bunch of minute-long bursts of rock guitar and synthesizers, interspersed throughout with the laser blast sound effects and cheesy dialogue (delivered by the dudes better known as Father Merrin from The Exorcist, the Fiddler on the Roof, James Bond IV, and a magnificent Shakespearian stage legend whose booming voice is unfortunately best remembered for this ):
It really was the next best thing to having the movie in the days before VCRs were plentiful. And bookending the album were two actual SONGS – the bumping “Flash’s Theme,” featuring Roger Taylor’s pulsating drums, and “The Hero,” which is pure Brian May guitar bliss followed by the soundtrack’s overture.
What would’ve happened if I’d gotten, say, the Star Wars soundtrack instead? Orchestra? At age 7? No, instead I got to soak up the bombastic riffs. I was on my way.
Eventually, I got into Queen for real. Queen’s Greatest Hits (arguably THE greatest greatest-hits album of all time … fuck the Eagles) was the go-to cassette in my Walkman when I did my paper route for a year. Yes, I was in up to my eyeballs with Queen before Wayne, Garth, and the Mirth Mobile drove “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the top of the charts during my senior year of high school, 17 years after its initial release.
Queen had more soundtrack success after that, with its contributions to Highlander and that triumphant moment when Nerd Persecution ended and Lewis the Nerd stole the hot cheerleader away from the dastardly Alpha Betas, all to the strains of “We Are The Champions,” in Revenge of the Nerds.
But nothing was quite like THAT soundtrack. I finally bought it on CD when I was in college, and I once briefly considered putting it on as sex music (have you heard “In the Death Cell,” “Execution of Flash,” and “The Kiss” back to back to back? They’re really quite dreamy), but I figured Prince Vultan bellowing “GORDON’S ALIVE?!?!” might spoil the moment. I instead chose to romance the lucky lady with a combination of Dark Side of the Moon and Santana’s Abraxas. Ah, the art of seduction (there really is nothing like “Oye Como Va” to set the lovemaking mood. Oh, alternative women at the UI in the ’90s, I love and miss you all).
And when it still pops up in pop culture, it makes me giddy. I’ll never forget sitting in the theater and clapping like one of those toy monkeys that crashes cymbals when it showed up in the wildly-underrated, pitch-black comedy Observe and Report (it was basically Taxi Driver but as vehicle for dark humor), as Seth Rogen’s schlub, comedically-psychotic mall cop beats the shit out of a bunch of real cops with his flashlight, all to the majestic flourishes of Flash’s “Battle Theme” and “The Hero”:
And, of course … Ted:
Next year will be the 35th anniversary of the release of the Flash Gordon soundtrack. Since Queen is still putting out new records under the Queen moniker (just this week, they released Queen Forever, featuring long-lost discarded tracks featuring both the late Freddie Mercury and their long-retired bassist John Deacon), my hope is that they’ll revisit Flash Gordon, stripping out all the dialogue and unnecessary sound effects and giving us just the music in its purest form. I’d scoop that shit up on the first day.
I mean, Interstellar was awesome and all, but it didn’t have Queen. Oh well, nobody’s perfect, not even Christopher Nolan.