FLASH GORDON op.293 (September 1980)

Score composed and conducted for the feature film directed by Mike Hodges, produced by Dino de Laurentiis. Score written in collaboration with 'Queen' with whom he shared a BRITISH ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATION
Published by: Sea Chime Music, Wide Music, MCA Music Ltd, Highbridge Music Ltd
Commissioned by: Dino de Laurentiis/Universal
Instrumentation: orchestra
[Key to Abbreviations]
Duration: 60 mins
First Performance: Recording September 1980 Denham Studios, National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Howard Blake
Recordings Available
Flash Gordon and Amityville 3
Released: 2001
Recorded: June 1980
Artists: Archive recordings of Howard Blake conducting two of his film scores - National Philharmonic Orchestra
Available from: Amazon Highbridge Music www.supercollector.com

Flash Gordon complete orchestral score on www.Supercollector.com

DVD,VIDEO of film

CD of 'Queen' music

Notes

Director Mike Hodges, producer Dino de Laurentiis

Score written in collaboration with Brian May and Freddie Mercury of 'Queen'.

Composer's note: 'I was brought in in a crisis situation when it was found that the composer nominated by 'Queen' had for some reason been unable to complete 'more than one minute' of a score for the film. I was summoned to a meeting at CTS Wembley by sound recordist John Richards and Brendan Cahill head of music for Universal Studios Hollywood. The RPO had been booked for two weeks and started recording the day before but had nothing else to play. I said it would take at least 4 weeks to write the amount of music required, possibly 90 minutes. After ferocious negotiations with my agent Liz Keys at London Management I began work, but the time gradually whittled down to 10 days and the last 4 days of that I didn't sleep. An added complication was to include various guitar phrases and the song 'Flash' within my large-scale score for 80-piece orchestra. Somehow I finished it and conducted the 3 days of recording sessions, but afterwards I went back to my house in Mortlake and collapsed exhausted. My wife had left the house with the 2 children at the end of my first writing day, bothered by endless phone calls and courier bikes. She returned on the Saturday expecting me to have left for France on the Thursday. In fact I had been asleep for 3 days. She called a doctor who injected me with something to wake me up. He said it was possible I would never have woken up at all, since I was suffering from chronic bronchitis due to total exhaustion! Anyway I recovered and I and everybody else were pleased with the score. Dubbing sessions began and I later discovered that much of my score had been replaced with synthesized music, myself having demonstrated how to handle it. A disappointment.

However, my relations with the members of Queen were always cordial. Brian May came over one day and hummed an idea for an 'overture'. As he did so I jotted it down on some manuscript paper and then played it back on the piano, which really startled him. They all came along to the orchestral recordings and seemed fascinated. I remember Freddie Mercury singing the idea of 'Ride to Arboria' in his high falsetto and I showed him how I could expand it into the orchestral section now on the film, with which he seemed very pleased. Whilst scoring I had cassettes of guitar ideas from Brian, in particular the slow 'falling-chord' sequence. I wrote this out into my score at one point and surrounded it with big orchestral colour. When I came to the recording I had Brian's solo guitar on headphones and conducted the orchestra in synch. around it. Many months later Brian came over and we listened to the finished album.'

Performances

28th November 2015 'It is 35 years since the release of the 1980 cinema feature film Flash Gordon and its ever-growing cult status is evidenced by the production of a documentary film about how it was made. I hev recorded a filmed interview in which I speak of my exacting role as musical director, composer, arranger and conductor of the score, which included adaptation of work by Freddie Mercury and the group 'Queen', with whom I later shared a joint British Academy Award.,

BAFTA Piccadilly 28th November 6.00pm

21st August 2014
- 21st August 2016
Four recently-published books have included biographical/critical articles on Howard Blake,

1. DREAM REPAiRMAN - a biography by Howard's close friend and top film editor Jim Clark which mentions the ill-fated score for the Dustin Hoffman film 'Agatha' on which they worked.

Jim Clark, LandMarc Press (UK)

 2. BATHED IN LIGHTNING - a book about Sixties music-session men which concentrates on the great guitarist John McLaughlin (Mahavishnu) but mentions a great many others including Howard who worked with John at that time

Colin Harper, Outline Press (UK)

 3. THE ENCYCYCLOPAEDIA OF FILM COMPOSERS - a tome that tries to detail all of the well-known film composers since the start of cinema including a feature on Howard Blake.

Thoms S. Hischak, Rowman and Littlefield (USA)

 4. ENCOUNTERS WITH BRITISH COMPOSERS - Well-written articles about contemporary composers drawn directly from live interviews, including a lively one with Howard

Andrew Palmer The Boydell Press (UK)

 

 

18th March 2014
- 22nd March 2014
A BBC Radio 4 feature produced by Mark Burman in which broadcaster Christopher Cook interviewed Howard on the subject of the 'long, frequently unhappy history of film music that is never used...the one painful experience that links almost every composer for film since the beginnings of sound film. The programme dealt with'Agatha' and 'Flash Gordon' alongside William Walton's 'Battle of Britain', Alex North's '2001' and the sad story of Bernard Herrmann's rejection by Hitchcock., Broadcast on BBC Radio 4 18th March, repeated 22nd March




Reviews


Perhaps it just that its summer, but it's definitely sci-fi month. That's right, not SF or Science Fiction. Prime slices of tacky pulp. Alongside Battlefield Earth comes a reissue of Jerry Goldsmith's Supergirl (both of which I review elsewhere on FMOTW this month), and the first ever issue Howard Blake's music for the 1980 version of Flash Gordon. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. A year before Star Wars producer Dino De Laurentis burnt a huge heap of cash on a spectacular and spectacularly misjudged remake of 1930's SF / fantasy landmark King Kong. Apparently he fancied having another go at the 30's, and why not given that Star Wars was essentially Flash Gordon with state of the art production values? The resultant film was actually rather better than many hoped (though the shelved Nic Roeg project could have been great), with glorious production design that captured well the colours and look of Alex Raymond's original comic-strip. Howard Blake wrote a striking score too. I clearly remember sitting in the cinema 20 years ago being struck by it.

Unfortunately, and bizarrely given that John Williams score for Star Wars had been so instrumental in the success of that film, to say nothing of selling a colossal quantity of LPs, the rock band Queen were invited to contribute to Flash Gordon. Originally the idea was that they would provide a title song, but things escalated, and they ended-up 'scoring' several sections of the film with, considering the cod-1930's ambience, completely inappropriate and crassly heavy-handed rock numbers. A hugely successful 'soundtrack' album was released, and a massive hit single was had. The foundation was laid for plastering action movies with rock music and editing the result like a pop video, a dire practice which came to 'maturity' with Top Gun (1986) and of course Highlander (also 1986), a fantasy adventure virtually transformed into a feature promo for Queen's then current album, A Kind of Magic. With Queen's Flash doing so well at the record store, Howard Blake's score has had to wait 20 years for a release, and even now it is as a composer's promo rather than a commercial issue.

Clearly it was thought worth sticking with what worked on orchestral SF and fantasy scores of the time, and there are some very familiar names in the credits: The National Philharmonic, Sidney Sax, Eric Tomlinson. There is a fair bit of tape hiss and the sound is not so full-bodied as the recent Star Wars and Star Trek The Motion Picture soundtrack reissues from the same period, but it is perfectly adequate and more than does its job. In-fact, apart from the strong stereo, rather than coming from 1980, it all round sounds more like a classic Bernard Herrmann soundtrack recording from the Ray Harryhausen fantasy films part of his career. The album presents 18 tracks from the film, five of which briefly interpolate some of the Queen material, though this fact can safely be ignored, such a good job did Blake do of weaving it into the tapestry of his score.

Some very short cues 'The Hero', 'Romantic Reunion', 'The City of the Hawkmen', leave space for some extended set-pieces such as 'Opening Scenes/Killer Storm/Plane Crash', with a very old Hollywood / Adventures of Superman action suspense feel, 'Tree-Stump Duel / Beast in the Swap' and 'Duel on the Sky Platform'. Some interesting pitch-effects come into play for 'Rocket Flight', the track developing into a mutant orchestral modern jazz before heading into Planet of the Apes pounding piano figures, all in 90 seconds. Only in film music! And so it goes, a thoroughly entertaining and engrossing score for the committed film music fan. I mentioned Bernard Herrmann above in respect to the recording, but I would take the comparison further. Both in the robust action writing and in the glittering oriental fantasy of cues such as 'The Princess' the legacy of Herrmann's imagination is apparent. Of course there isn't the big theme here to attract the more casual listener, Queen having grabbed all the opportunities for a rousing orchestral march, filling them with their patent brand of carnival rock. Don't however, let that put you off. The score is well worth exploring, and suggests that had things been different Howard Blake might have become famous for more than The Snowman.

Amityville 3D is necessarily a very different affair. The mysterious wordless female vocal in the main titles soon putting us right to the fact that we are deep in the heart of supernatural horror territory. It's second rate horror territory though, and Blake does a good job of bringing some real style and imaginative orchestrations to the routine proceedings. The female vocal returns throughout, echoing in the end-titles the best of such moody doom-laden sound worlds down the decades, demonstrating that Blake certainly knows how to both establish atmosphere and to Hammer the horror home. Not worth buying the album for on its own, but certainly well worth having appended to the main feature

Reviewer

Gary S. Dalkin

Film Music Web, 1/7/2000

Related Works


'SUITE: FLASH GORDON' op.453 (June 1993)
Orchestral concert suite adapted from the film score

Related Autobiography Chapters


'Flash Gordon' 'Victor/Victoria', 'Benedictus' and its 'Prelude for solo viola' (1980)
Benedict Kloeckner records my cello music for Genuin (2014)
'The Land of Counterpane', an animated film (2015)

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