Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Review: Elstree 1976

Elstree 1976
Cert: -/- / 101 mins / Dir. Jon Spira / Trailer

It's pretty difficult to make any sort of documentary about the Galaxy Far, Far Away without mentioning the toys and the fanbase. Jon Spira's often-candid study of the bit-part and background actors of the first film opens with an homage to the plastic representations of the obscure characters we'll be unmasking over the next hour and a half, and skims respectfully over the convention-circuit in due course. With those safely tucked into place, all that remains is to get the memories and recollections of some of the most well-loved Star Wars actors you've never heard of.

Not just limited to the faces we couldn't see, we get to meet the people who played Vader, Biggs, Fixer, Greedo, Leesub Sirln, Gold Leader, Boba Fett, the chap holding the medals on Yavin IV and that Stormtrooper who cracked his head on the door that time. It's definitely a "for the fans" piece of work, and makes little concession to viewers who aren't already very familiar with the A New Hope (and Empire in Fett's case). Other than the action-figure referencing mentioned above, there's not too much splashing out of names like they're star players, which is very much the point of the film.

The subjects each talk privately (with no on-screen questioning or narration) about their years leading up to the filming at Elstree Studios in the Summer of '76, about their experiences shooting Star Wars, and about their relationship with the work and its audience in the years that followed. Mainly reminiscences and anecdotes, director Spira has a surprisingly measured pace for a documentary with so much casual trivia to impart. The first (ie pre-SW) section of the film is full of conversational snapshots of a time which couldn't happen again, mainly because the film industry works so differently now (and not least because every adventure-movie director is using SW as the high-watermark - Lucas didn't have that).

The hardcore fans will recognise most of the faces from their public appearances and various other documentary clips over the years, but the second half of the film also drafts in Jeremy 'Fett' Bulloch, the only actor not to appear in the first movie. The far more well-known Dave Prowse is along for the whole ride too, and the cynic in me wonders if his presence acts as an anchor for the more civilian viewers, or if he expressed an interest in the project and you can't really say no to Darth Vader. Because of course you can't have Dave without him moaning about James Earl Jones doing the voice-work. Yes, again*1.

Elstree 1976 is meticulously assembled, although its niche subject matter means it's probably not particularly outstanding as a documentary itself (although as I've said before, it's a genre of film I find persistently difficult to review). But what really makes it watchable is the people; the humble*2, loveable people who had no idea they were becoming a part of history, and wear it like a comfortable old suit of blasterproof armour…

Elstree 1976 is available now in digital and hard-copy formats, depending on whether you're someone who watches movies, or a collector who needs to know they're on a shelf when they're not being watched ;)

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
It's definitely more 'properly structured, feature-documentary' than the bonus features you get on DVD*3/BluRay these days. A point massively in its favour.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Well, I missed my opportunity to do so through poor planning, and it's doubtful any of us will get the chance now. Don't make the same mistakes I did, kids.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
I'll have to investigate more of Jon Spira's work to decide that, I'm afraid.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: It's got some people from out of Star Wars in it. I mean, it's borderline Level-0, but I feel I should really reserve that for actual Star Wars.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 And of course you also can't have Dave Prowse moaning about Star Wars without me moaning about Dave Prowse. I know what I'm talking about, I've read his book. When he's discussing the convention-circuit, specifically the Star Wars Celebration and Disney Weekends events, Dave seems to be somewhat confused between the term "barred" and "not asked to appear because he's spent the last 35 years telling everyone how important he is and complaining about George Lucas". Although I always get those two mixed up, as well.

*2 Yeah alright, you know who I mean. Or rather, who I don't. Look, I love the guy to bits, but really

*3 Unless of course you bought The Force Awakens on DVD, in which case you got no documentaries whatsoever. Yeah, not going to let that one go, either...

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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