Black Angel (1980) (film review).

May 30, 2014 | By | Reply More

Prior to the 1980 release of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, George Lucas wanted an accompanying short film that would be suitable to be viewed alongside his new film, after the short film partnered with ‘Star Wars’ had turned out to be less than inspiring. Lucas turned to his set decorator from ‘Star Wars’ and the art director of ‘Alien’, Roger Christian. He had an idea for a medieval fantasy, something that could be evocative, but shot cheaply. ‘Black Angel’ was the result.

‘Black Angel’ has not been available to buy ever and certainly not widely seen since ‘The Empire Strikes Back’s release. The original negative, originally retained by Rank in the UK had been thought lost forever until a print was found at Universal. A restoration team made up of members of Pixar and Lucasfilm offered to restore the print and it was released, restored in HD on iTunes at the end of May 2014.

The film tells of the arrival on horseback of Sir Maddox to his old village to discover that it has been ransacked by raiders. He vows revenge and encounters a mysterious young girl, all in white, who is said to be ‘bound to the Black Angel’. Maddox chases her and in turn confronts the eponymous villain. At only twenty-five minutes, it keeps its dialogue short, but instead lets the haunted, mystical scenery of Scotland involve you in the film. As the mist and drizzle floats across the screen, the atmosphere of the deep past is well created. It is an entrancing piece.

Black Angel (1980) (film review).

Black Angel (1980) (film review).

Historically and thematically it bridges two excellent depictions of medieval Britain on screen. Firstly ‘Monty Python And The Holy Grail’: The opening shots of Eilean Donan Castle look remarkably similar to the shots of Castle Stalker (Castle Aargh) in the Python film and just as Gilliam framed his shots to take in the majesty of the landscape, so does Christian. Secondly, it clearly influenced John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur’ released the following year. Christian claims that ‘Black Angel’ was screened to the ‘Excalibur’ production team. The soundtrack is provided by Trevor Jones who went on to compose ‘Excalibur’s original music. It is the same siren choral sound that heightens the dream-like quality of both pieces. The shots of knights being dwarfed by the beautiful, empty countryside around them are also echoed in ‘Excalibur’. The cinematography is conducted by Roger Pratt, his first time in the role. Both Pratt and Christian would go on to work with Terry Gilliam on movies such as ‘The Life Of Brian’, ‘Brazil’ and ‘The Fisher King’.

Christian also became a director in his own right, notable only unfortunately for working on projects like ‘Battlefield Earth’. He also kept his ties with Lucas strong and conducted the second unit and finished first unit photography on ‘The Phantom Menace’.

Given the sheer impact of the Battle of Hoth, the asteroid sequence and Vader’s revelations over Luke’s parentage, I think it would be tricky for many audiences to remember the slightly weird and disturbing short shown before ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and yet many people did for the legend of ‘Black Angel’ lived on. Now, for less than the price of a pack of popcorn you can download the film and see for yourself. As a fan of sword and sorcery movies, especially those which seek to capture medieval Britain on the screen this is a real treat and a great example of what can be created on a tiny budget in the wet Scottish countryside.

John Rivers

May 2014

(pub: iTunes. 25 mins. Price: £ 1.99 (UK)

cast: Tony Vogel and Patricia Christian

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Category: Fantasy, Films

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