Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In Case You Can't Make It To Conventions: Elstree 1976

The Good: Good interviews, Some moments of vintage footage
The Bad: Disorganized, Largely unsubstantiated stories, Does not hold true to its core
The Basics: Elstree 1976 is a marginally interesting rambling of character actors who participated in minor roles in A New Hope.

While most of the world is out watching and rewatching Rogue One (reviewed here!) in the theaters, I am keeping warm with movies at home. To that end, I am exploring the nostalgia surrounding A New Hope (reviewed here!), which is certainly riding high upon the release of Rogue One, given how many connections there are from the tangent prequel film to the original Star Wars film. I figured a great way to explore the nostalgia is to take in some Star Wars documentary films and tonight's is Elstree 1976.

Elstree 1976 is a straightforward documentary film focusing on the supporting (uncredited) cast of the first Star Wars film A New Hope. Featuring a surprising amount of vintage footage from the backlot, mixed with new interview footage of the actors involved, Elstree 1976 meanders through the lives of nine supporting and background actors from A New Hope.

Forty years after the shooting of A New Hope, in the London suburbs, actors were assembled to act as extras in the film. Paul Blake laments the crappy environment in which he was raised, Anthony Forrest was a musician for his youth. Garrick Hagon, who played Biggs Darklighter, started acting young as a vocal actor working on the radio. Laurie Goode discusses how he got into acting. John Chapman was the son of engineers. Pam Rose was modeling in Milan, when she got pregnant, returned home to England and worked on a dance television show. Derek Lyons was not a male prostitute, but did grow up at home with a father who was mob-affiliated. Dave Prowse was struck with tuberculosis in his knee, yet grew several inches while in hospital before becoming the man behind Darth Vader's mask. Angus MacInnes was working in London as an actor when he was cast.

Several of the castmembers ended up in Soho in 1975 when they were cast for A New Hope, while others were in London at Pinewood Studios where they were cast as extras. The actors talk about going through Central Casting, getting recommended by other actors on the cast, and meeting with George Lucas to get assigned a number for his general casting of the characters. The actors talk about arriving on set and what they saw and how they were affected by being in the Elstree Studio.

David Prowse has one of the more interesting acting stories as he talks about performing in A Clockwork Orange, after giving up on being Mr. Universe. Paul Blake relates a story of arriving on set and getting George Lucas to get him a cup of coffee (before he knew who he was!).

The bulk of the actors were on stage for about five days and some developed relationships with some of the primary actors. But, the stories are largely subjective and unsubstantiated. Most notably, Laurie Goode claims to play the Stormtrooper who hit his head while on the Death Star, but he notes that many other actors have made the same claim. Goode tells the story from his perspective, but his story is similar to the one that others who claim to be the same Stormtrooper tell. Goode might well be the distinctive Stormtrooper, but director Jon Spira merely documents the stories without substantiating them.

Spira manages to mix vintage footage, shots featuring the actors being documented from within A New Hope and the new interviews with each of the actors involved. But, Elstree 1976 is fairly aimless; the actors' stories are spliced together without any real commentary or narrative. The actors meander through telling stories or parts of stories and Spira puts them in Elstree 1976. The net effect is a "documentary" that is much like what one gets at a convention where character actors discuss their time on vintage projects.

The aimless nature of Elstree 1976 climaxes with the sudden inclusion of Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) talking about conventions and his appearance in The Empire Strikes Back. Elstree 1976 is a meandering documentary that is cool in that it gives voice to the extras, but it is hardly substantive or even well-organized. The result is a good background flick for watching once, but is not a great or compelling documentary - even though some of the character actors are interesting.

For other documentary films, please visit my reviews of:
For The Love Of Spock
The Furious Gods: The Making Of Prometheus


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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