Published: 26/02/2014 17:01 - Updated: 25/02/2014 13:28

The Black Angel strikes back as cult film returns

Written byMargaret Chrystall

A scene from Black Angel
A scene from Black Angel

TALK to the man who Star Wars genius George Lucas counts among just five who stood by his side against the odds to get his now legendary sci fi series off the ground and there’s one word for the experience.

Epic.

Now Roger Christian’s long-lost ground-breaking short movie Black Angel is about to be screened in Scotland.

That includes a showing in Inverness and an appearance from the man himself on Saturday not far from locations like Eilean Donan castle which helped give his haunting mythical movie cult status.

The story of how the film – originally made in 1980 as the short to be screened with The Empire Strikes Back – was lost, found and restored, already sounds like a movie script.

But with a book from Roger about his involvement in Star Wars, Alien and Black Angel now complete – it originally ran to "600,000 rambling pages" — it’s possible he may finally get the chance to turn the tale from his Black Angel script into the "huge story" he always felt it had the power to be.

"I kind of envisaged it would have been a graphic novel. I couldn’t do it at the time, but with all the interest in the film, everyone is saying ‘Why don’t you make something out of it now?’ which I think I will try to do," he said.

Reading boy Roger had been steeped in his beloved Medieval legends since childhood when his urge to escape into proper movie directing from his earlier on-set work in set dressing and art direction - of TV like Jason King and Randall And Hopkirk Deceased to movies like Oliver!, Star Wars and Alien - seized him.

"My childhood was so normal," he laughed. "My father was an insurance manager it was a comfortable life, but it was that school of parents believing that children should be seen and not heard. They never spoke to me, my sister was eight or nine years older, so I was alone all the time and books — Arthurian legends, those kind of things - I just connected to them. That was my world and it got me through."

The blossoming of music was also happening in film in the early '60s, the director reminds you, bringing to life his excitement discovering film-makers from other countries.

"Suddenly, there were films by all these independent and European film-makers – and I just gravitated immediately to all that in London.

"I was going to the cinema all the time - in fact I moved to live closer to a fantastic indie cinema I loved on Portobello Road," he laughed. "A film would end and they’d stand up and say ‘Do you want to see it again?’!"

His stories about working on Star Wars are fascinating.

"There were just five of us working with Lucas for five months in London working out how the hell to make this film with no money because it was such a low budget. I invented all these techniques of using scrap metal to make the interior of the ships look real and cheat. I did everything myself. I made the laser swords with superglue!

"I didn’t have a day off for a year and I just enjoyed it. It was the same with Alien."

But having left art directing to go to film school to prove he was serious about directing, Roger found his short film script for Black Angel getting the chance to be made, thanks to George Lucas.

"It was a huge struggle. I had no money. I had £25,000 in government grant and some pieces of film from The Empire Strikes Back that weren’t used, I had a very small crew.

"I knew the only place where I could make it look like an epic was Scotland. I already knew Eilean Donan castle – though I’d never seen it on film — but I knew it was like the ultimate Pre Raphaelite castle of all time! So we headed straight there and that was my anchor."

For Roger — as for many others, he said — there was the influence of Seven Samurai Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. And another hero whose ideas Roger feels is also reflected in Black Angel, is Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky who liked to make images to bury in your subconscious.

"Black Angel’s got a slow pace, it builds slowly, the images and everything go into your subconscious, so it’s a different type of film."

Almost apologetically, Roger says: "I was very nervous about putting it out again. I thought maybe people should just remember it and not see it again because it can’t ever live up to memory.

"I tell the audience at each screening, turn your clocks back 34 years, it was made in a different time."

The years in between have brought everything from working on The Return Of The Jedi and The Phantom Menace with Lucas to John Travolta Scientology sci fi movie Battlefield Earth.

Roger’s still working, "to keep his hand in", now on a Malaysian-set British prisoner of war film. And he’s still hopeful of his ultimate film about the epic hero of Mesopotamia, Gilgamesh.

"When I look at the stories I’ve worked on, they are often about people out of their time on heroic journeys," he said. "Gilgamesh would have been my epic of epics. I’ve been all over the world trying, but I didn’t get it made," he laughed. "At least not yet."

Black Angel is shown at Eden Court Cinema on Saturday at 8pm with an extended Q & A afterwards with the director Roger Christian. Phone 01463 234234 to book.

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