Throughout most of my childhood, I had vague memories of a strange film. A film featuring square-jawed protagonists, women of undying loyalty, villains beyond compare and burly, stocky men with golden wings. Over the years, I convinced myself that I imagined the whole thing. Nothing could possibly be that strange. Then one night I staggered back to a cheap motel in an “All America City” after a night of punk rock debauchery. My band mates sat in rapt attention around a tiny television. A brawny avian-man who did not fear death ordered his troops to dive. Apparently I hadn’t imagined Flash Gordon.

While directed by Mike Hodges (the man behind classics like Get Carter and Damian: Omen II), the film bears the unmistakable touch of larger-than-life producer Dino De Laurentiis. Sadly, Mr. De Laurentiis has left us, passing away at his Beverly Hills mansion this week. He was 91. Dino came from humble beginnings, the son of a spaghetti salesman. World War II interrupted his film studies. Once he started making films, however, Dino was prolific, putting his hands on over 150 pictures. His finger remained on the cultural pulse whether making high art like La Strada and Blue Velvet or high camp like Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik.

What’s most impressive about Dino is the sheer output of watchable, entertaining films that fall between the two extremes. If you grew up after the 1980s, chances are you have a favorite film in the De Laurentiis oeuvre. The man had his fingers in every pie imaginable: gritty ’70s crime dramas (Serpico and Death Wish), poorly-adapted Stephen King works (a slew of films in the 1980s, including the strangely before-its-time The Dead Zone) and teenybopper schlock (Hiding Out and Kuffs). Some films found homes in the late-night television circuit (Maximum Overdrive) while others stand as cultural touchstones (Conan the Barbarian).

Dino is Roger Corman with a bigger budget. Like Corman, his taste in directors speaks to a refined cinematic palate.┬áIn addition to Hodges, he worked with directors such as Mario Bava, Milos Foreman, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Sam Raimi and Ridley Scott. For every De Laurentiis camp classic like Amityville II: The Possession there’s an indisputable artistic masterwork like Nights of Cabiria. Also like Corman, Dino branded his films from the producer’s desk. Regardless of artistic merit (or lack thereof) his films have certain look about them: cartoonish and soft-focus, somewhere between Jack Kirby and Brian De Palma.

Eyes roll every time I’m at the video store and I pick out a Dino picture. But my eyes light up every time I’m watching a movie and I see the man’s name in the opening credits. Hollywood is a little less colorful, or at least less pastel, due to his passing. Dino is a sui genris figure in international film, a little man whose big shoes can never be filled.

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NICHOLAS PELL writes about the untold corners of popular culture just before they bubble over into the mainstream and become bowdlerized. His work first appeared in the alleged "punk rock bible" Maximumrocknroll when he was just 15 years old. Since then he has written for The Hit List and London PA. He is currently working on a history of the 1990s hardcore punk sub-genre known as powerviolence. When not writing, editing and researching he can be found dancing to soul and rocksteady or searching for the perfect pair of Levi Sta-Prest jeans. His personal website is nicholaspell.com.

5 responses to “Dino De Laurentiis Is Dead, Alas”

  1. Welcome to the fray brother Nick (2). Nick (1) is Nick Belardes, the Nick who introduced me to TNB.

  2. Welcome, Nicholas Pell! What a nice little tribute to De Laurentiis. Now I have Queen’s Flash theme playing in my head. Come on, sing it w/ me. “Flash! Ah-ahhh!” Or maybe not.

  3. Simon Smithson says:

    Welcome aboard, Nick!

    Goddamnit.

    We won’t see Dino’s like again.

    Unless there’s some kind of book with the ability to raise the dead in a small cabin in the woods somewhere…

  4. I couldn’t agree with this more, except my feeling for Dino is encased almost entirely into the tiny ball of twirling radioactivity that is 1984’s Dune. It’s both everything right and wrong in a film, and its ludicrous final scene is one that I quote regularly, usually to the stunned, bored, and confused. Back in the 80’s, Friday+a joint+any Dino film meant at least a few hours well spent.

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