If you noodle around on the internet for long enough when you ought to be writing novels you can discover all sorts of things, and recently I turned up an article about a film so obscure that I’ve always assumed I was the only person who remembered it.
Back in the dim and distant early eighties, my dears, it was still the habit of cinemas to show a supporting feature along with the main movie, instead of just adverts and trailers. These films were usually documentaries of quite stunning tedium about pencils or mat-weaving. (I spent many a Sunday in the summer of 1981 sitting through all three showings of John Boorman’s Excalibur at the Brighton ABC, and whole scenes from the dull documentary about a racecourse which accompanied it are still wedged in my long-term memory). But sometimes you got a small half-hour drama, and when I went to see The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 the film that came with it was The Black Angel, a mystical, mediaeval tale about a knight errant, which turned out to appeal to my teenage tastes much more than the main feature did.
Now, thanks to the miracle of the internet, I learn that The Black Angel was the work of Roger Christian, the genius art director on Star Wars and Alien, who funded this short but beautiful movie with £25,000 he was given by George Lucas. Sadly, no print or even fragment of it seems to be available – I’ve searched YouTube in vain – so I have to rely on my thirty-year-old memories to review it.
As I recall, it was about a lonely knight encountering a mysterious maiden and then fighting the titular Black Angel, an evil warrior who turns out to be… Himself! Or Death! Or something like that. It’s all a bit of a blur, to be honest. But what has stayed in my memory all these years was its atmosphere. Shot in Scotland among mountains, woods and fast-flowing rivers, it captured the feel of upland Britain in a way that I don’t think I had seen before. I used to go on holiday to places which looked that like, and my imagination was always populating the glens and crags with Tolkienesque characters, so The Black Angel seemed to crystallise images which were already lurking half-formed in the corners of my own mind. I had much the same feeling when Excalibur came out the following year, so it’s fascinating to discover that John Boorman was a great supporter of Roger Christian’s film, and consciously strove to emulate its look and feel.
All I have to do now is find a way of seeing the thing again. Till then, I’ll have to make do with my memory, and this solitary black and white still.
(The full interview with Roger Christian is at shadowlocked.com, from where I also swiped the picture.)