Monday, May 02, 2016

Elstree 1976: Small Parts, Big Movie

For Hammer fans, David Prowse is well-known as the only actor to reprise the role of the Monster in the British studio’s Frankenstein franchise. For the rest of the world, he is the hulking figure in the Darth Vader costume. You never see his face in the Star Wars films, but that apparently intrigues fans all the more. Prowse is one of several lesser-known cast-members of varying degrees of fame or anonymity who discuss the science fiction blockbuster and its influence on their lives in Jon Spira’s Elstree 1976 (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

As one would expect, Prowse is by far the biggest marquee name appearing in Elstree 1976 (named for the Shenley Road studio where some of the film was shot). Even relatively casual viewers can probably rattle off his name. Arguably, the next most prominent Star Wars alumnus Spira interviews would be Garrick Hagon, who still works regularly in British film and television, but will always be known to fans as Biggs Darklighter (he had a moustache back then). Paul Blake had a good run on the ITV serial Crossroads, but as Greedo, he played a role in one of the greatest controversies surrounding Lucas’s special edition editing (did Han shoot first?).

Angus Macinnes also appeared fairly regularly in films like Witness and Judge Dredd, but the balance of participants are essentially extras, albeit some who were immortalized as action figures, such as Pam Rose (a.k.a. Mos Eisley barmaid Leesub Sirln). However, Anthony Forrest is in a class by himself, having played both the “these aren’t the droids we’re looking for” Stormtrooper and Laze “Fixer” Loneozner, Luke’s snarky Tatooine friend, whose two scenes ended up on the cutting room floor but still entered fan lore. Yet quite sadly, Koo Stark (yes, that Koo Stark), who played Fixer’s girlfriend Camie Marstrap, does not herself appear in Elstree.

There is a lot of nostalgia in Elstree for “Warsies” who will surely enjoy revisiting favorite minor characters like Greedo with the actors who played them. Yet, it is also a rather sad film at times. Clearly, there are supporting players who are clearly trying to hold onto their notoriety as best they can. Inevitably, a rift emerges between those with speaking parts who disdain the mere extras, who in turn resent the territoriality of the more established cast-members.

Frankly, it seems like there could be a short doc devoted to Forrest and Fixer, a character who only exists in DVD extras and footnotes on fan pages. There is something eerily Pirandello-ish about his ghostly status. As for the rest of Elstree, it is largely what you might expect it to be. It is all unabashedly fannish but still rather engaging on a human level. For those who grew up with the franchise Elstree 1976 is worth a look-see when it opens this Friday (5/6) in New York, at the IFC Center.