CS Interview: The Russo Bros. Talk Flash Gordon
ComingSoon.net had the chance to chat with Joe and Anthony Russo about their weekly series Russo Bros. Pizza Film School, including Episode 6, available to watch below, their newest installment featuring Oscar-winning filmmaker Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) as the group takes a look back at 1980’s Flash Gordon, which you can order here!
ComingSoon.net: They told me that the next episode of Pizza Film School is Taika and you guys talking about Flash Gordon.
Joe: That’s right. I think that is the movie that I have seen the most in my life, is Flash Gordon.
CS: It’s such an interesting case study of a comic strip adaptation because visually it’s very true to Alex Raymond. But tonally, it owes more to the sort of the camp of the Batman TV show, which Lorenzo Semple also wrote. And I know it was a big influence on Taika for Ragnarok. But what lessons do you think young filmmakers or screenwriters can take from it as an adaptation?
Joe: Flash Gordon, part of the reason we’re doing Pizza Film School, we’re trying to bring awareness and attention to older films that the newer generation may not have seen and give some context to those movies as well, because it’s always better to watch a film with some context around it. So we talk, really, the whole ethos of them was that I was talking to my kids. I was with my kids during quarantine watching movies with me, old movies, and then discussing them with them and then talking about how I was influenced by the movies. A little bit of like, family film school. And my daughter said, “You guys should probably do this for everyone on Instagram.” And I thought, oh, that’s a good idea because it’ll bring awareness.
So Flash Gordon, you know, is of a time and a place. It was a 10-year-old me going into a theater in Cleveland, Ohio a year after the city had gone bankrupt. We were in an industrial city, you know, this hard-nosed industrial working-class city. Her grandpa worked in the steel mills. Here we are in Cleveland, Ohio looking for escapism. And this flashy, comic booky, you know, tongue and cheek Queen soundtrack movie shows up and it was a few months after I saw Empire Strikes Back, which punched me in the gut.
And then, this big smiley sci-fi opera showed up with a lot of, you know, because Cleveland’s also a big classic rock town, so rock and roll was an important thing, so Queen was one of our favorite bands. We kind of got everything we wanted out of that movie. And you know, I felt so good after walking out of the theater. I loved that movie so much, that when it came out on Betamax a year later, it was literally on a loop in our house because we would just play it to listen to the soundtrack in the background. And I think Flash’s theme song might be, you know, if I could document the song most listened to in my life, that might be it.
CS: Oh wow.
Joe: Between the ages of 11 and 15, I probably listened to that song 30,000 times. So it was a really influential movie in that regard, what you could do with sci-fi and fantasy. And if you watch the film, it’s a really weird combination of elements. It’s completely tongue in cheek and over the top and ridiculous. But it’s also got sort of that Mike Hodges Get Carter energy involved. There’s some really scary, weird moments. So the tone is very complicated. And I loved that as a kid, you know, that it could feel popcorny and fun in moments, and in other moments feel very real and spooky, you know? And Max von Sydow, yeah.
CS: Absolutely. Well, and it’s interesting because I know that for Ragnarok, Taika was inspired a lot by this movie, and also Big Trouble in Little China, which are two, at the time, bombs. So how important is it to not necessarily chase after trends and to be inspired by movies that weren’t necessarily huge hits?
Anthony: I think that’s what’s inspiring about it. Exactly. I mean, that was one thing that Joe and I, as we were coming up, it’s interesting because you develop a passion for a lot of films that don’t end up becoming cultural touchstones, where there’s the films that everybody talks about, put a dialogue around the film, and to circulate around those films that everybody has seen and everybody loves. But there’s the certain canon that like, is kind of generally accepted by everybody that you can basically get in a conversation with almost any person about and reference it or sort of talk about your experience of what the movie is.
But there’s other movies that become very important to us for whatever reason. They speak to us on a personal level. But again, you can’t talk to anybody about because very few people appreciate them. I think Joe and I were always very lucky coming up because we had each other and all of those weird, quirky movies that nobody else had seen, because Joe and I lived together, because of our relationship, we’ve seen everything. There’s almost nothing that one of us has seen that the other one hasn’t. So we always had each other to talk about even the most obscure stuff with. And I think that’s one thing we’ve loved about our relationship and one thing that we’ve tried to carry forward now with Pizza Film School.
CS: Right. And one thing I’ve been curious about is how much of sci-fi and fantasy is in your blood? Because the first two MCU movies that you did were more grounded. And then suddenly with the Avengers movies, you were in the stratosphere with these planets and spaceships and monsters and wizards. Was that something that you always had in you?
Anthony: Yeah, our taste has mostly been eclectic. The fact that we’re led to those different places with those movies had mostly to do with the stories that we were sort of waiting on and telling at the time. But we have really eclectic tastes. We love everything from very grounded realism to pure fantasy to absurdism, sci-fi, fantasy, everything. So I would say we’ve been fed by all of it.