Traumafession:: Cheez Napkin on Flash Gordon (1980) & Zarkov’s Memory Wipe

For almost a decade I had no idea what movie this scene was from.It wasn’t until I caught the film on HBO one night about a year ago that I finally did. I had a vague memory of seeing it as a child, I couldn’t have been older than 9 and it was playing on the Sci-Fi network, which I rarely watched, but there was nothing on that night and I was really bored. I happened to turn it on right in the middle of the scene where Ming erases Dr. Zarkov’s memory.

I felt like I was watching some kind of bizarre student film, even now it seems out of place in a movie as campy and lighthearted as Flash Gordon. It went all the way from his resignation from NASA, to memories of his former wife “BRENDA!” drowning in a swimming pool (looking back this scene just makes me laugh. a grown woman drowns in a swimming pool, at a party no less, and no one jumps in to save her? maybe they were all too drunk to notice) to holocaust flashbacks, memories of his family and (gross) his own birth. For years I assumed it was from Ken Russel’s Altered States, which came out the same year and had similar surreal imagery. It never crossed my mind that it was from the campy sci-fi movie that Queen composed the music to.

It was one of the creepiest and most confusing things I had ever witnessed. I turned it on right in the middle of one of his flashbacks and I had no idea what was happening. Were these nightmares? Was he being brainwashed? It wasn’t until I rewatched the scene years later that I understood what was going on. And even when I did figure it out, I still didn’t entirely understand it.

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jackball74 (@jackball74)
8 years ago

Oh man – this scene totally freaked me out when I was little! I actually saw the movie twice in the theaters, and during the second time I went out in the hall with my friend’s mom to avoid watching it again!

Dustin (@dustin)
8 years ago

I also saw this in the theater several times, and almost every time it aired on HBO in the early 1980s.

Yeah, the memory wipe was kind of freaky to a young mind – but I had to keep watching, over and over again.

It would have been even freakier to see Zarkov in a zombie-like state similar to post-lobotomy Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

Dustin (@dustin)
8 years ago

This film is like watching a comic book. Of all the comic book adaptations, this comes the closest to still being like a comic book, or perhaps a graphic novel.

Brilliant use of background color splashes and contrast. Set designs, costumes – very well done.

Oh, how 10-year-old me wished and waited for a sequel the the ambiguous “The End?” ending.

bdwilcox (@bdwilcox)
8 years ago

That mini-sequence had the same surreal, quick-cut juxtaposition vibe as the tunnel sequence from the original Willy Wonka.