Short film review: Black Angel (1980)
Ivan Radford | On 07, Jun 2015
Director: Roger Christian
Cast: Tony Vogel
Runtime: 25 mins
Watch Black Angel online in the UK: YouTube / iTunes
Every Sunday, we review a short film available on VOD. We call it Short Film Sunday. This week, with the news that long-lost Star Wars short Black Angel will be turned into a feature film, we look back at the 1980 fantasy.
35 years ago, Star Wars art director Roger Christian was asked by George Lucas to create a short film to be shown in front of The Empire Strikes Back. And so he headed to Scotland with a small crew (nine people, two horses and a Volkswagen bus) and came back with Black Angel. It screened in 400 cinemas alongside Irvin Kershner’s sequel, but was soon lost, seemingly forever.
Last year, though, word arose of an original negative of the film and a restoration was undertaken. It was eventually released on iTunes. Then, last month, it was released by Christian on YouTube for free. The mostly unknown film emerges as an absorbing piece of fantasy.
It follows Sir Maddox (Tony Vogel), a knight who returns home from the Crusades to find his village devastated. He rides off into the forest, where he encounters a pale maiden in a lake. “I am bound to the Black Angel,” she tells him. And so Maddox heads off to find this villain and save her – a simple plot that allows Christian to keep the emphasis on atmosphere over story.
The landscape of Scotland has always been effective on screen, from The Descent to Outlander. Black Angel is no exception, allowing the misty hills and dark waters to bring an ominous air of dread. The ethereal music from Trevor Jones only adds to the mood, the influence of which can be traced through to John Boorman’s Excalibur – the director reportedly showed it to his crew before their made the film.
If Maddox’s journey emerges as a simple tale without much substance, the climax more than makes up for it, as the showdown between our knight and our monster brings more visual treats to the table: a slow-motion duel has all the heft and weight of Star Wars’ early broadsword fights.
The news, then, that the short will be expanded into a feature is welcome: between its cast (Rutger Hauer and John Rhys-Davies) and £10 million budget, there is scope to fill in the depths that are missing from this engrossing world. The return of Christian is just as promising: Black Angel is a testament to just what can be achieved by one man’s imagination, two horses and a Volkswagen bus.