I was an extra in a big movie and it was no fun at all. I got a lot of face time with the director but, since he chose to only speak in German, we never spoke, even when I tried to ask him a simple question. He just stared at me as I steadily baked in the sun. The only time he dropped his refusal to speak in English was when I had inadvertently left the set. Someone came over to tell me to get back into costume and report to the set. And that’s when the director let me have it, in English, “No one, but no one, walks off my set!” Now, he’s talking to me, in an abusive tone no less! So, I would not recommend being an extra. However, what if that movie was really something else? What if it was 1976 and you were one of the lucky bunch of extras on the set of “Star Wars”? That is the subject of a new documentary, “Elstree 1976.” And, if you’re wondering, Elstree Studios are commonly known to all Brits as that entertainment studio that can be relied upon for something good on the telly. In fact, as far as these extras knew, the sci-fi adventure flick they were a part of was assumed to be some sort of TV movie.
Filmmaker Jon Spira does a great job of having you get to know these individuals who would go on to be part of cinema history. We have ten portraits and each person is a gem with wonderful bits of observations. I especially like Paul, a classically trained Shakespearian actor. He recounts how he was led into this giant warehouse where he was left alone with a magnificent looking aircraft, which turned out to be the Millennium Falcon. Paul walked around it and noticed a man sitting off to one corner. He approached the man and asked if he knew where he might get some coffee. The man offered to get him some. Paul got his coffee and thanked the man. Then he asked his new friend if he might know where he could find the director, George Lucas. The man nodded and admitted that he was George Lucas. Paul got to experience the greatest possible experience any extra could ever dream of!
If you enjoy DVD bonus features, then think of this documentary as the ultimate in extras–on the subject of extras. This is for the Star Wars fan who thought he’d seen it all. No one in this film will bowl you over with their star power and that’s the point of this film. These are just nice everyday people who just happened to have a small role to play in the biggest blockbuster movie of them all. What is truly compelling about this film are the individual portraits. You’re going to like this especially if you like the Up Series, the Granada Television series that’s been following the lives of fourteen British children since 1964. Yes, the whole endeavor does ring a bit bittersweet but it’s also quite fascinating. And it’s Star Wars we’re talking about, so that adds another level of quirk to the whole thing.
ELSTREE 1976 has a US theatrical run as of May 6th in select cities including Los Angeles and New York City. For the full list of theaters and ticket information, go here. This movie will be available on DVD on June 28th via MVD Entertainment Group. The DVD can be pre-ordered now at the MVD Shop or on Amazon. You can also find ELSTREE 1976 on iTunes right here.