Another year, and blogging has been too infrequent around here. There will clearly be much more Hobbit Rock work to be done in 2022. In the meantime, here is an easy one.
As my previous Hobbit Rock post showed, all the Joy Division influence in northern England could not extinguish the Hobbit Rock flame. Like a stubborn Viking invader, it merely moved north to Scotland and never left the island. And here’s a further ‘80s Scottish example of Hobbit Rock to follow up “All About You” by Scars. This is one that everyone knows, but here in a fantastic live performance:
In the mid-90s I saw Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, one of those foreign classics that it’s assumed everyone will like. Well … I gave it a try, and it just didn’t do anything for me, though I later liked Godard’s Alphaville and Pierrot le Fou. And I found that Godard in general had a fantastic sense of absurdity, atmosphere, and was of course very good at editing. I just got off to a patchy start with Breathless. But I did think that the lead actor in that movie had some quirky star power and wondered if he was in anything else.
As I found out before long, Jean-Paul Belmondo was a major movie star in France. I’m not sure what I saw him in next, but I soon understood the extent of his stardom, and that his career was long and varied between commercial and experimental movies. While he often played conventional leading man parts, Belmondo had range and I can’t recall him ever seeming fake in anything. Among his lesser known roles, one of Belmondo’s most interesting was for Jean-Pierre Melville, frequent director of crime films who also made one of the greatest religious dramas of all time with Leon Morin, Priest.
France used to produce a bushel of serious movies about Catholicism and the tensions between hope in the next world and life in the present one. Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest, from a novel by Georges Bernanos, is probably the most famous, but Leon Morin, Priest deserves much more attention. (It used to be a Criterion title. Many thanks to Kino Lorber for bringing it back to Blu-Ray in the U.S. a couple years ago.) Cast as far from a ladies’ man as possible, Belmondo is utterly convincing and engrossing as a sincere young priest, engaged in a part spiritual battle, part platonic relationship with a young windowed mother (Emmanuelle Riva, soon after Hiroshima, Mon Amour).
Leon Morin, Priest is a great movie and maybe, all these years later, I should give Breathless another try too.
In July of last year I announced the upcoming print debut of the script from Phil Tucker’s lost film Space Jockey. Intended for this fall, the project hasn’t moved along as quickly as intended, so this is the inevitable production delay. But this time next year is now the projected release date and there will be more to share along the way.
While seeming like a staple of 70s prog that made its way into 80s hard rock, Hobbit Rock was pervasive enough in its quiet little way to live through punk rock and become part of the unique little pocket of time when there was something called postpunk. Only punk in sharing the DIY ethos, this was a sonic world of flanged and chorused guitars, heavy keyboard atmospherics and abstract and sometimes unsettled lyrics.
Scotland made an impressive contribution to postpunk, exemplified by the career of Simple Minds. Their first album an above average blend of Bowie/Roxy influences, they moved into moodier and more unique territory on a second album nourished by the postpunk currents then starting to flow. While Simple Minds would go on to a more streamlined sound and mass success, Scottish postpunk is also well-represented by the lesser known and short-lived band Scars.
And does Scottish postpunk relate to Hobbit Rock? Yes, indeed, it does, as this Scars song and video demonstrate. Four guys running together, a veritable fellowship, leaving their town and heading to a tower where some sort of evil awaits, while the song fluctuates between the brighter and more melancholy edges of longing.
An accomplished actress, of course, but much more than that, and this spring she has left us. By all accounts, a person who lived a life rich in making others happy, with many friends and family. More about Claudia and her life here.
When I took a Renaissance lit class in the early 1990s, our instructor scoffed at least once at Renaissance Fairs. And while “Ren Fests” have experienced their share of derision, my teacher’s issue was more specific than any perceived dorkiness. For the festivals don’t always much distinguish between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, mixing elements of them together in a historically inaccurate mish-mash of time periods, some of it medieval.
But I’ll defend Ren Fests a bit. First, I’ve been to one years ago, and found it very enjoyable. Second, my favorite part of that lit class (besides writing a sonnet about Robot Monster) was learning that Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur was a little early for Renaissance, more like the very end of the Middle Ages. So if that ambiguity of historical eras is good enough for the Arthurian legend and John Boorman’s Excalibur, why, Ren Fests should get a little more respect.
What does this have to do with Hobbit Rock? Our next song is by a band called Renaissance. There is some folk here, some classical, woodwinds mixed with guitars, it’s the seventies, sort of a prog group, but this song is a very good pop song. Here is a longing-for-home sentimentality, very much in line with hobbits and their love of home, and there seemed to be more songs like this back then. What does this have to do with the Renaissance? I don’t know, but it’s a great song and a great performance.
Bonus video: This is Nightwish’s cover version of Gary Moore’s “Over the Hills and Far Away,” featured in the previous installment of Hobbit Rock.
I’ve seen a mention of this term online that pigeonholes the Hobbit Rock subgenre as part of the prog era that peaked in the ’70s. Myself, I believe that the term is more far-reaching than that definition, not that I can exactly define it.
Hobbit Rock seems to always have a vaguely Celtic feel, or be in some way similar to folk music of some part of the British Isles. And … that’s it. At least until enough examples can show a more definite pattern.
Anyhow, as part of this not very serious study, this month’s song for the appreciation of Hobbit Rock is Gary Moore’s “Over the Hills and Far Away,” not to be confused with the Led Zeppelin song of the same title. At one time a member of Thin Lizzy, Moore was an accomplished guitarist and no slouch as a vocalist either. And this video shows that he could lip sync to himself pretty well too.
It is my privilege and my pleasure to make a huge announcement.
The script for Phil Tucker’s lost film Space Jockey has been discovered, thanks to a copy of it kept by an original cast member. The film remains lost to the best of my knowledge, but Tucker’s script for his lost film has surfaced.
In September 2019, I was contacted by Tok Thompson, professor of Anthropology and Communication at the University of Southern California. Tok’s mother Donnis Stark Thompson, recently departed, had lived a full and fascinating life that included an early stint as an actress. And when Phil Tucker shot the lost film in Fairbanks, Alaska during the late summer of 1953, she was part of the cast. Years later among his mother’s belongings, Tok’s family discovered her copy of the Space Jockey script. Contacting film journalist Phil Hall, Tok was advised to contact me about the script because of my Phil Tucker book I Cannot, Yet I Must.
Thanks to Tok graciously sharing the script, I’ve been able to read it and, thanks to the copyright research of Elias Savada, it’s been confirmed that Tucker’s script was never copyrighted or renewed. As the script is public domain, I am pleased to say that it will be published in the year 2021. Also, there are hopes of performing it in some manner.
As this project is in development and ongoing, I’ll have more to post as the year keeps rolling on, with a publication date to be narrowed down and announced later. I hope that everyone out there who is a fan of Robot Monster, Phil Tucker’s movies, and cult cinema in general is as excited about this project as I am, and I look forward to you being able to experience this lost original script by Phil Tucker.
“Star-Spangled Banner” films were a regular fixture of local TV stations, before infomercials gave them an excuse to broadcast 24-7. The ones I see on YouTube seem all recorded from the sign-off at the end of the day, but my strongest memory of them is from one that was played as a morning sign-on.
The video below is a sign-off from New York City, and I’m reasonably sure this is the same video we had in my corner of the Midwest when one of the local stations signed on at 6:00 in the morning on the Saturdays when I was up. The close-in on the flag at the end with that exciting high note (sounded like a pipe organ from a little TV speaker), followed by a whooshing rocket-into-space noise is the part I’ve always remembered.
But wait, there’s more. Notice that the entire video is a series of still photos with zooms and pans and fancy edits. This style is the true essence of the late ’70s and early ’80s, and it was everywhere. I’m continually amazed that anyone associates it so much with Ken Burns documentaries–remember the opening credits of The Rockford Files, Days of Heaven, anything on public television back then?