Jean-Paul Belmondo, 1933-2021

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.

Rest in peace, Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Update on Phil Tucker’s Space Jockey

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.

See you in 2022, and stay tuned …

Phil Tucker’s Space Jockey: A Lost Script Found

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.

Stay tuned!

Happy Independence Day

“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?

Restored T-MEN Streaming Free on Black Friday

When is an underrated classic movie restored in high definition available at no charge?

When ClassicFlix streams their restoration of the great film noir thriller T-MEN tomorrow night (November 24) on their YouTube channel.

Check it out:

ClassicFlix will also be selling their T-MEN Blu Ray Special Edition at an incredible price that night.

And, by the way, Happy Thanksgiving!

Making of ROBOT MONSTER Movie

For the better part of the past year, it’s been my privilege to be privy to a plan to make an independent movie about Phil Tucker’s making of ROBOT MONSTER. A filmmaker named Matthew Muhl has written a script and outlined a plan for making his film about the March 1953 event, and he has started a Kickstarter fund for this project. To be clear, this movie is not based on my book but is Matthew’s own project with his own script. Head on over, and check out a video he’s put together on the project with narration by original ROBOT MONSTER cast member and all around cool guy Gregory Moffett!

Robert Hardy, RIP

Anyone who saw All Creatures Great and Small almost had to love it, and anyone who loved it had to think the best character was played by Robert Hardy. Siegfried Farnon was a fictional version of a real person created by James Herriott, pen name of a real life veterinarian who wrote fiction based on himself and his friends.

Siegfried was not the main character, but he was the dominant one. Employer of James and big brother of Tristan, his dominant, boisterous, hotheaded and contradictory personality was basically just hilarious and endearing. Veteran actor Robert Hardy brought him to life and made Siegfried unforgettable, a performance that no one could have improved on. Rest in peace, Mr. Hardy, and thank you for Siegfried.