THE RINGWRAITHS RIDE IN BLACK

Peter Jackson’s famous films were not the first cinematic journeys into Middle Earth. American animator Ralph Bakshi visited back in 1978 with rather mixed results.

Clearly holding the J.R.R. Tolkien books in high esteem, Bakshi adopted such a respectful approach to the epic fantasy that the result is, despite the adventurous content, quite slow-moving and stilted.

I saw The Lord of the Rings in the Union Cinema at Melbourne University. Can’t remember when, but presumably sometime in 1979. I’m pretty sure my companion for this adventure would have been long-time fantasy buddy Andre (who, three years later, queued up for four hours to purchase the first ticket to the premiere Melbourne screening of Conan the Barbarian).

What I mostly remember of the Bakshi film is my disappointment. Although long (133 minutes), the telling was somehow stiff and forced. The colours were rich and earthy yet the character portrayals disappointing. Aragon was ugly and bad tempered, Sam squat and toad-like, many of the action sequences were stilted and repetitive, the orchestral soundtrack staid, and it all stopped half way through the damned book. There was no indication, you see, that this was part one. After seeing it we neither craved nor expected a concluding chapter. We were not alone. The second instalment never materialised and Bakshi’s film was consigned to the shelf in video libraries labelled “Cult”.

So naturally, when I came across a double picture disc album of Leonard Rosenman’s score a couple of weeks ago, I snapped it up immediately.

The cover was pretty battered—that can easily happen with die-cut album sleeves—and the records needed a bit of TLC, but after some restoration and purification, I sat down with low expectations to relive an underwhelming cinema experience from almost forty years ago.

The first thing to report is that my offhand dismissal of Mr Rosenman’s score was hasty. Although there are aspects of the music I still cannot rave about, there is an invention and dramatic texture throughout that is certainly much more enjoyable and interesting than remembered.

We won’t traverse the entire album in detail, but simply try to give a flavour of the work.

We are in the territory of traditional orchestral scores, as is made clear with the opening salvo. The “Theme from The Lord of the Rings” is a sprightly, martial piece. Imagine a fifties war movie where some cheerful POWs stick it to Jerry while never losing their British pluck. That’s the sound of this theme: purposeful, energetic, positive.

“The History of the Ring” is a longish piece comprising several episodes. Much though I dislike narration on records, presenting the necessary back story could have added some scene-setting to the record, just as it did in the film. Snatches of the opening theme pop up a couple of times during the 6 ½ minutes of this track.

The same jaunty theme crops up again in the third track, “The Journey Begins: Encounter with the Ringwraiths” and you realise that Rosenman is using his title theme as a motif for Frodo—or at least the Hobbits—an understanding that makes the repetition less aggravating. A bit.

But there is some pleasing darkness creeping into the music now (as it bloomin’ well should if there are Ringwraiths in the neighbourhood) and it’s no chore to fish out the second LP to spin side 2. (Yes, it’s one of those old auto-changer 1 & 4, 2 & 3 pressings).

The second side is more dramatic, which is to be expected since it covers the “Mines of Moria” and “The Balrog”. And even though I’d really like to hear the journey in the dark evoked by Richard Pinhas or Gandalf’s nemesis portrayed in sound by Black Sabbath, this treatment is quite engaging. Apparently the soundtrack does have its own cult following and I’ve begun to hear why.

If you think about it, perhaps there are enough sub-groups of record collectors to make Leonard Rosenman’s Lord of the Rings a desirable find. Collector’s of obscure soundtracks would love it, fans of picture discs would wet themselves over a four-sided acquisition, and when it comes to Tolkien aficionados, they’ll buy simply anything hobbit themed, won’t they?

As for me, I’m glad I found it. It may not be a magical treasure, but it’s a fascinating curio. I mean really, how many LPs do you have where horses with red demonic eyes are charging at you out of the grooves?

Dance in the dark of night

Sing to the morning light

*

33 comments

  1. I have this on VHS, but it has only been watched once, I think. No, wait. Is it the Hobbit I had on VHS? Blast it! I can’t remember, nor can I remember a damn note of the score.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All those little hairy-footed chaps look alike, don’t they?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Why that’s mildly racist! 😉 😉 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  2. God, I love the idea of a Richard Pinhas LOTR score! If only!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Moebius did Metropolis not long ago. Maybe we should petition Richard?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oooft. I remember sitting through that VHS from Global Video (or perhaps Ritz?), but I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever seen. At the time I was obviously a young pup, with no real sense of the importance of the whole thing… but still, I do not remember it fondly.

    The music just doesn’t sound like my thing at all.

    But, having said that, I’d totally buy this LP just cause it looks really nice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is such a fine summary of my experience I might just delete my verbose piece and substitute yours. You are totally correct. I bought it because it was pretty.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Now that is gorgeous through and through (thank you for topping with the Battle of Evermore at the end, you). I like most your description of the music against the album art: they play together perfectly. This is top-notch and what I like most about your very special, unique blog here Bruce. Bravo, and thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We literary dwarves toil away in the Mines of Blogia, rarely seeing the light of day nor hearing a kind word from a wandering Wizard, so your visit downunderground is a ray of pinklight to my sooty brethren and I.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        Ha: I’m going out in the dark now with my sandals to source some magick. Peace.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Reblogged this on William Pearse | pinklightsabre and commented:
    Exquisite writing and ’70s album art from writer Bruce Jenkins at Vinyl Connection.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We are not worthy. 🙏

      Like

  6. I believe I saw the Hobbit in this animated form – and that’s the extent of the memory.
    Though from your recent ‘justifications for buying LPs‘ post Bruce, the visuals here make it an entirely reasonable investment!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just the validation I was seeking, Geoff. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a thoughtful and excellently detailed review of that score! I haven’t seen the Bakshi version in so long that I even forgot the film doesn’t wrap up the entire story (in honesty, I bet I’ve fallen asleep after the first hour to hour and a half every time… it WAS underwhelming).

    I’ll have to give this score a listen, but thought I’d throw out there how desperately I love the original Conan the Barbarian score. I wouldn’t at all mind a thoughtful review on that one from you, sir.

    Thanks for the read! Thanks to pinklightsabre for the reblog!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for dropping by and joining in the Fellowship of the Ring (he he).

      Now, Conan the Barb. I’ve seen the film twice but for the life of me cannot conjure up any memory of the music. Arcane research needed!

      All the best, Bruce

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m not a vinyl collector, but these are very cool, and a good post.
    Tolkien could easily generate quite a quest.
    In junior high, I was very excited to run across a song book “The Road Goes Ever On,”
    and ran home from the library, expecting something exciting in a nerdy way. It turned out to be a collection of British “art songs” which were pleasant, but not any kind of religious experience.
    I’d remembered them being by Peter Warlock, but when I just checked, he died years before The Hobbit was published. The songs were actually by Donald Swann, with one by Tolkien himself. (Then Wikipedia started scrolling off countless musical Tolkien relations: Leonard Nimoy, Led Zeppelin, chamber music, symphonies, a couple of operas, a German “power metal” band, score for a Finnish ballet, Enya and David Arkenstone (perfect name for this sort of thing), etc. Definitely an entire shelf for a collector.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have vague memories of the book you mention and I do have the LP of ‘Songs and poems from Middle Earth’ that is pretty dire to modern ears!

      The Tolkien road does indeed go ever on. And at this blog too! A while back I wrote about the series of John Sangster jazz albums inspired by the famous book – 4 double albums no less! – and I’m sure artists will continue to be inspired by the tale.

      Thanks for visiting, Robert, and joining in the conversation!

      Cheers, Bruce.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. What a beauty Bruce! There can’t be too many of these out there, can there? I saw the film once on Betamax and I have absolutely no memories of it at all, the poster you, umm, posted here is excellent though – I’d love one of those.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haven’t checked out the evil wizard Discogs on this one, Joe. But, yes, the pic discs and the poster are far far more precious (he he) than Ralph’s flawed film.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I share in your “fascinating curio”. .Any album with “horses with red demonic eyes” should be in your pile.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did wonder about wall-mounting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Wall mounting” is a real good idea. You have given me some real good ideas.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Great post, love the album art and your Zep references. I caught the Bakshi film on tv once when I was a kid and was incredibly disappointed in it. I do recall feeling the rug pulled from under me when it didn’t end, and do I remember some of the battle scenes having a “drawn on top of live footage” feel to it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Quite right. It’s funny and wonderful how we’re piecing together a shared tapestry of disappointment!

      Like

  12. Blast from the past! I too saw TLoTR part 1 in the theater. I took a friend who was not heavily immersed in Tolkien as I was. Having him along embarrassed me. The movie was dull & I suspect it didn’t make much sense to someone who hadn’t read the books three times. I’m glad the sound track proved to be better than the movie.

    I didn’t realize they never put out Part 2. I thought I simply missed it. Remember how you could do that pre-internet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The days when all the facts ever recorded (and many not actually factual) were not instantly available? Yeah, I kind of remember. We used those things, er… books! Yes, that was it!
      (Thanks for visiting, Jeff.
      Cheers, Bruce)

      Like

  13. As a big Tolkien fan this movie was a major disappointment. Seeing it once happened to be one to many times. As for your album what a great find. Horses with red eyes, what’s that rated on the horses with red eyes scale? Didn’t Ralph Bakshi do the movie “Wizards” a couple years before this?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He did, and I think I may even have seen it. It was pretty odd, as I recall – using processed archival footage and strange mutant Disney animations. My, animation has come a long way…

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I think I had this recording, but I don’t remember it now. It would have lived very much in the shadow of the the earlier Bo Hansson LotR, which I loved, and still do. I seem to remember the score being ham-fisted and unsubtle, but I’ve never really been a fan of orchestral-style scores as a rule, so it may just have been that.

    Although I’m pretty sure I did have the LP, I don’t remember it as a picture disc – was there a standard vinyl made do you know?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree, Peter. Both on the limited pleasures from orchestral scores generally and the enduring wonderfulness of Bo Hansson’s creation (featured here as part of my endless LotR series!).

      Yes, the album was released in a non-picture disc format, with the title text dominating the cover. I just checked and clarified why there is some confusion: the picture version has a different track listing to the ‘ordinary’ one. Both came out in 1978, the year of the film’s release.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I, for one, think you got yourself an AMAZING score (see what I did there), sir! That’s just absolutely beautiful. Now I need one for me!

    We see the VHS of that animated thing come into our thrift shop on rare occasions. It always sells. I’d get one for me but I have neither TV nor VHS player. Ah well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it is a slight worry when the value is in the package rather than the contents, but hey! if you’d hang it on ya wall, it must be art.

      Like

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