The Schlock of the Medieval: The Middle Ages Go to the Movies



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The Schlock of the Medieval:

The Middle Ages Go to the Movies




Intro: Getting Medieval on Film

References to the Middle Ages abound in films as varied as Pulp Fiction, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Hellboy, Seven, National Treasure, Garden State, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and Conan the Barbarian, and the last decade has seen a resurgence of films about the Middle Ages (consider Mel Gibson's Braveheart, Brian Helgeland's A Knight's Tale, Antoine Fuqua's King Arthur, and Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven). What does it mean to get medieval on film? Rather than cordon off high serious films about the Middle Ages from low, schlocky, popular films that reference the medieval, this course will address this question by examining the intertextual links between these serious films and more lowbrow, "schmedieval" films and film genres such as the epic and the B-picture.


Book contributes not to an understanding go how the Middle Ages really were (the concern of historians using film), a hopeless task, I believe, but to an genealogy of the middle ages, an examination of modern fantasies about the middle ages, and about the historian as detective, inquisitor , archaeologist and consultant to film.
Film allegory read as either of the past or of the historical present—equally reductive and very limited notion of allegory.
Carolyn Dinshaw, Coda "Getting Medieval: Pulp Fiction, Foucault, and the Use of the Past" from Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern; Valentin Groebner, Defaced: the Visual Culture of Violence in the Late Middle Ages, 11-35.
Recommended: David Aers, "Rewriting the Middle Ages"; Lee Patterson, "On the Margin: Postmodernism, Ironic history, and Medieval Studies," Speculum 65 (1990); Alexandre Lupin, "The Middle Ages, the Other," Diacritics 13 (1983); Norman Cantor, Introduction to Reinventing the Middle Ages; Johan Huizanga, The Autumn of the Middle Ages; Lucy Fischer, "Roots: the Medieval Tale as Modernist Cinema"; Hans Robert Jauss essay on the Middle Ages and alterity; Eugene Vance essay on modernity and the Middle Ages; Louise Fradenburg "'So That We May Speak of Them': Enjoying the Middle Ages," New Literary History 28.2 (1997) 205-230; Freedman and Spiegel on the grotesque in “Medievalisms Old and New: The Rediscovery of Alterity in North American Medieval Studies” Speculum, pp. 599-700; Catherine Brown, “In the Middle”; Jacques Le Goff, "For an Extended Middle Ages" in The Medieval Imagination; Katherine Biddick, The Shock of Medievalism; Louis Fradenburg and Carla Freccero, Premodern Sexualities; The New Medievalism, ed, Brownless, Brownlee, and Nichols; Angela Jane Weisl, The Persistence of Medievalism: Narrative Adventures in Contemporary Culture
Critique the pop culture—cultural studies approach of Arthuriana and
Alternative model based on theory—interactions between them
And therefore interactions between fillmakers and academic consultants. Filmmaker as academic in Terry Jones case. Wider issue, centered here on a chief example, Return of Martin Guerre.
But also DVD of Alamo with commentaries b the two historical consultants.
Anachronism in the avant-grade art film:
Edward II (dir. Derek Jarman,1991),

Trace relation between avanta-garde film like Dreyer Joan of arc and epic film like de Mille Joan the Woman


Ten post-Gladiator resurgence of the epic.. Rome tv series; Troy, Alexander, Spartacus remake drawing on Braveheart;
King Arthur draws on Braveheart
Treating the films as being informed by other films rather than as historical documents in order to evaluate their historical accuracy, we will focus our disussion on four key terms: authenticity, anachronism, the anecdote, and allegory. We will also consider what authenticity means in films about (medieval) history, why it is valued, whether it is desirable or even possible. Along similar lines we will consider the multiple facets of historical anachronism (comedy, parody, paratextual effects, palimpsestic traces, topical criticism) and various dreams or allegories of the Middle ages (most often fantasized either as the age of superstition, sorcery, ribaldry, dirt, and barbarism, or as the age of chivalry, romance, magic, and courtesy). Finally, we will consider parallels between filmmakers and academic historians and film critics as detectives, inquisitors, archaeologists, and film consultants interested in anecdotes as much as evidence. Selected readings from Getting Medieval,

First chapter on Monty Python and the Name of the Rose

The figurare as absurd Hillis Milelr on narrative); versus narrative and romance in Eco


Also contrast my notion of the exually and txtually perverse (Genette—[aratext function from function to perverse effect as well as Gennette Naarative Discourse on the perverse), versus Elam’s matching of gender nad excess (no perverse).

We will use the film parody of the King Arthur story, Monty Python's Holy Grail (and related Monty Python films by co-directors Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam) and the neodetective film The Name of the Rose (along with criticism about the Middle Ages by Umberto Eco) as competing ways of examining the cinematic "schlock of the medieval": high (avant-grade) films often draw on low films while low films often draw on high culture (Excalibur uses well-known music from Richard Wagner's Niebelungun cycle). The parodic Monty Python's Holy Grail and the serious The Name of the Rose will serve as two poles for conceptualizing and discussing the ways serious films about the Middle Ages are informed by parodic, schmedieval films, namely, the paratext and the palimpsest. The cinematic paratext (opening and closing credits, intertitles, dvd commentaries, “making of” documentaries, and so on) tends toward nonsense, childishness, the perverse, and allegorical emptiness. The cinematic palimpsest (intertextual adaptations, allusions, references, and so on) tends toward the detection of significance, clues, traces, maturity, depths, and allegorical plenitude. Setting these poles in dialectical opposition to examine serious and low historical films, we will also take into account their self-deconstructing dynamics. (Surface nonsense becomes deep critique in Holy Grail while Sherlock Holmesian detection leads to postmodern, labyrinthine libraries and book burning in Name of the Rose. The two films meet in the realm of the textually and sexually perverse and queer.)

Mnetion Monty Python as reference for King Arthur and other films. Both review in Sight and Sound as well as piece on Monty Python Holy Grail in Hotdog issue with Knightly on the cover.

Essay by Kevin Harty on Monty Python's Holy Grail; essay by Gerard Genette on the paratext (recommended: Gerard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation); Wlad Godzich, "The Holy Grail: The End of the Quest"; Michael Camille, selections from Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art (see also Camille's The Gothic Idol)

Parodying the Middle Ages:
Report on and Clips from: Blackadder I; Robin Hood, Men in Tights; The Princess Bride; Army of Darkness; "Medieval Barbie" in Never Been Kissed; The Black Shield of Falworth; Erik the Viking and The Vikings Swedish subtitles in Monty Python’s Holy Grail as parody of Bergman; Liv Ullman’s Kristin Lavansdatter (1995); parody of death in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey; also Bergmanesque Anchoress; parody of Joan of Arc in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure; Blackadder Richard III episode; Sam Rami, Army of Darkness (1993) and Xena, the Warrior Princess; Carry on, Henry; A Knight’s Tale (dir. Brian Hageland, 2001) as anachronistic. Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood Men in Tights; Conan, the Barbarian (dir. John Melius)
Essays by Nicolas Haydock (on First Knight and A Knight's Tale), Roger Shreman Loomis, "Arthurian influence on Sport and Spectacle," and Arthur Lindley, "The Ahistoricism of Medieval Film"

Anachronism and A Knight’s Tale

Detecting the Middle Ages
Essays by Umberto Eco on the Middle Ages and postcript to The Name of the Rose; interviews with Eco. Diane Elam chapter on Eco and romancing the postmodern; Carlo Ginzburg essay "Morelli, Freud, and Sherlock Holmes: Clues and Scientific Method" and Carlo Ginzburg essay, "The Inquisitor as Anthropologist," in Clues, Myths and the Historical Method (Baltimore, 1989), pp. 156-64; clips from The Advocate; The Reckoning; and the BBC series Derek Jacobi as Ellis Peters' crime-solving monk Cadfael; Gerard Genette, selection from Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree.
Also, Jones and Eco as inverse cross-over figures—from film to academia; Eco from academia to film.
Eco the more receiveable figure among academics—several book son Name o fhte Rose; on Jones as a medialist.


Second chapter on writing in film—word and image

The book in the opening of Les Visiteurs du Soir, The Passion of Joan of Arc; Joan of Arc learning how to sign her name in Jacques Rivette's Joan of Arc: the Battles; the socerceress learning how to write her name in Socrercess; the author and book in Le Chanson de Roland; the use of the Duc de Berry's Tres Riches Heures in Laurence Olivier’s Henry V; the Bayeux tapestry in The Vikings, (contrast to animated sequences by Terry Gilliam in MPHG); Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (1990) with Costner, and Blackadder: Back and Forth; and Le Chanson de Roland. The author function and fresco painter function in Pasolini’s Canterbury Tales and a Decameron. also credits and intertitles. (see also The Black Robe);


The Book: Fisher King, MPHG, Bible in Erik the Viking carried by Harald the missionary; also in credits of film, mention of Terry Jones book spin-off of the film; book in paratext of The Passion of Joan of Arc and Les Visiteurs du Soir (dir. Michael Carne); book in Le Chanson de Roland, in the end of History vs Hollywood: King Arthur (2004); Beauty and the Beast (dir. Jean Cocteau, 1946); the Duc de Berry’s Book of Hours in Olivier’s Henry V; Grail book in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (dir. Stephen Spielberg, 1991); book of the dead in Army of Darkness.
Collaboration, authorship and auteurship: Pasolini as Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales and frescoe painter in The Decameron; Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale; Peter O’Toole as Cervantes in Man of La Mancha (dir. Arthur Hiller, 1972).
Chapter three on Digging History and Time Travel: Historian as archaeologist
Greta Austin, "Were the Peasants Really So Clean? The Middle Ages in Film"
Archeaology as way into “authentic” past—material traces of the past more true than the legend

The Navigator

Clips from / reports on Anazapta, Timeline, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Les Visiteurs, remade as Just Visiting, The Unidentified Fying Oddball, Bill and Ted.Henry V (Hedrick)

Time Bandits; The Navigator; Timeline (archaeology as way into “authentic” past—material traces of the past more true than the legend); Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Les Visiteurs (dir. Jean-Marie Poire, 1993); Les Couloirs du temps: Les visiteurs 2 (dir. Jean-Marie Poire, 1993); Just Visiting(dir. Jean-Marie Poire, 2001), a remake of Les Visiteurs;Lancelot: Guardian of Time (dir. Runbiano Cruz, 1999); Black Knight (dir. Gil junger, 2001); The Unidentified Fying Oddball a.k.a. The Spaceman and King Arthur (dir. Russ Mayberry, 1979) and all the films and spin-offs of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey; Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Chapter four on scholarship and B picture
Changing standards from Fleming Joan of Arc to Luc besson Messenger 9with its own anachronistic elements—Dunaway’s headdress).
El Cid

History v. Hollywood: King Arthur / scenes from The Seven Samurai and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

March 10 King Arthur (dir. Antoine Fuqua, 2004) R-rated DVD version Gory scenes cut from King Arthur
Making of documentary in The Vikings DVD


Knights of the Round Table as Western
Chapter Five Academics in Medieval history and Pop history

Terry Jones, The Crusades and Medieval Lives. Noye: Kingdom of Heaven (dir. Ridley Scott, 2005) Release Date: May 6, 2005

Essays by Christopher Tyerman and J.A. Watt in Medieval World ed. Peter Linehan and Janet L. Nelson
The Crusades (Cecil B. DeMille); King Richard and the Crusaders; Saladin; 13th Warrior prologue
Recommended: Decolonizing the Middle Ages, special issue of the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 30:3 Fall 2000, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, Amin Maalouf (Editor), J. Rothschild (Translator), and The Post-Colonial Middle Ages
Academics as consultants and the Middle Ages: historian beheaded in MPHG; Jones’ Chaucer’s Mercenary book; Terry Jones in The Crusades; Umberto Eco’s Middle Ages as pretext; storyteller as figure of film director in La chanson de Roland ; Jacques le Goff as adviser to The Name of the Rose (dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1986); Doctor Detroit (dir. Michael pressman, 1983); professor in The Fisher King; the academic reception of Umberto Eco versus Monty Python; Pick up Eco n dream of Middle Ages and add fantasy—Lord of the Rings—Tolkein as medievalist, but not taken seriously. Fiction viewed as subliterary, not taught in English departments.
Tolkein scholars article in Chronicle of Higher Ed
The lord of the Rings on DVD Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven (Bloom is in it)

art historian Pamela Berger as screenwriter of Sorceress (dir. Suzanne Schiffman, 1987); changes in what counts as cinematic authenticity for historians (historian and consultant Paul Donceour’s article on Victor Fleming’s Joan of Arc, 1949)


Chapter Six The Anecdote and the History Effect
To get to Sorceress and Martin Guerre move back to aanecdote and paratex 9footnote0 and through psyhoanalysis—hiostility to Freud by benson and Bitel intheir essays on Sorceress; Greenblatt on psychonalasis and Martin Guerre.
Both films stories of castration
Sorceress a New Age revision –sofer and harder—version of castration in Martin Guere story.
Scene of castration in R of MG
Use Gnzburg essay comparing Freud and the detective –use Advocate and The Name o fthe Rose (also The reckoning) and Anazapta—Monty Pytho also shows up in reviews of osme of these films.
Essays on The Sorceress and The Advocate; Carl Schmitt on Holy Greyhound
Robert J. Blanch, "The Advocate: Law, Fabliaux, and the Journey to Modernism"

The Sorceress


The Return of Martin Guerre
Bring in Anchoress

Animals as authenticating detail: The Advocate, Anchoress, etc.


Chapter Seven on Paramedievalism: Seven and selections from Morton Bloomfield, The Seven Deadly Sins; Passion as Medieval film; bring in What Dreams May Come and Milton movie with Pacino Devils Advocate

Conclusion on Medieval Renaissance and Shakespeare:


Could end with chapter in idolatry (word and image again) via Sting and The Devils.

New Age Spiritualism / Faith / the Sacred and the Middle Ages: First Knight (dir. Jerry Zucker, 1995), The Mists of Avalon (dir. Uli Edel, 2001), Andrei Rublev (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1969); Joan of Arc films; Sting music video; Sorceress (1987)


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