|When worlds collide
Ridley Scott explains how 9/11, David Lean and cheating at conkers led him to make his epic film of the crusades, Kingdom of Heaven
Friday April 29, 2005
Ridley Scott: 'We are now living in the post-9/11 world'
People who come to see Kingdom of Heaven will discover a moment in history that isn't well known. When one thinks of the crusades, one generally imagines pitched battles between knights and Saracens, or endless sieges of forgotten fortresses. There will certainly be plenty of fighting on the screen - we've created some impressive images of massive fields of battle with thousands of people (not all of them real) and huge medieval war machines that are completely real and built from scratch. There are siege towers and catapults that were carefully researched and constructed to fit with the era.
I'm known for creating worlds on film, and I like to get into the research and the fine details. How do you re-create a particular situation in a certain century? That's part of the fascination of the job. And I admit I'm especially taken with those great contraptions that hurl heavy objects long distances. (It probably goes back to playing conkers as a child. I'm afraid I was quite competitive and used to cheat by baking my chestnut in the oven until it was very hard, then polishing it with bootblack so it looked shiny and new. Then I'd have this lethal missile, like granite on a string.) The trebuchets we built for the film were a bit like giant conkers, with an arm that pivots 56ft and can sling 100lb of rock about 400 yards.
But warfare is fairly predictable in a crusades movie. What's unusual about this one is that our story offered the chance to show not just war but an attempt at peace. I always try to do something surprising - that, after all, is the target of drama, isn't it? So where people might assume war and bloodbath, we approach from a different angle.
The period we focused on is a brief era of truce that occurred between the second and third crusades. I'd always wanted to make a movie about knights and medieval times, the crusades especially. It was our scriptwriter, Bill Monahan, who came up with this period when the two cultures - Christian and Muslim - stood at peace. However uneasy and brief, the truce was maintained by two remarkable leaders: King Baldwin IV, who ruled the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, and the great Saracen general Saladin. Reading the exchanges that took place between these two, one is struck that they obviously held great respect for each other. There is no escaping the parallels with our time, when leaders who try to make peace are admired, but their efforts are subverted by more radical factions.
We set out to tell a terrific story from a dramatic age - not to make a documentary or a piece that aims to moralise or propagandise. But since our subject is the clash of these two civilisations, and we are now living in the post-9/11 world, Kingdom of Heaven will be looked at from that perspective. We did make some choices about the values expressed through the story, beginning with the central situation of two leaders trying to serve their own people and their sense of mission, while exercising a degree of tolerance of the "other".
Beyond that, certain values are embodied in the central character of Balian, an innately good man and a seeker. Though he becomes a knight in the film, he was already the kind of person a knight was supposed to be: valorous in battle and honourable in personal conduct. He goes through a hard journey and various temptations, as heroes tend to do, but at the end of the day we want our heroes to emerge relatively pure, as someone who is fair and good and does the right thing. This may make me sound like a boy scout, but a little bit of boy scout would be very useful today. Chivalry is just good behaviour; it's quite simple, really, yet we don't seem to be able to apply it.
But making a successful drama can't be all about high ideals. Working on a large canvas as we are, I've tried to make sure there is a strong personal story within the big frame. Pulling this off is partly a matter of experience; also of having good collaborators. My model is David Lean, whose characters never got lost in the proscenium.
But mainly it's in the story: what happens to the characters and how they respond. It's been said that the medieval mind was very different from ours, to the point where we cannot hope to identify with the people of that time or understand their motivations. I don't agree with that. They may have faced different challenges and lived with a level of violence we can hardly imagine. But even though it's based in history, a lot of the film's emotional territory will be familiar ground for us. It comes right from the heart in terms of who the characters are, the central personalities that run through the story and make its world evolve and dissolve.
It begins with Balian, a man who has lost everything worth living for. His child dies, his wife becomes so depressed that she commits suicide, and because the church hadn't outgrown this barbarous custom, she is considered damned and denied burial in holy ground. So he's a man in complete bewilderment about his religious roots and what to do with his life. One motive for joining the crusaders and going to Jerusalem is to redeem her soul, but the journey is also a kind of redemption for him - he is seeking forgiveness for sins of his own. So it's a spiritual journey, but also one that serves to demonstrate his inner nobility by showing how he responds to life-threatening and soul-threatening challenges.
The knight Godfrey is a good man but more worldly than religious. He talks about the opportunities the Holy Land presents, and about an ideology that's based on the right actions and common sense. Both of which we could use a lot more of these days.
Then there is the princess Sibylla: her story is specific to the period but its human tragedy can speak to anyone. She is very close to her brother, the king, but since he has been destroyed by leprosy, she can't bear to touch him. She is attracted to Balian, but for the sake of the kingdom she must remain married to a man she loathes.
Jeremy Irons is the king's chief adviser, Tiberias, a man who has served his government faithfully but finds himself worn down by the effort of peacekeeping; he has a diminishing passion for his job and for being in the Holy Land at all.
I wanted people to see events from the Muslims' point of view as well, and the way to do that was to develop strong, multidimensional characters on that side. Especially Saladin, as played by Ghassan Massoud, a wonderful Syrian actor. I felt it was important to use Muslim actors to play Muslim characters. You see Saladin in private moments; you see his leadership, how he tries to keep the peace. He was under pressure from his people, and on the other side there was the radical faction of the Templars and other knights - what we might call the right wing or Christian fundamentalists of their day. He is a man with a strong sense of his destiny.
You might do a magnificent job of creating an unfamiliar world - a far place, a far-off time, or both - with the most skilled film-makers and the best technology available. But at you have to make sure that world is inhabited by people whose lives and fates we care about and whose story has something to say to us. The Crusades were a glorious but tragic series of events that are still having an impact on the world today. I hope that in opening a cinematic window on that time, we're doing the job that good drama is meant to do: to excite our emotions, stir our souls, and make us think, all at once.
·Kingdom of Heaven is out next Friday. This is an edited extract from Kingdom of Heaven: The Ridley Scott Film (Newmarket, £16.99).
Ridley Scott's new Crusades film 'panders to Osama bin Laden'
By Charlotte Edwardes
Sir Ridley Scott, the Oscar-nominated director, was savaged by senior British academics last night over his forthcoming film which they say "distorts" the history of the Crusades to portray Arabs in a favourable light.
The £75 million film, which stars Orlando Bloom, Jeremy Irons and Liam Neeson, is described by the makers as being "historically accurate" and designed to be "a fascinating history lesson".
Sir Ridley Scott
Academics, however - including Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, Britain's leading authority on the Crusades - attacked the plot of Kingdom of Heaven, describing it as "rubbish", "ridiculous", "complete fiction" and "dangerous to Arab relations".
The film, which began shooting last week in Spain, is set in the time of King Baldwin IV (1161-1185), leading up to the Battle of Hattin in 1187 when Saladin conquered Jerusalem for the Muslims.
The script depicts Baldwin's brother-in-law, Guy de Lusignan, who succeeds him as King of Jerusalem, as "the arch-villain". A further group, "the Brotherhood of Muslims, Jews and Christians", is introduced, promoting an image of cross-faith kinship.
"They were working together," the film's spokesman said. "It was a strong bond until the Knights Templar cause friction between them."
The Knights Templar, the warrior monks, are portrayed as "the baddies" while Saladin, the Muslim leader, is a "a hero of the piece", Sir Ridley's spokesman said. "At the end of our picture, our heroes defend the Muslims, which was historically correct."
Prof Riley-Smith, who is Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University, said the plot was "complete and utter nonsense". He said that it relied on the romanticised view of the Crusades propagated by Sir Walter Scott in his book The Talisman, published in 1825 and now discredited by academics.
"It sounds absolute balls. It's rubbish. It's not historically accurate at all. They refer to The Talisman, which depicts the Muslims as sophisticated and civilised, and the Crusaders are all brutes and barbarians. It has nothing to do with reality."
Prof Riley-Smith added: "Guy of Lusignan lost the Battle of Hattin against Saladin, yes, but he wasn't any badder or better than anyone else. There was never a confraternity of Muslims, Jews and Christians. That is utter nonsense."
Dr Jonathan Philips, a lecturer in history at London University and author of The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, agreed that the film relied on an outdated portrayal of the Crusades and could not be described as "a history lesson".
He said: "The Templars as 'baddies' is only sustainable from the Muslim perspective, and 'baddies' is the wrong way to show it anyway. They are the biggest threat to the Muslims and many end up being killed because their sworn vocation is to defend the Holy Land."
Dr Philips said that by venerating Saladin, who was largely ignored by Arab history until he was reinvented by romantic historians in the 19th century, Sir Ridley was following both Saddam Hussein and Hafez Assad, the former Syrian dictator. Both leaders commissioned huge portraits and statues of Saladin, who was actually a Kurd, to bolster Arab Muslim pride.
Prof Riley-Smith added that Sir Ridley's efforts were misguided and pandered to Islamic fundamentalism. "It's Osama bin Laden's version of history. It will fuel the Islamic fundamentalists."
Amin Maalouf, the French historian and author of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, said: "It does not do any good to distort history, even if you believe you are distorting it in a good way. Cruelty was not on one side but on all."
Sir Ridley's spokesman said that the film portrays the Arabs in a positive light. "It's trying to be fair and we hope that the Muslim world sees the rectification of history."
The production team is using Loarre Castle in northern Spain and have built a replica of Jerusalem in Ouarzazate, in the Moroccan desert. Sir Ridley, 65, who was knighted in July last year, grew up in South Shields and rose to fame as director of Alien, starring Sigourney Weaver.
He followed with classics such as Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, which won him an Oscar nomination in 1992, and in 2002 Black Hawk Down, told the story of the US military's disastrous raid on Mogadishu. In 2001 his film Gladiator won five Oscars, but Sir Ridley lost out to Steven Soderbergh for Best Director.
Hollywood Crusades film labelled anti-Muslim
Date: August 14 2004
With bloody images of Muslims and Westerners battling on the nightly news, it may seem like odd timing to unveil a Hollywood epic depicting the ferocious fight between Christians and Muslims over Jerusalem in the Third Crusade, late in the 12th century.
But 20th Century Fox is planning a release next year for Kingdom of Heaven , a $US130 million ($A184 million) production by Oscar-nominated director Ridley Scott, shot in Morocco with hundreds of extras, horses and elaborate costumes.
William Monahan's script is based on real characters, including Balian of Ibelin, a Crusader knight who led the defence of Jerusalem in 1187, and the Muslim leader Saladin, who defeated him. Balian is to be played by British actor Orlando Bloom.
While the studio has tried to emphasise the romance and thrilling action, some religious scholars and interfaith activists who were provided a copy of the script by The New York Times questioned the wisdom of producing a movie about an ancient religious conflict when many people believe those conflicts have been reignited in a modern context.
"My real concern would be just the concept of a movie about the Crusades , and what that means in the American discourse today," said Laila al-Qatami, a spokeswoman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington. "I feel like there's a lot of rhetoric, a lot of words flying around, with prominent figures talking about Islam being incompatible with Christianity and American values."
But George Dennis, a Jesuit priest and a history professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said he was impressed by its nuance and accuracy of the script. "Historically I found it pretty accurate," he said. "I can't think of any objections from the Christian side. And I don't think Muslims should have any objections."
Khaled Abu el-Fadl, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies Islamic law, vehemently disagreed, calling the screenplay offensive and a replay of historic Hollywood stereotypes. "I believe this movie teaches people to hate Muslims," he said. "In this climate, how are people going to react to these images of Muslims attacking churches and tearing down the cross and mocking it?" he asked.
Scott said he was not concerned about disturbing the sensitivities of any religious group. The film "talks about using your heart and your head, being ethical. How can you argue with that?" he said. "There's no stomping on the Koran, none of that."
New York Times August 14 2004
Ridley Scott film row talks start
Sir Ridley is currently filming in northern Spain
Talks are under way to try to resolve a row over filming in a historic Spanish cathedral for UK director Sir Ridley Scott's new movie about the Crusades.
Spain's Catholic Church has refused to allow Sir Ridley and his crew to film inside the Mezquita in Cordoba, saying it would be too disruptive.
The Gladiator director had wanted to shoot scenes for his £54m epic Kingdom of Heaven at the former Grand Mosque.
A spokesman for the producers said they were hopeful of negotiating a solution.
Neeson co-stars in the epic set during the 12th Century
"It's hopefully being rectified and we hope to get permission tomorrow (Thursday)," said Quinn Donoghue, the film's publicist.
Speaking to BBC News Online from Huesca, northern Spain, Mr Donoghue confirmed that the Spanish Church had blocked filming inside the Mezquita.
"The archbishop refused because we would close the cathedral down for preparations - we would have to do some 'dressing', and tourism would be stopped."
He said the Church was also unhappy that the Mezquita - for centuries a site of sensitivity among Muslims and Christians - would become a "fictional" place of worship in the movie, rather than "playing itself".
A huge company like ours brings so much to any place in terms of hotels, restaurants and hiring people
Quinn Donoghue, film publicist
"All of that's being negotiated," said Mr Donoghue.
The film, due for release in 2005, will star Orlando Bloom and Liam Neeson in the tale of a young blacksmith leading the people of Jerusalem in defence against the 12th Century Crusaders.
Filming is taking place in France, Spain and Morocco.
Shooting inside the Mezquita would require up to 200 crew and involve the use of false doors, walls and furniture. "There's not a lot that we can do (to compromise)," said Mr Donoghue.
He added: "A huge company like ours brings so much to any place in terms of hotels, restaurants and hiring people. It's a major financial benefit to the community."
He said Sir Ridley was a "realistic and pragmatic" director who would allow his team to negotiate possible use of the cathedral. If agreement could not be reached, "there's always a second choice".
I find interesting this new slew of "historical" films that claim to be historically accurate. King Arthur was an interesting movie but completely incongruous with the myth itself (Guinivere as a pagan is just wrong), and now this Crusades film by Ridley Scott which claims to be a "history lesson," of which Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, Britain's leading authority on the Crusades "attacked the plot of Kingdom of Heaven , describing it as "rubbish", "ridiculous", "complete fiction" and "dangerous to Arab relations"." These films are more suitably aligned with the erroneous Troy which not only went out of its way to make action sequences boring, but had nothing to do with the book except in names. What is the worst thing is that since these films are all so similar, the "historically accurate" label is easily misunderstood to include the whole field. A modern Hollywood film can never be historically accurate with many personalities/egoes and corporations at work, all of whom seem uninspired by the actual brilliance of the stories (King Arthur as the story of England's transition from paganism to Christianity? How boooooooring).
Prof Riley-Smith, who is Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University, said the plot [of the Ridley Scott film] was "complete and utter nonsense". He said that it relied on the romanticised view of the Crusades propagated by Sir Walter Scott in his book The Talisman , published in 1825 and now discredited by academics. "It sounds absolute balls. It's rubbish. It's not historically accurate at all. They refer to The Talisman, which depicts the Muslims as sophisticated and civilised, and the Crusaders are all brutes and barbarians. It has nothing to do with reality."
...Dr Jonathan Philips, a lecturer in history at London University and author of The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople , agreed that the film relied on an outdated portrayal of the Crusades and could not be described as "a history lesson". ...Dr Philips said that by venerating Saladin, who was largely ignored by Arab history until he was reinvented by romantic historians in the 19th century, Sir Ridley was following both Saddam Hussein and Hafez Assad, the former Syrian dictator. Both leaders commissioned huge portraits and statues of Saladin, who was actually a Kurd, to bolster Arab Muslim pride. Prof Riley-Smith added that Sir Ridley's efforts were misguided and pandered to Islamic fundamentalism. "It's Osama bin Laden's version of history. It will fuel the Islamic fundamentalists."
Amin Maalouf, the French historian and author of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, said: "It does not do any good to distort history, even if you believe you are distorting it in a good way. Cruelty was not on one side but on all.""
HISTORY: Film about Crusades stirs debate
Saturday, August 21, 2004
Next year, 20th Century Fox will release a $130 million epic film about Christians battling Muslims in the Middle East. Sound contemporary? Is the movie based on the current armed struggle in Iraq? Is it a documentary?
Kingdom of Heaven is about the 300-year-long Crusades of the Middle Ages. It will focus on the climactic battle in 1187 in Jerusalem when Saladin and his Muslim forces defeated the Christian Crusaders led by Balian, a French knight.
Already the 21st-century battle lines are drawn, not in the sand, but in the ricocheting press statements of Christian and Islamic leaders. The New York Times provided the film's script to five scholars, including Jesuit priest George Dennis, a history professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and Khaled Abu el-Fadl, a professor of Islamic law at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Dennis has reassured moviegoers. "Historically, I found it pretty accurate. ... I don't think Muslims should have any objections. There's nothing offensive to anyone in there."
El-Fadl disagreed. "I believe this movie teaches people to hate Muslims. There is a stereotype of the Muslim as ... stupid, retarded, backward, unable to think in complex forms ... (the film) really misrepresents history on many levels."
As a scarred veteran of the recent battle over Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ, I take a keen interest in the Dennis-el-Fadl war of words. It all sounds so familiar, or to quote the American philosopher Lawrence (Yogi) Berra: "It's deja vu all over again."
However, The Kingdom of Heaven debate is already way ahead of The Passion controversy. The latter intensified only after Christian and Jewish critics screened a rough cut of Gibson's film. Based on my cinematic combat experience, I am certain that Fox's Crusader movie will spark more charges and counter-charges the closer we get to previews and a release date.
The word "crusade" always triggers harsh negative reactions from both Muslims and Jews. The term stems from the Latin for "cross" and is linked to the European Christian soldiers who left their homes beginning in 1096 to capture Jerusalem, especially the Holy Sepulcher, from the "infidels," a k a Muslims.
Along the way, particularly in the Rhine valley, the Crusaders, a motley crew of religious idealists, sadistic thugs, professional soldiers, sordid criminals and raunchy adventurers, stopped long enough en route to Jerusalem to murder thousands of other "infidels," a k a Jews.
It is estimated that between April and June of 1096, Crusaders, marching with crosses on their shields, killed more than 4,000 Jews in Mainz, Cologne, Worms and other cities. When they finally reached Jerusalem in 1099, they gathered the city's Jewish residents into a synagogue and on July 15 of that year set it afire, killing those inside.
A mystic protests
To his credit, the Christian mystic of the period, Bernard of Clairvaux, vigorously protested the anti-Jewish killings, and in some places in Europe his words had a positive effect.
In 1189, another Crusader leader, British King Richard I, presided over Jewish massacres in Lynn and Stamford. A year later, 150 Jews in York committed suicide rather than convert to Christianity.
The murderous Crusades represent a pivotal tragic event in Christian-Jewish relations, and set in motion much of the anti-Jewish feeling that still remains alive.
Unlike today, Jews had no army to defend them, but the Muslims did. The Islamic forces were ultimately victorious against the Crusaders. It is no accident that Muslim enemies of the United States refer to the American military as "Crusaders."
President Bush fed that anger immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when he first called our nation's war on terror a "crusade." He was criticized for employing such a charged term, and it was quickly removed from the presidential vocabulary. But the damage was done.
For Jews there is one significant change from the Crusades and today's American-led war on terrorism. In the Middle Ages, Crusaders branded both Jews and Muslims "enemies of Christ" and "infidels," and they killed members of both faith communities. Jews and Muslims shared victimhood status at the hands of the Christian warriors.
Today, Osama bin Laden and many other Muslim extremists lump Christians and Jews together as satanic "infidels." The United States is the "Big Satan" and Israel the "Little Satan."
In an eerie way, Jews are the "swing vote" in the continuing struggle between Christians and Muslims, a struggle we will see portrayed on the silver screen when Kingdom of Heaven opens next year at "a theater near you."
• Rabbi Rudin, the American Jewish Committee's senior interreligious adviser, is Distinguished Visiting Professor at Saint Leo University.
Film on Crusades Could Become Hollywood's Next Battleground by Sharon Waxman
Article from New York Times
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 11 - With bloody images of Muslims and Westerners battling in Iraq and elsewhere on the nightly news, it may seem like odd timing to unveil a big-budget Hollywood epic depicting the ferocious fight between Christians and Muslims over Jerusalem in the Crusade of the 12th century.
But 20th Century Fox is planning a release next year for "Kingdom of Heaven," a $130 million production by the Oscar-nominated director Ridley Scott, shot in Morocco with hundreds of extras, horses and elaborate costumes. The script, by William Monahan, is based on real characters of the three-century Crusades, including Balian of Ibelin, a Crusader knight who led the defense of Jerusalem in 1187, and the Muslim leader Saladin, who defeated him.
While the studio has tried to emphasize the romance and thrilling action, some religious scholars and interfaith activists who were provided a copy of the script by The New York Times questioned the wisdom of a big Hollywood movie about an ancient religious conflict when many people believe those conflicts have been reignited in a modern context.
"My real concern would be just the concept of a movie about the Crusades, and what that means in the American discourse today," said Laila al-Qatami, a spokeswoman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington.
She added: "I feel like there's a lot of rhetoric, a lot of words flying around, with prominent figures talking about Islam being incompatible with Christianity and American values. This kind of movie might reinforce that theme in the discourse." Not all of the people contacted by The Times were worried about the film's effect.
The Rev. George Dennis, a Jesuit priest and a history professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, who was one of five experts provided with the script for "Kingdom of Heaven," said he was impressed by its nuance and accuracy. "Historically I found it pretty accurate," he said. "I can't think of any objections from the Christian side. And I don't think Muslims should have any objections. There's nothing offensive to anyone in there, I don't think."
But Khaled Abu el-Fadl, a professor at the University of California,LosAngeles, who studies Islamic law, vehemently disagreed, calling the screenplay offensive and a replay of historic Hollywood stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims.
"I believe this movie teaches people to hate Muslims," he said. "There is a stereotype of the Muslim as constantly stupid, retarded, backward, unable to think in complex forms. It's really annoying at an intellectual level, and it really misrepresents history on many levels."
Mr. Fadl argued that the movie would reinforce negative attitudes toward Muslims in America. "In this climate how are people going to react to these images of Muslims attacking churches and tearing down the cross and mocking it?" he asked.
Aside from the movie's specifics, the subject is a fraught one. Even the word "crusade" remains loaded. When President Bush initially called the war on terror a "crusade" after the 9/11 attacks, he was criticized by some for using a term that has long had anti-Muslim overtones. Meanwhile some Islamic experts who analyzed Osama bin Laden's motives after 9/11 suggested that he was trying to cast himself as a modern-day Saladin. And Saladin's name was invoked by Saddam Hussein's government to rally Muslims against the American-led invasion of Iraq.
Mr. Scott said he was not concerned about disturbing the sensitivities of any religious group. The film "sounds like a Boy Scout ethic," he said in an interview last week, adding: "It talks about using your heart and your head, being ethical. How can you argue with that? There's no stomping on the Koran, none of that."
For a movie about holy war, "Kingdom of Heaven" has surprisingly little religious oratory, or even religious content. The only overtly religious figures are extremists: marauding Knights Templar on the Christian side and murderous Saracen knights on the Muslim side.
Balian, the hero of the film, played by the British actor Orlando Bloom, is a French blacksmith drafted reluctantly into the Crusade in the wake of his wife's suicide. Once in Jerusalem, where the world's three monotheistic religions are depicted as coexisting, he falls in love with the king's sister.
After a massacre of Muslims by the Knights Templar, Saladin, played by Ghassan Massoud, goes to war. This leader is depicted as balanced and chivalrous, at least until he orders that no quarter be given in the ransacking of Jerusalem.
Jim Gianopulos, co-chairman of the Fox studio, said he did not think the film would be a source of controversy. "We're thrilled to have Ridley making this movie,'' he said. "After all, he is the master of the modern epic, and this is a story rich in scale, adventure, romance and action with a superb cast led by Orlando Bloom. From what we've seen, it will be one of the most exciting movie events of 2005."
Executives at Warner Brothers read the script and declined to share the financing of the movie with Fox, but Alan Horn, president of Warner Brothers, said the refusal had nothing to do with the topic. He said the studio had other period epics on its slate.
"I thought it was balanced, with different political views," Mr. Horn said. "It wasn't black and white, good and bad."
Nonetheless the battle scenes in the script are vast and violent. One of Hollywood's most acclaimed directors, Mr. Scott has created indelible tableaus of battle in movies like "Gladiator" and "Black Hawk Down."
In its many scenes of devastation, the script shows intransigence on both sides. "Will you yield the city?" the victorious Saladin asks Balian. He replies: "Before I lose it, I will burn it to the ground. Your holy places. Ours. Every last thing in Jerusalem that drives men mad."
Near the end of the film the script describes the Muslim army as advancing on Jerusalem. Saladin says: "Not one alive. Not one," as the advancing soldiers cry, "Allah!"
The script reads: "As the Muslim army of thousands advances at a run, ready to kill the Christians at a single rush, Balian looks to his left in the shield wall. The Saracen knights fire a sky-blackening volley of arrows and charge, screaming 'Allah.' This is their chance; they will take Jerusalem at this rush and are not afraid of martyrdom."
The Muslim army is hacked to pieces, and a crane shot reveals "Saracens tangled with Europeans inside the breech in the wall," the script says. "Hundreds of dead; thousands perhaps.''
The two university scholars who read the script did not agree on its historical accuracy. Father George said that the 12th-century Crusader state was, as shown in the film, relatively tolerant, and that Saladin did in fact order his troops to give no quarter in the fighting in Jerusalem, an order he later rescinded.
But Mr. Fadl said the Crusader state was by its nature discriminatory and oppressive of other religions. He said that the Muslim knights took the idea of granting quarter very seriously, and that the notion that Saladin would thank Balian for teaching him chivalry, as the script had it, was laughable.
"Pick up any book on chivalry, it's exactly the opposite," he said. "The whole idea of knighthood and chivalry came from Muslims and was exported to Europe." He noted, as did Father George, that at the time of this Crusade, science and scholarship were far more advanced in the Islamic world than in Europe.
Of course for Hollywood, controversy isn't necessarily bad. Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" found itself at the center of a firestorm when Jewish groups, angered by his violent depiction of the Crucifixion, complained the movie was anti-Semitic. It nonetheless earned $609 million worldwide..
Various Crusade-era scripts have sparked interest on Hollywood back lots for decades, notably one that was being developed by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1990's. Mr. Scott said he was asked to do that script and declined. "I wanted to do my own knight subject," he said, adding that he was studying the religious conflict when he and Mr. Monahan came up with the film's concept in 2002.
"I try to make movies," Mr. Scott said. "I'm not a documentarian. When you've got 300 years to choose from, this was the most interesting conflict, which was a balanced one as well."
Whether moviegoers agree remains to be seen. "I think its going to cause a firestorm of criticism and free publicity in the op-ed pages," said Christy Lohr, the coordinator of the Multifaith Ministry Education Consortium in New York, an association of 12 theological schools.
"I imagine that's part of the appeal for Hollywood," said Ms. Lohr, who read the script. "It is cynical, but I think they enjoy stirring up a hornets' nest."
A small matter of Crusade history
BBC World Service correspondent
Who has greater claim to Jerusalem and its holy places, asks Orlando Bloom as he exhorts his Crusader followers to defend the walls of the city against the advancing Muslim army of Saladin.
It is a question that still resonates today and it is one of the reasons why Ridley Scott's new film, Kingdom of Heaven, is attracting such interest.
In a post-9/11 world where some academics and commentators are talking about a new clash of civilisations between Islam and the West, it is bound to be controversial to revisit that great earlier clash that saw western Christendom's repeated efforts to seize and hold Jerusalem.
History matters. And cinema's portrayal of history matters too. Kingdom of Heaven may be a medieval epic set in 1187, just before a Crusader army was wiped out at the battle of Hattin. But it has already been criticised for being a very 21st century, politically correct, view of the Crusaders' world.
The Kingdom of Heaven has faced accusations of political correctness
Professor Jonathan Riley Smith of Cambridge University is probably Britain's leading historian of the Crusades. This film has made him angry, for the Crusades are, at the moment, a rather hot subject.
"In the Islamic world," he told me, "crusading is believed by many Muslims to be still in train.
"What has been believed now for a century in the Middle East is that the West, having lost the first round of the crusades in the Middle Ages, re-embarked on crusading in the late 19th century, using the techniques of commerce, banking, politics, diplomacy, backed of course by power.
"In those circumstances," he said, "the Crusades have to be treated very, very carefully."
So what is wrong with the history as portrayed in the film?
The story opens during a period of apparent truce between the Christian ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, King Baldwin - a man hidden behind a silver mask - and the great Muslim commander, Saladin. Balian, played by Orlando Bloom, is the film's hero; the knight who takes command of Jerusalem's defences.
But Professor Riley-Smith says that the film has taken real people and simply re-manufactured them. There was no silver mask and the real Balian was known to be harsh to his Muslim tenants.
The Crusading Order of the Knights Templar - who are the film's villains - were no better or worse than any other Crusaders, he believes.
Not all historians have been quite so dismissive. Carol Hilenbrand, professor of Islamic history at the University of Edinburgh, said she believed the film did represent an attempt to grapple with serious issues.
She didn't think that the sort of contacts and mutual respect portrayed in the film between Baldwin and Saladin were out of keeping.
Kingdom of Heaven treads a road paved with good intentions. Its Muslim characters are real people. And there is good and bad on both sides.
The battle scenes are orchestrated in a way that only Ridley Scott can. As a film, I enjoyed it. But some historians remain fearful that epic cinema risks creating epic misunderstandings about the past.
If you really want to know about the Crusades, the historians say, by all means go and see the film, but then go out and buy a good book.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Crusades and Jihads in Postcolonial Times
By Dr S Sayyid
The relationship between the Islamic world and the west is often understood as a clash between two very different civilisations. Dr S Sayyid considers an alternative way of representing world politics, arguing that there can be no single authorised version of history.
A protest in Pakistan ©
'The events of September 11 seemed to have jolted the clock of history out of snooze mode.'
Page 1 of 7
1. Civilisation as we know it
2. After the Ottoman Empire
3. Democratic tyranny?
4. The 'Islamic threat'
6. Telling tales
7. Find out more
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Civilisation as we know it
'The events of September 11 seemed to have jolted the clock of history out of snooze mode.'
There is often a scene in action films where the ticking of the clock on the bomb that will destroy 'civilisation as we know it' is suspended and the audience is relieved to discover that Armageddon has been deferred once more.
This relief, however, is short-lived as either the villain or, more often than not, the hero's sidekick inadvertently jolts the clock out of suspension, and the doomsday machine begins its countdown. The events of September 11 seemed to have jolted the clock of history out of snooze mode.
The American-led war on terrorism is often seen as a clash between western and Islamic civilisations: the geopolitical analogue to the geological movement of plate tectonics. This is despite the attempt by some western leaders and leaders of Muslim countries to argue that the 'war on terror' is not directed against Muslims or Islam - but only against extremists.
There are other voices who see a chain of equivalences so that Al-Qaeda = Taliban = Islamism = Islam. Among the ultra-conservative constituency that considers President Bush to be one of their own, you can hear calls for the 'nuking of Mecca', the occupation of Middle East oil fields, the transformation of the Muslim world on the pattern of post-1945 Germany and Japan.
Among the disenfranchised and disaffected of the Islamicate world, the 'war on terror' is also read as war against Islam and resistance to repression by Muslims is recoded as terrorism, while the repression that they face is ignored. Beyond this representation of cosmic conflict between the west and Islam there are two processes at play. The first concerns the geopolitics of the Middle East, and the second concerns what can be called the postcolonial condition.
Kingdom of Heaven, the new Orlando Bloom epic set during the Crusades, looks set to open on Friday amid a blaze of controversy. But what were the Crusades, and what do they mean to us now?
The term applies to the often bloody struggle between Christian and Islamic faiths for primacy over the spiritual treasures of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, which dates back to the 11th Century.
The Crusades began in 1095 after Seljuk Turks took control of Jerusalem and began restricting access to Christian pilgrims. Pope Urban II called for a Christian army to retake the city from its Muslim rulers - sparking a 200-year period in which parts of the Holy Land repeatedly changed hands, until the last crusade ended in defeat for the Christians in 1291.
Urban II saw the Crusades not only as a way of freeing the Holy Land, but also of extending the influence of the Roman Church into the Byzantine Empire - today's Balkans and much of Turkey - through which the army would have to pass before reaching Jerusalem.
Glory and redemption
The first Crusaders, who set off in 1096, were a motley, and ultimately unsuccessful, bunch - peasants, from France and Germany, spurred on by the prospect of more freedom. Having pillaged and killed their way across Europe, they were vanquished by the Turks.
Six months later a more professional army, comprising French and Norman knights, set off. They successfully stormed Jerusalem in July 1099, making it one of four "Crusader states" in Syria and Palestine.
Serious trouble flared again in the early 12th Century when the Muslims took one of the other Crusader states in 1144, prompting the Second Crusade. However, its armies were almost wiped out in Asia Minor.
Things stepped up apace when the Turkish armies came under the command of Saladin, a Kurd, considered the greatest Muslim leader of the time. He reconquered Jerusalem prompting the Third Crusade, jointly led by Britain's best-known Crusader, Richard I or Richard the Lionheart.
Although Richard and co failed in their prime goal - to snatch back Jerusalem - they defeated the Muslim forces at nearby Acre and reached a peace with Saladin over Christian access to the Holy City.
The Fourth Crusade, which started around the turn of the 13 Century, was a bit of a bungled affair, which ended with the warriors being excommunicated by Rome after they decimated the Catholic port of Zara on the Adriatic and fought Christians in Constantinople in 1204, destroying valuable treasures.
Things reached another low with the Children's Crusade of 1212, led by 12-year-old French peasant boy, Stephen of Cloyes, and a 10-year-old German boy, Nicholas. They mobilised an estimated 50,000 children between them but both child armies were betrayed and taken into brothels before leaving Europe or sold as slaves at Alexandria.
Another failed Crusade - the Fifth - followed, before Christians decided to switch tactics and try negotiation rather than brute force. Success! The peaceful Sixth Crusade in 1228 restored Jerusalem to the Latin world and a 10-year truce was signed. But things fell apart when Muslims later reoccupied the city, prompting yet another Crusade in 1248. It collapsed when its leader, Louis IX of France, was captured. Two later Crusades both failed and the Turks took the last Christian stronghold in the region, Acre, in 1291.
So how are these turbulent events viewed today, with the hindsight of several centuries?
Muslims do not single out the Crusades as a defining event in their history, according to historians. The wars have always been more of a western European obsession, with figures such as Richard the Lionheart held up as icons.
"For most Muslims the Crusades were something they won but just another invasion among many in their history," says Dr Jonathan Phillips, author of The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople.
It wasn't until recently that the Muslim world started to take a renewed interest in the Crusades.
Muslim scholars have been returning to historical texts and important documents are being published in English, including the diary of Saladin's secretary. Saladin has also been revived as an iconic figure. The Muslim leader has been cited by Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda as an inspiration.
"There is a straight line for propagandists to draw," says Dr Phillips. "Saladin drove out invading westerners and there are parallels with the current situation in places like Iraq that resonate with the average Muslim, especially after George Bush's ill-advised use of the word 'crusade' when launching his War on Terror in the wake of 9/11."
In northern Europe, the crusades crashed waves of violence upon the Jewish communities. Jewish people felt the brunt of the religious fervour that sent the Crusaders into the Holy Land, says Prof Anna Sapir Abulafia of the University of Cambridge.
Not only were they the most visible non-Christian community, says Prof Abulafia, but they also suffered because they generally weren't riding off on crusade themselves and weren't "part of all this non-Christian propaganda and hype".
In places like York, there was a massacre of the Jewish community in 1190.
"If you start preaching a Crusade and have accepted violence against non-Christians... that then evokes all kinds of violence against Jews."
The New Jewish Encyclopaedia calls the crusades a "prolonged and bitter ordeal" for the Jewish community, saying "thousands of Jews perished, and entire Jewish communities were wiped out. To this day, the Jewish liturgy contains prayers commemorating the martyrs of that dreadful period".
The crusades made the news in 2000 for a simple reason: Pope John Paul II apologised for them. Sort of.
The pontiff made a plea for forgiveness of the past sins of the Church, saying,"We are asking pardon for the divisions among Christians, for the use of violence that some have committed in the service of truth, and for attitudes of mistrust and hostility assumed toward followers of other religions."
It's a commonly held view amongst moderate Christians that the Crusades are a shameful part of the religion's history, experts say.
However, some more conservative Christians side with the belief that The Crusades were a series of defensive wars against Islamic aggression.
Former presidential candidate in the US Pat Buchanan has said: "Now, we must also be ashamed of Crusades launched to recapture, in the name of our Lord, the Holy Land seized from Christendom by the armies of Islam."
Story from BBC NEWS:
Author Accuses Fox of ‘Crusade’ Theft
Barbara Ferguson, Arab News —
Saturday, 26, March, 2005 (15, Safar, 1426)
WASHINGTON, 26 March 2005 — Of late, there has been a trend of plagiarism among high-visibility authors and publishers. The best-known examples involves Stephen Ambrose, author of the definitive biography of US General Dwight Eisenhower and several histories of World War II, and Doris Kearns Goodwin, a presidential scholar who authored many books about US presidents. Both were found to have stolen texts from other published works.
Now, the entertainment industry is embarrassed by allegations that the screenplay for 20th Century Fox feature film, “Kingdom of Heaven,” starring Orlando Bloom, Liam Nelson and Jeremy Irons, was plagiarized from the book, “Warriors of God,” by James Reston.
Reston’s book and the Fox movie deal with the Third Crusade, 1187 to 1192 AD, which is considered by many scholars to be the most intriguing of all the crusades. The book and film both focus on the huge military effort that brought together Salah Al-Din, the Sultan of Egypt, Syria, Arabia, and Mesopotamia; and Richard the Lionhearted, King of Great Britain.
According to Reston, the collision between these giants in a grand holy tournament still reverberates in the today’s Middle East, and in ongoing conflicts between Christians and Muslims throughout the world.
The author of 13 books, including, Galileo: A Life, The Last Apocalypse, and Warriors of God, have been translated into ten foreign languages. Reston spoke to Arab News by telephone before leaving on a speaking engagement in the Middle East. He said his fascination with the Crusades began before he started his research, but admits he “got stuck” on the Third Crusade “because of their fabulous characters.”
“Much of my historical work has attempted to tell stories that have modern relevance, and here the relevance I immediately saw regarded the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Reston said.
The prolific author said that as researched his book he began to see a kind of metaphor about the clash between “the West and the Arab word, a clash of Christianity and Islam.”
“Warriors of God” was published in May 2001, months prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. “This book had an incredible trajectory right after September 11. The American people were trying out to read anything about the Arab world and Islam, and especially the clash of the civilization with the Arab world.” Reston said he sold a lot of books, and was surprised with its influence.
The New York Times reported that in January 2002 “Warriors of God” was one of three books that political adviser Karl Rove recommended President George Bush read to understand the political and military context of tensions in the Middle East.
Reston said that because the book was doing well, there was talk about the book being made into a film. Eventually, Mike Medavoy, purchased the film rights. Medavoy, producer of: “Platoon,” “Annie Hall” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” has won 7 Academy Awards, and operates a film company called Phoenix Pictures.
According to Reston, Medavoy learned that Ridley Scott (director of “Gladiator,” and “Master and Commander”) was also interested in doing a crusade film, and “Medavoy made an overture to him with my book. He gave him my book and proposed that they go into business and make a film together.”
Several months later, Reston said Scott contacted Medavoy to decline, saying he had decided to make the movie about the Crusades, alone.
Reston said he accepted the news and thought nothing more of it until last year, when he was in Spain working on a book scheduled to be released this summer. It was there he learned that Ridley Scott was filming his crusade movie in Spain and Morocco.
“It means he won the race (to make a film about the Crusades), but I was still under the illusion that the story was different than mine,” said Reston.
He says he was shocked when he returned home and opened the New York Times Aug. 12 edition “and there was a big story about Scott’s forthcoming movie on the Third Crusade. It was a thunderbolt, I realized that Scott had used the material in my book without my permission.”
He immediately called Medavoy, who “tried to be comforting but didn’t know if anything could be done.”
Reston said because Scott’s film was “already in the can,” it ended the chance for his book to be turned into a film. “There certainly wasn’t any need for another Third Crusades movie, so my association ended with Medavoy in October.”
In November of last year, Reston said he obtained a copy of Scott’s script and was stunned with what he read. “Scott’s movie is called, ‘Kingdom of Heaven,’ which is the title of the second chapter of my book.
“The entire second half of the movie basically relies on the major scenes of the first 103 pages of my book, ‘Warriors of God,’” said Reston. “The movie’s dramatic structure is based entirely on the first 100 pages of my book.”
Reston hired a lawyer whose law firm carefully examined the movie script and his book scenes. “They also concluded that I had been ripped off. It’s a bald-faced theft of my intellectual property,” said Reston.
Reston said the Arab world should be very concerned by the way it is portrayed in Hollywood. “This will be the first of many, many films coming out of Hollywood that will treat American and Western and Christian and Muslim people in the context of an American crusade in Iraq and the Arab world.”
Reston’s lawyer, Timothy DeBaets, a partner at Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard, sent a letter to 20th Century Fox informing them of the alleged plagiarism.
DeBaets, who also spoke to Arab News by phone, said William Monahan, the scriptwriter Scott employed, was “caught plagiarizing Reston’s book.”
DeBaets said there are many odd bits to this story, including the fact that Medavoy gave Reston’s book to Scott — the competition — to begin with.
When asked what evidence they have to make such statements, DeBaets said: “Once you compare the book and read their script, it’s quite clear Scott and Monahan used Jim’s book.”
DeBaets gave Arab News a copy of a letter the lawyers at 20th Century Fox sent to DeBaets, in response to his charges of plagiarism.
The Fox lawyers say the creators of ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ “did not even read ‘Warriors of God,’ much less copy it.” Adding, “solely for the sake of argument, even if your client’s book had been the source of some of the facts in our screenplay, your client would have no claim. Facts cannot be protected.”
The 5-page letter from Fox concludes: “Fox believes your client’s claim to be without merit, and rejects his demands.”
DeBaets said he and his client, Reston, are considering a lawsuit — not only in the US, but also in a number of key countries. This is significant, he said, because of different jurisdictions for each country.
“Ridley Scott is British. He has a company in Los Angeles, but they’re based in the UK This is a film that could be shown though the Middle East and certainly throughout the Western world,” said DeBaets. “Many countries require a copyright claim in their country to stop distribution of the film.
“In the US, judges will not stop a major film about to be released. But internationally, things are different. In France, they tend to be more protective of the writer and will defend their rights,” said DeBaets.
Telephone calls by Arab News to Twentieth Century Fox lawyers were not returned.
As for “Kingdom of Heaven,” the movie is due to be released in May. A trailer of the film can be seen at: http://www.kingdomofheavenmovie.com
But DeBaets cautions: “Remember when you see it, it’s all about copyright infringement.”
Copyright: Arab News © 2003 All rights reserved. Site designed by: arabix and powered by Eima IT
Fox Rejects Copyright Claims for 'Kingdom of Heaven'
Tue Mar 29, 7:34 PM ET
Movies - Reuters
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Twentieth Century Fox has rejected demands from a historian who says the studio copied without permission elements of its highly anticipated film "Kingdom of Heaven" from a book he wrote on the Crusades.
Historian James Reston Jr. has threatened to sue the studio for copyright infringement in Britain and the United States, but so far was still pondering his options, his attorney said on Tuesday.
In a March 21 letter to Reston's attorney, Fox described as "wholly without merit" Reston's contention that the script for "Kingdom of Heaven," set for a May 6 release, was "strikingly similar" to his 2001 book "Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade."
Reston claimed that "Kingdom" director Ridley Scott rejected an offer from Phoenix Pictures chief Mike Medavoy to direct a film based on the book, then secretly used it as the basis for his own film about the Crusades.
The film stars Orlando Bloom as a blacksmith who becomes a knight and defends Jerusalem against invasion during the Third Crusade.
Reston said Scott and screenwriter William Monahan stole their main character, an obscure knight named Bailan of Ibelin, from the first 105 pages of his book, and appropriated the film's title from the second chapter heading.
Reston's attorney Timothy DeBaets told the studio in a March 4 letter that his client would file a copyright infringement lawsuit in Britain or the United States if Reston was not given credit and compensation for the film.
DeBaets said Reston spent more than two years "painstakingly" researching his "dramatic account of the Third Crusade," adding that it "strains credulity" to believe that Monahan would have tapped the same time period and characters.
But Fox lawyer Bonnie Bogin argued in her reply that Reston "cannot claim a monopoly on history."
"The elements in 'Warriors of God'... are no more than historical facts, which have been in the public domain for more than nine centuries," Bogin said.
Bogin said neither Scott nor Monahan read "Warriors," and she accused Reston of "piggybacking" on press for the film to promote his book. She also suggested Reston's claims against Scott and Monahan could be defamatory.