Weaving around the Bayeux Tapestry and cinema in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and El Cid
The Bayeux Tapestry appears most often in historical fiction cinema as a prologue integrated into an opening title sequence, and, less frequently, in scenes of it being embroidered and assembled by women: Chimene in El Cid; Ophelia and other women in Hamlet; and Marian Dubois in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. This chapter discusses the ways in which the Bayeux Tapestry in cinema clarifies the limits of the dominant ways in which literary and film historicism has been thought in terms of mimetic matching between film and history or in terms of a framing effect. A close reading of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves's opening title sequence, which condenses and recuts panels of the Tapestry as a montage, helps explain how the film fails to deliver both on its ostensibly liberal politics of multicultural tolerance and as a narrative film of any consequence.
This chapter examines the contrasting uses, or non-uses, of medieval art objects in two medieval films and assesses how they contribute to the films' overall authenticity-effects. Both films are based on twentieth-century novels which share a knowing approach to the past, patching overt anachronism with real and apparent samples of medieval text. The chapter makes tentative contribution to a list of such characteristics: that the fragmented visual profile of the medieval makes medieval authenticity-effects particularly troublesome to produce. One of the few medieval films to refer explicitly to the art of the period, Perceval le Gallois, uses it to construct a non-mimetic aesthetic. The anti-mimetic Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which various modes of the illusory medieval - chivalric glamour, earthy squalor, quotations of medieval forms - jostle with the rude interruptions of modernity, may be the paradigmatic medieval film, and is certainly a favourite of many medievalist.
This chapter shows that all films have been considered medieval by a surprisingly large number of influential film theorists. It argues that the conceptualisation of film as medieval in its production, transmission, aesthetics or reception originates with the earliest attempts to come to terms with the new medium and underlies many influential film theories of the twentieth century and even the most recent media theories. The chapter shows the ways in which preconceived notions of the Middle Ages filtered into and were influenced by film theory throughout the twentieth century; and to what extent film theory relies on knowledge about the Middle Ages for its basic principles. The reliance of film theory on medievalism has never been acknowledged by film scholars. This is symptomatic of the traditional divide between medieval and modern studies, where the continuities and influences of medieval thought, art and culture on modernity are rarely researched.
This introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book argues that a playful confusion of temporalities is a fundamental characteristic not just of the term but also of medieval films themselves. Medieval films reflect on the fact that they make present a past that was never filmable and offer alternatives to chronological conceptions of time. The book traces the special relationship to temporality that characterises medieval film to its roots in the overlap of medievalism, film history and film theory. It suggests further examples of such new ways in which films that engage with the Middle Ages will be relevant to the present and future. Medieval film is not condemned to perpetuate the status quo, but, through its very position outside the historiographical and generic mainstreams can alter representations of history and cinematic modes.
Medieval film' forces us into a double-take on chronology. This book argues that such a playful confusion of temporalities is a fundamental characteristic not just of the term but also of medieval films themselves. Medieval films reflect on the fact that they make present a past that was never filmable and offer alternatives to chronological conceptions of time. The book examines the contrasting uses, or non-uses, of medieval art objects in two medieval films and assesses how they contribute to the films' overall authenticity-effects. It makes tentative contribution to a list of such characteristics: that the fragmented visual profile of the medieval makes medieval authenticity-effects particularly troublesome to produce. The reliance of film theory on medievalism has never been acknowledged by film scholars. The book shows the ways in which preconceived notions of the Middle Ages filtered into and were influenced by film theory throughout the twentieth century; and to what extent film theory relies on knowledge about the Middle Ages for its basic principles. It explores to what extent medieval film engages with questions of language, and to what extent these engagements may be distinctive. Cinematic medievalism participated in and drew on a wider cultural and political preoccupation with the Middle Ages. Romanticism posited the Middle Ages as an alternative, utopian realm promising creative and political possibility. The book argues that certain films with medieval themes and settings, mostly dating from the 1940s to the 1960s, demonstrate a surprising affinity with the themes and techniques associated with film noir.
This chapter focuses on a select group of films set in Middle Ages, produced in Italy at two moments of dramatic transformation in Italian culture and politics the Fascist era during 1930s and early 1940s and the epoch of the 'Economic Miracle' in the 1960s. It examines how cinema appropriates the past so as to recognise 'the power it holds from its shameful kinship with the makers of history and the tellers of stories, in Jacques Ranciere's words. The chapter explains the films that have chosen probes their kinship with modes of history making, to understand better how these different cinematic inventions shed light on conceptions of medievalism and, further, on the contemporary cultural and political moments of their creators. Cinematic fables of power, such as Condottieri and La corona di ferro, are allegories containing the shards of residual elements and emergent cultural memories of medievalism as legend and folklore.
This chapter argues that certain films with medieval themes and settings, mostly dating from the 1940s to the 1960s, demonstrate a surprising affinity with the themes and techniques associated with film noir. The romanticism of medieval films may be regarded as a virtual antidote to the cynicism and nihilism of film noir. Film theory has also drawn some implicit parallels between medieval films and noir. Medieval historical movies and crime films share a certain generic status in cinematic taxonomies. Film noir historians have always attempted to distinguish between earlier crime films and the unique characteristics of films noir. German expressionism is one of the most widely cited sources for film noir, especially given the exile of so many fugitive film-makers from Nazi Germany in Hollywood. But German expressionist film is also one of the tributaries of high-art medieval movies.
This chapter examines the various modes of film practice adopted for representing the Middle Ages, from the epic historical adventure film to low-budget art-house fare. It suggests that film-makers frequently blur the boundaries between different historical periods, and that there is something specific about the way the premodern past is represented as dangerous and dirty. The chapter compares representations of the medieval with representations of the more modern past, arguing that the former tend to adopt a more populist and masculine appeal than the numerous middle-brow costume dramas set in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It considers the ways in which the films engage with questions of national identity and national cinema, in an era in which film production is increasingly transnational. The chapter focuses on films released since 1980 - a little over fifty of which have offered some version of the British medieval past.
This chapter focuses on a conjunction of contemporary ideas concerning nation, history and race, all of which, participated in popular and academic constructions of the medieval. As well as causing political controversy from the moment of its release, D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation was hailed as a milestone in cinema history. Endorsed on a political level by President Woodrow Wilson, whose scholarship on the American Civil War was explicitly referenced in the film's intertitles, it was also praised by film critics and viewers alike for its innovative style and use of technology. Cinematic medievalism participated in and drew on a wider cultural and political preoccupation with the Middle Ages. In popular culture the Middle Ages were often imagined in a spectacular mode, a mode they shared with 'historical realism' and cinematic technology.
This chapter discusses the problems posed to film, since the advent of sound film, by foreign language - problems which relate as much to questions of mimesis and representation as to the international circulation of film. It explores to what extent medieval film engages with questions of language, and to what extent these engagements may be distinctive. Three principal sites of activity are identified: extra-diegetically speaking, subtitles constitute a key authenticity-effect. Diegetically speaking, in its representations of situations of language contact and translation, it is argued here that popular medieval film shares contemporary cinematic concerns about intercultural communication in a global society. In films aimed at monolingual audiences, diegetic interpreting or subtitles are likely to be required. Rather than having a supplemental function, these subtitles constitute an integral element of filmic medievalism. Subtitles may also be pressed into service in films that portray themselves as 'rewriting' the medieval past.