A Knight's Tale (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
where's my armor?"
There were quite a few critics that objected to the anachronistic approach taken by this fairy tale approach to the Middle Ages. For one thing, the crowd does the wave and chants "we will rock you". For another, Geoffrey Chaucer travels along with the hero as his apologist and promoter, and he's a pretty thinly disguised version of Vince McMahon. Chaucer's intros before the matches reminded me of the hilarious introductions for Christ and Satan before their boxing match on South Park.
A big South Park welcome for hay-sooce .... "el savior-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-" .......
Chaucer even said something afterwards like "thank you, you've been a great crowd, I'll be here all week, be sure to tip your serving-wench"
L-l-l-l-l-l-l-let's get ready to joust!
Hey, Shakespeare himself placed a clock in Julius Caesar. At least in this goofy film, they created the anachronisms purposely, and their purpose makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. How do you find a way to tell young modern audiences what it was like to attend a medieval joust, or more accurately, to participate mentally in the romanticized version of the jousts which have been popularized in literature? Why, kids, it was like stomping your feet at a high school football game. Oh, I get it.
I'm afraid that I'm in a position where I can't possibly justify criticizing this technique. You see, I once wrote an Arthurian tale called Dancing Before the Glass, in which Merlin, an inveterate grifter and a compulsive gambler, used his backward life to place winning bets on the jousts. (Living backward, he had already been in tomorrow, and knew the results.) Merlin's success was a subject of infinite amazement to the jousting geeks who made their own bets based upon the published statistics. They had access to information as detailed as that produced today by the Elias Sports Bureau about baseball.
Generally, I don't object to anachronism of speech and music, either. Plenty of people damned Kevin Costner for not using a proper English accent to play Robin Hood. Frankly, they failed to consider the possibility that Costner's accent may duplicate Robin's own as closely as the speech of any modern day member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Nobody else in the film, nor anyone who has even played in a Robin Hood film, to my knowledge, has ever tried to duplicate English in the time of the Plantagenets. If they did, you wouldn't get a real kick out of the movie, trust me.
Strangely, nobody ever objects to a medieval film with an orchestral score, even though there were no symphonic orchestras in the Dark Ages, and most of the instruments had not been invented yet. What's different about using rock? Besides, rock scores may sell some CD's. You think a lot of kids stand in line to get the latest recordings of a cappella madrigals? "Oh, man, did you hear that new Ars Antiqua album with 'Sweet, Honeysucking Bee'? Whoa!"
Is that pandering? I suppose so, but it is the movie business, after all. When a good little director makes money for investors, they let him make more movies. Besides, there is a point. Jousting champions were the first rock stars. OK, it's not a profound point, but it is a perspective.
As far as English folklore, it has always reflected the mores and vocabulary of the time in which it was written, not the time in which it is placed. To quote myself about a decade ago, "Anachronism is a common thread throughout the Arthurian cycle. While some authors of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance attempted to locate the story in the time of the 'real' Arthur, the world they wrote about was their own, featuring a unified kingdom, chivalry, feudalism, knights-errant, elaborate castles, jousting competitions, the domination of Holy Mother Church, and the conception of courtly love." (My complete justification for my own ludicrous anachronisms is cited below in the sidebar, for reference.)
I think what I'm leading to here with all this verbiage is that A Knight's Tale is completely consistent with the English literary tradition of writing about earlier historical times in the speech of, and with the values of, the author - not those of the subject.
|"OK, Scoop, enough
bullshit", you must be thinking, "we'll grant your point for
the moment. Ignoring that, is the freakin' movie any good, or not?"
Yeah, it's OK. It's basically a corny, mass-audience film which aims at the younger set. I thought it would be awful, but it wasn't. It has superior production values, and is basically a good time. I smiled a lot while I was watching it.
If you like a piece of fluff now and then, it delivers some swashbuckling, some "Rocky"-like inspirational moments, some WWF hype, some sex, some rock 'n roll, and some laughs. I don't see where these things are so very bad. The script has a good heart. It teaches kids the value of nobility and honor. It's harmless.
The film's greatest weakness is that all of the originality lies in the gimmicks. The script is the same-old-same-old knights & ladies fol-de-rol, the ending is pure Hollywood crapola, and everything about it is conventional except the anachonisms.
In other words, the film makes its own rules. You decide whether you like them. I thought it was OK, as long as you don't expect it to be "The Lion in Winter"
The afterword to "Dancing Before the Glass". Some notes on history and the legend, having nothing much to do with this movie.
It is not certain whether there was a historical Arthur. The best two proofs of his existence are as follows:
The best refutations of the above are as follows:
There are various other cases of fiction posing as history. The most important is Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, completed about 1136, which first assembled the written groundwork for the fabulous Arthur later lionized by Malory and the balladeers. Geoffrey was one of the most valuable sources of material for many writers of great distinction, Shakespeare among them. He is also a strong candidate for the dishonor of being the single worst historian in the annals of humanity. He presented the obviously fantastical as factual, he couldn't keep his own "facts" straight from page to page, and he gave no thought to whether his chronology was plausible. Some suggest that he also told a wee fib about the existence of a vernacular source book that he claimed to have translated into Latin. Most likely he just created a compendium of the oral legends of the day, and fabricated some additional details of his own.
Most of the legend that we are most familiar with, of course, comes from three major sources and hundreds of minor ones. The major ones are T.H. White's The Once and Future King, Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, and Tennyson's Idylls of the King. The minor ones include movies like Camelot and The Sword in the Stone, both derived from White's writing, and scores of French and English poetasters from the twelfth century onward. Even such luminaries as Spenser, Dante, and Milton have added their onions to the Arthurian stew. No two versions agree on all the details.
Anachronism and myth are common threads throughout the cycle. While the authors of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance attempted to locate the story in the time of the "real" Arthur, the world they wrote about was their own, featuring a unified kingdom, chivalry, feudalism, knights-errant, elaborate castles, jousting competitions, the domination of Holy Mother Church, and the conception of courtly love.
The time of the "historical" Arthur, sixth century England, was not unified, and was not "England". The island was most often called Albion, and Arthur's portion of it was still called by the Roman name, Britannia. If the story were told with complete accuracy, both the Angles and the Saxons, the progenitors of modern England, would be the "bad guys", continentals who were attempting to wrest an ever-greater chunk of the territory traditionally held by the Britons. As legend (or pseudo-history) would have it, the Saxons were first invited into England by Vortigern, about thirty years after the Roman withdrawal, as a last resort defense against the invading Picts. The strategy seemed to work, as the Pictish threat abated, but the Saxons had no intention of going home after their original purpose had been achieved. The Arthur legend sprang from the noble but doomed attempt of the native tribes, freshly liberated from Rome, to keep their homeland free from a new foreign influence. The "Britons" tried to expel the Saxons. It is, in fact, the Welsh and the people of Britanny who are the Britons, and who represent Arthur's closest modern kinfolk, both biologically and linguistically.
England, such as it was, had no king, or dozens of them, depending on how liberally you will extend your definition of that particular word. If there had been a king of kings, or "Pendragon", he could have been called Arthur, but could just as likely have been named Dogbreath the Hopelessly Inbred or Salmon P. Chase.
The fabricators of the legend also chose to place twelfth and thirteenth century characters, with proto-Renaissance motivations, into barbaric post-Roman Albion. It was useful for them to invoke a time of dim antiquity because that technique let them introduce spiritual, mythical, and supernatural elements that were demonstrable falsehoods in their own time, but were nonetheless useful to the metaphor. They also had the characters speak in the High Language of their time, with no attempt to recreate the feel of sixth century life or language.
T.H. White really stretched the time paradox in his marvelous re-telling. He wrote about a sixth century warrior, to make twentieth century points (if you'll recall, Mordred is a pretty thinly-disguised Hitler), and did so with the vocabulary and traditions of the twelfth through fourteenth centuries. He has one character (not time-traveling Merlin) refer to an event that happened in 1360, and Arthur meets Robin Hood, who is generally placed in the reigns of Richard and John, therefore between 1189 and 1216. Mr. White, consistent with the good-humored tone of his entire piece, conceded that it happened "whenever (it) happened".
Even with the background as fanciful as it is, I still feel a little guilty about some of the ways I have stretched the operating restrictions on my prosaic license. (Damn thing's about to expire, too. I hope they renew it.) For example, the word "bagpipes" would be more appropriate after the fourteenth century, and sundials can't be as accurate as I pretend. Arthur's time probably had no jousting tournaments at all, let alone one with two-dollar windows, thus my tilts are a chimerical pastiche. There was no feudalism either, although I've allowed some to creep in. Consistently inconsistent, some aspects of the story are reasonably accurate fictionalizations of the sixth century, some invoke the age of chivalry, and other elements are complete contemporizations. What can I say, after I say I'm sorry? When Mordred calls Lancelot "big guy", you just have to assume that he said whatever the equivalent was in whatever time he said it. Believe me, you don't want to read it in the parlance of 536. Let's face it, they didn't even use the word "the" in the Old Welsh that Mordred would have spoken. If you want to read an accurate account of that time in the original dialect, you are in need of a rest. And a life.
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