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Archive for the ‘King Arthur in Film’ Category

First, let me warn my readers of two things: 1) This blog may contain some spoiler alerts if you have not seen the film, and 2) I seriously thought about titling this blog “Why Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur Sucks” so be forewarned I have little good to say about it. That said, there were a few good surprises. Also note, I may have forgotten some of the bad and ugly points since I only saw the film once, but I am not inclined to view it again.

So here are the good, the bad, and the ugly points about why Guy Ritchie’s new film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a terrible rendition of the Arthurian legend.

The Good

  1. The Starring Actors: Four of them deserve mention. Eric Bana and Jude Law are both great actors and I have enjoyed their performances in almost every film I’ve ever seen them in, even if I haven’t always liked the films. That said, they could do little with the script and characters they had to play. Eric Bana’s part is far too small to give him room to do much of anything as an actor. Jude Law’s role is that of a stereotypical villain, but he’s convincing and does what he can with it. Also worth mentioning is Charlie Hunnam. Apparently he’s already quite a star though I don’t believe I ever saw him in anything before. And I could tell he is a good actor. He had a crappy script to work with, but he still comes off as likeable and brave in the film, if not as your typical King Arthur. One last actor worth mentioning is Katie McGrath—she’s only on screen for a minute, but because she played Morgana in the BBC Merlin series, which I loved, it was nice to include her as a nod to past Arthurian shows.
  2. The Scenery: The film was shot in Wales—one of the few things it got right.
  3. The Sets: Camelot was over the top but not completely unattractive. Both the throne room and the subterranean chamber were visually attractive. What I was most impressed by, however, was the depiction of London, complete with a coliseum falling into ruin—it showed that the filmmakers at least new the Arthurian legend takes place in the period right after the Romans left.

    Jude Law is a convincing villain, whatever the faults of his character role.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bad

  1. England: Continually, England was referenced. It should be Britain. There was no England until the Anglo-Saxons conquered the island. At this point, it was still Britain.
  2. Vortigern: Vortigern’s story and place in the legend was messed up. He was not Uther’s brother, nor did he kill him. In truth, Vortigern killed Arthur’s uncle Constans. Constans’s brothers, Ambrosius, and Uther then fled to the continent but later returned and killed Vortigern. Vortigern was dead long before Arthur was even born.
  3. The Mage: Who the heck was she? We are never even told her name. She’s the only female character in the film who is even recognizable as a character and yet she’s nameless. I kept waiting to hear that she was Morgana or Nimue or Viviane or someone recognizable. Nor did she have much of a role other than to make weird googly eye faces. Maybe her identity was kept secret so it could be revealed in a sequel, but fat chance there’ll be a sequel.
  4. The Sword in the Stone: Seriously, the sword flies up in the air, lodges in Uther’s back, and then he sinks into the water and turns to stone. Stupid.
  5. Mordred: This one really irritated me. The film begins with Mordred, the evil mage, waging war on Camelot and Uther. Traditionally, Mordred is Arthur’s son or nephew. He has no magic powers. He did not live before Arthur. Couldn’t they have come up with some other villain? Rumor has it that Guy Ritchie is talking about a three or six film series (which won’t happen since the film has flopped at the box office), but if it were going to happen, wouldn’t you want to save Mordred for the end of the series? Poor planning.
  6. Interracial Casting: Now I know some will disagree with me on this one. I am absolutely all for letting actors who are not white have more roles in films, but not at the expense of historical accuracy. There were way too many people in the film who looked like they were of Asian or African descent to make this a believable circa 500 A.D. Britain story.
  7. Minor Characters: I think this includes everyone but the three main characters I mentioned above. None of the men with Arthur are distinguishable. I didn’t even know their names, other than Bedivere (who is the Lancelot equivalent of the Welsh legends; who no way in hell was African), until the final scene when they were knighted. Worse, there are several female characters in the film who are just there—no clue who they are. I didn’t even realize Vortigern had a daughter until he decided to kill her. The cast list even has Merlin included. I don’t remember seeing him at all. And why do we need characters with names like Goosefat Bill and Backlack? And what’s up with an Asian character named George. Speaking of which….
  8. Kung Fu: There were no Asians in Arthurian Britain with who were teaching people martial arts, and King Arthur certainly didn’t know Kung Fu. Please.

    King Arthur learns kung fu fighting.

  9. Vikings: Technically, the Vikings lived in a later period. These people should have been called Saxons. The Saxons were the enemies of King Arthur. It’s true Vortigern did make deals with them and let them into Britain. So why not stick with a more accurate story here if they are to be included?
  10. The Boredom: Frankly, most of the middle of the film was boring. At one point, after a battle scene, we’re subjected to a full minute of just listening to Arthur breathe hard while everyone else stands around looking like they haven’t broken a sweat. The pacing in the middle was slow. The action scenes at the end just made me want the movie to end.
  11. Other Movie Feels: Historically, Vortigern had a tower but it wasn’t like this one—this tower reminded me too much of Lord of the Rings, as did the giant elephants and other creatures. And in one scene there’s a bunch of hooded/masked warriors with glowing eyes who look like Jawas from Star Wars. And yes, a lot of it reminds me of Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films (see the Ugly section).
  12. No Merlin: He’s mentioned, but he has no role to play. Poor baby Arthur has to be set adrift in a boat like he was Moses. He should have been rescued by Merlin and taken into hiding. Why would you write Merlin right out of the movie?
  13. Bad Background Music: At one point someone is singing but the song can’t seem to decide whether it’s a Scottish ballad or hip hop. I just don’t get the music used in modern films. Ever since A Knight’s Tale we have been subjected to music that doesn’t fit a film’s period and ruins the suspension of disbelief. Medieval movies shouldn’t have rock ‘n roll in them any more than The Great Gatsby needed hip hop. Some nice Celtic background music would have been more appropriate.
  14. Vortigern as Skeletor: Or whatever he’s supposed to be. Do we really need Vortigern to turn into some sort of demon from hell to battle Arthur? Couldn’t he have just been given a magic sword too? Just more over-the-top unnecessary nonsense.

 

The Ugly

  1. Giant Elephants: No one would have brought elephants to Britain, and not these monster-sized elephants that can carry giant house-like structures on their backs. Granted, these are the mage Mordred’s elephants so maybe they are magical, but to see them in the opening scene of the film just made it clear right from the start that the whole film was going to suck.
  2. The Cinematography and Landscape: I apologize if I don’t know the proper terminology but the desolate landscape around Camelot was also over the top and the whole film had that nasty gray look that has become so common in so many films to give a stark depressing view of the film. I’ve seen it in Immortals, Prince of Persia, etc. It’s ugly, Hollywood. Quit using this look.
  3. The Giant Snake: I think the giant snake is thrown in just to balance off the giant elephants so the film could come full circle with over-the-top unbelievable animals. Why do we need a giant magical snake the size of Camelot’s front gate to come slithering through the castle? Let King Arthur do something instead to show he’s the man. Granted, later he gets to kill Vortigern, but this scene was just over the top stupid and unnecessary.
  4. The One–or Was It Three–Creepy Octupussy Women: Just ick. Just make me puke. Ick. Ick. Ick. I don’t care what kind of evil deal with the devil type scenario you need, don’t ever put something that disgusting on the screen again—these women made Jabba the Hut look like a piece of chocolate. Honestly, the way women were treated and depicted in this film, one wonders what kind of misogynist wrote this crap.
  5. The Nod to Detective Shows: We are stuck in the middle of the film with a detective interrogation of King Arthur that feels completely irrelevant and boring. It has a purpose, but the flashing camera angles and everything else made me feel like I was watching Sherlock Holmes, not King Arthur. Guy Ritchie, did you forget which movie you were making at this point?
  6. The Lack of All Things King Arthur: Half of the film I sat there thinking, “What does this have to do with King Arthur?” Basically nothing. This film had about as many true Arthurian elements in it as the TV Show Riverdale has from the original Archie Comic books. The difference is Riverdale is entertaining. This film is not. It’s basically a ridiculous plot with a few Arthurian names and a sword tossed in to pass it off as Arthurian to try to sell tickets. This is what is most disgusting about it. Ritchie is trying to capitalize on a time-honored, much-loved legend that has so much power over us—that is beautiful, heart-wrenching, inspiring, exciting, and magical—none of that comes across in this film. That’s why it is a flop more than anything else. The film doesn’t have the slightest concept of what its source material is.

    Filming in Wales is one of the few things Guy Ritchie did right with this film. Here is King Arthur and the unnamed mage in a pleasant Welsh setting.

 

I’m sure there’s a lot more I could complain about, but it’s not worth wasting more of my time. Bottom line, don’t waste your money on this film. If you’re a huge King Arthur fan like me, you’ll see it anyway, but wait for the DVD/video release. If you’re not very familiar with the Arthurian legend and want to see a good Arthurian film, watch:

  1. Camelot
  2. Excalibur
  3. Knights of the Round Table
  4. The Sword in the Stone
  5. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
  6. A Kid in King Arthur’s Court
  7. Sword of Lancelot
  8. King Arthur (2004)

They’re all much better. If books are your thing, read the novels of:

  1. Tyler Tichelaar (have to give myself a plug of course)
  2. Nicole Evelina
  3. Marion Zimmer Bradley
  4. Mary Stewart
  5. Nancy Mackenzie
  6. Helen Hollick
  7. Sharan Newman
  8. Jack Whyte
  9. Stephen Lawhead
  10. Bernard Cornwell
  11. T.H. White
  12. Mark Twain
  13. Parke Godwin
  14. Joan Wolf
  15. Vera Chapman
  16. Susan Cooper
  17. Rosemary Sutcliff
  18. And many more including the wonderful medieval works by Sir Thomas Malory and so many others—they’re all better.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and the upcoming Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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I am delighted to hear that the upcoming film Mordred is nearing completion.

I first heard of the film last year when I was contacted by the South Devon Players Theatre & Film company, which is producing it, and who wanted to tell me about it because half of the cast and crew of the film had read my book King Arthur’s Children as part of their research into Mordred, and then decided to blend him with the earlier Welsh tradition child of King Arthur, Amr, a decision that made eminent sense to me.

mordredfilm

King Arthur will battle his son Mordred at Camlann in the upcoming new film “Mordred.”

The film is being shot in England and was almost completed during the summer of 2016 but some footage still needs to be shot and the production is in need of a little more funding to complete the film.

Please view the trailer for the film at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiu9ZwwrQ8k

Then please consider making a donation to the film’s indiegogo fund. If you donate, there are numerous cool perks you can receive depending on the donation level you make, including an autographed photo by the star playing Mordred, a special handmade chalice with the Mordred logo on it, and a Mordred T-Shirt with your name on it as a backer of the film.

For more information and to view more video and images, visit: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/mordred-film-completion-fund-devon-cornwall#/

Mordred - a film promo image

Mordred – a film promo image

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I’ll admit I didn’t have high expectations for this film. After all, it has a 3.8 rating at IMDB and I haven’t been impressed with original Sci Fi films based on the few I’ve seen so I put off seeing it until recently, even though it was released in 2010.

It wasn’t any better than I expected, but it had one pleasant surprise—yes, it creates yet another child for King Arthur.

The story begins apparently several years after Arthur’s fall at Camlann. Sir Galahad is the last of the Knights of the Round Table. He is accompanied by three younger knights, and together they go on a quest to find Merlin to seek his help because a sorcerer called The Arkadian is terrorizing Britain by releasing venomous moths and other creatures from a magical book called The Book of Beasts.

MerlinandtheBookofBeasts_Galahad’s party finds Merlin, but he isn’t willing to help. Then he discovers that one of the knights is not only a girl, but she is Avlynn, the daughter of King Arthur and Guinevere. Avlynn wants Merlin to help her gain the throne that is rightfully hers and also to retrieve Excalibur from the lake where it was hidden after Arthur’s passing to Avalon. Merlin still refuses to help, and the group leaves, downcast.

Soon after the party is attacked by what appear to be zombie soldiers, and at the moment when it seems they will lose, Merlin comes to their aid, having changed his mind about helping.

At this point, Merlin says several things that are difficult to understand because the actor playing Merlin, Jim Callis, talks like he has rocks in his mouth; he also sounds a bit disgruntled and demented. My biggest complaint about the entire film, in fact, was that I couldn’t always understand what Merlin was saying.

Not that the rest of the movie is so spectacular, but I did like that Avlynn and Galahad’s other two companions are Lancelot, son of Galahad, and Tristan, son of Tristan and Isolde. Lancelot, of course, is in love with Avlynn, but she’s not interested in him.

When the showdown with the Arkadian happens, it turns out he’s Mordred and he didn’t die at Camlann after all. He unleashes more creatures from The Book of Beasts. Every creature in the book is actually a real creature residing in the book, including Medusa and her sister Gorgons, who seem badly out of place in this film, but they do manage to cause trouble for the Camelot crew, and ultimately, turn Sir Galahad to stone, a spell Merlin can’t reverse.

In the end, Mordred is defeated and killed. The Book of Beasts is destroyed when Excalibur is stabbed into it. Avlynn has been enchanted by Mordred, who wanted to marry her and breed a new Pendragon line, but Lancelot rescues Avlynn by kissing her and breaking the spell. Now, clearly, with a little urging from Merlin, Avlynn will marry Lancelot and they will rule together, with Tristan as head of the army.

While I love that a daughter was created for King Arthur in this film and also the other second generation characters, there’s not much else to recommend this film. Jim Callis, despite being in several other roles in successful films where he did a good job, just isn’t a good Merlin and the story is pretty predictable. Nothing about the sets was attractive or made me feel any awe; the fountain of Brittany which could have been a nice touch in the film isn’t even in Brittany but Britain, and the Gorgons got annoying fast.

I agree with IMDB: 3.8.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy and Melusine’s Gift, and he has written the nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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This latest Fantagraphics reprint of Hal Foster’s wonderful strip begins with an insightful article by Mark Schultz, which says about everything I’ve thought that makes this strip so worthwhile. I have to admit the plots tend to become repetitive, and as wonderful as the illustrations are, the soap opera feel of the storyline becomes a bit tedious, but Foster shined for two things in particular—the breathtaking landscape scenes he did and the way he could draw a face and convey expression in it.

PrinceValiant9I’ve always liked to draw since I was a kid, but I have never been able to pull off realistic-looking faces. Foster was a master at this and someone we could all learn from. In this opening essay, Schultz talks about how Foster depicts Valiant and Aleta’s relationship through his ability to show their feelings for each other, as well as how they mask those feelings. Schultz says Foster was unique in this ability to reveal the characters’ internal lives through their expressions and body language, and I very much agree.

This particular volume picks up with the end of Valiant’s efforts to bring Christianity to Thule—and with rather alarming results. Valiant is shown destroying Pagan idols, something that in the twenty-first century I found upsetting and disgusting because we tend to be more open to diversity in these days, and while I was raised a Christian, I couldn’t help but feel the unfairness of this behavior, and when the destruction of these idols infers that they are false because they do nothing to avenge themselves, I can’t help noticing that Foster has the Pagans burn the Christian church down next, and the Christian God doesn’t intercede either, which leaves the reader wondering whether either God is real or exists, at least from Foster’s viewpoint. Of course, the Christian church is rebuilt, and then Valiant and Aleta go off on adventures, leaving the religious theme behind for now until later in the volume when Valiant ends up in Ireland and meets St. Patrick.

Valiant and Aleta part ways early in the volume because Aleta wants to go visit the Misty Isles, but Val ends up being called to help King Arthur in fighting against the Saxons who have allied with the five kings of Cornwall. By the time these battles are done, Val has introduced the idea of using stirrups for the knights, which is often introduced as a reason why King Arthur was successful and able to hold back the Saxons in several Arthurian novels that have been published since then, though I’m unsure who first introduced this idea into Arthurian literature—perhaps it was Foster.

But the real highlight of the volume, as Schultz remarks, is how Aleta manages as a woman to gain control in the Misty Isles, putting down a possible rebellion in her kingdom through her female presence and her cleverness. One of the things I really love about Foster’s storytelling is that while there are battles and swordplay and violence, many of the conflicts are resolved through Aleta or Val’s trickery and cleverness. It’s always more fun to trick or outsmart an enemy than to have to kill him. Bullies and cowards then end up showing their true colors and getting what they deserve.

A trip to the Holy Land, although not overly dramatic, but again with a little trickery to save the day, rounds out the volume along with the introduction of a girl character, Diane, who becomes friends with Valiant and Aleta’s son, Arn. Arn seems to have really grown up in this volume and transition from being a toddler to now a young boy; the strips from his viewpoint are refreshing, plus Diane appears to be a clever young version of Aleta.

The volume concludes with an essay about the 1954 film version of Prince Valiant starring Robert Wagner. The essay puts the film in context with what was happening in Hollywood at the time and changes in the movie industry, as well as discussing the film’s reception. It was rather a flop of the film, but it’s still a film I find entertaining (see my previous review of it at https://childrenofarthur.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/prince-valiant-in-glorious-technicolor-a-review-of-the-1954-film/), though it takes a lot of liberties with the strip. Apparently, Foster wasn’t too crazy about the film either, according to the article.

Volume 10 has just been released this month, so watch for my next review soon. In the meantime, Volume 9 has plenty to entertain.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and the new Children of Arthur series, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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On Tuesday, October 21, I had the opportunity to see Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot—The National Tour at the Rozsa Center in Houghton, Michigan. Yes, I live 100 miles from Houghton and my night vision isn’t the best, so to get there I had to get a hotel room and spend the night, but Camelot is my all-time favorite musical and movie, and having never seen it performed live, I knew it would be worth the trouble.

First, let me say I’m a Camelot addict. I have seen the movie more times than I can count, and I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say I’ve listened to the movie soundtrack thousands of times—I wore out the record, wore out the cassette tape and CD, and hopefully, won’t wear out my iTunes. I also have played hundreds if not thousands of times the original Broadway Cast recording as well as the 1982 London recording and watched the HBO version from 1982 with Richard Harris. For thirty years, Camelot has been a big part of my life and a major influence on my deciding to study the Arthurian legend and write my own novel series about it.

Merlin makes a stunning departure when enchanted by Nimue. (Photo taking from https://www.facebook.com/CamelotMusicalTour)

Merlin makes a stunning departure when enchanted by Nimue. (All photos taking from https://www.facebook.com/CamelotMusicalTour – no photography is allowed during the production.)

So my expectations were very high to see this production. I find it a bit hard not to keep comparing it to the film since it’s not a film and you can’t achieve on stage what you can on film nor perfect it in the same way. Given those limitations, I was intrigued by this production. It was promoted as “Camelot like you’ve never seen it before,” and the ads with the scruffy looking knight made it seem like it would be a modernized, visually stimulating and maybe sexed-up Camelot for a new era. Would this still be President Kennedy’s beloved Camelot? I was relieved to find it was. With a few exceptions, it faithfully followed the original Broadway production, and I’m sure Kennedy, whose administration was named after it because he loved it so much, would have enjoyed last night’s performance.

Of course, I have a few criticisms, so I’ll point out what was good, what could have been better, and what made this play stand out from the film.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was that the play started with Arthur speaking—no overture! But I think this lack worked to bring about the crisis moment the show opens with of Arthur about to fight Lancelot for Guinevere, thus allowing the flashback. I admit, with the knights in the scene, it looked a bit flashy and hardcore and I felt a little uncomfortable about where it might be going, but soon the scene went back in time, and the minute King Arthur (Adam Grabau) opened his mouth to start singing “I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight,” I was hooked. Guinevere (Mary McNulty) then made her entrance with her wonderful song “Where Are the Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and the show was off to a great start.

The magic came to life through the acting and the singing, but the costumes and sets definitely added to that magic. For me, the most impressive costume was Lancelot’s—metallic and shimmering and full of detail, although Guinevere’s costumes were impressive as well, as was Nimue’s. Merlin and Pellinore’s costumes could use a little trimming. Both roles were played by Mark Poppleton, who was convincing and just a tad comical without going too far in each role—but his robe got caught under the backdrop as it came down when he made his entrance and he had to yank it out, and later as Pellinore, his robe caught on the furniture. That said, because of these characters’ roles, it made it seem almost like these snafus were intended for comical effect.

The sets were a bit understated but worked well. I was a bit taken aback by the gigantic metallic structure that doubled for trees and a canopy for the throne room, but it worked well for its purpose, allowing Arthur to fall out of his tree, among other things. The most impressive set was when Nimue enchanted Merlin—a truly beautiful moment of special effects. Almost as impressive was the jousting scene with the wonderful music rarely included on recordings, and of course, the lighting for the song “Guinevere” was dramatic and spectacular. The only place I felt the lighting effects could have been better was for “The Lusty Month of May.” I think a green and blue background would have said May more than the magenta pink coloring, and I would have liked to have seen a Maypole or more flowers. Mary McNulty as Guinevere had a beautiful voice and deserved a set to match the frolicsome fun and just the slightest touch of mischief (eat your heart out, Vanessa Redgrave) she conveyed during this song. Still, both the costume and scene designers deserve kudos for their overall impressive work.

There is really little I can fault in the production, but there are a few things I would have done differently. Lancelot (Tim Rogan) really did a splendid job in his role overall. He was appropriately unlikeable in his quest for purity and goodness, yet believable. He got the audience laughing as he made a grand entrance singing “C’est Moi” while still convincing us of his manly valor. I’m afraid he’s no Franco Nero (but then even Franco Nero wasn’t quite Franco Nero since his voice was dubbed for the film), but I’d rather listen to Tim Rogan sing over Robert Goulet (Goulet was wonderful in other shows, especially The Happy Time, but he never convinced me as Lancelot). I wasn’t quite convinced that Rogan’s Lancelot was French, but better not to try the French accent probably. The miracle scene was quite well done and convincing, as were all Lancelot’s speeches about chivalry, but alas, I wish he hadn’t been so stiff when he sang “If Ever I Would Leave You.” I would have liked to have seen a little movement and emotion on his part. He honestly looked uncomfortable singing it—a little taking of Guinevere’s hand, holding her, walking about the stage would have brought it to life. I expected a lot here though since the film’s love montage for this song is breathtaking and one of the most beautiful moments in cinematic history in my opinion—and the song ranks as one of my all time three favorite songs (along with “Memory” from Cats and “And This Is My Beloved” from Kismet) and in all other ways, he was a superb Lancelot, but he could use some work in being convincing for this song. All that said, I can definitely see why Guinevere would prefer him to Arthur, as fine as Adam Grabau’s Arthur was throughout the show—worthy to stand beside Richard Burton if not quite Richard Harris.

Tim Rogan as Lancelot praising his own virtues. "But where in the world Is there in the world A man so extraordinaire?"

Tim Rogan as Lancelot praising his own virtues. “But where in the world
Is there in the world
A man so extraordinaire?”

A few key differences about this production compared to the film and other productions of it stood out concerning the songs. Most importantly, the play includes several songs that were dropped from the film: “Fie On Goodness,” “The Seven Deadly Virtues,” “Before I Gaze on You Again,” and the madrigal sung by Lancelot. All of these were included in this new production and were performed well, especially “The Seven Deadly Virtues” sung by a delightfully naughty Mordred (Kasidy Devlin). And “Before I Gaze on You Again” was very convincing and Mary McNulty made me feel the words in a way Julie Andrews never has. Also the jousting music, was a treat to hear. The only disappointment of these songs for me was the lines cut from “Fie On Goodness” regarding Scotland—who wouldn’t want to stroke someone’s bonny….

Two songs, however, from the play and film both were cut in this production—“Take Me to the Fair” and “I Loved You Once in Silence.” And both are such wonderful songs that it’s a shame they were cut. I’m not aware that they have been cut in other productions. (I know it’s a long show so maybe that was why, but I was prepared to sit there for three wonderful hours, so I was a bit disappointed it only lasted two and a half with these songs cut.)The placement of the songs was also somewhat odd. “If Ever I Would Leave You” is usually at the beginning of the second act, but instead, it was placed where “I Loved You Once in Silence” belongs. I think moving “If Ever I Would Leave You” back where it belongs and keeping this love song would have been preferable. “I Loved You Once in Silence” really adds to the love development which I felt there could have been a bit more of in this production.

One song is changed in its placement and lyrics from the play to the film. “Follow Me” in the play version is sung by Nimue when she enchants Merlin, and it is a beautiful song and a beautiful moment as she leads him “To a cave by a sapphire shore/Where we’ll walk through an emerald door,/And for thousands of breathless evermores my life you shall be.” I love this song, but I also love how it’s sung by the forest creatures in the film production to convince Arthur that “as we were, we can be, follow me.”

As for Morgan le Fay’s character, I knew she was cut from the show in the early years after it was first performed in 1960, but in the concert version in 2008, broadcast as part of PBS’ Live from Lincoln Center series, Fran Drescher played the role, so I was hoping Morgan le Fay was making her comeback in the production, but I’ll have to hope to see her in another future performance.

Overall, an enjoyable evening. If I had never seen Camelot, I’m sure I would have raved about it. The crowd gave the performance a standing ovation and everyone enjoyed it, including the woman seated beside me who had seen Robert Goulet in a 1960s production in Detroit. I was also pleased to see so many college students in the audience—of all the great musicals from the mid-twentieth century, Camelot perhaps most deserves to live on for its universal themes and appeal, so I hope future generations will continue to embrace it.

The knighting of Lancelot scene.

The knighting of Lancelot scene.

If you’ve never seen Camelot on stage or at all, go. Beyond the sets, singing, costumes, and story, there is a beautiful underlying theme about right and wrong, good and evil, and how we must fight against the darkness because whatever we do does matter in the end. Camelot long ago inspired me to “ask every person if he’s heard the story, and tell it strong and clear if he has not.” Now I’m telling you to go see it. It’s still early in the tour and I’m sure it will just get better with each performance. To find out where Camelot is playing near you, visit http://www.camelottour.com/tickets.html

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and The Children of Arthur novel series. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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Esther Bernstein is a longtime lover of the Arthurian legend. Before she even started her Ph.D. in English at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center, she already had her dissertation planned out—a complete overview of the Arthurian legend from the Middle Ages to contemporary literature. While she may end up refining that plan before she’s finished, her love for the legend continues. Recently, she was invited to attend a summer course in Arthurian literature at the University of Exeter in England. She’s eager to go, but she needs some financial help, so I’ve invited her to be my guest and tell us why she loves the Arthurian legend and how we can help support her Indiegogo campaign.

Tyler: Welcome, Esther. You sound like a girl after my own heart since I wrote my MA Thesis on the Arthurian legend and also earned a Ph.D. in English. For starters, tell us a little about how you first fell in love with the King Arthur legend and what about it appeals to you so much?

Esther: Thank you!

Ph.D. Candidate Esther Bernstein is raising money to further her studies with an Arthurian course at the University of Exeter this summer.

Ph.D. Candidate Esther Bernstein is raising money to further her studies with an Arthurian course at the University of Exeter this summer.

Part of what appeals to me about the Arthurian legend is that I don’t know when I first heard about it. It’s like it was just always a part of my general knowledge. To me, that pervasiveness of the legend, the way it just is and permeates even twentieth and twenty-first-century thought so much, is so intriguing.

But more than that—the Arthurian legend is just so much fun! The tales, especially the medieval tales, are usually really long and convoluted, and there’s plenty of exaggerated chivalry, love and lovesickness, bravery and violence, pleading and forgiving.

There’s also a certain appeal to knowing I can meet these characters and not have to part with them after one or two books. Knowing I can simply find the next text, and that no matter how many books I read or how quickly I read them, I will never exhaust all that’s been written and is still being written about it—knowing I can leave these characters for a while but always come back to them—there’s a sense of comfort in that, and also of adventure. This specific quest may have ended, but never fear—another one will spring up real soon.

Tyler: Do you have a favorite Arthurian book, film, and/or television show, and what about it appeals to you?

Esther: I think the first time I actually read about King Arthur was an abridged version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain when I was about ten years old. I remember being amazed at the year—528 AD! It was the first time I’d read about a year that wasn’t four digits.

The beginning, as Hank thinks everyone is crazy until it finally dawns on him that he’s the only different one, made a huge impression on me. There was the interesting question of what’s normal, and it was fascinating to think about how “normal” changes over time. And when Hank introduces all the new technology, and the effects of that on all of society—wow.

I think my ten-year-old self was intrigued by the way different times interact. Now it’s one of my favorites because of the way it plays with Arthurian legend, just has fun with all of it. It incorporates so many details that show up in various texts and traditions, but introducing a “Connecticut Yankee” allows for viewing all of that in a totally different way than the original texts do.

I also love the 1967 movie Camelot. What most appeals to me in that one is the blooming love between Arthur and Guinevere. That scene where she runs away from her traveling party and she and Arthur accidentally meet in the snowy woods—I love that. I watched that scene about a million times. The whiteness, the stillness, the little buds of Guinevere thinking she might be able to love this man—so romantic. (I skip the parts about Lancelot in this one. I love Lancelot, but this movie I reserve for Arthur and Guinevere! Their romance is so often overlooked because of the burning passion between Guinevere and Lancelot, but the simple romance deserves its own attention, too.)

Tyler: I think an abridged “Connecticut Yankee” was my first reading of the legend also and I love Camelot. My whole family got sick of listening to me play the record over and over until it was scratched and I still listen to the music almost every day. There are lots of people like us who are enthusiasts of the legend, but not everyone wants to be a scholar of it. What about studying the legend appeals to you so much?

Esther: Arthurian legend is so adaptable. Not only does it survive and thrive in modern times—Monty Python (which plays with it but in a very different way than Mark Twain!), the movie King Arthur, the TV show Merlin, countless video games, novels like your own—but various political powers have appropriated the legend for their own use—like John F. Kennedy’s “Camelot.”

What that says to me is that something deep within the legend and the tradition speaks to people in wildly different circumstances, and I want to find out what that “something” is.

I think one way of doing that is the kind of thing I did with my undergraduate senior thesis, where I looked at Chrétien de Troyes’s Old French Arthurian tales and the Arthurian tales included in the Old Welsh Mabinogion. It was really fascinating to see the ways that each culture and society influenced the way the same tales were written.

That just looked at the differences, though. I want to use that kind of analysis to look at what is the same among the adaptations of the legend in all these languages, cultures, and time periods.

One way I plan on doing that is looking at contemporary Young Adult literature, both books that are explicitly Arthurian and books that don’t mention Arthur at all. I read a lot of YA literature, and I’ve always felt that there are some Arthurian undertones to a lot of what I read. But I don’t yet know enough about the broad sweep of the legend and tradition to start writing about that.

Tyler: Yes, there are undertones to so many of our modern stories, young adult and adult—Star Wars is just one example with its father-son, Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker conflict. Well, we could talk about this topic all day, but tell us about the program at Exeter this summer. What do you hope to learn as a result of attending it?

Esther: The program is arranged to cover one topic per day, in two two-hour sessions per day. Some of the topics are of course the historical background, the theme of chivalry, the life of the court, and magic in Arthurian legend. Besides the class discussions, I will write a final paper for the class on a topic I’ll choose with the guidance of the instructor.

The way the class is arranged is perfect for what I want to gain from it, because we’ll be looking at the way each of these themes appears in the broad sweep of Arthurian literature—which will allow me to study how and why each one appeals to all the different audiences.

I’ve just begun thinking about creating my orals lists—three lists of books that I will read over a period of about a year, after which I’ll sit for a two-hour oral examination on these books as part of the process to earn my Ph.D. No matter how I think about organizing these lists, what “title” to give each list, Arthurian literature shows up in all of them.

Again, that points to the way Arthurian legend permeates so much of everything else. But the same way I’ve just felt Arthurian undertones in YA literature but couldn’t necessarily explain what I thought it was, most of the time I can’t fully rationalize why I think Arthurian texts should be on all of my lists. After this course, I should be able to do that, which will of course enrich the way I create these lists in the first place.

Tyler: I understand you also hope to visit some Arthurian sites in England and France. What do you hope to see?

Esther: Yes! The program will take us to some places, like Stonehenge and the archeological site at Glastonbury, but I want to visit other places like Caerleon where Arthur’s court was, Tintagel, and the site of Merlin’s grave. In France, I want to visit Poitiers, where Eleanor of Aquitaine, the mother of Chrétien de Troyes’s patroness Marie de Champagne, ostensibly held “courts of love” and ruled on such things as whether love in marriage or adulterous love is preferable. (Spoiler: adulterous love is preferable because marriage imposes obligation, and adulterous love like that between Guinevere and Lancelot is based on passion and not obligation. Of course, that had no effect on the reality of the times.) I’m still building the rest of my list of Arthurian places I want to see.

Regardless of whether or not Arthur ever existed, I know I won’t see any Arthurian remnants in these places. But there’s something about standing in a place that I’ve read about so much and so often, something about being able to picture the landscape when I read about it in the future.

Tyler: Tell us about your fundraising campaign. How much do you need to raise, how soon, where do we go to contribute, and what rewards are you offering?

Esther: I’ve been awarded a scholarship of ₤800, and I need to submit a deposit of ₤250 by April 25. The rest of the tuition, ₤1395, is due by May 23. (In American currency, that’s a total of about $2800.) I also need to book a flight as soon as possible, which right now is about $1500, but will of course increase the closer I get to the date of the flight.

The Indiegogo campaign includes “perks,” and I’m offering a few of those for donations from $10 to $500. They are:

  • $10 – a postcard sent during my stay, with details of what I’ve been reading and doing
  • $25 – a souvenir, which you can request to be from a specific place I’ll be visiting!
  • $50 – a poem I’ll write personalized for you according to your request
  • $100 – a short story I’ll write, again personalized for you according to your request
  • $500 – my services as an editor or copyeditor for your writing, whether poetry, short stories, or a novel

(The Indiegogo page includes links to samples of my writing, both poetry and short stories, and I’ve worked as a writing tutor and freelance editor for a number of years.)

Anyone who donates any amount will also get a detailed update from me once I get back about what I’ve learned and how I think I’ll be able to use it in the future.

The link for the campaign is https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/guest-of-the-round-table-studying-medieval-arthur.

Tyler: Thank you for joining me, Esther. I hope you have a wonderful trip, get all the funding you need, and if you bump into Merlin or figure out how to get to Avalon, please come back and tell us all about it.

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Knights of the Round Table – movie poster

I remember seeing advertisements for Knights of the Round Table being shown on TV when I was a kid, but I never got the chance to watch it. I’m kind of glad that I didn’t get the chance because it’s surprisingly a rather distorted version of the Arthurian legend in many ways. Still, when I stumbled across it the other day, I watched it with interest.

First, let me say I’m a sucker for these old movies. Just that it is shot in Technicolor makes it beautiful in many places. There is a lot of color and pageantry, and I give it credit for being, to the best of my knowledge, the first film to try to tell the entire Arthurian story. Previously, King Arthur in Hollywood had been mostly limited to remakes of A Connecticut Yankee.

But in telling the full story, the studio must have felt they had to clean up the story. I mean, even if 1950s audiences, not to mention the movie censors, could get past Guinevere and Lancelot’s adultery, they certainly couldn’t accept Mordred being a child of incest and killing his father.

So some rather big changes had to be made. First of all, Mordred replaces King Lot of Orkney as Morgan le Fay’s ally. I was never quite clear in the film if he is her husband or just her lover, but they are obviously a couple and King Arthur’s primary enemies. The film begins with Morgan, Mordred, Arthur, and Merlin meeting to determine who will rule Britain upon Uther Pendragon’s death. Morgan believes she deserves the throne as Uther’s only legitimate child, but Merlin has Arthur draw the sword from the stone, thus leading to his being proclaimed king. Mordred and Morgan aren’t too happy about this decision and cause plenty of trouble before they finally agree to Arthur’s rule, which he achieves largely through battle and the help of Sir Lancelot, making Lancelot and Mordred enemies.

Arthur is soon pushed to the side of the story in favor of Lancelot. Although the movie is called Knights of the Round Table, the other knights get very little attention, except for Percival, who is on a quest for the Holy Grail. He meets Lancelot early in the film and tells Lancelot of his quest. In the same scene, Percival’s sister, Elaine, meets Lancelot and falls in love with him, and eventually, she is married to Lancelot, after Merlin realizes Lancelot and Guinevere have begun to have feelings for one another so it would be best to have him away from court.

I won’t give away all of the plot, and there’s not much to give away if you know the Arthurian legend, but I do need to discuss the end a bit. I do give the film some points for a stab at historical accuracy since it sets the film at the time soon after the Romans have left. That said, I think John Wayne had a stab in writing the script since upon first meeting, Lancelot says to Percival, “Declare thyself, Cowboy.” I think he should have changed “Cowboy” to “Pilgrim”—it would have been funnier.

The Holy Grail legend has always been an oddball part of the Arthurian story in my opinion, and it definitely is here. At one point, Percival comes to Lancelot’s castle to tell him the Holy Grail appeared at court, which I thought a shame, since the filmgoers never get to see the Holy Grail’s appearance in that scene, but it does lead to the knights going off to seek the Grail. At about this time, Elaine also has a dream about their son. Elaine dies soon after Galahad is born. Later the child Galahad is sent to be raised at Camelot.

And then Camelot begins to fall. After Elaine’s death, Lancelot becomes interested in Lady Vivian. Guinevere accuses him of trying to humiliate her in front of the court by making eyes at Vivian. While they are arguing alone, their enemies find them and accuse them of adultery. They manage to escape without any dramatic attempts at burning at the stake (a disappointment)—no dramatic “Guinevere” song for this movie like in “Camelot.” Things go as expected, leading to Arthur being slain by Mordred. Then Lancelot fights and kills Mordred.

The magic at the end of throwing the sword into the lake is missing because no hand rises up to catch it, but we are left with Lancelot and Percival going together to Camelot to see the Round Table in ruins. The film ends with a vision of the Grail, and Lancelot finding comfort in hearing that someday Galahad will achieve it. (A strange twist since Galahad usually achieves the Grail before Camelot falls.)

I certainly don’t think this film as entertaining as Prince Valiant or Lancelot and Guinevere (Sword of Lancelot) which followed in the next decade, although it does have its moments. People familiar with the legend will perhaps find it mostly entertaining for the fun of picking apart the changes made in the film from the usual legend and try to guess why such changes were made. (The opening credits claim the film is based on Malory, but it’s very loosely based.)

The cast has some big names—Robert Taylor as Lancelot and Ava Gardner as Guinevere, among others, but I have never felt very impressed by Robert Taylor. For me, Franco Nero is the best Lancelot. Ava Gardner is beautiful as always, but she just doesn’t have the role to make her acting skills stand out in this film.

If you’re an Arthurian enthusiast, you’ll want to watch the film, although on a scale of 1-5, I probably wouldn’t give it more than a 3. You can still catch it in reruns on TV or buy the video, or watch online at Amazon Instant Video. For more information on the film, check out IMDB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045966/ or Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_the_Round_Table_%28film%29

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can also visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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