Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kingdom of Shmeaven

I recently listened to an excellent presentation by Dr Darius von Guettner from Melbourne University at the History Teachers Association of Victoria conference on The Crusades: An Act of Intolerance or an Act of Love. He used Sir Ridley Scott’s film Kingdom of Heaven as a talking point. So I thought it worthwhile posting an updated version of my review of Kingdom of Heaven originally posted in another place.

So, Ridley Scott thought that there are far too many stupid myths about Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and the answer to this is a new set of stupid myths. Really, why do directors muck around with the history, particularly when the history itself is much more intelligent and engaging than their bastardisations? I could forgive it in Gladiator because (1) it is a much better film and (2) it was a redoing a previous film. Strangely enough, the bit I found most offensive in Kingdom was not the democratisation of knighthood (that just took all the point out of knighthood) but parading young Balian’s blatant refusal to take responsibility as a noble act. There comes a point when concern for your own moral purity becomes indulgence.

I watched Kingdom of Heaven in its cinema release with a group of medieval re-enactment friends, including one who is far more knowledgeable on the Crusades than I (and it being a long time since I read Runciman’s three volume History of the Crusades though she informed me I should read Jonathan Riley-Smith which I have since done and thoroughly enjoyed). Her bursts of laughter at particular points of violence to the historical record were particularly amusing.
I restrained myself to whispering to friend that I hoped the next two-hander I fight in SCA combat uses the "high guard" position Godfrey(!) of Ibelin taught Balian (“dead” to a cut to the body while my shield is planted on his sword is my prediction) and exclaiming out aloud, when Balian leads the defence of the breached walls of Jerusalem:
yes, throwing your shield away, that’s what you do when you lead a charge.
The siege warfare detail bits were well done. The cavalry charge was crap, but that seems standard for Ridley Scott (the cavalry charge in Gladiator was crap too) and for Hollywood generally (if anyone knows of a film which does a pre-1820, and particularly a pre-1550, cavalry charge properly, I would delighted to know about it—I am told that Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky does cavalry charges well). Shock cavalry charged knee-to-knee (or even knee-behind-knee). They were not swirling mobs, nor a bunch of individual riders heading in vaguely the same direction.

A friend later commented that the best bit was:
truly you leave out the best bit...You are forgetting the scene where Balian DEFEATS FOUR ARMOURED OPPONENTS ARMED WITH SWORDS AND SHIELDS, WHILE WEARING NO ARMOUR AND ARMED WITH A CERAMIC POT!!!!!!
If Balian had handed out more ceramic pots to his garrison, they may have kept Jerusalem from the infidel until Richard Cour de Leon arrived with reinforcements.
I quite enjoyed the portrayal of Saladin, which was within the long-standing tradition of Saladin-as-paragon. Orlando Bloom was fine for the role as written but was just no Russell Crowe, though I was so busy trying to remember relevant bits of history that I couldn’t really just sit back and enjoy the film.

As for Guy of Lusignan (Martin Csokas who also played Celeborn in LOTR), my period-expertise friend made the excellent point that he managed to go off and found the Kingdom of Cyprus, which his dynasty controlled until 1489.

I suspect I would have enjoyed the film if I had either known a lot more, or a lot less, of the specific history. I preferred A Knight’s Tale – it’s a lot more sheer fun. As I did Elizabeth: the movie is so much fun, you forgive its historical bastardisations (such as running two different Duc d’Anjou together⎯the gay cross-dresser was not his brother who courted Elizabeth⎯or portraying Walsingham as Elizabeth’s great dark fag—what every good girl needs to get ahead).

Others have had similar reactions to Kingdom of Heaven as I. The second review is particularly amusing.

There may also be a certain larger cluelessness:
Libertas’s Murty says that a publicist for Ridley Scott’s expensive 2005 flop about the Crusades, Kingdom of Heaven, asked her and her filmmaker husband, Jason Apuzzo, for advice on marketing the film to conservatives and Christians. Invited to a press screening along with representatives of various Christian groups, the two watched in disbelief as the movie opened with a Catholic priest beheading a woman and stealing her rosary—and went on in that vein, while also presenting the Muslims as noble and wise. “Every single person directly associated with the Church in the movie is a murderer or a liar. They really thought this would appeal to Christians,” Murty recounts. “Some of these people live in this completely sealed world in West Hollywood and didn’t register how offensive the movie would be.”
This compilation of responses from academic historians of the Crusades is informative and amusing (particularly the conjunction therein with some Muslim responses).

I am told that the Director’s cut is a better movie. Possibly, but I do not believe the bastardization of history can be retrieved.

No comments:

Post a Comment