by The Perfesser
Recently, I was invited by the delightful Ms. Belinda
Coward to attend a free advance screening of A Knight's
Tale (also known as Mini-Gladiator). So, I figured, "What's
the harm in seeing a film for free that looks like it
might be a spot of fun?"
the harm, indeed.
It's not that A Knight's Tale is so terrible that we walked
out slightly less than halfway through it in disgust...Oh,
wait, it IS so terrible that we walked out slightly less
than halfway through it in disgust! Actually, Belinda
wanted to walk out sooner, but I insisted we try and stick
it out. Then she reminded me it was free and neither of
us had to review it. Ah, sweet relief!
we planned ahead and sat near the exit in case the movie
bombed. Now neither of us had any reason to believe the
movie we were about to see would be terrible, other than
neither of us had yet heard anything about it beyond the
fact that it starred Heath Ledger. Not a plot point, not
a bit of buzz, nada, nothing, zilch, zero, bupkis
you get the idea.Of course, not having any advance word
meant watching the film with unbiased eyes. So, at first,
I hoped the film's gleeful anachronisms were deliberate.
I mean, We Will Rock You was famous decades ago, but not
THAT many decades! It didn't take long to figure out the
modern touches were intentional, which is not bad in and
of itself; nay, what was bad was that they didn't work
at all. A movie, like any work of art, should produce
a Colridgean willing suspension of disbelief. About the
only thing I wanted to suspend after sitting through it
was writer/director Brian Helgeland's thumbs
from the ceiling.
I've since done abit of scholarly research on the flick
and learned that indeed, Helgeland set out to mix the
sort-of modern with the most-definitely olde. Helgeland
recently wrote a first person article in the L. A. Times
explaining how he'd loved the medieval era after reading
about it, and how he'd come to believe that the sport
of jousting was to medieval people what
extreme sports are to contemporary folk. How a poor kid
from the wrong side of the tracks could "change his
stars" (Argh! The phrase truly clangs in the ear!)
by becoming a Revered Athlete.
then, though, you had to be of the manor born--i.e. a
noble--in order to joust, whereas now, any fool with a
modicum of talent (say, flashy hair and a penchant for
cross-dressing) and the right hype can become a superstar--why,
just look at Dennis Rodman!
soon came to believe that Helgeland had a reading comprehension
problem, and when I reflected on the appearance in the
film of a naked Geoffrey Chaucer, a man whose great writing
talent was exceeded only by his great gambling addiction
(say what!?), who joins Ledger's character, the squire
who would be a knight, as his vociferous herald, my belief
was supposed to be the same Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote
The Canterbury Tales? Oh, please! Despite the echo in
the film's title and the appearance of Chaucer, by the
way, A Knight's Tale bears no resemblance to any of The
Canterbury Tales, save that Ledger's squire looks a lot
like the curly-haired squire described in the Tales's
Blameth not actor Paul Bettany for the travesty that is
this Chaucer; he does his best with the dreck he's given
to speechify. Blameth instead Helgeland, who put those
words to paper in the first place--apparently, Curtis
Hanson was responsible for the great dialogue in L. A.
Helgeland's claim in the above-mentioned article that
he did "specific research" on Chaucer before
he added the cherished writer as a character in his coming-of-mange
story seems disingenuous. In Helgeland's hands, the same
Chaucer who wrote the Tales winds up spouting cliché
after cliché such as
"I'm going to see a man about a dog" and talking
in the tone of a generic announcer at any ol' sports event.
Then again, this is also the same Brian Helgeland who
got fired off his own project, the Mel Gibson-starring
Payback, and replaced by a man, Paul Abascal, the majority
of whose credits involve his work as a hair stylist.
Okay, it's not that I, the Perfesser, have no sense of
humor nor that I, the Perfesser, cannot give allowances
for dramatic license when a real-life person is inserted
as a character into a fictional story. For instance, I
loved Shakespeare in Love. However, the difference between
Shakespeare there and Chaucer here is that the writers
of SIL, Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman,
based their fictional Shakespeare on what we know of the
real Shakespeare, including his use of language.
While Helgeland may have some of Chaucer's cadences down--or
at least, the cadences ascribed to Chaucer by whatever
translation Helgeland got his hands on--he gets so many
other things about Mr. C so wrong that it's nigh on vomit
inducing. He casts Chaucer as a man whose writing talent
could have made him a favorite of the royal court if he
hadn't been such a wastrel. This
he apparently gleaned during his "specific research"
into Chaucer's life.
Well, I, the Perfesser, did some generic research into
Chaucer and easily found--within five minutes, actually--that
Chaucer was a court favorite despite not being of noble
birth. He worked as a diplomat for the court and supervised
the building of an arena for jousting, for crying out
Granted, based on a surviving court document, there is
furious debate as to whether Chaucer was released from
an accusation of the abduction, or worse yet, rape of
one Cecily Chaumpaigne, but most scholars believe that
Chaucer was innocent either way. I mean, I guess I should
be thanking Helgeland for generating the perception that
Chaucer merely had a gambling problem instead
of the more serious problem of ravishing women. Then again,
why besmirch the man's reputation unnecessarily when Helgeland
full well knows that most viewers won't bother to research
the man's life and take Helgeland's version as the truth
instead? And all in the service of a joke??
Another annoying thing Helgeland does is portray Chaucer
as a petty, vindictive person who later uses his writing
talent to skewer those who belittle him, as evidenced
by the placement of a pardoner and a summoner as two of
fictional Chaucer's tormentors. Don't get the references?
Well, get thee to a library and start reading! Preferably
in the original Middle
English that Chaucer used.
I'm sure by now you're thinking, "But Perfesser,
you didn't see the
whole film! How can you judge it so harshly?" Well,
perfidious infidel, I have an answer for that (I have
an answer for everything, really): I don't have to taste
dung to know that if it looks like dung and smells dung,
it IS dung. I'm the Perfesser, after all, not Divine--or
Chebornek, for that matter.
Back to granting competing points: The real Chaucer based
the half-burlesque narrator of The Canterbury Tales on
himself, but even so, it doesn't line up with Helgeland's
rather liberal interpretation of the real man. About the
only thing that matches up is the Tales's narrator's cry
of "Blameth not mee!" as his excuse for repeating
the more vulgar language of his fellow pilgrims.
I can almost hear Helgeland saying the same thing about
his own script: "Don't blame me! All us creative
types take dramatic license with our stories! Hell, if
you're going to complain about such things, go pick on
Michael Bay's version of what happened at Pearl Harbor!
perhaps that's not such a bad idea
that means I would actually have to see it
got free passes?
Until the next time Emily drags me out of my Ivory Fortress
of Solitude, I remain yours in the spreading of Truth,
Justice, and the Academic Way