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A Knight's Wail
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?"

What's 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!

Luckily, 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…er, 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.

Back 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!

I 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
cemented.

This 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 General Prologue.

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. Confidential!

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.

Ouch!

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 loud.

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!

Hmm…perhaps that's not such a bad idea…Wait, that means I would actually have to see it…Ugh…Anyone 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…The Perfesser.


 

 

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