Hollywood Knights: Arthurian Cinema and the Politics of Nostalgia

Article excerpt

SUSAN ARONSTEIN, Hollywood Knights: Arthurian Cinema and the Politics of Nostalgia. Studies in Arthurian and Courtly Cultures. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Pp. viii, 264. ISBN: 1-4039-6649-4. $65.

The Middle Ages undergoes continual rebirth as each succeeding generation turns back to history to consider issues directly relevant to the present, and Hollywood Arthuriana offers an especially fertile field for studying such mythopoetic cultural appropriations. From this perspective, Susan Aronstein examines the trajectory of cinematic retellings of the Arthurian legend, discerning how Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table reflect the American Zeitgeist throughout the twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries. For Aronstein, Arthurian films participate in ideological constructions of American identities based upon a sense of nostalgia for an ostensibly simpler and more chivalric history by co-opting the Middle Ages as the birthplace of American values. As such, she proposes that these cinematic texts must be seen within an Althusserian scheme of ideology, in which subjects are hailed and interpellated into an ideological order.

Aronstein begins with a necessarily rushed overview of medievalism's historical advent in America and Arthur's literary roots in Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur, Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King, and T.H. White's The Once and Future King. She interprets Richard Thorpe's The Knights of the Round Table and Henry Hathaway's Prince Valiant, created under the harsh glare of McCarthyism and HUAC, as focusing on the dangers inherent from the enemy within by recasting Arthurian villains into proto-Communist subversives. In the 19605, Disney's Sword in the Stone affirms America's belief in individualism and technology, and Joshua Logan's Camelot soothes a country torn apart by generational conflicts in its depiction of proper filial duty in Tom of Warwick. Cornel Wilde's The Sword of Lancelot and Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones's Monty Python and the Holy Grail deconstruct the myths of Camelot, responding respectively to the countercultural pressures of the 19605 and the deconstructivist tendencies of the 19705. Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade recreates the Arthurian legend in light of Ronald Reagan's presidency and the reviving of'traditional' values, whereas George Romero's Knightriders, John Boorman's Excalibur, and Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King question the cultural turn to conservatism. …