The Middle Age Mindset in Modern Social Consciousness: Establishing the Genre and Relevance of Medieval Film in Bettina Bildhauer's Filming the Middle Ages

By Galloway-Holmes, Kimberly | Literature/Film Quarterly, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Middle Age Mindset in Modern Social Consciousness: Establishing the Genre and Relevance of Medieval Film in Bettina Bildhauer's Filming the Middle Ages


Galloway-Holmes, Kimberly, Literature/Film Quarterly


The Middle Age Mindset in Modern Social Consciousness: Establishing the Genre and Relevance of Medieval Film in Bettina Bildhauer's Filming the Middle Ages Bettina Bildhauer. Filming the Middle Ages. London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2011. Index of Medieval Films. $40.00. 264 pp. hardcover.

Bettina Bildhauer's book, Filming the Middle Ages, is both an ambitious and successful attempt to define the genre of medieval film, free films about the Middle Ages from dismissive stereotypes, and ultimately, to articulate the relevance of medievalism to all films. For Bildhauer, all film, to a degree, is an adaptation of medieval systems of thought. Throughout the text, she combats binary preconceptions about this period as either barbaric or idealistic, arguing that this paradigm includes very little consideration of the medieval mindset. Bildhauer states, "in cinema, a fairly consistent concept of the Middle Ages emerges that unites the seemingly opposed traditions of Romantic idealization and Enlightenment demonization" because both are based upon the same flawed concept of the period (12). She argues that a crucial component to defining the genre of medieval film is an understanding of key medieval concepts and centers her argument upon three unique characteristics of the Middle Ages as defined by the twentieth- and twenty-first-century scholarly tradition. These characteristics include medieval representations of time as non-linear, communication as visual and oral as opposed to written, and medieval conceptions of identity as consistently defined within the period not by individuality but by relationships to community. Throughout the text, Bildhauer is careful to remind readers that these characteristics are more a product of how we view the Middle Ages, and not necessarily a reflection of actual life in the Middle Ages.

After examining a wide range of films, Bildhauer develops a working corpus of over thirty medieval films by examining narrative films set between 500-1500 AD or those perceived to be medieval in nature by filmmakers and/or viewers. She bases her argument upon an examination of both classic and lesser known films from the Weimar Republic (where Bildhauer argues that the genre of medieval film emerges), the Third Reich, and modern American and European filmmakers. In the first of three major sections within her book, 'Time's Bow," Bildhauer explores Middle Age ideas of time and the ways in which they are represented on film. Defining the medieval concept of time as the "co-presence of several moments and a sense of a short future" (21), she explores time in three variations. "The Non-linear Time of Medieval Film" emphasizes the potential of the moment and the co-presence of past, present, and future. "The Medieval Dead Reanimated" argues that the reanimation and physical approach of the dead upon the living found in many medieval films is expressly tied to medieval ideas about time. She argues that this practice explores "the practical, ethical, and affective consequences of the genre's conception of time as non-linear [...]; if the past and future are seen as co-present, then the past dead and one's own future death would also be co-present, and thus have much strong affective relevance" (51). In "Queer Time," Bildhauer offers a provocative argument about how straight sexuality is associated with linear time and that medieval film, with its emphasis on non-linear time, lends itself particularly well to a discussion of non-normative otherness. In this portion of the text, Bildhauer examines a particularly wide range of films (seven in total) but her argument about how Hamlet explores the co-presence of present and future in relation to gender is particularly well done.

Part Two, "Lethal Letters," looks at communication in films as oral and visual as opposed to written, reflecting the medieval mode of storytelling and emphasizing the medieval perception of the inherent danger in written communication. …

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