Bettina Bildhauer, Filming the Middle Ages

Article excerpt

Bettina Bildhauer, Filming the Middle Ages (London: Reaktion Books, 2011). 264 pp.; 100 illustrations. ISBN 978-1-86189-808-1. 25.00 [pounds sterling].

Filming the Middle Ages is precisely not what this book is about. Instead, it is fundamentally concerned with the impossibility of the kind of mimetic representation of the Middle Ages that its title chooses mischievously to conjure. In more than one sense, then, this book is about projections of the Middle Ages. This highly ambitious study comprises many strands, with some intriguing and finely observed readings of individual films. Yet, from the outset it is clear that provocation and polemicism will feature too. Bildhauer's first thesis (familiar from her previous work) is that a genre of 'medieval film' exists. Extending far beyond historical epics or film adaptations of medieval literature, 'medieval film' encompasses, for Bildhauer, all films having medieval settings (whether intended or perceived), and exhibiting what she deems this genre's hallmarks: a concern with nonlinear time, visual signifiers, and the boundaries that define the human (features commonly projected onto the Middle Ages themselves, notes Bildhauer). These three features inspire the tripartite organizing structure of the book, with each part containing three chapters that develop variations on one overall theme. Chapters each discuss a clutch of medieval films selected from an extensive corpus that Bildhauer has compiled (an appendix details this corpus). Thirty-three films are studied in this not especially long book. Ambition works against Bildhauer here, for there is not always enough scope for detailed readings of individual films, with their specifically filmic aspects often the casualty of an apparent concern for breadth of coverage. Breadth there certainly is: Bildhauer's medieval films cover a time-span not much shorter than the history of cinema itself. Despite a clear emphasis on German cinema, they originate in several different countries and belong to diverse cinematic movements. (Well-known films covered include Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, F. …