The Use of Arthurian Legend in Hollywood Film: From Connecticut Yankees to Fisher Kings

The Use of Arthurian Legend in Hollywood Film: From Connecticut Yankees to Fisher Kings

The Use of Arthurian Legend in Hollywood Film: From Connecticut Yankees to Fisher Kings

The Use of Arthurian Legend in Hollywood Film: From Connecticut Yankees to Fisher Kings

Synopsis

This is the first book to examine the various uses of the Arthurian legend in Hollywood film, covering films from the 1920s to the present. The authors use five representational categories: intertextual collage (or "cult" film); melodrama, which focuses on the love triangle; conservative propaganda, pervasive during the Cold War; the Hollywood epic; and the postmodern quest, which commonly employs the grail portion of the legend. Arguing that filmmakers rely on the audience's rudimentary familiarity with the legend, the authors show that only certain features of the legend are activated at any particular time. This fascinating study shows us how the legend has been adapted and how through the popular medium of Hollywood films, the Arthurian legend has survived and flourished.

Excerpt

Hollywood's romance with Arthur now exceeds seven decades, but cogent and sensible critical studies of films that use the Matter of Britain are rare. Note that we say "use" and not the collocation "Arthurian films" because in this study we hope to demonstrate that the uses of the legend are not always faithful representations of it, nor do they even wish to be. Instead, we contend that most films that draw from the Arthurian legend rely on the audience's rudimentary familiarity with it; the activation of only select features of the legend serves certain purposes and achieves various ends that are often discernible by an examination of the genre in which the legend is recast.

As E. D. Hirsch points out in Cultural Literacy, traditional knowledge tends to be transmitted by stereotypes and clichés, so that only part of the story -- its typical features -- will be recalled. Hollywood, in other words, is an expert on cultural literacy in that it researches the values and lifestyles of "consumers." It employs the Arthurian legend as a vehicle for specific polemical agendas, selecting certain of its features to serve those ends. Thus, we argue, the Arthurian legend represents a heterogeneous set of materials from which filmmakers can select the portions they wish to activate and ignore the rest. Yet in his article Mythopoeia in Excalibur,Norris Lacy observes that "the Arthurian myth, for better or for worse, is constantly being remade" (121). The mythopoeic nature of the legend thus extends from written representations to visual representations, and this -- far from serving as a detriment to the legend's survival -- guarantees its constant vitality in the general culture.

Film genre, as well as specific filmic antecedents, is the organizing principle of this study because a persistent shortcoming in discussions of "Arthurian film" is, in our view, the insistence upon assessing films by literary standards, and in so doing expecting conformity to the conventions that govern narrative. Moreover, there is a propensity to demand of filmic representations of the legend what is not required of their literary counterparts -- namely, a strict . . .

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