Monday, September 07, 2009

Human Heads in History

Everyone was so busy schooling me about evil eyes the other day, but no-one thought to point out that The Thief of Bagdad starts off in Basra, where a harbour scene makes more sense. I guess it could be the River Tigris. I think the one thing this finally settles is that I shouldn't go to Iraq.

For a while now, I've been wanting to find some good medieval movies that are as historically accurate as possible, something to help with the research reading I do for my comic. It's one thing to read about what went on, but seeing people going about their business, with hundreds of elements in play at the same time, even if it's just actors and the knowledge is inevitably imperfect, does a lot to help ground the imagination. There just doesn't seem to be many movies of scope set in the Middle Ages, though. Last night, I googled "Historically accurate medieval movies", and found this top 9 list, the only one of which I'd seen was The Lion in Winter, which I'm sure is as accurate as possible in terms of props, costumes, and location, but the whole movie takes place inside a castle with just five or six characters.

I ended up last night watching the list's number 1, The Passion of Joan of Arc. Which I found to be a truly astonishing and beautiful film, but saying it's the most historically accurate, just because it's based on actual court transcripts, is a bit of a cop out since the movie mostly consists of close-ups. Yes, humans had heads back then, but I kind of already knew. I could make a movie with just a silent black screen and say this was life in an actual empty medieval cave. Not to mention the inevitable impression of the artists on the film. The list says its at number 1 for its "attachment to the true story without the deviations or ulterior motives that many other portrays of St Joan have," rather missing the expressionistic camerawork, lighting and, by the way, minimalist sets, all of which are generally coordinated to serve the movie's intense close-ups.

But yes, brilliant movie, apparently thought lost until discovered in, I shit you not, a janitor's closet in a mental institution in 1981. Maria Falconetti's uncompromising performance is the film almost, her face taking up at least 80 percent of the screen time, while never once becoming tedious. Her eyes almost always wide open and staring up at something invisible, she only barely seems to notice the clergymen questioning her, even as tears frequently roll down her cheek in response to her utterly hopeless circumstances. She's the consummate religious zealot pitted against religious hypocrisy, old men whose language is couched in Christian concepts only to serve their desires for psychic dominance. We instinctively like Joan more, even with the realisation that what God's supposedly commanded her to do is play a role in the endless wars between England and France. It's because her insides are all on display--the fundamental motives, that most people find mysterious even to themselves, are right on the surface for Joan, and in Falconetti's performance. It's no wonder she suffered emotional breakdown and never again appeared in a movie, though her death scene was so intense, following an obviously not simulated bloodletting scene, I wouldn't have been surprised to read the actress never appeared in film again for having actually been burnt at the stake.

To-night I think I might watch Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven, which, if nothing else, is bound to have beautiful photography.

You might notice I've been watching a lot of movies over the past several nights. I have to admit, this is due in no small part to me being really tired of World of Warcraft. I've played about forty-five minutes of it a night for the past several night, but it just seems to make me angry and bored nowadays. I feel nothing when I succeed at a quest, and irritated whenever I fail. More and more, I'm noticing how little skill the game actually requires from its players--it's more a combination of luck and perseverance. Which I guess would explain why there are no legendary WoW players the way there were, say, renowned Quake players. Remember Thresh? I guess gaming's more like winnowing now. Mark my words, one day all the WoW players are going to wake and find out they're actually farmers.

Anyway. My undead warrior's at level 41 now. I may try playing until I reach level 60, which I think will be enough for me to feel like I've "beaten" the game, but it's starting to feel particularly heavy on my soul. Especially since I've been playing Oblivion again at Tim's house. The story in that game is only slightly more substantial than WoW's, but it has two things WoW sorely lacks--physics, and incredible beauty.

My tweets from last night;

Quest givers contracted Williams Syndrome.
"Look for flutes in an empty asteroid belt."
Deafly smug yahoo maps keep you from home.
I know how the walkman started to melt.

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