Monday, September 21, 2009

Shiny Kings

Last night's tweets;

Story's the scrabbled eggs in the muffins.
Contrary instincts make mages aloof.
Delivering plate mail are fey dolphins.
Silver scale faerie gowns are waterproof.

Feeling a little more energetic to-day, but I still have this feeling that time's slipping out of my hands at lightning speed.

I had a lot of trouble getting to work on the script for Chapter 25 last night, though, fortunately, I'd written half of it already at the same time I wrote 34. It wasn't until I took my notebook to Denny's last night that I finally managed to finish writing the thing--my will was just too weak yesterday. Sometimes I have to go somewhere without distractions. I was so out of it yesterday, I actually sat down and watched television for almost an hour.

And I watched Excalibur over the past couple nights. This is a movie my opinion on which goes back and forth. I absolutely loved it when I was a kid and well into my adolescence--it has a very unique atmosphere, though it was only later I learned how much of its music was not written for the film. What's identified as the "Excalibur Theme" on the soundtrack is actually "Trauermarsch" from the fourth in Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen series of operas. It makes sense that it's a song associated with the end of the world, or the world of gods and heroes, because it always implied to me a reality of darkness bigger than I could comprehend.

I don't really hold that against the film, but knowing this, for a while, kind of disassociated the film from its soundtrack in a weird way for me. Almost like, watching it, I was thinking to myself the whole time, "Well, this music isn't really about what's happening." Maybe it's Quentin Tarantino and his use of Ennio Morricone music from unrelated movies that have helped me to appreciate it again.

So I enjoy the movie again, and not just as a nostalgia thing, but also I've come to appreciate that John Boorman really did have a very good eye for composition. There's something so wonderfully old school fantasy about so many beautiful shots of Irish forest in a medieval fantasy film now that New Zealand's become the go-to cinematic fantasy locale of the past decade. Yes, New Zealand is beautiful and great, but it's just not the same. It doesn't have quite the same peculiar combination of gloom and bright green.

To this latter point, I was fascinated by Boorman's lighting choices. The sets are often lit with intensely artificial blues and purples, and even outdoor, daytime forest settings are often augmented by intense green light, making the foliage an unnatural, intense brilliant green.

And he uses this green light on Excalibur's gleaming blade to interesting effect, and I was reminded that Ang Lee did something similar with the Green Destiny in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Though, on the subject of the sword, one thing that still bothers me about the movie is John Boorman's daughter playing The Lady of the Lake.

This is a movie I actually applaud for not being historically accurate (no one really wants to see Anglo-Saxon chieftain Arthur) but, jeez, not only is this hair not remotely medieval, it's just too casual. It says, "Hi, I'm Cindy, and I'll be your aquatic apparition for the day." Otherwise, the 80s inclination towards trapezoidal hair shapes actually kind of fits the milieu.

The costumes I don't have a problem with either, not even the "let's do absolutely everything in full plate mail" mentality of the knights. Anyway, it's really great plate mail, of the kind you don't see much in movies otherwise.

I've always gone back and forth about how I feel about the "series of parables" quality the movie has. Taken as stories of characters over a period of time, it doesn't make any sense. We jump immediately from a scene of noble young Arthur to one where he wants to fight to the death with Lancelot over the right to cross a bridge while Lancelot's only offering his services as a tutor. How insightful can Merlin be if he can't tell from the beginning the kind of guy Uther is? Nearly every miniature story in the movie relies on the characters having learned nothing from any previous story. Because the point is to teach the audience ethics and self-reflection--don't covet your neighbour's wife, don't be controlled by your pride, and if you let yourself go, the people and house around you suffer as well.

Which makes it all the more curious that this movie is definitely a hard R--they're morality tales for adults, though gods know they need them nowadays. I'll never cease to be amazed that John Boorman directed a scene of his daughter, topless, essentially being date raped by a guy full plate armour. Now that's focusing on telling a story. And that's just one scene among many of unabashed, extreme brutality in this movie. There really needs to be more medieval fantasy like that. Or maybe I'm just getting sick from all the Warcraft candy.

I find the performances I appreciate in the film have changed a bit. I liked Merlin when I was a kid, but now find Nicol Williamson's performance the least interesting in the film. I know Boorman intentionally cast him and Helen Mirren as rivals in the film because they didn't like each other in real life, but I wonder if their mutual dislike had anything to do with the fact that they appear to subscribe to two different acting philosophies. You can see Williamson trying to think of the most interesting way of delivering lines, while Mirren's solely concerned with figuring out how her character feels about what's happening and creating deliveries that reflect those feelings.

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