Winter 2019 HC 421H: Looking Medieval

Winter Term, 2018-2019

Professor: Louise Bishop

4.00 credits

CRN 23380: Monday & Wednesday, 12:00 – 13:50 @ CHA 201

The Middle Ages have often been portrayed in films. Kevin Harty's encyclopedic The Reel Middle Ages (2nd edition 2006) lists 900 titles from the 1890s to the early 2000s, including Middle Eastern and Asian films as well as silent movies, all treating medieval Europe. Medieval movies have been lionized (Braveheart's Academy Award), censored (Pasolini's Canterbury Tales), and often -- perhaps deservedly -- forgotten (The Black Shield of Falworth with Tony Curtis). 

What does it mean to create a cinematic medieval past? Why do it?  What sources do filmmakers choose and use? Do medieval movies have important features in common and, if so, what makes the features, and the films, “count”? 

As a class we will treat four movies literarily, historically, and aesthetically. We will compare films with original medieval literary sources. We will attend to medieval history and, via original medieval literature, to medieval literary aesthetics. To acquaint ourselves with film aesthetics and film language, we will consult some basic works in cinema studies to provide a critical language with which to express the challenges filmed representations of the Middle Ages present their makers and their audiences. Besides our primary texts – both movies and literature – we will read critical essays treating these works and grapple – often in writing -- with texts, movies, and readings over the course of the term. 

The overall goal of the course is to analyze, understand, and comment on the subtleties of representation we find in primary medieval literary texts, medieval movies related to them, and contemporary reception of “medieval.”  Are the Middle Ages different in cinematic imagination from other periods and, if so, how and why? What is medieval about a movie and, as William F. Woods more tantalizingly puts it, why should we care? 

Four class meetings will be devoted to showing films, chosen among the familiar -- Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Braveheart, The Seventh Seal – and the less familiar -- The Sorceress, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Haxan, Knights of the Round Table (1954), Kingdom of Heaven.  Written work (response papers, formal papers) will analyze intersections between films and texts -- for example, does a moving Middle Ages invest in whiteness more than a textual Middle Ages does? In addition, student groups will choose and analyze a medieval movie or television show/series outside of class selections in order to (1) create a class presentation and (2) write individual term papers on a particular aspect of visualizing the Middle Ages. We may also be able to arrange a class field trip to Mount Angel Abbey.