I’m About to Get Medieval

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I love the city of New York. It just never ceases to amaze me. Having recently moved to a new neighborhood in the city that I was born and raised in, I find myself all atwitter about what the future holds. The new neighborhood is called Washington Heights and, so far, I’ve had pleasant experiences at all the restaurants I’ve ventured to, enjoyed breathtaking views of the George Washington bridge and Hudson river during evening walks, and met the nicest people while at the swing set with my daughter. This past weekend, needing a break from the daunting task that is unpacking, my family and I strolled up 4 blocks to Fort Tryon Park, home of the Cloisters museum. I remember visiting this museum as a teenager during high school field trips and, in hindsight, never really appreciating the beauty. Now, in my old age, I am taken aback by how gorgeous the building – built in the 1930s to resemble architectural elements from Medieval Europe – actually is. Looking up at it from the surrounding Heather Gardens, I all of sudden felt as if I was actually in Medieval Europe, standing on a hill in France, perhaps, heading to an abbey for mid day mass. I know that is a very specific visual, but I have a very romantic perception of what Medieval Europe was like, even though I know from my history books that it was more deadly and disease stricken than one can even possibly imagine. I have Hollywood to thank for my romanticization of the time period because, even though half the population was killed off by the plague or in one of the many wars fought over land rights and religion, there were still good looking guys and good looking girls falling in love, and I love a story about a hero. Let’s discuss a few of my favorites, shall we?

Since 1908, which marked Robin Hood’s first appearance on the screen in the silent film Robin Hood and His Merry Men, the beloved English character has appeared in over 60 movies and television series. Everyone knows the basics. Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor. His friends were Little John and Friar Tuck, his love interest was Maid Marian, and he was known for his ability with a bow and arrow. Hollywood’s most well known version of the classic tale has to be 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Alan Rickman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. It grossed almost $400 million worldwide at the box office and was nominated for an Oscar. Coming in at a close second is 2010’s Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett which raked in $322 million worldwide. Both of these stories featured epic battle scenes and centered around stories of courage and revenge. Then there is my favorite Robin Hood tale, 1993’s Robin Hood: Men In Tights starring Cary Elwes and Dave Chappelle. This spoof, brought to us by the genius Mel Brooks of Blazing Saddles fame, made fun of all the previous Robin Hood films. The Earl of Nottingham became the Earl of Rottingham. Maid Marian wore an Everlast chastity belt, and Cary Elwes poked fun at Kevin Costner for not delivering his Robin Hood performance in an English accent. It really is a delightful film and, along with all the other versions, has helped to solidify Robin Hood as one of the most recognizable names in Medieval history.

When Mel Gibson spoke the words “Every man dies, not every man truly lives,” William Wallace became a household name. A¬†Scottish¬†landowner who died in 1305, Wallace fought in the Wars for Scottish Independence against the English armies who ruled them. He died a gruesome death at the hands of the English King Edward I, and is depicted throughout Scotland in statues and honored by monuments. But it was 1995’s Braveheart that introduced the character to the American masses and attracted viewers to the notion, albeit untrue, that all his actions and sacrifices had been for the love of a woman. Gibson’s film won five Oscars that year, including Best Picture, and the film grossed $210 million. I have seen this movie close to 100 times and can recite each line from memory, and even though I realize the story is a completely fictional account of Wallace’s life, I can’t help but be swept away in the romantic notion of the film that freedom, if you believe in it, is attainable to all.

King Arthur has always had a special place in my heart, ever since I portrayed him in my 2nd grade school play. I had a silver sword made out of tin foil and a blue tunic made out of crepe paper. A girl named Amy played Princess Guinevere and a boy named Nikolai played Sir Lancelot. Thankfully, I don’t believe we covered the affair in the 2nd grade version, but rather stuck to the courage and honor of the Knights of the Round Table. Like Robin Hood, this character has been immortalized in film many, many times, most notably by Disney in 1963’s The Sword in the Stone , 1995’s First Knight starring Sean Connery, Julia Ormond and Richard Gere, and 2004’s King Arthur starring Clive Owen and Keira Knightly. In their own ways, all these films tell the story of Arthur and his Knights, and their defence of Camelot against Saxon invaders during the late 5th century. Sounds boring, I know, but like I alluded to before, the love triangle between the King, his most trusted Knight Lancelot and his Princess Guinevere is what keeps the story interesting. It’s hard to wrap your head around how dark the Dark Ages of Medieval Europe actually were when you are watching Richard Gere and Julia Ormond make out.

Those are some of my favorite tales of yore. Which of these films about a classic hero is your favorite?

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Braveheart
King Arthur

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