[Milton-L] Milton movies

Michele Walfred walfred at udel.edu
Thu Nov 29 16:46:38 EST 2007

It makes one shudder what filmakers can do (or will do) to Paradise Lost.
The thought of the Son with computer generated pecs??  The only director I
think could do PL justice would be LOTR's Peter King. Which leads me to
another question.I just read Hill's Milton and the English Revolution and he
spends more time and conjecture on Milton's marriage to Mary than most I
have read so far,  but has anyone ever attempted a novel of Milton's life
(allowing some creative license based on sound scholarship)?  It would seem
to me, given the dramatic times in which he lived in, both politically and
personally, that a decent screenplay might be born from such a work. His
chaos gave birth to such masterful thought and expression and a film about
the process of his art would be just as fascinating as the work itself - a
la Amadeus though less giggly for certain. 


~Michele Walfred

University of Delaware  



From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
[mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Jackie Murdock
Sent: Thursday, November 29, 2007 2:24 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] 17th Century contexts


A similar discussion went on a couple of weeks ago on a Chaucer listserv.
This posting, by Daniel Kline, is one that I found particularly interesting
and may offer you all some food for thought. (Back to lurking now) 


--Jackie Murdock




I really enjoy these kinds of discussions where medieval culture
pop-culture topics because, I guess, I'm of the mind that my individual
situatedness in my own culture (with all its attendant complexities)
inevitably conditions my understand of "the medieval." 

To whit, a snippet of Stephanie Zacharek's review of "Beowulf" from
 <http://salon.com/> Salon.com:

<begin quotation>

"Beowulf" is Zemeckis' latest foray into soul sucking -- I mean,
capture -- and if you're thinking that the so-called filmmaker has
down to make a nice, faithful adaptation of the 2000 Seamus Heaney
translation of that weird, melancholy epic poem (you optimistic thing,
you should know that this "Beowulf" has been adapted, reimagined and
up by writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary. After the hero of the title,
"played" by Ray Winstone, severs the arm of Grendel (Crispin Glover),
scary, anguished creature that has been terrorizing a community of
mead-swilling Danes, a comely cutie wonders aloud if all of Beowulf's
strength is in his arms -- or if he's got it in his legs as well,
the "third" one. 

You see, the "real" Beowulf is not a particularly sexy story, and
knows it. "Frankly, nothing about the original poem appealed to me,"
quoted as saying in the movie's press notes, recalling that he'd been
to read the damn thing in junior high school. "But when I read the
screenplay that Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary did, I was immediately
captivated." He asked Gaiman and Avary why their script was so exciting
the poem was so boring. They explained that the poem was written
between the seventh and the 12th centuries, although its story had been
passed along verbally for hundreds of years. Since the only people who
how to write in those days were monks, Avary and Gaiman figured these
reputable men of the cloth would have edited out all the juicy bits, so
added some back in. If you see "Beowulf," you'll have plenty of
opportunities to stare down computer-generated cleavage, and one rowdy,
bearded, tattooed warrior crows to one of his conquests about how much
he makes when he comes. Personally, I file that under "TMI," especially
coming from a cartoon character, but you have to admit it would knock
monk off his sandals. 

<end quotation>

I think Gaiman and Avary have created an important new form of textual
criticism -- 'paleopornology' or perhaps 'pornocodicology' -- in which
simply adds the 'juicy bits' to lacunae in the text to create a salable
screenplay. I also think it's interesting to see the textual
that shaped the screenwriters' approach to the text.

I guess I prefer to try to make sense out of what these adaptations
discursively and culturally rather than decry their 'authenticity' or
'inauthenticity' (as I try to do with any movie adaptation of a written
text. They're two different forms of media with their own sets of

As to Brian's question as to what makes something good or bad? On the
hand, I absolutely love good bad movies ('A Knight's Tale') but get
around badly done movies that could've been good ('Joliewulf') because,
'Polar Express' (Zemeckis's other 'motion capture' crapfest) it turns
into animations and robs them of their most important assets: their
I don't mind stiff and plasticated 3D rendering in a game character
that I'm
controlling, but I think it just deadens the characters in a movie. 

Nonetheless, I'll definitely go see the movie and I'll likely enjoy a
lot of
it, but certainly not with the expectation that it's 'Beowulf' in any
that I understand that Anglo-Saxon text or that it's anything other
than an
elaborate computer generated cartoon--that's not nearly as good as
'Knight-Night Bugs.'

Roy Flannagan <roy at gwm.sc.edu> wrote:

I just reviewed the Beowulf movie for the local media here in Beaufort. I
certainly hope that no English majors here say "I'm not reading the book
because I saw the movie!"

Roy Flannagan

Beowulf, the Computer-Enhanced Movie

The god of Wrothgar in the Beowulf movie seems to be Epicurus, not Odin,
even if Anthony Hopkins, in character, often says, drunkenly, "Thank you,
Odin." Poor old Sir Anthony has to show off enhanced muscular arms and lots
of blubber as he appears as inelegantly nude from the rear as did Jack
Nicholson in As Good as it Gets. Angelina Jolie, now called Angewulf in
various blogs*well, she is another thing naked in gold paint. I guess all
those old Geats, Angles, and Saxons used to party naked in the seedy
meadhalls that in the movie look like road houses on a Fifties rural dirt
road in the South.

The movie is special-effected, rather than acted, even though the director,
Tribeca or Duckmuckus, whatever his name is, has bought very expensive stars
in Hopkins, Jolie, and John Malkovitch; and the actor who plays Beowulf in
the buff, Ray Winstone, is undoubtedly an experienced actor underneath his
enhanced, synthetic facial expressions and his all-too-perfect abs. For some
reason, Winstone uses a Welsh accent to play a Geat. But, for his character,
computer-generated imagery rules.

Don't go to see the movie right after having read Beowulf the epic poem,
because then you will wonder why Wealtheow, wife of Hrothgar, played by
Robin Wright Penn, starts flirting with Beowulf as if she were Isolde
married to King Mark and flirting with Tristan*or as if she were Lancelot's
girly-girl Guinevere, off on her fling from King Arthur. All those medieval
romances look alike, according to Zemeckis and his writers. And Grendel in
the cartoonish movie is a rotting corpsy thing, something like the Gollum in
Ring movies but able to fling Jutes or Geats or Danes from one end of the
hall to another with a one-handed toss (until Beowulf rips his arm off, of
course). He is not, as in the epic, spawn of Satan and descendant of Cain,
and Christianity is sadly mocked in the movie and made to seem second-fiddle
to the worship of Odin. In the epic, Grendel and his mother are both
emissaries of Satan, sent to punish humankind for evil human deeds. In the
movie, they are eit!
her slimy or beautiful in gold leaf, and they have little or no theological

Grendel's mother is not younger than Grendel in the epic, or golden, or
naked: she is a certified evil, strong old hag. She is fought with under
water: she doesn't rise out of it slowly like the sword in some "wartery
tart's" arm coming out of a puddle. You can tell that I like Monty Python
and the Holy Grail better than I do this movie, which takes itself too
seriously, for the sake of all the teenaged boys who are drawn to its
violence, its teasing nudity, and its noise.

I guess it is good for the continuity in the movie's plot to have the dragon
that Beowulf fights in his declining years occasionally look like another of
the shapes shifted into by Angiewulf, and for Angie-the-demon-bitch-goddess
to be making out with the body of Beowulf as it burns in his ship burial, as
he seems to be returning to the really sexy love of his youth, the beautiful
Jolie hag.

As an English professor, I don't know what exactly could be done with
Beowulf in the movies, since it is a Christianized heroic wolfy folk tale
written down by monks in about 1000 AD. In today's idiom, the plot certainly
appears to have cartoon elements, though I don't think computerized graphic
images are the way to make a cartoon based on primitive fears of swamp
monsters facing totemistic super-strong, battle-hardened heroes. If I were
making the movie on a human scale, a character-based movie, I might use a
giant like the guy in the early Bond movies or an NFL tight end in the role
of the monster, and, I guess, a pumped-up Brad Pitt type as Beowulf*the type
Brad Pitt played in Troy. Hrothgar, Wealtheow, Unferth, and Wiglaf could all
be played by fairly ordinary actors who could act kingly or queenly or
snidely or loyally. And the mead hall should be a fairly substantial
standalone structure, not a kind of outhouse adjacent to some sort of fairy
tale futuristic medie!
val town as it is in the movie. Things going on in the mead hall could be
drunken, yes, but not as if we were attending a Roman Saturnalia with a
paunchy Trimalchio figure leading the chuggers. And, I'm sorry, but really
pretty modern women like Angelina Jolie and Robin Wright Penn don't belong
in an era of crooked teeth and dred-locks not just for battle-worn men but
for the hags they married.

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