[Milton-L] Milton movies

dl02 dl02 at txstate.edu
Thu Nov 29 17:27:14 EST 2007


I wrote a couple of weeks ago asking whether you had heard whether it was
worthwhile to pay to see the new Beowulf film. After seeing the string of
comments below, I now withdraw the question (not that it was answered). My
favorite of the comments below is the one by a Daniel Kline, which you may
have already seen on the Chaucer list-serv but which bears repeating:

I think Gaiman and Avary [the screenwriters] 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

For years I¹ve told my students in 2310 that I²ve been looking forward to
seeing a film version of Beowulf‹sigh!


On 11/29/07 3:46 PM, "Michele Walfred" <walfred at udel.edu> wrote:

> 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 LOTR¹s Peter King. Which leads me to another
> questionŠI just read Hill¹s Milton and the English Revolution and he spends
> more time and conjecture on Milton¹s marriage to Mary than most I have read so
> far,  but has anyone ever attempted a novel of Milton¹s 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
> intersects
> 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
> Salon.com <http://salon.com/> :
> <begin quotation>
> "Beowulf" is Zemeckis' latest foray into soul sucking -- I mean,
> performance
> capture -- and if you're thinking that the so-called filmmaker has
> hunkered
> down to make a nice, faithful adaptation of the 2000 Seamus Heaney
> translation of that weird, melancholy epic poem (you optimistic thing,
> you),
> you should know that this "Beowulf" has been adapted, reimagined and
> souped
> 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),
> the
> 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,
> especially
> the "third" one. 
> You see, the "real" Beowulf is not a particularly sexy story, and
> Zemeckis
> knows it. "Frankly, nothing about the original poem appealed to me,"
> he's
> quoted as saying in the movie's press notes, recalling that he'd been
> made
> 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
> when
> the poem was so boring. They explained that the poem was written
> somewhere
> between the seventh and the 12th centuries, although its story had been
> passed along verbally for hundreds of years. Since the only people who
> knew
> 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
> they
> 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
> noise
> 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
> any
> 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
> one
> 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
> assumptions
> that shaped the screenwriters' approach to the text.
> I guess I prefer to try to make sense out of what these adaptations
> achieve
> 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
> conventions.)
> As to Brian's question as to what makes something good or bad? On the
> one
> hand, I absolutely love good bad movies ('A Knight's Tale') but get
> cranky
> around badly done movies that could've been good ('Joliewulf') because,
> like
> 'Polar Express' (Zemeckis's other 'motion capture' crapfest) it turns
> actors
> into animations and robs them of their most important assets: their
> bodies.
> 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
> sense
> 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, ³Thank you, Odin.²
>> 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.
>> Don¹t 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 Lancelot¹s 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
>> significance.
>> Grendel¹s 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 doesn¹t rise out of it slowly like the sword in some ³wartery
>> tart¹s² 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 movie¹s 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 don¹t 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 today¹s idiom, the plot certainly appears
>> to have cartoon elements, though I don¹t 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, I¹m sorry, but really
>> pretty modern women like Angelina Jolie and Robin Wright Penn don¹t 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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