Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Moving pictures

It's really quite interesting how quickly my body has returned to the old routine of "I don't have to wake up early in the morning so don't even try to think about it". While working at the university this summer I had to be at work at 8 a.m. which is totally too early for me. But after about a month or so, it didn't feel that bad. I managed to get up 6.40 a.m. without too much effort. In fact, I'd wake up at (exactly) 6.40 a.m. even without my alarm. Though that was after I had finished my job at the history department and could've slept in as long as I wanted... Go figure.

This was a week ago. I don't have any problems sleeping in anymore. Sigh. I suppose I have to set my alarm tonight just so that I can actually get something done every day. Ever notice how much shorter a day is, if you don't get up before 10.30 a.m.? A lot shorter. And on days like these I rarely get anything done. It must be because I've overslept or something. Which is actually a bummer. I love sleeping and it does this to me. Thank you ever so much, Mr. Sandman...

Went to see King Arthur last night with some friends. Kinda liked the movie. Lancelot was yummy. (See, I've got my priorities set right, heh.) I've heard quite a lot of negative comments about the movie, though. I think it does deserve some of them. The story wasn't a masterpiece of any kind and when a movie is said to be "the truth behind the myth", I tend to cringe a bit. Whose truth? The directors, of course.

I'm not saying this particular movie was a total failure of "historical accuracy", in fact it was one of the best Arthur-movies I've ever seen. It was set in the time I've understood to be about the right time for the birth of the legend (at least according to some sources) and not to some romantical medieval world that existed about 700 years later. The mythological pieces of the story we all know so well (the sword in the stone, Merlin's role in all of it etc.) were either explained reasonably well or anchored to a reality of some sort. No huge magics or lightning bolts, very good. Fantasy has its place in my heart, but this movie was refreshing in its attempt to be realistic. And the Grail wasn't even mentioned, hooray!

What I've been thinking lately, after seeing some of these new epic movies, is the role of history in the storytelling. Especially when the medium used to tell the story is the "moving picture". As a history major and a future history teacher I probably should be very critical and try to find all the mistakes the movie makers have made when building ancient Troy or Hadrian's wall, designing the wardrobe for the actors and so on. But I'm just not. Why then, you may ask.

Well. First of all, I don't think Hollywood movies should qualify as historical documentaries. These movies are made to entertain, not to educate. Naturally a well-made historical movie will tell the audiences something about history, but I simply don't see the future curriculum in history classes consisting of nothing but Hollywood movies. It won't happen. Directors use their right to bend the truth and so be it. If someone wants to learn all there is to learn about the Trojan War or the Roman Empire's doings in Britain, they should find a few good research papers. Read a dozen good articles. Read some more books and all the time stay critical of the sources and the motives behind the texts. Or maybe they could watch a few documentaries. But please, please don't come to me and tell me how many details were wrong in this and this part of such and such a movie. I can find those mistakes myself, if I'm interested. Mostly I just want to be entertained when I'm at the movies. And last night, I was entertained. If by nothing else, at least by a well cast role of Lancelot. Nice job, Ioan Gruffud! :)

On the other hand, if a movie got you interested in any period of history so much that you went and found out more about it, lots of brownie points for you! If there's to be an educational side to historical Hollywood epics, let it be this. Some fuel for imagination and curiosity is all that is needed sometimes. If a movie gets you thinking "Was it really like that in the medieval days?" or "Why would they do that in those days?", it's a good start.

I'm just saying that history at best is an artificial creation. We can never truly find out with absolute certainty the objective truth about, say, the legend of King Arthur. The sources available are limited and to claim something or other on the basis of any sources is always just an interpretation of what was. So why not let the movie people have fun with history too. If you are an educated movie-goer, you'll understand that you probably shouldn't believe everything that is said in a movie and if you're not... Well, just have fun. You can always ask about the facts later from someone else.

Oh, I'm beginning to sound just a bit too much like I'm giving a lecture on the nature of history, so I'd better stop yapping about it. :)

Finally, all the best to the Suntila family - Iria's going to have a baby brother or sister today. I hope everything goes well and I'll hear soon which one it was... :)

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