Thursday, May 05, 2005

This is why history ROCKS!

I'm so thrilled I can barely hold myself down. I put on a black shirt and hung my eight-pointed Maltese cross around my neck (just so everyone knows I'm all for the Knights Hospitaller!) and went to see Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven today and OMG it was good! For many reasons, some more obvious than others...

First of all, now I know I'm unbelievably lucky. I'm a 21st century historian researching the knightly orders of the crusades and as such, luckier than generations of historians before me. This is probably the first time in history since the 12th century for a historian to see Knights Templar charge into battle. I had chills down my spine throughout the movie (yes, yes, not all of them thanks to the historical stuff, but I'll get to that later) , just because on the screen before me there were places and people who, to me, are familiar from so many studies and books. And don't you dare spoil my sheer joy of the imagery by saying they were just actors! They were historical research papers and documents come to life, for me. Something I've been able to visualize in my head, for sure, but to see the Templars ride into battle or to see the Hospitallers taking care of the sick in their hospital - what an amazing treat! I love being able to think to myself "Wow, it really could've looked like that!". It's the romantic in me, but I don't care. I love it.

There are, naturally, some shortcuts and twists in the story, that aren't word for word "true". But then, there were quite a few scenes that were almost word for word what was said in the situation in 1187 (or so), at least according to my sources. Like the scene with Salah ad-Din and Guy de Lusignan and Reynald de Chatillon after the former has taken the two latter as prisoners. Salah ad-Din offers a drink to Guy de Lusignan, who then offers the cup to Reynald. (Who just happens to be one of the men Salah ad-Din hates most in the world. Long story.) Salah ad-Din is offended and says to Reynald that the cup wasn't offered to him and that it will be the last drink Reynald will ever have. And surely enough, he is immediately escorted outside and there beheaded by Salah ad-Din. Here the director follows a crusader's account on the event almost to the word. (Whether the drink Salah ad-Din offered was really mashed ice, is debatable, but other than that, it was about as accurate as a separate scene can be.)

Probably the biggest complaint I have about the shortcuts is, naturally, the existence of king Baldwin IV in the year 1187, which is the year the movie is mainly all about. The Leper King of Jerusalem had died a few years earlier and left as his heir his sister Sibylla's infant son, who then dies very soon and leaves the leaders of Jerusalem in a sticky situation. The late king, Baldwin IV, had stated in his last will, that the count of Tripoli, Raymond, should act as a regent until a new king is appointed by the pope, the patriarch of Jerusalem and the kings of England and France together. Well, due to some marriage arrangements gone awry in the past, this doesn't suit the Grand Master of the Templars, Girard de Ridfort and his supporters. All kinds of scheming follow, but in the end we get the same situation that the movie shows us - Sibylla is crowned Queen of Jerusalem and she then crowns her husband Guy de Lusignan to reign with her as King of Jerusalem.

I thought it was too bad that they didn't tell everything about the coronation and the scandal with the keys to the chest that held the regalia. That story is one of my favorites, as it shows what an honorable man the Grand Master of the Hospitallers was. Roger des Moulins was one of the only men opposing the crowning of Sibylla. He refused to give his key to be used in the ceremony. There were three keys to the chest, you see. One was kept by the patriarch of Jerusalem and the other two by the Grand Masters of the Templars and Knights Hospitaller. The other two had broken their vows to the late king, but Roger des Moulins wouldn't hear of it. (Ah, the fact that he eventually threw the key through a window to the courtyard only shows us that he too was a human and got very upset by the pressure piled on him by the others. Naturally the key was found without difficulties and the regalia gotten out of the chest. But I still like the story.)

Ok, enough of the historical nitpicking for now. Here's a reasonably good and fairly short article on what happened during the late 12th century in Jerusalem. Lots and lots of revenge, scheming, boneheadedness and plain greed! In the end, though, it all came down to men being such idiots when it comes to women. If that one arranged marriage would've worked out as it was supposed to (from the point of view of Girard de Ridfort), the history of Jerusalem could be completely different. Speculate on that. I sure will.

Then, the utterly and shamelessly fangirlish part of it all. Orlando Bloom. Oy, oy, oy! He's grown into a man, he has! And with the full Aragorn-effect working for him, too. Scruffy, dirty and omg how hot. He's just out-of-this-world-gorgeous! Plain and simple as that. Now I only want to see a movie with him and Ioan Gruffudd in it and I could die a happy girl. I'm thinking Ioan could play Will Turner's (Orlando's) long lost big brother in the PotC-series... *swoon*

Aaanyway. I can't wait for this movie to come out on DVD and actually, next week when I get my last salary from Lieto, I'll go and buy the soundtrack immediately. Beautiful medieval/oriental -music, with Natacha Atlas performing at least one of the theme songs! Wonderful!

I think Ridley Scott did an excellent job with the movie. I've heard that some people have complained about the story being boring or pointless, but I just don't agree with it. Sometimes, if you really want to bring real, documented history to life, the stories are bound to be less exciting than your average Hollywood action no-brainer. Then again, what is exciting? The fall of Jerusalem isn't? The story of Balian d'Ibelin, who actually paid a fortune in gold to get the poor people of Jerusalem out of the fallen city unharmed, is boring? The story of a great moslem leader, Salah ad-Din, is surely about as non-exciting as stories get? Well, I'm sorry, I just happen to disagree. Aren't I glad I'm a historian. I'm allowed to get reaaaally excited about dusty and boring old stories like these!

Ahh, there. Once again a movie I could go on and on about, but I have to restrain myself, because there's nobody on this planet who would read through all of my rants. In fact I'm very surprised if any of you got this far without yawning... I sure didn't. :) But that's because it's time I got to bed, I'm all done for tonight. Tomorrow's a big day. The prep course begins, yikes.


Dangermousie said...

I hope you don't mind, but I am going to link this on my lj. This is so brilliantly written.

It is the history that makes me so fascinated, as well. I majored in medieval history in college and though I didn't end up pursuing it for a living, I always get so excited when there is anything dealing with the era.

Tytti said...

I couldn't agree more with you Johanna. As a natural scientist with only a faintest interest of real historical events (everything goes as long as it's medievalish/fantastic/cool/has lots of gorgeous men with horses) but I can just nod my head to your enthusiasm and thoughts about historical accuracy.

The thing I can more freely and non-restrictedly squee about is of course The Man Orli, whose seeing was just as a mindblowing experience as ever. Like OMG!!! ;) I keep having these flashbacks of that wonderful strip of pictures at dangermousie's lj and cannot seize to wonder what good a little scruffiness and non-shaving can do to a man. And a couple of extra years too. I no longer feel like I'm robbing a cradle or anything ;)

(So thanks for all that trouble you've gone through with those heavenly pics, dangermousie, I've been a secret visitor at your lj for some time too!)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the lecture. ; )
(BTW, I didn't yawn!)

There is no doubt I will get another lecture from Mikko when we go and see the movie. I sometimes can't understand how he is able to find billions of historical inaccuracies from every movie we see and I can only see a few if any. And I should be the one who knows about these things! He is just a computer nerd. ; )

But maybe (although my hopes are not too high) this movie is different and even Mikko can't find too many mistakes and won't complain how no one ever makes terrific and historically accurate movies.

Sigh. It really feels like we have been together for a long time. I know what my silly hubby will say even if we haven't seen the movie yet. ; )

But historical inaccuracies don't bother me much. KoH is not supposed to be a documentary, is it? It's enough for me as long as it's entertaining and there are a lot of horses. Even Orlando can't, I forgot that I should't say anything about Orli when Johanna and Tytti are listening. ; )


Johanna said...

Dangermousie, go ahead and link it, I don't mind. :)

Sarin, did Tytti already tell you your hubby actually is in the movie? ;) Why didn't you tell us if you knew about his little project? We would've appreciated a few photos of you-know-who and Liam, too! ;)

Tytti said...

Yep, I did tell Sarin that M is in the movie. I didn't tell where though ;) She has to go and see herself.

I forgot to wish you luck for today's course! As if you needed it.

Anonymous said...

Tytti already said something about Mikko's new career as a moviestar. But refused to give any more clues.
Damn it!

But wait a minute. If my hubby has gotten a job as an actor, where is the money he has earned? Must interrogate him when he comes back from work.
Or "work"...


Anonymous said...

Ooookay... I had initially decided not to see this movie. Making a movie (an american movie) about the crusade in this day and age seemed like the most stupid and blatantly propagandic (is there such a word?) thing to do, besides Ridley Scott has made some enormously bad movies (as well as some extremely good ones), so his name is no kind of proof for quality to me anymore.

But then I read what you wrote, and thought, OK, if Johanna says the movie is historically speaking sound (and as I happen to have some tickets that have a fast approaching "best before" date) maybe it would be worth it.

And then I read the review by Mr Maskula and I feel sorry. Maybe more for him than for all of you who really liked "Kingdom of Heaven".

I have never really liked Mr Maskulas reviews, his texts have a certain air of arrogance that make them feel as if he alone knew what was good and what was trash. I don't really know why I read his reviews, but on the other hand, his was the only review of "Kingdom of Heaven" that was published in Turun Sanomat.

The reason I'm feeling sorry for Mr Maskula is that when I read his review of KoH I could feel how, for each word that I read, the wrath of KoH-fans and especially KoH-fans who know their history, grew larger and larger only to finally rain down on him like a plague of locusts or something. :)

I believe that many people take Mr Maskulas word as the authoritative word on movies. If Mr Maskula says that a movie is "corrupting history", then it must be so. Because Mr Maskula must know what he's talking about, after all he's the expert. If he says the histrical facts aren't there then they most surely are not.

Maybe somebody should kindly point out to Mr Maskula that even though history might have been bent in this movie it wasn't broken. (Well, that's how I interpreted your review anyway, Johanna.)


Johanna said...

I've been too busy for the past few days to read my newspapers, so I hadn't noticed Mr Maskula's review earlier.

Boy, has he got history to study. First of all he thinks Sibylla is the daughter of King Baldwin IV. A quick glance at any source on crusader history would've told him she's his sister.

And it seems to me that he thinks that Guy de Lusignan's idiotic battle in which hundreds of Templars, Hospitallers and other knights die, is a false one, too. Well, a second look at the same history book would've told him that the battle was actually the battle of Hattin, which just so happens was fought after the Christian troops had suffered from dehydration for a few days as they marched towards the eventual battlefield, like in the movie. The Christian troops lost the battle on 4th of July in 1187. Isn't that a nice little detail to know, if one thinks that Scott has made an American propaganda movie? ;)

Then Mr Maskula goes on and complains about Balian's journey from a blacksmith to a valiant defender of the city of Jerusalem. Sure, that's one of the details that isn't exactly accurate in the movie, but in the end the result is the same. Balian d'Ibelin did defend the city and finally surrendered it to Salah ad-Din.

Besides, I don't think it would have been totally impossible for a person to advance in rank relatively quickly in Jerusalem those days. Take the Grand Master of Templars in those days, for example. He was just a "wandering knight" when he came to the Crusader Kingdom and after joining the Knights Templar, fairly quickly advanced in the organisation and became the Grand Master of one of the most powerful military organisations of the time.

Probably not a "rags to riches" story (he would've had to be some sort of a nobleman in any case), but as I've understood it, he sort of came out of nowhere (this is where I could be a bit wrong, since I'm not studying Templar history) and ended up being one of the most influential people of the time. Remember the marriage deal that sort of was at the core of the whole deal? It was he who was supposed to get married, after all.

So I'm not that eager to criticize Scott for his decision to make Balian a bit more humble from the beginning. It's easier to relate to a character, who's had it all wrong, than a character who has always known he's in a dominant position compared to most of the people around him. Like Balian d'Ibelin most likely knew in his days.

Ah, and one more thing. Mr Maskula complains about the lack of women in KoH. And how the few women are only "statists on a mythical stage dominated by men". Umm, excuse me? Wouldn't Scott have made his movie even worse from the historical pov, if he had given the women more power/presence/whatever? It was, after all, a period of history that was kinda male oriented, right? Sibylla did crown her husband saying she didn't know a better man to rule the kingdom. And unfortunately, the sources of history which would tell more about the role of women in the crusader society, are few.

And mythical stage? What makes the era of crusades mythical? Oh, sure, the stories of the Templars and so on, but they weren't invented before something like the 17th century. The movie deals with the real fight over Jerusalem, nothing specifically mythic about it.

*rant, rant, rant* So, to sum up, I would say that Mr Scott has indeed used his freedom as an artist when telling Balian's story, but in my opinion he has preserved the "idea" or "feel" of the history quite well. But as I've said before, I'm a romantic and probably a bit naive, too, sometimes - so what do I know, compared to Mr Maskula...

But Ben, do go and see the movie and make up your own mind. The movie certainly deserves that.