Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword directed by Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels) is just the latest in what has been a long Hollywood fascination with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Consider the following.
The Sword in the Stone(1963) This animated Disney classical musical concentrates on Arthur’s boyhood. Young Arthur is a lonely twelve year old orphan known as Wart, under the care of his foster father Sir Ector and serving as squire to Ector’s brutish, bullying son Kay. One day a chance meeting brings him to the cottage of Merlin who declares himself Arthur’s tutor and insists on coming home with him. Thus begins a charming and delightful coming of age story based on part one of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. Of particular note is Merlin’s magical duel with arch-nemesis Madame Mim.
Camelot(1967) John Logan (South Pacific) directed the film adaption of the Tony Award-winning musical of the same name. King Arthur (the one and only Richard Harris) prepares for a battle against his dearest friend Sir Lancelot (Franco Nero of Django fame) and sadly reflects on the circumstances that have brought them both to this point. A young Vanessa Redgrave plays Guenevere. It was nominated for five Academy Awards and won three including Best Musical Score. It was also nominated for six Golden Globe Awards and won three including Best Actor for Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Richard Harris.
Lancelot du Lac (1974) Renowned French filmmaker Robert Bresson (A Man Escaped, Mouchette) wrote and directed this take centering on the doomed love affair of Lancelot and Gwenivere. Like most of other Bresson’s films he used a cast of unknowns for the roles and his depiction of the Middle Ages emphasized blood and grime over magic and fantasy. It won the FIPRESCI prize at the Cannes Film Festival and has a fresh rating over 90% on the Tomatometer.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail(1975) This British slapstick comedy parodying the Arthurian legend was the source material for the blockbuster musical Spamalot. With such classic bits as the Knights Who Say Ni, the Rabbit of Caerbannog, and the coconuts…dear god the coconuts. It was the highest grossing British film released in America that year, has a 97% fresh rating on the Tomatometer, and is universally considered one of the most hysterically funny movies of all time. Do NOT try to drink anything while watching!
Excalibur (1981) John Boorman (Point Blank, Deliverance) wrote, directed, and produced this bloody and brutal British Fantasy drama based entirely on Thomas Malory’s writings of the Arthurian legend. Shot entirely in Ireland with an Irish cast it helped launch the careers of such performers as Gabriel Byrne (Uther Pendragon), Ciaran Hinds (King Lot), Helen Mirren (Morgana), Corin Redgrave (Duke of Cornwall), Patrick Stewart (King Leondegrance) and Liam Neeson (Gawain). The main love triangle is played by Nigel Terry (The Lion in Winter) as Arthur, Cherie Lunghi (King David) as Gwenivere and Nicholas Clay (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lionheart) as Lancelot. It was nominated for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards and Boorman was nominated for two prizes at the Cannes Film Festival winning for Best Artistic Contribution.
It’s an annual tradition; Oscar Season comes around and a Martin Scorcese picture is always sure to be getting plenty of buzz. This year the film in question is Silence starring Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, Hacksaw Ridge), Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Inside Llewyn Davis), as missionary priests searching for their mentor (Liam Neeson) in feudal Japan. It’s not surprising that the movie has people talking; besides its all star pedigree, issues of faith particularly the priesthood often make for great cinematic drama. Consider the following.
Boys Town (1938) Spencer Tracy’s performance as Father Flanagan who founds a sanctuary for underprivileged and delinquent young boys named Boys Town, earned him an Oscar. The movie was nominated for four more Oscars and won for Best Original Story. It also brought a lot of public attention-and funding-for the real Father Flanagan’s work. Besides Tracy’s legendary performance, you also get Mickey Rooney, Henry Hull, and Gene Reynolds. Plus this was the movie, that originated, “He’s not heavy-he’s my brother!”
The Exorcist (1973) Directed by William Friedkin and based on the novel of the same name, this movie made pea soup a catch phrase and a certain set of steps at Georgetown University a place of pilgrimage. It’s not only considered not only one of the greatest scary movies of all time, but one of the greatest movies period, this one kicked off a whole genre of exorcism themed movies, none of which quite compare to the original. In great part that’s because it not only has Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair’s iconic performances, but Max von Sydow as well as Father Merrin. But the movie’s emotional heart and soul comes from Jason Miller as the tormented Father Damien who’s suffered a crisis of faith after the death of his mother.
The Name of the Rose(1986) Jean Jacques Anand (The Lover, Enemy at the Gates) directed this Italian-French-German mystery drama was adapted from the Umberto Eco novel of the same name. Young novice Adso (Christian Slater is his very early years,) and his mentor Franciscan Friar William of Baskerville (Sean Connery in one of his more memorable non-Bond roles) in 1327, journey to a remote Italian abbey for a papal debate. The abbey in question houses one of the greatest libraries in Europe; it’s also astir from the recent suspicious death of one of the monks. More bodies turn up and William races to solve the mystery before the Inquisition is called in. It won the Cesar Award for Best Foreign Film as well as two BAFTA awards including Sean Connery for Best Actor.
Black Robe (1991) Directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Double Jeopardy) this adaption of the Brian Moore novel tells the story of how young Jesuit priest Father LaForgue (Lothaire Bluteau best known to American audiences for his roles on 24 and Vikings) is sent to a distant Catholic mission in a Huron village. LaForgue is accompanied by non-Jesuit assistant Daniel (Aden Young of The Starter Wife and I, Frankenstein) as well as a group of Algonquin Indians. Along the way complications in the form of Daniel falling for an Algonquin girl, and interactions with other First Nation peoples who are less than sympathetic to Father LaForgue and his mission. It is considered one of the best researched films featuring indigenous peoples and it includes dialogue spoken in the Cree, Mohawk, and Algonquin languages. It won the Genie Award for Best Canadian Film as well as Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor.
The Crime of Father Amaro (2002) Directed by Carlos Carrera and starring Gael Garcia Bernal (Babel, Y Tu Mama Tambien) as the titular father and Ana Claudia Talancon (Fast Food Nation, Love in the Time of Cholera) as the young girl he begins a passionate affair with. As you can imagine it doesn’t end well. The movie created a firestorm in Mexico and the Catholic Church actually attempted to ban it. Despite or perhaps because of that, it became the biggest box office success in the country’s history and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
With Dr. Strange coming out Friday, (the buzz says that it’s the trippiest Marvel movie yet), inevitably the mind turns to other magicians, wizards, witches, and sorcerers supreme who’ve dazzled us on screen. As the following examples show mastering the Dark Arts is a veritable cinematic tradition.
The Wizard of Oz(1939) This technicolor, musical-comedy-drama-fantasy, based on the beloved Frank L. Baum masterpiece, represents the best of Golden Age Hollywood with Judy Garland in the performance that made her an icon. While (spoiler alert) the titular wizard is a fraud, the powers of Elphalba the Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda the Good Witch are very real and propel much of the events of the plot. It was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture but lost to Gone With the Wind. Initially something of a box office disappointment, it would later go on to become one of the best known films in American history and a cultural landmark.
Excalibur(1981) Directed, produced, and co-written by John Boorman (Deliverance and The Tailor of Panama) Excalibur retells the classic legend of King Arthur primarily from the viewpoint of Merlin played with grandeur by Nicol Williamson (Hamlet, Inadmissible Evidence). From the days of Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne in the role that launched his career) to Arthur’s final showdown with Mordred, Merlin steals the show. And this is among a truly great cast including Nigel Terry as King Arthur, Helen Mirren as Morgana Le Fay, Nicholas Clay as Sir Lancelot, Cherie Lunghi as Gwenevere, a young Patrick Stewart as King Leondegrance, Liam Neeson as Sir Gawain, and Corin Redgrave as the Duke of Cornwall. It was all filmed in Ireland, and holds up as one of the best Arthurian adaptions of all time.
The Witches of Eastwick (1987) Directed by George Miller of Mad Max fame and based on the John Updike novel of the same name. Alexandra (Cher), Jane (Susan Sarandon), and Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer), are three women all living in Eastwick, Rhode Island who share two things in common. One, they’re all single having lost their husbands. Secondly, unbeknownst to them, they are all witches, and wittingly they start a coven and start practicing spells. Soon the mysterious Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) comes to town and that’s when things start to get freaky. It was nominated for two Academy Awards and holds an over 70% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) Directed by Chris Columbus. No such list would be complete without including the movie based on the best-selling book series that kicked off one of THE most successful film franchises in history. It helped that to do justice to Rowling’s vision they put together an all-star cast as well including Maggie Smith, John Hurt, Robbie Coltrane, and the dearly departed Alan Rickman. Billions of dollars later, Hogwarts has become a cultural landscape that all children secretly dream of being invited to attend, Dumbledore and Snape are now household names, and it launched Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe’s careers into the stratosphere.
The Witch (2015) Newcomer Robert Eggers wrote and directed this historical period supernatural horror tale that came seemingly out of nowhere to become an indie hit that grossed $40 million on a $3 million dollar budget. A puritan family is banished from their old settlement and builds a new farm by the woods. But beginning with the disappearance of their youngest child infant Samuel it soon becomes clear they are being terrorized by a powerful witch. It has an over 90% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and Stephen King said the movie “scared the hell out of me.”