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Cinema Arthuriana: Twenty Essays (review)

From: Parergon
Volume 21, Number 1, January 2004
pp. 186-188 | 10.1353/pgn.2004.0088

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186 Reviews Parergon 21.1 (2004) Clear maps precisely locate the convents discussed, and Chapter 4 ‘Convent buildings and estates’ provides detailed information on surviving buildings and what can be deduced about the communities occupying these sites from a combination of archaeological and textual evidence. There is also an analysis of the convents’ finances. Hall writes clearly and impresses the reader with her wide-ranging knowledge of her subject, which incorporates both broad frameworks of interpretation and a seemingly endless supply of tiny, detailed portraits of individual women, individual transactions, and particular communities. Prior to a brief conclusion, she devotes a chapter to Elicia (or Elinia) Butler, one particular woman whose life spans the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. As Abbess of Kilculliheen she was deposed in 1532 for ‘behaviour which incited her nuns into open rebellion’ (p. 191). She is assumed to have been born around 1455, and in 1478 – after two marriages yielding two children – she entered the convent of Kilculliheen where family prestige and money assured her swift rise to become Abbess. She failed to win the good opinion of her nuns and was accused by male clerics of squandering the convent’s assets. However, she held the reins of the convent for many decades, and was in her seventies at the time of her deposition and was still alive in 1541 at the time of the Dissolution. Her tomb is in St Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. In conclusion, this is a very lively study of what could have been very dry material, which greatly enhances knowledge of high medieval Irish nuns and laywomen. It is a useful resource for any scholar interested in women’s history, church history, and the history of Ireland. Carole M. Cusack Studies in Religion University of Sydney Harty, Kevin J., ed., Cinema Arthuriana: Twenty Essays, rev. ed., Jefferson, N.C., McFarland, 2002; casebound; pp. x, 307; 50 b/w illustrations; RRP $US39.95; ISBN 0786413441. Kevin J. Harty’s revised edition of’Cinema Arthuriana: Twenty Essays is a useful volume that might readily serve as a textbook for courses studying the films of, in Stephen Knight’s formulation, the Arthuriad. Its usefulness begins with Harty’s own ‘Overview’, which surveys the film versions of King Arthur from Reviews 187 Parergon 21.1 (2004) 1904 to 2001. The essay identifies the various styles through which King Arthur and the adjacent characters and stories have passed in the medium of film. Book ending the volume is a detailed filmography and bibliography of some ninetysix films that are treated in the essays. The twenty essays generally divide into two categories: those treating specific films – Norris J. Lacy on Boorman’s Excalibur (1981), Jeff Rider et al on Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac (1974) and Rohmer’s Perceval le Gallois (1978) – and others treating thematic issues – Muriel Whitaker on ‘the problem of incest,’ Raymond Thompson on ‘the ironic tradition in four Arthurian films.’ This is a judicious combination and Kevin J Harty, the originator of the term ‘cinema arthuriana,’ is an expert bibliographer and surveyor of the field. The selection of films treated here is catholic: ‘canonical’ films such as Excalibur and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court are read alongside films from the French tradition like Cocteau’s L’Eternel Retour (1943) and various versions of the Parsifal story including Parsifal (1912) from Italy and Parsifal (1953) from Spain. There are also essays that consider the various contemporary versions of King Arthur that are significant departures in terms of film: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) raises some serious, of ironic, questions about legibility; The Fisher King (1991) adapts the lexicon of Grail imagery to New York after the 1987 stock market crash; First Knight (1995) is a version of the Arthur story preoccupied with succession. One very important contribution of this volume is its discussion of early versions of King Arthur on film – especially since most of these films are now extremely difficult to obtain. The plot of Thomas Edison’s 1917 The Knights of the Square Table; or, The Grail parallels the establishing of the Boy Scout movement on the model of the Round Table. Jean Cocteau’s...