This week’s Foreign Film Tips looks at Arthurian legend, but not as we know it.
You probably know all about the Knights of the Round Table and the chivalric age in general. Next to Robin Hood, King Arthur and his clanking brigade of nobles are Britain’s best loved legendary figures. And when their images are not being appropriated to sell car insurance or Lego, their stories are drummed into successive generations of nippers, leaving an indelible impression. We learn that kings are honourable, princes are evil and wizards definitely exist.
Easily the best pop culture incarnation of this legend is King Arthur and the Knights of Justice, a cartoon which ran for just two seasons in the early 90s. It featured American Football stars who’d been pulled back in time by Merlin to take the place of the real Arthur, captured as he was along with his knights. It had a rocking theme tune and was truly astoundballs.
It opens with two knights fighting with broadswords, followed by a very deliberate decapitation, with gouts of blood spurting from the neck stump of the newly headless combatant. Next, a knight gets stabbed right in the dick, which is not an exaggeration. It’s the movie’s way of saying ‘there’s not going to be any fucking around’ from the word go.
The plot focuses on Lancelot’s affair with Guinevere and the gradual disintegration of the order of knights led by Arthur. But this is secondary to the stylistic aspects of the film, which to first time viewers will seem really quite bonkers.
Bresson had become a bit obsessed with using actors who were not professional by this point in his career. He also instructed them to show no emotion while delivering lines, which means no one is behaving as you would expect them to.
And then there’s the movement and placement of the camera. You’ll either find it intriguing or infuriating, but you will at least get a good chance to see all of the hilariously bright stockings that the knights are wearing. The costumes are a highlight, or a major incongruence, depending on your point of view.
Lancelot Du Lac can be found on DVD if you’re up for a gritty, jarring jump back to the middle ages that is all about exploring cinemas as an artistic medium. Otherwise, stick with King Arthur and the Knights of Justice.