The room was filled with alumni, current students, and CSS faculty. They were eating cookies, drinking boxed wine, and projected on the screen before them were the words, “Historians agree that the classical 15th century tale of King Arthur and his Knights rose from a real hero…Recently discovered archeological evidence sheds new light on his true identity.”
This is the scrolling prologue from film director Antoine Fuqua’s “King Arthur.” Dr. William Hodapp stood just to the side of the screen and read the words aloud.
"I remember chuckling to myself on first reading this prologue in the theater,” Hodapp said and a few people in the audience laughed lightly at this, but when he followed it up by quoting critic Tom Shippey, “The least truthful part about this film comes in the first two words of the opening credits, ‘Historians agree…’ On this subject, historians do not agree about anything,” there was a burst of laughter from nearly everyone in the room.
This was early on in Dr. Hodapp’s SAL Colloquium, titled “Arthur, Beowulf, Robin Hood, and Hollywood’s Desire for Origins,” which he presented here at CSS on Nov. 19, 2010.
Hodapp discussed how Hollywood seems to have a fascination with making medieval movies and that since Edwin S. Porter’s 1904 film of Richard Wagner’s “Parsifal,” the earliest known Arthurian film, filmmakers have made more than one hundred Arthurian movies.
“Filmmakers claim they are trying to get to the truth behind the text,” Hodapp said.
When discussing Sturla Gunnarson’s film, “Beowulf and Grendel” that carried the tagline, “BENEATH THE LEGEND LIES THE TALE,” Dr. Hodapp said the filmmakers were claiming the poet that wrote “Beowulf” was a liar and in a scene from the movie, where one of the characters is indeed the poet spinning the tale of Beowulf, he is referred to by another character as being “full of shite.”
Staying on the subject of “Beowulf” Hodapp moved on to Robert Zemeckis’ “Beowulf,” and quoted Zemeckis saying, “This has nothing to do with the ‘Beowulf’ you were forced to read in junior high school: it’s all about eating, drinking, killing, and fornicating.” This was met with much more laughter from the audience.
“Gunnarsson and Zemeckis—unwittingly I think—tell versions of the tale that serve as imaginary stand-ins for these elusive, pre-Christian Germanic tales presumably underlying the poem,” Hodapp said.
An interesting point was made when Dr. Hodapp discussed Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood.” That these films—Fuqua’s “King Arthur” added—are during certain political shifts and at times of war and unrest. They are about heroic good guys fighting relentless bad guys for their people. It’s as though Hollywood filmmakers are trying to get audiences on board with the war effort.
Dr. Hodapp’s speech was very entertaining, informative, and the audience was very receptive.
An audience member asked why Hollywood doesn’t just rely on the existing text instead of making these behind the legend action blockbusters with little if any historical accuracy.
“Bottom line is they’re making movies and they need to sell tickets,” Hodapp said.
The audience laughed one more time.