Monday, March 24, 2014



Madame Rose called this morning. Infomercial Today is very interested in using the results of my latest photo shoot on the cover of their fine periodical. There's just one hitch. I do not currently have an infomercial airing. Madame Rose and Joseph have promised to rectify this state of affairs as rapidly as possible and they have been contacting manufacturers all day about products for which I can be a celebrity spokesperson. I would be perfectly happy to model my GlamourPuss and VickiWear creations but market research has shown that clothes don't do as well as accessories or collector items in the late night cable market place.

I am continuing with the turban look due to the recent unfortunate accident during my Sink For Your Supper concert tour. Joseph has informed Mrs. Tuttle that the services of her tapping tots will no longer be required, at least until they have better aim with fireworks. Bookings have slowed down since news of the fire has gotten out but Joseph is confident that he will be able to put together a good summer season, at least in non-drought areas. The facial glow is beginning to fade a bit as the first degree burns heal up, although I am starting to peel something fierce and have had to go through three bottles of Swiss cucumber/collagen gel facial beauty mask this week.

Norman was on the phone with his representatives when I slipped down to the home theater to again slather my face with verdant goo and relax a bit before my workout. As I was seeing the world through a green colored light, I was reminded of the films of John Boorman and slipped the DVD of his Excalibur from 1981 into the player.

Excalibur was a personal project for Irish director Boorman, who had cherished the idea of making a film version of the Arthurian legend for some twenty years. After finally securing financing from Orion, he set about making the film literally in his own backyard, in county Wicklow, Ireland. In doing so, he restored his reputation (which had suffered mightily from the failure of Exorcist II: The Heretic ) and jump-started the nascent Irish film industry by launching the careers of Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, Neil Jordan, and Ciaran Hinds, amongst others.

The Arthurian legend is a mythic cycle of tales that date back nearly two thousand years. Most authorities agree that the genesis of Arthur, Guenevere, Merlin and Excalibur, was the period between the late 4th century and the mid 6th century when England was in a time of transition. The Roman Empire had withdrawn its legions and was collapsing in the Mediterranean; the pagan Germanic tribes of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes were constantly invading and battling the Romanized Celts of Great Britain and northern France; Christianity was spreading, aided by St. Patrick in Ireland and St. Augustine in England, displacing the old pagan gods and forms of worship. Through the centuries, changing times led to additions to the cycle. The triumph of Christianity led to the Holy Grail stories and the addition of Percival (Parsifal) or Galahad. The conventions of medieval literature and romance added Lancelot and the love triangle that tears Camelot apart.

Most of the story elements were in place when, in the fifteenth century, William Caxton, the owner of England's first printing press, looked for another book to publish after having produced the Bible. As the Arthurian legends were well known, he asked Thomas Malory to write them down for him. Malory, who was in jail at the time serving a sentence for rape, had plenty of time on his hands and his version became Le Morte d'Arthur , the saga from which most modern Arthurian tales such as The Once and Future King The Mists of Avalon , or Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy, arise.

In Excalibur , Boorman decides to let Malory speak, with all his inherent contradictions, mysticism, and anachronisms intact. It was a medieval convention to have legendary figures look and act as if they were contemporaneous so this Arthur and his court belong to a never, never land of the high Middle Ages. Boorman, and his director of photography, Alex Thomson, look for, and achieve a visual poetry to match their source material. The woods are mystical and beautiful. Moss colored boulders shine in green splendor under luminous waterfalls. Apple blossoms and bluebells celebrate the rise of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Much is done with colored lights to bring out the natural colors of woodland in spring and summer with green being the color of the earth and Merlin's natural magic.

For those unfamiliar with the bare bones of the Arthurian legend, the powerful magician Merlin (Nicol Williamson) aids King Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) in uniting the land. Uther falls for the beautiful Igrayne (Katrine Boorman, the director's daughter), wife of the Duke of Cornwall (Corin Redgrave) and with Merlin's connivance, rapes her and begets a son, Arthur. Merlin takes the child as the price of his aid and he is fostered to Sir Ector (Colin Swift) and his son Kay (Niall O'Brien). Uther is killed and, in dying, drives the sword of power, Excalibur, into a rock where, only the true king can withdraw it.

Many years later, Arthur (Nigel Terry), not knowing of his parentage, comes upon the sword in the stone and easily removes it when no other could. He is acknowledged king (after some disagreement) and unites the land under his court at Camelot. He arranges to marry the noble lady Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and sends his best friend and champion, Sir Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) to claim her. Unfortunately, these two fall for each other and the triangle that will destroy the court is in place. Meanwhile Arthur's half sister, Morgana (Helen Mirren), studies with Merlin and eventually seduces and entraps him. She then also seduces Arthur who begets a son Mordred (Robert Addie) on her. Guenevere and Lancelot betray Arthur. Camelot sickens and can only be restored by the Holy Grail. The knights seek this legendary relic, but many are betrayed and killed by Morgana and Mordred. Eventually Mordred challenges Arthur to a final battle, both are killed and the sword Excalibur is claimed by the mystical Lady of the Lake to lie in wait for when England shall again need a champion.

The central figures of the film, unfortunately, are somewhat weak. Nigel Terry, who was in his thirties, was too old for the young Arthur, although he does capture the adolescent enthusiasm and timidity well. He's less successful as the mature Arthur, lacking a real sense of majesty. He also doesn't have as much to do later in the film as the story follows those around him, leaving him off screen much of the time. Nicholas Clay is physically gorgeous as Lancelot, but a bit of a stiff brick. He's also disguised as ZZ Top in his later scenes for reasons that are not entirely clear. Cherie Lunghi is lovely to look at, but we don't get much sense of her being torn or her reasons for betrayal.

The supporting cast fares better. Nicol Williamson is a marvelous Merlin, crotchety and nattering one moment, fearless and omnipotent the next. His scenes with Helen Mirren's Morgana have a wonderful edge to them (probably because they disliked each other intensely in reality) and between the two of them; they carry the film through some dull stretches. Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson and Ciaran Hinds, amongst other familiar faces, turn up as various knights and their acting abilities bring depth and gravity to the subplots.

The action scenes are well staged and capture the feeling of the brutality of medieval warfare. There is occasional blood and severed limbs but it doesn't feel gratuitous. The armor is wonderful to look at, burnished silver and gilt that adds to the magical visual quality of the film. The set decorations and costumes also help hold the whole film together and look much more sumptuous than they actually are.

The DVD contains the film in original proportions. There is a recent commentary track by director Boorman looking back on the making of the film that is quite interesting as he tells backstage anecdotes. The sound is not the best but the original soundtrack was not particularly well constructed. There are no extras other than the original trailer.

Mist riding. Impalements. Baby napping. Aluminum headpiece. Crystal beaded wedding dress. Glowing moss. Apollo armor. Eyeball eating. Gratuitous magenta headscarf. Naked Nicholas Clay. Naked Cherie Lunghi. No naked Patrick Stewart. Wet swords. Gratuitous knightsicle.

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