This week, we have a new writer joining the ranks of 10YA, bringing us a glimpse into an extremely fun and, in my opinion, deeply misunderstood film. Allow my wife to introduce her: “Lit grad student interested in Southern Gothic, bibliophile, dog enthusiast, general weirdo, my friend.” Bri LaFond.
To wit, I’ve always been fairly decent with English. In fact, it was my propensity for English that led to the conflict between my junior English teacher and me. This teacher — who appeared to be the result of an unholy union between a praying mantis and a cantaloupe — was of the school of English education in which students underline and label the noun, verb, and adjective in sentences like “Little Janie will surely slit her wrists if she has to do one more grammar exercise.” Honors English, mind you. Honors 11th grade English. I was so deadly bored that I took to tossing my English homework assignments into the wastebasket on my way out of class each day. It’s a wonder I bothered showing up at all.
Winter break came and Mr. P made it known that I would not be welcome back to his class come January. My counselor initially suggested remedial English for me, but after glimpsing at my standardized test scores, suggested that I might fit into the senior-level British literature course for the rest of the year.
British literature was my very favorite class in high school. The previous semester, the class had met in the school’s theater to study Shakespeare’s plays by jumping on stage to act out this scene or that. This semester belonged to Geoffrey Chaucer, and though I was at first intimidated by the Middle English, Mrs. S quickly made the material accessible and fun. We snickered at the Wife of Bath’s lame come-ons and guffawed at the scatological humor of the Miller’s Tale. Reading The Canterbury Tales reaffirmed my love for the written word and made English come alive again after its semester-long coma with Mr. P.
Since this was a class for seniors, Mrs. S suggested we have a celebratory wrap-up adventure by going to see a movie together. We had all seen A Knight’s Tale advertised over the past few weeks, and even though this teen-friendly Heath Ledger-starring flick surely wouldn’t have anything to do with Geoffrey Chaucer, the title stood out as particularly suited for our endeavor.
Imagine our surprise when, ten minutes into the film, Geoffrey Chaucer himself — or, rather, his bare ass — came sauntering onto the screen.
For someone with a background in Chaucer, A Knight’s Tale is more than just a fun romp through the Middle Ages with a few modern flourishes. There are many “easter eggs” for the well read audience to enjoy. For example, the Pardoner and the Summoner who haul Geoff in for gambling debts (leading to another strip-down and cheek peek at Paul Bettany) are odious characters from The Canterbury Tales; Hence, when Geoff threatens to “eviscerate the two in fiction,” the dozen high school students and their teacher in the middle of the theater let out a little cheer.
Seeing A Knight’s Tale in theaters was one of those rare moments when watching a movie is an experience. By itself, A Knight’s Tale is a fun ensemble comedy that attempts to make medieval times feel like our own times — jousting instead of football, knights instead of professional wrestlers, princesses instead of trophy wives — but there’s a much cleverer undercurrent to the movie that the bookworms among us will enjoy.
I sat down recently to re-watch this old favorite of mine with my sarcastic friend James, who never liked the film. What follows are my thoughts on the re-watch with occasional asides from James.
James, as the Columbia logo comes up: “From the company that brought you Tobey Maguire, dancing emo…”
I’d forgotten how this movie started… with a dead guy in a suit of armor, Heath Ledger in dreadlocks, shared noseplugs, and Wash from Serenity pitching a fit.
Ah… Heath Ledger. Charming as hell, even with that hair.
“We Will Rock You” kicks in, and my cantankerous friend starts his bitching. Hell, I think the actual beat is plausible, just maybe a little early in the film to go into full-on Freddie Mercury-mode, but the implication that that guitar riff is coming from those old-ass trumpets is pretty awesome.
“Low Rider” for our first training montage. This doesn’t feel as out-of-place as I might’ve thought from the concept. What’s more out of place are the various modes of jousting training we see. Why do Roland and Watt need to draw a cart to simulate a horse ride or drag a raft down the river to do so when they have a horse to begin with? Cinematic variety, is all.
Paul Bettany’s ass. This was my first introduction to Paul Bettany… his ass, rather. Why doesn’t Paul Bettany do comedy anymore? God, he’s brilliant in this movie. I remember cheering when he says his name is Geoffrey Chaucer, and I feel just as hyped this time around.
Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein? Heath sure pulls an epic name out of his ass.
What is UP with Shannyn Sossamon’s outfits in this damn movie? The other characters have a modern cut to their clothing, but the clothes are at least believable. Sossamon’s little friend’s outfits are much better. Strangely modern, but still believable. Sossamon and her hats are just… no.
James: “This isn’t so much a period piece. It’s a comma piece; a semicolon piece at best.”
Geoffrey Chaucer was the original hype man, yo. At least according to this flick.
And now we’re “Taking Care of Business.” The music is pushed behind the sound effects of Ledger’s sword and lance striking armor, so it doesn’t feel too forced.
Ah, yes… the female blacksmith.
Oy with Sossamon’s hats. This is going to be bothersome.
Rufus Sewell is here! Slumming it a bit, but doing well enough for himself.
James: “It’s like they filmed this at freaking Ren Faire… except all the big girls didn’t show up. Hey: At least there would’ve been some cleavage eye candy!”
Alan Tudyk… could’ve pulled back a little on the facial expressions. Just a WEE bit.
Okay, finally Sossamon’s not wearing a hat, but the feathered, bleached hair waving out? Oh… oh, man. As James puts it: “I belong in The Fifth Element.”
Except for Sossamon’s ridiculous styling, we’ve lost track of our modern twists for the moment. The soundtrack during Ledger’s first battle with Sewell is backed by more traditional symphonic music, not really fitting the movie’s tone thus far.
The ongoing interactions between Tudyk and Bettany are quite amusing.
I remember loving this line at the time: “I will eviscerate you in fiction… I was naked for a day, you will be naked for eternity.” Go, Chaucer!
Call me slow, but I totes didn’t get the whole tent equals the tunic joke the first time I saw this flick.
Oh MAN… And now Sossamon has rave hair. Freaking rave hair. She looks like she went to Hot Topic and got some temporary hair dye, then crimped her hair the freak out, and teased and sprayed it into a freaking mane. At least her dress this time isn’t as wacky — MAN! I forgot about the dumb rave makeup! You’re killing me here, Shannyn.
I do like this dancing scene, I must admit. The music flows fairly naturally from a period melody into Bowie’s “Golden Years.” Given, the grooving everyone gets down to is a little out there, but it’s a decent embodiment of the mash-up sensibility this flick has going.
Ah, the blacksmith and her Nike swoosh… James: “There’s PRODUCT PLACEMENT?! In a PERIOD PIECE?! GWAH!”
Oh MAN… And Sossamon is in her “boob outfit” now. Not just another wacky hat, but a top cut down to her navel with black mesh overlay. W. T. F.
“I miss your breasts.” Gentlemen: that is a super-classy line. Definitely use that one in real life. Though, I do agree with lady blacksmith that, in Sossamon’s case, “her breasts weren’t that impressive.”
How is it that when Sossamon’s hair is in pseudo-Leia buns, that she looks the most authentically medieval? Ridonkulous.
“Well, the Pope may be French, but Jesus Christ is English!” I don’t know whether that line is stupid, brilliant, or stupid-brilliant. (Hint: Replace “English” with “American” to get the full joke.)
Sossamon’s hair is looking… decent. A bit like she got in a fight with a crimping iron, but decent. This outfit is fairly believable: A simple cut to the dress, though it’s dyed to look like a watercolor rainbow.
This whole “lose for me” gambit of Sossamon’s is… boo. Boo, lady. As James puts it, “Wow… she came all the way to Paris to be a bitch? Dedication.”
“Bed him well, m’lady.” Yikes. That line I could probably do without.
This whole idea of trying to “change the stars” is quite sad what with the young waif-child having to leave his father behind and all…
And then “The Boys Are Back in Town” bursts in to kill that moment. Rock out!
“Committing the oldest sins in the newest ways,” is ol’ Rufus’ way to get back for the big tournament.
That Heath refers to his father as being as “tall as a knight” is pretty freaking adorable. Ah, another heartstring-pulling moment, indeed. “He wanted you to know that he changed his stars after all.” “And has he followed his feet? And found his way home?” MAN. This is making me full-on teary, yo.
So, of course: Rufus done backtraced it! Consequences will never be the same! “Sir Ulrich” has been found out!
Man, Sossamon’s purple hair is pulling me out of this dramatic “should I face the consequences or flee” scene.
Rufus’ little gloating speech to Heath in prison is a little on-the-nose. I’m going to PUNCH for every word I EMPHASIZE!
It’s a wonder the poor always have vegetables to throw at folks in the stocks. You’d think they’d be eating those veggies to try and avoid the whole starvation and scurvy thing.
And thanks to Edward, Black Prince of Wales, Heath finally gets his proper knighthood. Sir William will now go on to joust against the Big Bad.
But not without ol’ Rufus cheating! He’s got a hidden spear in his lance! O NOEZ!
Jousting without any armor? None whatsoever? Yeah, okay.
Stop looking so endearing, old blind man! You make me want to weep!
So, yes: Sir William has won the day, and the girl with the ridiculous sartorial choices.
And our modernity jumps back in with ACDC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” to take us out.
So, does A Knight’s Tale hold up? I’d say so. This was a fun movie at the time and a fun movie now. The main thing that doesn’t really work ten years later are Shannyn Sossamon’s “modern” outfits and hair since they’re very… rave scene circa 1998. Overall, I’d recommend a re-watch for this one.