THE FISHER KING: A Tapestry of Arthurian Symbolism

By Peg Aloi

The Fisher King -1991 – dir. Terry Gilliam

Filmmaker Terry Gilliam’s version of the Fisher King legend posits a Manhattan where knights joust in Central Park, a thousand strangers waltz in Grand Central Station, and courtly love lives alongside dementia, decay and death. The ancient tale has been analyzed by scholars like Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Jessie Weston and Robert Graves, and is a central aspect of the Arthurian legend. The wounded king is Jack (Jeff Bridges), a popular radio talk-show host whose brash, arrogant misanthropy leads indirectly to a mass shooting that claims a number of victims; his ensuing guilt and shattered reputation leave him unemployed and depressed, riddled with guilt and self-loathing. In a scene slyly reminiscent of It’s a Wonderful Life, Jack meets a sort of guardian angel in Perry (Robin Williams, in one of his most enjoyable and eminently watchable screen portrayals). Perry is a former professor of medieval studies, who was personally affected by the shooting and who ends up homeless and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. When the two men cross paths several times, it seems inevitable they will both bring about the other’s rejuvenation, and the roles of wounded king and questing knight are often reversed and overlapped: which of these men is more wounded, and which one is most capable of selfless compassion?
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THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH

By Leo Racicot

The Masque of the Red Death - 1964 – dir. Roger Corman

Before he was crowned the all-time campy Master of horror schlock, the incomparable Vincent Price had already carved out for himself a distinguished career in Hollywood that would have been the envy of any actor of his time.  Such film classics as Laura, The House of the Seven Gables, The Keys of the Kingdom, The Ten Commandments, Leave Her to Heaven and many more were graced with his formidable skill and presence.

Director Roger Corman, christened “the King of the Bs” due to the slew of low-budget, some might even say ‘corny’ movies he cranked out beginning in the 1950s, mans The Masque of the Red Death with as sure a hand as he brought to all his projects, creating springboards for such stellar artists-to-be as Jack Nicholson, James Cameron, Jonathan Demme, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorcese, and turning out what has become a body of films many of which are today considered true masterpieces of the genre.

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EXCALIBUR

By Peg Aloi

Excalibur - 1981 – dir. John Boorman

John Boorman’s lush treatment of the Matter of Britain, Excalibur (1981), is awash in color, magic and eroticism. Viewers who were of a certain age when this film was first released may recall its popularity among a certain college-age element, namely, the weirdos and geeks (not me, of course, but I, um, knew some of these people) who played Dungeons and Dragons, attended Renaissance fairs, and belonged to the Society for Creative Anachronism. This film may in fact have single-handily ignited a Celtophilic obsession in America, with medievalism becoming a romanticized, nostalgic window to Ye Good Olde Days. The Dark Ages, stinking and pox-ridden though they might have been, were suddenly revered and became a cultural phenomenon. The lead actors playing Arthur and Guinevere in this film (Nigel Terry and Cheri Lunghi) even starred briefly in a short-lived medieval-era television series…broadcast on an American network. Boorman’s film inspired a love of this period not merely because of the exciting scenes of swordplay and sex: rather, his expression of this period captivated audiences because his film imbued this far-away era with sensuality and mystery.

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