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Recreation and Representation: The Middle Ages on Film (1950-2006)
Elliott, Andrew Brian Ross
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Thesis forms basis for a monograph to be published with McFarland, 2010.
In evaluating the Middle Ages on film, this thesis combines two different critical approaches, drawn from historiography on one side and semiotics on the other. In the first chapter, I argue that historiographic criticism has largely undermined our belief in a monolithic, objective History, and that modern historical enquiry contains a tacit admission of its own subjectivity. In Chapter Two, I use these admissions to argue the case for history on film, demonstrating that in terms of the construction of history, the processes of filmmaking closely resemble those of ‘doing’ history, and that criticisms of historical films are often the same criticisms which Historians raise in respect of their own works of ‘pure history’. In the remaining chapters (3-6), I look at specific examples of types of historical character, drawn from the medieval separation of society into “those who work, those who fight and those who pray”, as well as “those who rule”. In each case, I adopt a similar methodological approach, conducting close cinematographic analysis on a range of film extracts in order to see how filmmakers have tried to construct the past visually in their representation of historical characters. Here my arguments move away from historical criticism to focus instead on aesthetics and cinematography. The overall theory is that there exist two fundamental approaches to the medieval past in film: the first iconic and syntagmatic, the second paradigmatic. Iconic approaches, I argue, work to try to recreate the lost medieval referent by using aesthetic ‘signifiers’ in order to communicate their significance to a medieval audience. The paradigm, on the other hand, works in the opposite way; in order to explain a medieval object, the filmmaker casts about for modern equivalents to use as metaphors. Where the icon recreates the object to communicate the concept, the paradigm communicates the object by re-presenting the concept.
PhD in Modern Languages