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Getting Schmedieval: Of Manuscript and Film Prologues, Paratexts, and Parodies

the-Adventures_of_Robin_Hood_1938Getting Schmedieval: Of Manuscript and Film Prologues, Paratexts, and Parodies

Richard Burt (Guest Co-Editor, University of Florida)

EXEMPLARIA: VOL. 19, NO. 2, SUMMER 2007, 217 – 242

Abstract

This introduction examines how historical effects in cinematic medievalism are produced through analogies between their shared marginal paratexts, including historiated letters, prefaces, opening title sequences, film prologues, and intertitles. Close attention to the cinematic paratext of medieval films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Richard III, Prince Valiant, El Cid, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail offers us insights not only into connections between medieval manuscript culture and film but into the way analogies drawn within medieval films between old and new media blur if not fully deconstruct distinctions between the shock of movie medievalism and the schlock of movie schmedievalism, between serious historical film and the historical film parody.

Film critics and historians have by and large rejected what has come to be known as the fidelity model of criticism when discussing films about history or set in an historical period, arguing that it is better to treat these films as films than to evaluate them in terms of how faithfully and how accurately they portray history (Stam, “Beyond Fidelity,” “Introduction”; Mazdon, Encore Hollywood). Instead of examining what a given film says about the medieval past, for example, critics examine cinema as an instance of medievalism, explore how a film and its audience use the medieval imaginary to make sense of the present; similarly, rather than being regarded as documenting history “as it really was,” historical films are analyzed in terms of their narrative structure and to see how they produce history effects, how the film makes the past seem historically authentic and socially relevant.

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