I just got through watching John Boorman’s 1981 film Excalibur (thank you Netflix). What a weird-ass movie. Not least because you get to see young Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart (already bald), Gabriel Byrne, and Ciaran Hinds, most of whom were cast, according to IMDB, because Boorman wanted relative unknowns, so that people would focus on the movie instead of the actors. It probably worked well at the time, but it’s pretty hard for me to think anything other than “That’s academy-award-winner Helen Mirren wearing a sheet-metal bra! Patrick Stewart TOTALLY just hit that guy with an ax!” and so on. Video after the jump…
The soundtrack makes heavy use of Carmina Burana (available here), which has a kind of similar effect. I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I hear “O For-tu-na! Ve-lut Lu-na!” in a medieval epic, I just think “Ok, here we go again.” In 1981, was the piece as fresh and striking as a pre-‘Star Trek’ Patrick Stewart? Or was it hackneyed from the day it was written?
Note: Like Patrick Stewart, Carmina Burana retains a certain ineffable badassery.
Note 2: Conan the Barbarian came out a year after this, and seems to have been heavily influenced by it. Mind you, the eventual answer to that “Which is the greatest quality of knighthood?” question turns out to be “Telling the truth,” which isn’t quite as quotable as “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.”
Note 3: You may have heard rumors that this film contains a lengthy sex scene between a man wearing full plate armor and a woman wearing essentially nothing. These rumors are accurate. And they don’t begin capture just how absurd the sequence actually is. Sadly, the lovebirds in question aren’t Helen Mirren and Patrick Stewart, but they are (as a sort of consolation prize of surreality) the director’s own daughter and Gabriel Byrne.