I see a lot of movies every year. A
ton. But this year I’ve decided I don’t see enough movies, so one of my
New Year Resolutions was to simply see more. And to write about them.
See, that’s the other half of the equation: I see a ton of movies, but
I write about comparatively few of them. There are a lot of reasons,
but they mainly boil down to the fact that I feel the  need to do long
form reviews, and sometimes – like in the midst of Sundance – I just
don’t have the time.

so was born this new blog! I aim to make an entry for every single
movie I see in 2010. Some entries may be very short, some may be
lengthy. Entries may take a couple of days to be posted. Let’s see how
long this lasts.

last  thing: one of my main objectives this year is to rewatch more
movies. I know this sounds like a strange goal, but there are films I
haven’t seen since high school, which means it’s been almost a lifetime
since I saw them. Recently I rewatched Black Christmas for
the first time since the 1980s, and I might as well have been seeing
the movie for the first time. I’m interested in getting a look at some
movies I loved or hated twenty or even ten years ago and seeing how I
feel about them now.

Let’s begin…

#8 Excalibur
d. John Boorman

You should go see old movies projected whenever you can. I first saw Excalibur some time in the early 80s on pay TV, and then VHS and eventually DVD. Nearly 30 years after it came out, I’ve finally seen it on a big screen. Seeing it in a theater changes the experience in different ways. For one it’s similar to the difference between watching it on cable and watching it in widescreen on DVD – I was getting a different view of the film, this time one that is closer to what Boorman intended (closer but not ideal – this print was so faded half the movie was pinkish). The other difference is the energy in a crowd is so different than the energy of sitting at home. I saw Excalibur through the eyes of the crowd.

The crowd laughed a lot.

Excalibur‘s a lot sillier than I remember. It’s weird that the film’s bombast played as sort of significant at home and goofy in the theater, but that’s how it worked. Another strange thing about seeing it on the big screen was that the movie suddenly felt claustrophobic. Boorman packs his frames with people and horses and trees, and then in the interiors he shoots everything through curtains and veils. And his final battle… it’s six guys on a soundstage with a fog machine, something I always knew but felt for the first time tonight.

To me most of this didn’t matter. The film maintains a weird power, and the broadness of it all plays into the feeling of it being a legend retold as opposed to a history. Boorman’s straddling the line between fantasy and reality, and I think he found the perfect line. Of course he walks right past that line in the last thirty or so minutes (I’m not sure I’m comfortable saying this is a third act, since it might be the fifth or sixth) when the Grail quest gets underway. He turns the movie into a bad trip here, replete with bizarre dream logic and nightmare imagery. It’s fascinating seeing the movie’s weirdness ebb and flow – the opening has got that strange shape-shifting and stuff, but then the initial days of Camelot are really pretty straightforward. That’s actually some of my favorite stuff, but I almost feel like Boorman was itching to get to the oddness.

Watching Excalibur in the theater I noticed how light the film is on score; that’s a very 70s/early 80s thing, and it makes some of the battle scenes weirdly inert. Boorman uses Carmina Burana to great effect in a couple of spots, but many other scenes just play with sound effects and the ever-present ADR (is there a line of dialogue in this film that was actually captured on set?). I have gone on the record as not being a fan of bombastic post-John Williams scores, but more than one scene calls out for a swelling of music.

I think I actually like Excalibur more now than I did as a kid. As a kid I just dug the milieu and the knights and the blood and the tits. As a grown up I kind of groove on that trippy aspect that makes the film feel like a tale that’s been passed down from beyond the veil of written memory, complete with distortions and oddities. I also sort of dig the episodic nature of the film; there’s no real throughline to Excalibur and it has a scope that’s way too unwieldy. Hell, it takes a long time just to get King Arthur born. But I like that about it, and the film’s lack of discipline is charming.

While Excalibur is probably the current ultimate King Arthur movie I think there’s still another, better one to be made. I’d like to see a film that maintains this movie’s shaggy nature while bringing some modern editing and music to the table (Boorman’s battle scenes are edited with lethargy. The final moment between Arthur and Mordred played better in my memory than in the film, although the framing of the shot is unreal in its greatness). Bryan Singer is supposedly remaking the film (whatever that means, since the film is just an adaptation of Le Morte D’Arthur) and I do hope that he doesn’t impose some kind of bland Hollywood structure on this great tale.