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Cinematic Illuminations

, 464 pages

20 b&w photos

November 2009



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Cinematic Illuminations

The Middle Ages on Film

This engaging new study analyzes cinematic treatments of the Middle Ages within a diverse range of popular and artistic films.

At a time when students have more experience with watching movies than with reading and evaluating literature and history, Cinematic Illuminations harnesses the power of popular culture to make accessible a period that often seems forbidding and remote. From The Seventh Seal and The Lion in Winter to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the authors examine the ways in which the twentieth century has reimagined medieval times. Such analysis brings to life for students the literature, poetry, history, and art of the Middle Ages.

Drawing from current critical approaches to both medieval and film studies, Laurie A. Finke and Martin B. Shichtman focus on two main issues of historical film. First is the inherent tension between the artifice required by film to create historical reality and the accuracy central to claims of history. Second are the ways iconography and filming conventions rewrite our understanding of the historical period portrayed in the film. In this case, the authors ask, how do contemporary representations of the Middle Ages influence cultural fantasies about our own time? Their detailed and accessible readings reveal just how strongly medieval history continues to resonate with modern audiences.

Cinematic Illuminations offers medievalists, literary and cultural theorists, and film theorists and buffs a fresh approach to understanding how popular culture interprets and makes use of the past through the medium of film.

Laurie A. Finke is a professor of women’s and gender studies at Kenyon College. Martin B. Shichtman is a professor of English language and literature at Eastern Michigan University. Professors Finke and Shichtman have collaborated on numerous publications, including King Arthur and the Myth of History and Medieval Texts and Contemporary Readers.

"The authors' nuanced and detailed analysis of an amazing diversity of medieval films... in their political and cultural contexts artfully supports their assertion that medieval films offer us ‘a different way of thinking about the past as well as the present.’"

"One of the most refreshing aspects of this book is that Finke and Shichtman combine encyclopedic knowledge of and masterful control over their material—including but not limited to film studies, medieval literature and history, and popular culture—with nuanced analysis, deft prose, and a palpable enjoyment of the topic. The authors are clearly having a grand time and invite readers to join in."

"Through Finke and Shichtman's use of film theory and cinema criticism, along with their sensitive deployment of medieval historical and literary details, the Middle Ages emerges as a period production in this excellent and innovative study."

"A number of studies have followed, but none can hold a candle to Cinematic Illuminations."

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