Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
For centuries, countless tales have been told of the legend of King Arthur. But the only story you've never heard ... is the true story that inspired the legend. -- Trailer for "King Arthur"
Uh, huh. And in the true story, Arthur traveled to Rome, became a Christian and a soldier, and was assigned to lead a group of yurt-dwelling warriors from Sarmatia on a 15-year tour of duty in England, where Guinevere is a fierce woman warrior of the Woads. His knights team up with the Woads to battle the Saxons. In this version, Guinevere and Lancelot are not lovers, although they exchange significant glances; Arthur is Guinevere's lover. So much for all those legends we learned from Thomas Malory's immortal Le Morte d'Arthur (1470) and the less immortal "Knights of the Round Table" (1953).
This new "King Arthur" tells a story with uncanny parallels to current events in Iraq. The imperialists from Rome enter England intent on overthrowing the tyrannical Saxons, and find allies in the brave Woads. "You -- all of you -- were free from your first breath!" Arthur informs his charges and future subjects, anticipating by a millennium or so the notion that all men are born free, and overlooking the detail that his knights have been pressed into involuntary servitude. Later he comes across a Roman torture chamber, although with Geneva and its Convention safely in the future, he doesn’t believe that Romans do not do such things.
The movie is darker and the weather chillier than in the usual Arthurian movie. There is a round table, but the knights scarcely find time to sit down at it. Guinevere is not a damsel in potential distress, but seems to have been cloned from Brigitte Nielsen in "Red Sonja." And everybody speaks idiomatic English -- even the knights, who as natives of Sarmatia might be expected to converse in an early version of Uzbek, and the Woads, whose accents get a free pass because not even the Oxford English Dictionary has heard of a Woad. To the line "Last night was a mistake" in "Troy," we can now add, in our anthology of unlikely statements in history, Lancelot's line to Guinevere as seven warriors prepare to do battle on a frozen lake with hundreds if not thousands of Saxons: "There are a lot of lonely men over there." (Her reply: "Don't worry. I won't let them rape you," also seems somewhat non-historical.)