Remembering the Crusades: Myth, Image and Identity

28th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies

Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 29-30, 2008

Lorraine Kochanske Stock, Now Starring in the Third Crusade: Depictions of Richard I and Saladin in Films and Television Series

When Hollywood and international filmmakers train their camera lenses on the historical subject of the medieval European Crusades to create feature films or television series, they focus almost exclusively on the twelfth-century Third Crusade. Perhaps their emphasis on this particular "holy war" is prompted by the colorful and well-matched pair of western and eastern antagonists whom medieval chroniclers and modern historiographers alike have made into the "stars" of the Third Crusade, England's King Richard I (nicknamed "the Lionhearted") and Saladin. American, British, and international film directors often reinterpret the medieval Crusades as reflections of not only medieval history/myth, but more importantly, contemporary political events and especially wars (current or just previous to the time of the production of the film/TV series). Douglas Fairbanks's silent Robin Hood, which took the hero and Richard I to the Third Crusade, reflected WWI. Robin Hood Films and TV of the 1950s used that medieval war to reference the recent WWII. 1970s films and TV provided a similar "distant mirror" of the Viet Nam War. Is it accidental that the earlier Gulf War and the current Iraq War coincided with the creation of a cluster of recent examples of cinematic medievalism dealing with holy wars between East and West? These include The Crusaders (2001), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Soldier of God (2005), and the BBC TV series, the New Robin Hood (2006), which features Arab characters and Robin Hood's recent return from Third Crusade with an advanced case of post traumatic stress disorder.
In films and TV series that either directly treat the Third Crusade, or use the Third Crusade as background to another narrative, filmmakers' colorful constructions of the antagonists Richard I and Saladin, provide provocative "distant mirrors" that are as much about the period of cinematic creation as about medieval history. Other aspects of Third Crusade lore included in (or invented for) the films/TV suggest 20th-century issues of sexuality, gender construction, orientalism, and various racial, religious, and misogynist "othering." As time permits, appropriate film clips will illustrate the presentation, including: Dwan's 1922 Robin Hood; DeMille's 1935 The Crusades; King Richard and the Crusaders (1954), the mid 1950s TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood, and 1953's The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men; Chahine's 1963 Saladin; the 1975 TV series The Legend of Robin Hood, Lester's 1976 Robin and Marian, the 1987 Lionheart, the 1991 Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, and the recent films listed earlier. I address most films' more typical Euro-Christian perspective as opposed to the antidote view of the Third Crusade "through Arab eyes" represented in Egyptian director Chahine's remarkable epic film, Saladin. A filmography of Crusade's films/TV will be supplied as a handout.


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