Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ridley Scott's Robin Hood is a Subversive Act

Ridley Scott's Robin Hood is a Subversive Act

Robin Hood directed by Ridley Scott, screenplay by Brian Helgeland based on a story by Brian Helgeland and Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris

(N.B. In order to properly discuss Robin Hood, I am forced to discuss the entire film. There will be spoilers.)

He doesn't fire the bow often but when he does it is bat-shit insane!
Determining intentions from watching a film is always tricky, but from my completely uninformed status as an observer, it seems to me that for Brian Helgeland, Ridley Scott and (one suspects) Russell Crowe, that making this version of Robin Hood was a highly subversive act.

The immediate consequence of their subversion is a profoundly misunderstood film. It is a fiercely intelligent film that like Russsell Crowe's Robin conceals its' brains. This has led to critics like Roger Ebert in his review, bemoaning the fact that this Robin Hood is not the "dashing swashbuckler" pf previous Robin Hood films.

The only way to save your honour is to abandon it!
I have a lot of respect for Roger Ebert, but I am going to flat-out disagree with him on this one. First of all, heroes in Ridley Scott films do not dash. In his films, heroes sweat, they get dirty and bloody, they make mistakes, but are the more heroic for having to wipe away the blood and sweat and dirt and overcome their own foibles. Even going all the way back to Ridley Scott's first film, the unjustly neglected masterpiece The Duellists, the director took a story about a series of duels between soldiers in Napoleon's army and turned what could have easily been a treacly bit of turgid nostalgia and instead delivered an angry battle hymn damning the lie of so-called honor.

For an outlaw, this Robin Hood sure bathes regularly!
More importantly, Robin Hood is an archetype, a piece on the chessboard of film. One who has to follow certain constraints, but who can be used in many more ways than just that of the dashing swashbuckler. Not to say that Errol Flynn or the charming fox of the Disney Robin Hood aren't fun, but those Robin's also suffer under a certain disadvantage. The stakes of the game that they play are limited, because they live in an England that has been interrupted.

Traditionally, the stories of Robin Hood break down into two halves. In the first, brighter half, Richard the Lion-Heart has been captured and is being held prisoner. Prince John controls England and drags his feet on either rescuing or ransoming his brother, the King. Robin, in addition to robbing from the rich to give to the poor, is usually the prime organizer of the collection of the ransom that will eventually release the Lion-Heart and restore him to his throne. The ultimate impotence of Prince John as an enemy is that he can do nothing truly permanent to Richard's kingdom. As long as Robin and his Merry Man can avoid being captured long enough to be hanged, they can expect a pardon from King Richard eventually.

Purest example of the Robin is never in any real danger genre
In this first half of the Robin Hood legends, King Richard is the roi ex machina lurking in the wings, the giant reset button waiting to be pressed. Since Robin is responsible for stealing the money that will ransom his King, it is a reset that is earned, but it still limits the stakes of the Merry Men's adventures.

The second half of Robin's legends are darker. After Richard dies, John becomes King and to be blunt, at that point, Robin Hood is fucked. He is now older and his enemies are both more powerful and now permanent. Again Robin is an outlaw, but now no pardon, no mercy will ever be offered. The legend usually ends with a dying Robin firing his last arrow and asking to be buried where the arrow lands.

Connery was telling his fans he was getting old for a long time. It took even longer for those fans to listen!
The only previous film to tackle this aspect of the Robin Hood legend is Richard Lester's Robin and Marian, a dark tale where Robin makes the old jokes, but they fall flat in a kingdom that is no longer funny. Notable for introducing the trope that Robin Hood is returning from the Crusades, the film did very poorly at the time despite (or perhaps because of) Sean Connery as Robin Hood and Audrey Hepburn as Marian. Many critics and fans were not interested in a film that told them of the end of the legend especially since it also told a meta-tale about the aging of their beloved Connery, five years removed from playing James Bond. (The Man Who Would Be King is another great overlooked film from the same period that was shunned by the public because it painted Connery as mortal and aging.)

The cruelty of the traditional legends is that Robin's life becomes more challenging and dangerous when he is too old to rise to the new challenge of Prince John becoming King John. 

The genius of Ridley Scott's take on Robin Hood is that it starts the legend at the death of Richard the Lion-Heart. Crowe's Robin Hood faces the dark danger of the second-half of the legends, but is young and vital enough to rise to those challenges.

Robin in front, the 3 Stooges bring up the rear.

The downside to thrusting Robin into the dangers of King John's England is that it allows very little time to indulge in the tomfoolery of the medieval Three Stooges: Little John, Will Scarlet and Allan A'Dayle (played by the aptly named Newfoundlander Alan Doyle of the Great Big Sea). Friar Tuck fares slightly better as the only man in the film as smart and perceptive as Robin; able to see both the rogue and the philanthropist. While Alan, John and Will are content to follow Robin's lead and Kate Blanchett's Marion is slightly baffled and befuddled by him, Tuck is delighted to conspire with him.

King John and his second wife Isabelle.

Equally getting short shrift is the Sheriff of Nottingham - shunted aside but for a few cameos, because Robin's true antagonist is King John (Oscar Isaac). In the first meeting between Robin and John, their relationship and the nature of John's character is neatly summarized when John removes a ring to present to Robin for bringing him the news of Richard's death (and Richard's crown) only to meanly take back the ring to cover back-taxes. It is John's lack of empathy that dooms him to be a poor King, hating Robin for being brave while John sees himself as a coward, not realizing that it is not the fear that makes a man a coward, it is overcoming that fear as John does - recklessly leading a charge - that makes a man brave.

The family that plots like the Borgias together...

What the film loses in pushing the Merry Men and the Sheriff into colourful background, it gains by making the bitchy back-stabbing of John's court into the engine that propels Robin Hood's plot. The politics of the film play like a highly condensed sequel to The Lion in Winter. The only way to walk a straight line is to be a crooked man; you can best serve the King by lying to him; everyone is amazingly intelligent but they all act like fools and at the center of everything is John's Mother - Eleanor of Aquitaine - constantly frustrated at being the best qualified person in England to rule, but forced to use her family as crude puppets instead of directly wielding power.

A variation on the Odysseus returns home a changed man legend
Robin Hood's plot is busy and byzantine filled with plotting and counter-plotting, impersonations (a la The Return of Martin Guerre) hidden inscriptions, buried memories, lost fathers and hidden sons. It may all seem to be spiralling out of control until you see Robin Hood's goal and all those scattered gears turn into a smoothly ticking clock. The dashing swashbuckler Robin Hood has a goal: rescue Richard and return to England its' better King. Russell Crowe's Robin has a similar but different goal: make John into a better King.

Robin's tool to reform King John is a legally binding contract or charter between the King and the people and peers of England. Robin's goal is to get John to sign the "Great Charter" - the Magna Carta. In fact, Ridley Scott makes the case that Robin Hood is the living charter, literally the son of the man who wrote the first draft of the doscument. The first hint of this relationship is revealed when Robin gives himself a stigmata, pricking himself on a concealed inscription on a sword - the hidden motto of Robin's Father and the Charterists; the famous line from the trailer, "Rise, and rise again. Until lambs become lions."

If this film becomes the first in a series, we can see where the series has to end: at Runnymede, June 15th, 1215 and the signing of the Magna Carta - just as it starts in 1199 with Richard's death and John's coronation. It seems clear from the martyr's stigmata that Robin receives from his Father's inscription that while Robin Hood will fulfill his Father's quest and force John to sign the Great Charter, Robin will also not live to see the document signed, but die a martyr's death sometime before the actual signature.

One of the most important places in Constitutional History and it's a sad gazebo named after droopy beer.

In short, Robin Hood is a cinematic love letter to the Magna Carta in disguise. This is the subversive act that Ridley Scott and Brian Helgeland and Russell Crowe et al have been engaged in - singing the praises of a legal document nearly 800 years old and hiding that love letter within an action blockbuster.

The Great Charter
When the old studio moguls ran Hollywood, making a film about an important historical moment was seen as a public service that the studios did to justify their massive control over everything we watched. And on a good day, these historical epics even made money or returned their investment by being played for generation after generation of school-kids. In today's world of soulless corporate behemoths the only way that such a film could be made is if the historical context of the story was used as sub-text: Robin Hood's Hidden History.

And if any document deserves to receive love letters, it is the Magna Carta. Without the Great Charter, there is no parliament, no common law, no US Constitution, no Bill of Rights, no Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

There is an argument to be made that without the Magna Carta circumscribing the divine right of Kings; a written document that blasphemously curtailed the power of God; without that example does Martin Luther write the 95 Theses? - Trying to curtail the power of the Church in what became the Protestant Reformation just as the Great Charter curtailed the power of the Crown.

Without the Magna Carta, there is no habeas corpus, no right of the accused to face his accusers, no right to a fair trial in front of a jury of your peers, no right not to be tortured into a coerced confession...

GITNO! Missing the Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here sign

Seems to me that Robin Hood is a more subversive film than I thought and more necessary than I had dreamed.

(All images are copyright to their appropriate owners.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

FREE YoungCuts Screening This Sunday

FREE YoungCuts Screening This Sunday

During the ARCYP (Association for Research in Culture of Young People) convention this week at Concordia University. YoungCuts will be presenting a FREE Screening of various films from the YoungCuts Film Festival.

Screening is Sunday, May 30th from 4PM to 5:30PM in the EV building (1515 Ste-Catherine Ouest) 3rd Floor Room 760. Did we mention that the screening is FREE!?!

In addition to the films announced on the poster, we will be presenting examples of the films that we produced as part of the Canada's Got Treasures project for the Virtual Museum of Canada.

Download the Poster!
Download the Press Release!


YoungCuts is MOVING (Our office)

Effective Monday, the YoungCuts office will be at 1155 University Avenue, Suite 1015, Montreal, Quebec, H3B 3A7.



The YoungCuts Film Festival absolute drop-dead deadline is June 15th!

The Canada's Got Treasures project presents new YoungCuts short films every week!

We have money (and exposure) for Short Comedy Shorts!


For information, questions or comments contact Michael Ryan 514.285.4591

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Paying Filmmaker Gigs From (Montreal, Toronto, New York)

We have the following paying gigs from

If you are interested in any of these projects:
To be considered for any project, please send a one-page pitch to Michael Ryan by Thursday, May 27th, 2010 ( 514.285.4591 - you should be registered on

Your one-page pitch should be a one-page pdf and should include the following:
Your name, your contact information, links to your portfolio and CV, a brief summary of your credentials, what equipment you would use, and your budget.

Note that for your budget, you should include all relevant costs including your pay as well as the fee (20% - minimum $100.00) For the budget just include the full amount. No breakdown is necessary unless the client specifically requests it.
These are the current projects:

Montreal or Remote 133  Music Video is for an Iranian musician living ¨in exile¨ in Montreal. Because of the political nature of the music and exile, the musician would prefer that the music video feature no one whose identity could be verified from watching the video.

The musician is looking for creative ways to add a visual narrative to his songs, beginning with this one. The song is from an an album about the "disenfranchised", that class or segment of society that has lost its' "voice", be it politically, economically or otherwise.  The song (in Farsi) and translated English lyrics will be available on request for filmmakers who would like to hear it before making a proposal from 514.285.4591

Montreal 142 Music video for the group 2 Kats Inna Hat. Video should incorporate the idea of hats perhaps a fashion video. Sample of song available on request from 514.285.4591

Montreal 138 Music video for a rock song by a Montreal Haitian musician. To be shot in Montreal in one day and one location in a loft or warehouse. Song is about the musician trying to escape from a spell cast on him. There may be follow-up videos with an expanded budget. Sample of song available on request from 514.285.4591

Montreal 139 Music documentary is intended to be a one-day in the life of a Haitian rock musician following him through all the varied and diverse parts of the Haitian community. This project would be shot around the same time as a music video (Project 138) and filmmakers can present a combined bid for the music video and the documentary. Sample tracks available on request from 514.285.4591

Toronto 140 Music video intended to be the first in a series of music videos for a Toronto musician about to be distributed internationally. Sample tracks available on request. E-Mail 514.285.4591

New York 141 Award-winning hip-hop group looking for a talented filmmaker to create their first music video. Looking for an urban hip-hop aesthetic. Sample tracks available on request. E-Mail 514.285.4591

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Last Chance to Submit for the 2010 YoungCuts Film Festival

Last Chance to Submit for the 2010 YoungCuts Film Festival

We just passed our late deadline of May 15th which means that we are now approaching the absolute, final, drop-dead deadline June 15th to submit your film for the 2010 YoungCuts Film Festival.

Keep in mind that the earlier that we receive your film, the better chance there is for your film to be chosen for the Festival.

Also, short shorts, films under 5 minutes are still only a $15 submission fee.

So, if you were thinking of entering your film in the 2010 YoungCuts Film Festival, you are on the clock!


Cash for Short Comedy Shorts!

To update on our contest for Short Comedy Shorts...

What our sponsor is looking for are:
-30 to 90 second funny videos
-Something funny or attention-grabbing in the first 10 seconds
-Aimed at Men 18-34
-Pretty girls are appreciated but not required
-Any music should be rights cleared
-No longer than 6 seconds of credits
-Footage can be old or new, our sponsors do need to be able to have web exclusivity on the film for 90 days.
-You can simply submit a film to the contest or in some cases we are simply giving filmmakers cash to go and shoot short comedy shorts.
-If the film is under 100 MB send to by

For questions, comments, inquiries
Contact Michael Ryan at 514.285.4591
Or by e-mail at


Canada's Got Treasures!

We are very pleased to announce the launch of the Virtual Museum of Canada's new project: Canada's Got Treasures!

Statement by the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, on the Occasion of International Museum Day (announcing the launch of Canada's Got Treasures!

We have been working on this project for a long time and are very excited to see it launch.

Our involvement was to produce 84 short films for less than the budget of 1 Heritage Minute film. The aix filmmakers that we worked with: A.J. Korkadakis, Adam Shamash, Ben Goloff, Francois Laurent, Josh Usheroff and Paul Aflalo all did an amazing, outstanding job under some severe pressures both creatively, time-wise and financially.

You can see our Synopsis Video for the entire project and our first 4 films (well, really 8: 4 in English and 4 in French) on the web-site above. Each video is about a National Treasure that can be found in one of Canada's National Museums or outdoors in the National Capital region. In addition to the videos, you will find texts about the objects written by Concordia University students of Loren Lerner's Art History class, photos of the object, quizzes about the object and sometimes an amazing piece of artwork or photograph by Concordia University students who were inspired by the work.

Each week, new National Treasures will be unveiled with videos produced by YoungCuts. (And a few with just photos.)

You can also contribute through Youtube and FlickR your own choice for National Treasure or a more Regional Treasure or something that is a more Personal Treasure. If your object is accepted it will be shared on the site with the world and included in the interactive map!

This was an incredible and exciting project for us to be involved in. It allowed us to fund five different filmmakers to create great films for a national audience. And a big thank you for everyone who made the project a success!