When we lived in Venezuela, most of the TV we watched was in Spanish. We watched One Step Beyond, Twilight Zone, Highway Patrol, Rin Tin Tin and Tales of the South Pacific in Spanish. Those were the family favorites – although, frankly, I never understood why Highway Patrol with Broderick Crawford fell in the lineup. It was my dad’s choice. But every Saturday morning the local channels showed a movie in English. It was usually a John Wayne film, wild west shot ‘em up, with Wayne riding off into the proverbial sunset.
It was somewhat synchronous that years later, Rob connected with Ed Smart, an iconoclastic adventurer from Aspen, Colorado and Utah who was one of Wayne’s closest friends. We spent a couple of vacations with Ed at his home in Utah, when Rob tried to pull together Ed’s voluminous notes about his and Wayne’s various adventures. The project never panned out.
This evening we watched The Mists of Avalon , based on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s bestselling novel. We saw it years ago, but decided to watch it again and onto the Netflix it went. For some reason, it reminded me of Ed Smart and John Wayne. Wayne’s movies and Bradley’s novels – like the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, like Body Heat and Harry Potter- deal with large archetypal themes. These movies enter Joseph Campbell territory, the hero’s journey, the quest rejected and then embarked upon. In fact, screenwriter Robert McKee wrote a book called Story about how the hero’s journey is integrated into every bestselling script/movie /novel.
Mists of Avalon is a three-hour film. We planned to watch it over the course of two nights, but it takes the Camelot and Avalon myth and humanizes it so well that we watched the entire three hours. The fundamental struggle in this film is that the magical world of Avalon can’t exist unless there are people who believe in paganism – its magic and beauty, its sacred honor of the natural world. The opposing worldview is Christianity.
What makes this story work on so many levels, even when it’s emotionally cheesy, is the Shakespearean stuff, the emotional interactions among the characters. There’s Arthur and his half-sister Morgana, Lancelot and Guinevere, Arthur and Lancelot, Arthur and Guinevere, Arthur and Mordred, his incestuous son, and Morgana’s magical apprenticeship to become the lady of the lake who guards Avalon. In a time when women were publicly marginalized, they actually ruled behind the scenes.
So, here’s another weird little synchro. Years ago at a writer’s conference, we sat on a panel with Marion Zimmer Bradley, who was at that time one of the grand dames of sci-fi/fantasy. The panel moderator had cancelled at the last minute and the people in charge of the conference asked Rob to moderate. He mistakenly introduced Marion as Marion Zimmerman Bradley, and she got quite huffy about the mistake.
“It’s Zimmer,” she snapped.
But we had recently spoken with our friend RD Zimmerman so the mistake was innocent. But Marion refused to speak to us for the rest of the night. Too bad. I had a lot of questions for her about how she’d written her novel, whether she felt it had been channeled.
The movie was made in 2001, so there’s a video quality about it that you don’t find with more recent films. But the emotional resonance remains genuine and true. And the way Avalon is depicted – as a magical world separated from the “real” world by a mist that only the guardians of Avalon can part – is brilliant. The movie was certainly worth three hours of our time!