Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Canterbury Tales (1972)

Another one of those films where the English language version seems to have vanished from sight completely.  As the series of trailers indicates, there certainly was such a version, but nowadays I can only ever locate Italian language versions of Pasolini's interpretation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.  Back in 1972, when it was released, the film met with something of a hostile reception in the UK: critics really didn't like its earthy, sweaty take on Chaucer, with lashings of sex and nudity and fart jokes to boot.  The fact that this was actually a pretty accurate interpretation of the text, and Pasolini's grimy, mud covered version of medieval England was undoubtedly quite realistic, cut little ice with the purists.  You can't help but feel that there was a degree of resentment at the fact that foreigners were having the audacity to adapt a British literary classic for the screen.

It's something I've often noticed in the UK - the way in which we jealously guard our literary heritage, clearly believing that only the British can properly interpret them.  Foreign adaptations are seen as some kind of cultural trespass.  Of course, this doesn't work both ways: critics have never had a problem with UK filmmakers, TV producers and playwrights adapting foreign language literature for stage or screen.  But there are many fascinating foreign language adaptations of British texts, from high culture classics like Chaucer and Shakespeare to pop culture favourites like Sherlock Holmes and The Saint.  Sadly, these are little seen in the UK.  There are two Saint movies made in France whilst the Roger Moore TV series was running in the UK.  The stills I've seen of the latter of these films seems to indicate an interpretation of Simon Templar along the lines of John Steed, complete with bowler hat.  There are also some magnificent Russian language versions of various Sherlock Holmes stories - I have a Soviet era Hound of the Baskervilles on DVD (with English sub-titles) which is quite fascinating and enormously entertaining.

British crime pulps were once extremely popular subjects for continental film adaptations.  Whilst Peter Cheyney's London private eye Slim Callaghan might only have appeared in one UK movie (Meet Mr Callaghan in 1954), he starred in a whole series of adaptations of Cheyney's novels in France during the 1950s and 1960s.  Another Cheyney character, Lemmy Caution, also starred in a series of French language B-movies during the same period.  Always played by Eddie Constantine, he even wandered into the orbit of Jean Luc Goddard, becoming the lead character in the director's 1965 science fiction film, Alphaville).  Similarly, Edgar Wallace eventually found his true cinematic voice in Germany in the fifties and sixties, adapted into a series of black and white 'Krimi' films. (Germany has also produced a number of Sherlock Holmes films, most of which, especially the silent ones, strayed a long way from Conan Doyle, by the sixties the great detective even found himself immersed a very Wallace like 'Krimi', Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace).

But we've strayed a long way from The Canterbury Tales.  If anyone can point me in the direction of an English language version of the Pasolini adaptation, I'd be very grateful.  Although I have very vague memories of it turning up on BBC2 in the seventies, to the best of my knowledge it hasn't seen  the light of day on UK terrestrial television in decades.



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