Crusades (1995)

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Rating:
NR
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Audience Reviews for Crusades

Exploring the Past, Python Style Perhaps the way to get people to learn history is to make celebrities teach it to them. I don't know that it's the best method, especially given the understanding some celebrities seem to have of anything academic. However, I've now seen the McGregor brothers teach about the Battle of Britain. I've seen Chris Rock teaching about the history of hair care products for blacks. Of course, there are plenty of documentaries narrated by celebrities, and I've probably learned more about geography from Michael Palin than from all the textbooks of my school experience combined. I don't much advise learning science from celebrities, except Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, but history? Maybe that's the way. Unfortunately, I think most of us learn our history from movies about it, and that's the wrong way to do it. The history as shown in fiction is generally terrible, even when a film is acclaimed for its historical accuracy. This, however, isn't fiction. This is Palin's fellow Python Terry Jones leading us through the history of the Crusades. It isn't exhaustive; it can't be, when it's only four hours long. Its focus is more on the First Crusade and then the rise of Saladin and his eventual conflict with Richard Cur de Lion. Everything in between and after gets more glossed over, but we are, after all, dealing with hundreds of years of history and the repeated clashes between two cultures. It's hard to get all that into four hours. Jones mostly interjects himself into the narrative to give us a more down-to-Earth perspective, testing the armour of the First and Third Crusades, for example, and testing the native assertion that the story of Richard's fabled landing at Acre must be false. Jones didn't drown, so I suppose there's a decent chance that the natives are wrong and Richard did wade ashore in his armour. It's too late to be sure, though he was younger and presumably stronger than Terry Jones, too. Perhaps the most interesting conceit of the series is that several important historical figures, not least Cur de Lion and Saladin, are represented by people painted and costumed to look like period images of that figure. They speak some of the words their historical predecessor actually wrote or were supposed to have said. These people change as the series progresses, obviously, and so it also serves as a bit of an art history demonstration. There are also obvious differences between Eastern and Western art shown. The Crusades are not really my era, but I do know that how they are seen in the West and how they are seen in the East are considerably different, and I know that the cultural cross-pollination primarily existed because people from each side were fascinated by the things they saw on the other. Cur de Lion and Saladin never met, were never as close as the artistic representations of them here, but their presence together in one time and place shaped two civilizations. This isn't the most in-depth view of the Crusades, as I said. For one thing, it leaves out such things as the Children's Crusades entirely. It references the conflicts between the various European nations, but it doesn't go into much detail there. Not much time is devoted to the conflicts among the Islamic nations, either. The time between Crusades, obviously, is pretty much ignored. No mention is made of the fact that Cur de Lion left a brother at home to watch his kingdom, and there's only one casual reference to the fact that he had overthrown his own father to take the throne he pretty much abandoned to go fight in the Holy Land. At that, there is more detail about him than any of the various non-British monarchs involved in this period of history; even his mother isn't referenced, and she had herself gone on Crusade before him--with her first husband. While it is mentioned that there was more than one kind of Christian, more information is given about there being more than one kind of Muslim. Jones, like most other modern historians, talks a lot more about Christian atrocities toward non-Christians than used to be the case. In general, the immediate cause of the First Crusade was the conquest of the eastern parts of the Byzantine Empire by Turks, though there is considerable debate among historians about the particulars. However, it can be agreed that the Jews of Worms and Cologne had nothing to do with it, and they were slaughtered anyway. After all, if you're battling unbelievers, why not start at home, right? The era of Crusades was not one of religious tolerance throughout Europe, and while non-Muslims in Muslim-held lands did not have as many rights as Muslims, at least they had any. The Crusades were long over by the time of the completion of the [i]Reconquista[/i], but the spirit that drove the Inquisition which followed was very much alive during the Crusades. The Jews of Jerusalem, after all, weren't burned alive in their own synagogue by the Muslims.

Edith Nelson
Edith Nelson

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