BLACKMAILLE
Part 32 - Maille and Hollywood
by Lord Thomas the Black
 


BLACKMAILLE

 Maille and Hollywood

   Welcome back to another edition of "Blackmaille"! On with the show...

   This month, I thought we'd discuss the various ways that maille has been portrayed by that staunch supporter of historical accuracy: Hollywood! Yes, hurry up with that popcorn and find your seats; Blackmaille is going to the movies!

   Before we begin, let me start by saying that this is in no way a complete list of movies featuring maille. The nine movies we'll discuss here are a mere sampling of the best (and worst) of what Hollywood (and its armories) has produced. Why only nine movies, you ask? Well, like they said in "Lord of the Rings": "Nine rings for mortal men doomed to get the armor wrong...", or something like that.

   Aaaaaaanyway... The movies we'll discuss this month are as follows:

            Ivanhoe (1952)
            The Vikings (1958)
            Excalibur (1981)
            Army of Darkness (1993)
            Braveheart (1995)
            The Messenger (1999)
            The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
            Timeline (2003)
            Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

    Now granted, "The Lord of the Rings" is a trilogy, but they were filmed together, so we'll treat them all as one film for purposes of this discussion. Along with these movies, we'll discuss some of the history of maille research, and hopefully shed some light on why Hollywood got it wrong, and why it's getting better.

 Ivanhoe ( 1952)

                   

    "Ivanhoe" is one of the earliest color/sound movies relating to the Middle Ages. This movie features nice-looking examples of plate armor (widely available from Hollywood rent-a-knight armories), but at the same time, more than its share of knit-maille. Knit-maille is my name for "maille" made of a knitted sweater painted silver. The reasons for this vary, but the most likely is the lack of real maille available from local armories.

   This lack of real armor is most likely due to an equal lack of knowledge regarding mail armor. At that time (1952), plate armor was already thoroughly catalogued and classified, but no one had done any real research into maille armor. All this was about to change, however.

    In 1953, E. Martin Burgess published his scholarly papers "The Mail-Maker's Technique" and "Further Research Into the Construction of Mail Garments" in the Antiquaries Journal, Volume 33, breaking ground on maille research in a big way. His work was followed closely by Cyril Stanley Smith, who published "The Making of Mail at Omdurman" in 1956, and "Methods of Making Chain Mail (14th to 18th Centuries): A Metallographic Note" in 1959. Smith expanded on the theories and discoveries made by Burgess, and advanced the scholarly study of maille ten-fold. For the next ten years or so, Burgess and Smith conducted a (quiet, civilized, and so-very-British) scholarly "rap battle" of sorts, each publishing papers refuting the other's claims and theories. In the midst of this most civil of wars, Kirk Douglas starred in...

 The Vikings (1958)

            

    One of the all-time worst armor movies ever made, "The Vikings" couldn't be bothered to hide its knit-maille, proudly displaying it for all to see. If this movie is to be believed, cable-knit sweaters were the primary form of armor for these Norse warriors (good news for any re-enactors living close to an "Old Navy")! Just sad.

    For almost 20 years, Hollywood lost its love affair with the Middle Ages. Then, in 1981, a director by the name of John Boorman brought to the silver screen a stunning epic based on Thomas Mallory's "Le Morte D'Arthur". Yes, I'm talking about...

 Excalibur (1981)

            

    Terry English and Nick Fitzpatrick are listed as the armorers, and the influence of Burgess and Smith in their work shows. While plate is by far the most prevalent armor featured, maille has its moments in the spotlight. "Excalibur" is most notable for being the first movie to use real, metal maille.

    Bolstered by the success of "Excalibur", as well as the spread of re-enactment groups like the Society for Creative Anachronism (founded in 1966) and the Adrian Empire (founded in 1984), maille entered a renaissance of sorts. More and more people got interested in maille, from renfair performers, to Dungeons & Dragons players with too much free time on their hands. This increase in interest led to...

 Army of Darkness (1993)

            

    "Army of Darkness" is the third movie in Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead" trilogy, and the only outright funny one of the bunch. Oddly enough, for such a goofy "horror" movie, "Army of Darkness" has some of the best armor of any movie to date! This is entirely due to the hiring of Jeff Hedgecock as principal armorer. Mr. Hedgecock is one of the top armorers in the world, and all of the armor in this movie was correct to the time period, including the very well-done maille armors.

    The growth of the internet as a communication tool helped to spread knowledge of maille not only as armor, but as an artistic medium as well. In the 90's, we entered what I consider to be a new "Age of Maille". As more people became interested in maille, the works of Burgess and Smith became available to American researchers online. Websites devoted to maille began popping up (no pun intended), and message boards such as the Armor Archive http://forums.armourarchive.org (1997), the Chainmail Board http://www.chainmailleboard.com (1999), the Mail Artisan International League http://www.mailleartisans.org/ (M.A.I.L. 1999), and the Ring Lord http://www.theringlord.org/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi (2001)  began helping new people learn the history and basics, as well as giving maillers around the world an opportunity to share their knowledge and showcase their work.

    During this new age of maille, Hollywood again fell in love with the Middle Ages, and many more movies sprang to life, showcasing maille.

 Braveheart (1995)

            

    The movie that launched a thousand Scots, "Braveheart" was responsible for a sudden flood of kilt-wearing, blue-painted "Scotsmen" in re-enactment groups across the country. Simon Atherton is listed as the armorer for this film, and while much of the plate armor looks suspect (and has inspired heated debates on many armoring message boards), the maille nonetheless looks good in the few scenes          in which it appears.

 The Messenger (1999)

           

   Terry English and Glen English - armorers

   The story of Joan of Arc, "The Messenger" features many scenes of bloody battle, showcasing both the strengths and weaknesses of Hundred-Years'-War-era armor. Both plate and maille harnesses are featured, and both look outstanding, but the use of Japanese maille in the coifs confused me:

             

During an online debate somewhere, it surfaced that the Italians of this period crafted similar maille. I have yet to see any concrete documentation for this, however. If any of my readers can help out with that, please send it to:

                        Tom Beckett
                        13628 Belmead Ave
                        Grandview, MO 64030

Thanks!

 The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)

           

    Actually a trilogy, and released as such, "L.o.t.R." was shot all at once, and so will be treated as one movie for the purposes of this writeup.

   "L.o.t.R." has inspired numerous online debates, discussions, and analysis of the various maille and plate armors featured therein. I could write an entire article just on the maille featured in this groundbreaking trilogy. I say "groundbreaking" for the simple reason that "L.o.t.R." not only featured more maille than any other movie before, but actually changed the way maille was produced for films!

   Before "L.o.t.R.", maille was made of metal, which is very heavy and hot for actors to wear for long periods of time. During the making of "L.o.t.R." however, Weta workshop hit on a new way top make maille: slice PVC pipe into thin rings, weave them together, and paint them to look like metal! The resulting maille looked right, moved right, and weighed a fraction of what even the lightest metal maille weighed.

 Timeline (2003)

           

    Based on Michael Crichton's bestselling novel, "Timeline" features the return of Simon Atherton as supervising armorer. The armor in "Timeline" looks much better than that in "Braveheart", although the maille is very obviously modern butted maille (it's made of 14 gauge wire, and the butted closures can be seen in several scenes). Still, it's real maille (not knitted), and one scene even features a half-persian "knight's chain" (see above).

    And last, but certainly not least...

 Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

           

    "Kingdom of Heaven" is one of my all-time favorites, and for good reason. Maille is featured prominently in nearly every scene, it looks amazing, and there's even a scene early on that shows a crusader oiling his maille! Truly, this is the pinnacle of maille in the movies.

   Nick Komornicki is listed as supervising armorer, but all maille in "K.o.H." was created by Weta/Tenzan Chainmaille (http://www.wetanz.com/chainmaille/index.html). Weta/Tenzan was born from the experiments in PVC maille done during the making of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Weta/Tenzan maille is injection-molded plastic, and made of alternating rows of open and solid rings. The open rings simply snap shut, then a drop of glue is applied. How do I know this? I wrote to Weta/Tenzan, and they sent me two sample packs of their maille!

  

    While "Kingdom of Heaven" no doubt plays fast and loose with the history of the crusades, nonetheless the maille looks fantastic, and is portrayed very accurately. Hopefully, "K.o.H." is a harbinger of things to come.

    In conclusion, Hollywood has had its share of problems portraying armor accurately. However, in recent years things have gotten better, and with the growth and spread of not only re-enactment societies but of online discussion groups, the knowledge of maille can only grow and improve things further.

    Thanks for joining me for another month! As always, any fan mail, hate mail, comments, etc. can be sent to me at:

                                     Tom Beckett
                                    13628 Belmead Ave.
                                    Grandview, MO 64030

   Thanks again!

 

Bibliography

All movie information and pictures courtesy of the Internet Movie Database (IMDB): http://www.imdb.com/

E. Martin Burgess  "The Mail-Maker's Technique" The Antiquaries Journal, Vol. XXXIII, 1953

E. Martin Burgess  "Further Research into the Construction of Mail Garments" The Antiquaries Journal, Vol. XXXIII, 1953

Cyril Stanley Smith  "The Making of Mail at Omdurman"  KUSH Vol. IV, 1956 Pg. 83-85,  

Cyril Stanley Smith  "Methods of Making Chain Mail (14th to 18th Centuries): A Metallographic Note" Technology and Culture Vol. 1, Issue 1, Winter 1959/1960



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