I’m writing a post here to give you an example of what kind of post I am expecting you to do for your blog assignment.
On Monday, I mentioned the term “camp” in connection with Excalibur. Though it had been around for a while, term really came into critical consciousness with Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, “Notes on ‘Camp,’” first publish in The Partisan Review. I called it a “term,” not an “idea,” because Sontag insists it is really a “sensibility” and NOT an “idea.” If any sensibility were rigorously defined, it would become and idea and cease to be a sensibility, she insists. Thus, it is something of a contradiction to analyze “camp.” This is why she constructs her essay as a serious of observations (not meant to be systematic or exhaustive).
At the risk of doing an injustice to her essay, you could read these statements as attempts at a definition:
love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration
love of the exaggerated, the “off,” of things-being-what-they-are-not
In her 58 notes in the essay, a few key things come up again and again:
- Camp privileges style and form over content and meaning.
- Camp is sometimes a kind of interpretative mood: the reader or viewer can take an object and find the “camp” in it, even if it may have been intended with utmost sincerity. Camp is “alive to a double sense in which some things can be taken.” The best examples of camp are not intentionally campy; they are “naive camp.”
- Camp is always artificial; never natural; always extravagant, never modest.
- There is an association of gay sensibility and camp. Other critics have made much more of this since Sontag.
If we were to view Excalibur with a “camp” sensibility, we might focus on Merlin in particular:
Sontag writes, “The androgyne is certainly one of the great images of “Camp” sensibility.” In this respect, Merlin is a decidedly campy figure: unlike the other characters in the film, he is a de-sexed character. He shows no desire for women. The director, Boorman, wanted to make him completely sexless–but the actor, Nicholas Clay, refused some of his requests, such as shaving all his hair. In the end, they settled on the metal cap:
Time Stamp: 1:30:40
Merlin, as played by Clay (this is an important qualification), is a high-camp figure. Sontag writes:
Camp is art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be talen altogether seriously because it is “too much.”
We can see this Clay’s seemingly earnest, yet entirely extravagant performance of the rather outlandish lines given him. [Note: in order to put this video in here, I had to rip the segment using VLC, then upload it to youtube, and then use the link youtube provides for embedding video–I’ll go over this in class Friday]:
Time Stamp: 3:25-3:49
I particularly like his inflection on, “death was but a DREAM.” It is hard to see this performance and not imagine Clay winking all through it.
If we take a camp sensibility to a dated film like this, it provides a new avenue for enjoying something that might see otherwise dreadful.