Monday, November 02, 2009

What would you do with The Canterbury Tales?

I have a sort of challenge to issue anyone who cares to join in.

This month I'm working on The Canterbury Tales with my senior English class. I plan to do the same thing my teacher did with my class - pairs of students choose one tale to perform for the class and analyze. That got me thinking.

Aside from a French version many years ago, IMDB says every version of The Canterbury Tales has been a TV mini-series, the latest in 2003 starring Johnny Lee Miller, Bill Nighy, and Chiwetel Ejiofor among others. Netflix doesn't have this particular one available, which I think is kind of a shame because I like a lot of these actors and would love to see this version myself.

However, the truth remains that there is no real contemporary film interpretation of The Canterbury Tales. I can imagine why. It's split into short pieces with tenuous thematic connections, it has a barely-there plot, and it's unfinished.

Which is why I thought it was a cool challenge. I started thinking of ways I'd approach it, and although I never plan to actually attempt such a feat, I thought it would be interesting to see the different ways you could interpret Chaucer's unfinished masterpiece on film. It's rife with creative possibility.

So here you go. If you had a $90 Million budget and complete creative control along with studio backing and a guaranteed wide release with any cast and director you want, how would you do it? How would you structure this film so that it made sense?


  1. Anonymous3:37 PM

    I think books like these(Cantebury Tales)will be forgotton in the future. So why bring it up? Novels and classic books are not read or respected by the modern youth of today. Youth nowadays want to go beyond Youtube, Kindle, Facebook(actually Fakebook). With the invention of graphic porn and violent videos, what's next, who really cares about Cantebury Tales. I ask the posters on this blog, what would you read or watch, Cantebury Tales or Porn or Violent clips? On that topic I heard that there was porn version of Cantebury tales. Disgusting.
    In the future, books will become obsolete as artistic porn with a good story will take over. It's the latest thing in Paris and Russia.

  2. Yes. A book that's been read the world over since the 1300s is definitely on the fast track to being replaced by Internet porn.

    Are you on crack, or just trying to troll?

  3. I was going to mention that Pasolini did a film version of the Decameron, which was supposedly a big influence on Chaucer. But according to wikipedia, he also did The Canterbury Tales! Why am I just finding out about this? I don't know if 72 is contemporary. And Pasolini isn't exactly Hollywood. A little minimalistic for some people's tastes.

    I know "A Knight's Tale" wasn't really based on it, just borrowed the title and added Chaucer. But I thought that did a good job of showing how the people of the era probably thought of stuff. Jousting instead of football. The dances being another Friday night out, not some stuffed shirt thing. And I liked the take on Chaucer.

    I hate to say it, but if I had 90 million to do a classic story with a frame device, I'd rather do ARABIAN NIGHTS IN SPACE...

  4. Dammit, Grant, that's not the purpose of this exercise. Although Arabian Knights in Space does sound pretty cool...

  5. Easy, I'd let Trevor Sands adapt Dan Simmons' retelling of The Canterbury Tales, as science fiction.

    Oh wait, that's already happening at Warner Brothers.

  6. For a while now I've toyed with the idea of converting the setting from a pilgrimage journey to a Metro North train headed from Connecticut to Grand Central Station.

  7. I can't take on the question of structure, but what I would do is have "Queen" score the soundtrack and maybe play some bit parts, with Adam Lambert as lead vocalist.

    Listening to "Bicycle" the other day reminded me of their impact.

  8. Domremy, that's a good start to a solid idea.

  9. Actually, I think I read in the trades that there is going to be a (modified) version of The Canterbury Tales movie project for 2011 - 2012. I've forgotten who was attached, but the deal seemed pretty solid.

    As for the book and how to use it in class/students. I'd probably break the class into groups and challenge them to convert to take each "tale" and turn it into a modern play/movie script set in contemporary times.

    And let's go on the record as saying Anonymous # 1 is a moron with no respect for literature or its relationship to modern society.

  10. Oh yes, I definitely have the kids splitting the story up into groups.

    But the purpose of this post was to see what people would pitch if they had this job. I guess I learned that not many people would want the job.

  11. I have no doubt there are way to make The Canterbury Tales work for today's audience.

    Here's my take on a potential structure:

    - THE END

    They had fireworks in the middle ages, so Michael won't have a problem with plausibility.

    A winner!

  12. I'd do a post-apocalyptic version, with people struggling their way across North America, telling stories to keep alive their sanity and whatever little history they can remember.

    I'd make the telling of the individual stories affect the relationships between the characters in the 'frame story'; they'd go through their own story arcs, so technically there would no longer be a frame story at all. The movie would be about developing community through story in a world that has lost its sense of self.

    For the ending I'd probably have the characters reach their particular 'Canterbury', discover that it was destroyed - and then one of them (inspired by all he's learned from the stories of the others) would tell a final tale to rouse the others. Because of this tale the group would then change their 'pilgrimage' into a new nomadic way of life. They would continue to travel, continue to gather others together, continue to tell their stories - and thereby keep civilization indefinitely alive.

    Now if I could just figure out where to add in A Zombie's Tale . . ..

  13. I like it. I like it a lot.

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