Monday, September 16, 2013

Mid-Century Monday: Modern quilts in the movies

Laid up under a medieval modern quilt (The Friar's Tale)

The Other (a professor of film studies) and I went to see Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales (1972) in San Francisco yesterday, and it wasn’t the bawdy humor or nudity that shocked me: instead, I was stunned by the presence of patchwork and quilting throughout!

I made some screengrabs from Netflix when we got home, and I count at least 9 different patchwork quilts on various beds though the movie, with some of the quilts seeming to make multiple appearances. And I’m not even counting (or capping) the plain blankets that were quilted but not pieced.

Pilgrims under patchwork: zigzags, triangles, and diamonds

This shot shows no less than 3 quilts keeping the pilgrims warm while they rest for the night. The camera pans around the hall, finally resting on Chaucer himself (played by Pasolini himself) next to yet another quilt, the (presumably) same isosceles triangle one as from my first cap above.

Chaucer/Pasolini next to a triangle quilt

Not only were there quilts everywhere in the film, but I couldn’t help feeling like they were pretty similar to what we think of as modern quilts today: simple shapes, uncomplicated patterns, limited palettes….

Carpenter John and Alison under a checkered quilt (The Miller's Tale)

Stripes for a student (The Miller's Tale)...

...and a Manciple (The Reeve's Tale)

Half-square triangles on the Wife of Bath's bed (The Wife of Bath's Tale)

It goes without saying that these quilts aren’t what would have been typical bedcoverings in late fourteenth-century England, so I think they’re meant to be more suggestions of the medieval milieu—similar geometric patterns pop up in other places, like the floor covering behind the Wife of Bath (the feet of her most recent victim/husband are on the bed quilt) as well as in the original movie poster.

Perhaps most interestingly, quilted banners appear in a formal court gathering, building heraldic images out of patchwork.

heraldic banners (The Friar's Tale)

heraldic banners (The Friar's Tale)

heraldic banners (The Friar's Tale)

In comparison with these banners, the patterned bed quilts seem to me to be hinting at the pageantry of the middle ages—but I’m really not sure what to make of it all. It’s got me fascinated, though, and I’m going to see if I can figure out what Pasolini and art director Dante Ferretti were getting at with all this quilting and patchwork.

(These aren’t all the quilts in the movie; I had to limit the caps to the ones that were least rude! If you’ve read the original Canterbury Tales, you’ll have some idea of what I mean, though Pasolini does take certain things further…which can be both amusing and disturbing!)