Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Sword Fight in The Princess Bride (1987)

Before we discuss the evidence for currently operational secret aerospace projects, we will briefly digress to a seemingly unrelated topic: the sword fight in cinema.

Although very little can compare to the sheer drama and subtlety inherent in a fight between giant robots, arguably the most important contribution of visual effects filmmaking in history, there have in the past been other conventions to demonstrate conflict and skill between characters.  At one point in the history of filmmaking  the sword fight was a required scene, a platform for good and evil to metaphorically struggle against each other and settle the matter once and for all time which of the two will triumph.

Although fans of fencing and students of fencing argue constantly about what would constitute a decent fencing scene in cinema, and whether any exist at all, there is general agreement that the sword fight in The Princess Bride (1987) between Inigo Montoya and the mysterious "Man in Black" is a cut above (as they say in the fencing world) most of the others in the genre.

If you do not know this sequence, or if you haven't seen it recently, here is a link to a decent version on youtube.

The scene was choreographed by the late Bob Anderson, Hollywood's most famous sword fight coach, and the uncredited fencing double for Darth Vader in the early Star Wars films.  It features a dialogue between our two characters that, to a student of fencing, is apparently completely hilarious.  But most amazing of all for those knowledgeable about some of the techniques of fighting with swords, although the fight itself is not realistic per se, it does at least actually use genuine fencing technique most of the time.  Inconceivable!

As I mentioned above, the dialog is something of an in joke for those who know the history of fencing.  

Montoya: You are using Bonnetti's Defense against me, ha !
Wesley: I thought it fitting considering the rocky terrain.
Montoya: Naturally you must expect me to attack with Capo Ferro.
Wesley: Naturally. But I find that Thibault cancels out Capo Ferro, don't you ?
Montoya: Unless the enemy has studied his Agrippa... which I have !
Montoya: You are wonderful !
Wesley: Thank you, I have worked hard to become so.
Montoya: I admit it, you are better than I am.
Wesley: Then why are you smiling?
Montoya: Because I know something that you do not know.
Wesley: And what is that?
Montoya: I am not left-handed.

These are not the names of real techniques in fencing, but they are the names of well-known people in the history of fencing: Rocco Bonnetti, Ridolfo Capo Ferro, and so forth. See this link for a full discussion of who these people were.

The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts has a good collection of essays on various topics of classic sword fighting.

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