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47 customer reviews

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(Feb 13, 2007)
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Editorial Reviews

Finally, the long awaited recording is made! Since 1990, Benjamin Bagby has been performing the great epic Beowulf at major festivals and venues around the world. Now we have his remarkable performance on DVD, beautifully filmed by the award-winning Swedish director Stellan Olsson.

While Beowulf has come down to us as literature, as a written poem, the epic's pre-literate medieval audience would have known it through the performance of a scop, a bardic storyteller, as Bagby presents himself here. In this one-man tour de force Bagby accompanies himself on an Anglo-Saxon harp. Using the entire range of his voice, he delivers this gripping tale in Old English, as it could have been experienced more than one thousand years ago.

This is a performance which speaks to the lovers of Beowulf and oral epic, early music enthusiasts, Tolkien fans, medievalists, and anyone searching for virtuoso storytelling or a glimpse into the fascinating beginnings of the English language.

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Benjamin Bagby
  • Directors: Stellan Olsson
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Classical, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Koch Vision
  • DVD Release Date: February 13, 2007
  • Run Time: 98 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000KJTG10
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,337 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Joseph L. Ponessa on February 5, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Not only is the 7th or 8th-century epic Beowulf the earliest surviving work of English literature, it predates the classics of all modern European languages. Before Beowulf there is only Latin and Greek literature, the writing of late antiquity. The work survived miraculously in a single manuscript, copied in the later middle ages, preserved in a monastic library, dispersed during the Reformation into a private collection, transcribed by an Icelandic scholar, singed in a catastrophic library fire, come to rest in the British Museum -- and never fully appreciated until the critical study by J.R.R. Tolkien!

The Benjamin Bagby website states that his performance is sung in the original Old English, with optional subtitles in Modern English. That will be an excellent way to comprehend the work, much better than listening to the Old English on CD while trying to follow in a pony translation, or listening to the translation on CD while trying to follow the original in print.

Bagby revives the text as well by accompanying it with a medieval string instrument. I don't know of any recording of BEOWULF that has tried this, although I have a CD set of EL CID from Spain that takes another (not nearly as early) medieval text and intones it. The singing should slow down the performance, but the announced running time of 132 minutes compares to Trevor Eaton's impeccable 145-minute reading in Old English on Pearl CD, or to Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney's 135-minute reading of his wonderful translation into Modern English, for HighBridge.

Tolkien, who sang a recording of some of his own Elfish poems, would have been immensely pleased with Bagby's accomplishment.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By C R on March 22, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Benjamin Bagby performs this adventure with gusto and awesome stage presence both singing and narrating--more like heralding--in Anglo-Saxon (Old English) this majestic masterpiece. His resonant voice, modulating now high, now low; now loud, now soft; his dramatic emphasis, his gestures, the inner joy written on his face as he weaves this captivating tale are absolutely enthralling.

In my mind's eye I see we are transported back in time and circumstance to some rustic Germanic mead hall on a long, deep winter's night with the icy wind howling outside, a reminder how close danger and death are in this dark Urworld. We relax around the fire just after the victory feast adjusting our swords and chain mail, with the women and children at our sides and with ram's horns full of frothy brew and listen to the bard celebrate courage, bravery and sacrifice.

A spectacular glimpse into the beginnings of the English language!
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By klavaza on October 8, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The voice of Benjamin Bagby, his masterful way to play the Anglosaxon harp and his ability to tell, will transport you to an age that, if it would not have been historic, would seem a dream about ancient gods, dragons, heroes, damsels and sacrifices: an age before time, when kings battled against horrid demons and great heroes were defeated without mercy in a narrative that still combined old Norse mythology with Christian teachings. If you have never heard before about Beowulf, the oldest extant poem of Old English, or if you are a student devoted to learning the foresteps of English, please buy this DVD and enjoy, learn and let it take you to an age that existed more than one thousand years ago.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By John E. Dickenson on February 10, 2008
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Much of the action in Beowulf occurs in the mead hall, directly- as in the battle with Grendel, the flyting of Unferth, and the celebratory feast after Grendel's demise, or indirectly- as the scop with his hearpe (lyre) tells the stories of olden times and hero's past.

The ritual feasting in the old germanic north (Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and contenantal germanic)was centered both in the halls of the war bands and in the rectories of the monastic orders. The oral performance aspect was inherent in both for the transmission of history, geneology and instruction in the values of the group (by both positive and negative illustration)as well as general entertainment. Literacy was the almost exclusive domain of the monastic orders (with the exception of rune masters who recorded charms, territorial and memorial monument and little else.) It was the monks who wrote down what they could of the oral performances. Thus, they were both preserved and sterilized.

What did the old mead hall performances sound like? I have listened to recitals of Beowulf and others in both Old English and New English both live and recordings. And while I like the sound of Trevor Eaton's and J.B.Bessinger's reading the old english, and especially Seamus Heaney's reading in new english, I find that after a couple of beers, the meaduselle blurs and I begin to nod off. I have a hard time imagining a band of warriors, high born ladies and monks holding attention to a sing-song metrical recitation devoid of dramatic and dynamic effect. Story tellers of all cultures are adept at capturing their audience. Benjamin Bagby has done his homework and paid his dues!
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