Monday, June 22, 2015

Roland Clark's "Holy Legionary Youth"

Roland Clark is Assistant Professor of Modern European History at Eastern Connecticut State University. He is the translator of The Holy Trinity: In the Beginning there was Love by Dumitru Stăniloae.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Holy Legionary Youth: Fascist Activism in Interwar Romania:
Corneliu Zelea Codreanu would have loved the idea of having a movie made about him. As the leader of a fascist movement named the Legion of the Archangel Michael, he filmed his own wedding in 1925 and arranged to have it broadcast in Bucharest before the censors confiscated it and destroyed the film. Incredibly proud, Codreanu was so tall and good looking that people referred to him as the “Hollywood Hitler.” He would have liked someone like Hugh Jackman or Scott Caan to portray him confronting crowds of angry workers, plotting to assassinate a series of public figures, or shooting a police chief on the steps of the courthouse. His followers talked about him in messianic terms and he even convinced them to build a holiday resort on the Black Sea entirely with donated goods and volunteer labor. Playing Codreanu wouldn’t be difficult, because he never said much and in all of his pictures he always had the same stoic expression on his face. Anyone with a bit of height, a strong chin, and big muscles would make a good Codreanu.

Unfortunately for Codreanu, this book isn’t really about him. Fascist movements didn’t just need charismatic leaders, they also had to have committed followers to do the work. Holy Legionary Youth is about the extraordinary collection of colorful characters who made up the Legion, dedicating their time, money, and often their lives to transforming their country into a fascist state. Ion Moţa, the belligerent son of a priest who was always getting into trouble and went to fight in Spain so that he could die as a martyr should be played by someone with a bit of attitude, like Jack O’Connell. Give Russell Crowe a bushy beard and he would do well as General Cantacuzino, the cantankerous old war hero who hung around with the young hooligans and tried to teach them table-manners. Emma Watson could give some spirit to the character of Codreanu’s wife, while the gentle Maria Iordache needs someone like Victoria Justice to follow her through the summer work camps and into a convent. George Clooney would make a good playboy king who persecuted the legionaries, and Matt Damon could do any of the awkward young intellectuals who hung around the Legion pretending to be tough.

The challenge with turning a book like this into a movie is choosing which of its many subplots should go front and center and which need to fade into the background. With a multitude of characters, each joining the Legion for his or her own reasons and being transformed by the movement in different ways, it would be difficult to keep up with them all on screen the way you can in a book. This is a tale of epic proportions, in which ordinary people are swept up into events that are larger than life. Ultimately it probably doesn’t matter who plays the main characters as long as the music captures the drama of long marches, damp prisons, and sudden street battles, and the set design conveys the romance and passion of interwar Romania in its darkest hours.
Learn more about Holy Legionary Youth at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue