by Cat McAlpine
A crowd is gathered in a concrete hall. The space might be at a fairgrounds, where animals are displayed and children show off their crafts. But not today. Today, the crowd leans over the red metal railing to watch full-suited knights absolutely wail on each other. Welcome to Medieval Armored Combat.
Steel Song follows several women involved with the ancient, full-contact sport. They practice hacking away with axes. They paint and stitch personal sigils. They strap into full suits of armor and fight in combat, sword to sword.
Though tournaments separate bouts by sex, director Adrian Cicerone never pits the women in his film against each other. In fact, he shows very little of their competitive results. It would be easy to compare the women to one another. The Armored Combat League (ACL) National Championship features 9 female competitors to 48 male. But instead, Cicerone focuses his lens on the camaraderie of the community, and his film is made the better for it.
Steel Song doesn’t delve into the history of sword combat or how the society of steel combatants functions now. Instead, it briefly explores the lives of Bridgette Parkinson, Shoshana Shellans, and Julee Slovacek-Peterson, and discovers how armored combat is just one large part of their lives.
“I keep fighting because of what I can continually prove about myself, to myself,” says Shellans.
That’s the theme of the film. Cicerone doesn’t focus on the competition because every armored fighter is really fighting against themselves, for themselves. It’s an incredibly difficult sport, with bouts only lasting 3-5 minutes because of the amount of exertion required. Even covered head to toe in armor, combatants still come away bloody. They also always come away smiling, with most matches ending in a hug between competitors.
Steel Song is a beautiful hour and fifteen minutes, complete with appropriate instrumentals, that relishes in the joy of being yourself.
Muses one of the women, “I think everybody would be so much happier if they could just be them.”