When In Rome

When In Rome

Roman epics didn't begin with Gladiator, you know.

Read Full Article

No mention for The Fall of the Roman Empire? (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058085/)?

That IS Gladiator.

MovieBob:
pre-Code knockout Claudette Colbert skinny-dips in a pool of milk,

OK, I had to track that clip down. Yowza!

As a student of history, I'm always of two minds about historical epics. On the one hand, I enjoy a lot of them as films, and the sets/locations and costume designs are frequently awesome. Most of the time, the action and dialogue aren't too bad either.

On the other hand, I get quickly irritated the way damn near all of them are used as a commentary on the present-day. Even that wouldn't be so bad, except for the way historical figures are stripped of whatever character or personality they might have had (and granted, we don't have complete pictures of most ancient figures) and forged into one-dimensional avatars for whatever simplistic dichotomy the filmmakers are going for. I find it kind of insulting that someone who was fairly complex and layered in reality is reduced to "hero who represents democracy/secular humanism/Christianity/Western values/self-made man/populist" or "villain who represents national boogeyman du jour/religious fundamentalism/communism or Islam/non-Western culture/aristocrat/elitist".

If someone has to be "the good guy" or "the bad guy" in a historical epic, I'd just rather they come across as human beings instead of ciphers.

A lot of broken style tags in this article.

Falseprophet:

MovieBob:
pre-Code knockout Claudette Colbert skinny-dips in a pool of milk,

OK, I had to track that clip down. Yowza!

As a student of history, I'm always of two minds about historical epics. On the one hand, I enjoy a lot of them as films, and the sets/locations and costume designs are frequently awesome. Most of the time, the action and dialogue aren't too bad either.

On the other hand, I get quickly irritated the way damn near all of them are used as a commentary on the present-day. Even that wouldn't be so bad, except for the way historical figures are stripped of whatever character or personality they might have had (and granted, we don't have complete pictures of most ancient figures) and forged into one-dimensional avatars for whatever simplistic dichotomy the filmmakers are going for. I find it kind of insulting that someone who was fairly complex and layered in reality is reduced to "hero who represents democracy/secular humanism/Christianity/Western values/self-made man/populist" or "villain who represents national boogeyman du jour/religious fundamentalism/communism or Islam/non-Western culture/aristocrat/elitist".

If someone has to be "the good guy" or "the bad guy" in a historical epic, I'd just rather they come across as human beings instead of ciphers.

now THATS beauty, not the plastic dolls that are filling up Hollywood and TV

dear god i wish i lived in those times... (the misoginy is a plus :P haha [/joke])

Falseprophet:
As a student of history, I'm always of two minds about historical epics. On the one hand, I enjoy a lot of them as films, and the sets/locations and costume designs are frequently awesome. Most of the time, the action and dialogue aren't too bad either.

On the other hand, I get quickly irritated the way damn near all of them are used as a commentary on the present-day.

I couldn't disagree more. If you look at all forms of popular entertainment, from Homer and Aeschylus to Shakespeare and Spielberg, creators always use historical settings to comment on present circumstances. I'd argue that's actually the entire point of using the past. Whether it's Livy's History of Rome, Michaelangelo's School of Athens, or Copolla's Apocalypse Now, if the creator doesn't have something relevant to say to us about our own present reality, historical accuracy isn't worth much. Now it's true that some artists use this technique more elegantly than others. Arther Miller's The Crucible, for instance, is a darn sight more engaging than Ben Affleck's Pearl Harbor, but both are using the past to shine a light on the present.

Don't get me wrong. I spent eight years studying history in college and I get just as upset when Disney gives Hercules mother issues, but historical accuracy is not and should not be an artist's only (or even primary) goal.

Of course, if you're talking about presenting true history in a documentary style, then entertainment should never compromise historical accuracy. But I don't think anyone is confused about whether or not this movie is trying to be factual or not.

Falseprophet:

MovieBob:
pre-Code knockout Claudette Colbert skinny-dips in a pool of milk,

OK, I had to track that clip down. Yowza!

As a student of history, I'm always of two minds about historical epics. On the one hand, I enjoy a lot of them as films, and the sets/locations and costume designs are frequently awesome. Most of the time, the action and dialogue aren't too bad either.

On the other hand, I get quickly irritated the way damn near all of them are used as a commentary on the present-day. Even that wouldn't be so bad, except for the way historical figures are stripped of whatever character or personality they might have had (and granted, we don't have complete pictures of most ancient figures) and forged into one-dimensional avatars for whatever simplistic dichotomy the filmmakers are going for. I find it kind of insulting that someone who was fairly complex and layered in reality is reduced to "hero who represents democracy/secular humanism/Christianity/Western values/self-made man/populist" or "villain who represents national boogeyman du jour/religious fundamentalism/communism or Islam/non-Western culture/aristocrat/elitist".

If someone has to be "the good guy" or "the bad guy" in a historical epic, I'd just rather they come across as human beings instead of ciphers.

Well the problem with things is that if you want to portray things accuratly people tend to find that more offensive than the ciphers. Stereotypes exist because they are true, a stereotype is more or less a checklist where a given person is liable to fit more things on that list than they do not. It's key to things like sociology and advertising. Not all stereotypes are good, and when you decide to deal with things historically, especially with some of the groups involved your going to see a massive outcry about racism and/or bigotry even if it's entirely accurate, dealing with things as they were then and sort of explaining where the stereotypes originated, and why in many cases where they were overcome by the people involved it took so long. This can be hard for some people, especially Americans, to get, since we're very critical of ourselves, where other peoples have difficulty with the same kind of introspection. Inserting modern politics and viewpoints into these things makes them more palatable, especially for a mixed international audience. Picking on whomever the Hollywood leftists doesn't like politically is also a way of fishing for awards.

For an example, let me use a well known example in entertainment. Shakespeare did this story called "The Merchant Of Venice". The bad guy in question was a sadistic Jewish money lender called "Shylocke" which pretty much takes the hero's life as collateral against a loan for a business venture. The whole "pound of flesh" referance you always hear is from this story, because what Shylocke wants and intends to collect is "the pound of flesh closest to the heart". This is a difficult character to do, because it's viewed as being anti-semitic, and without doing the character the way it's intended the story doesn't hold up very well. The thing is though that Shakespeare's plays were designed for the common man of the time (contrary to what many think) and represented the way things were then, and the period in which they were set. At the time of "The Merchant Of Venice" Jews were the only ons who could lend money (for various reasons) and wound up becoming very rich and powerful as a result, while being scorned. They also wound up forming some of the first organized crime synidicates involved in things like loan sharking, real estate scams, and the outright finance of criminal enterprises. A lot can be said of ties between Jewish financiers and the Mafia especially early on, and things like "The Sopranos" even touched upon this to an extent
even if it was never a major focus. Shylocke basically being a gangster/crime boss for the time, a modern version of the same story being some guy borrowing money from the mob and being killed if he can't pay it back. All Jews are not and were not heartless criminals no more than all Italians are or were members of the mafia. Yet if you do this story too close to the original version, or without a lot of disclaimers, your inviting trouble.

See, ascribing accurate, or extremely human motives to someone in a movie, play, or even a book sometimes, invites problems. As political correctness gets more extreme, and international sympathies grow to the point where nobody can be made the bad guy when you ge down to it, you see the problems your talking about. I agree with you, it blows chips, I'd like to see things change myself, but I don't think it's liable to happen anytime soon because pretty much every attempt to rally against political correctness ends the same way: badly.

It is unfortunate when people are stripped of their depth and characterization and made in to one-dimensional stand-ins. However I think this is a separate issue from historical accuracy or the use of historical fiction as an analogy for modern issues. Even characters who don't have a historic basis, or explicitly draw from a specific real-world person, are generally pretty annoying when reduced like this. In my opinion historical fiction that avoids this can still rest heavily on being a modern analogy and be quite good.

No, I'M Spartacus!

Let's not forget the horrible movie "Roman Scandals" (posted below with a modern soundtrack). Notable because it was used as evidence in the adoption of the Hays code.

Naked Slave Parade would be a good Trent Reznor cover band name.

Therumancer:
For an example, let me use a well known example in entertainment. Shakespeare did this story called "The Merchant Of Venice".

Actually, Merchant of Venice is an example of a historical fiction that did humanize the villain. (If it counts as "historical"; I think it was contemporary for the time). For its time, Shylock was a complex portrayal of the stock Jewish villain character, in that he was actually given human motivation (Antonio spent years just throwing racist slurs at him, so when Antonio was in a position where he needed Shylock's services, damn right Shylock tried to screw him over). Like I said, I don't mind having villains (or heroes) in period pieces, I just wish they'd portray them as human beings, not strawmen.

Steve Butts:
Don't get me wrong. I spent eight years studying history in college and I get just as upset when Disney gives Hercules mother issues, but historical accuracy is not and should not be an artist's only (or even primary) goal.

Of course, if you're talking about presenting true history in a documentary style, then entertainment should never compromise historical accuracy. But I don't think anyone is confused about whether or not this movie is trying to be factual or not.

Well, I did say I'm of two minds on the subject. Like my computer science prof friend who cringes at how computers are used in movies. I suppose, thinking on it some more, my irritation is directed not at the filmmakers, but the viewers who think these films are in any way an accurate representation of history. And that's (usually) not the creators' fault.

Sylocat:
A lot of broken style tags in this article.

Yeah, two wayward [i]s and some stuff with slashes and question marks whose intended function I do not know.

I've heard of Cleopatra before - big-budget flops are a kind of morbid fascination for me.

Brainst0rm:

Sylocat:
A lot of broken style tags in this article.

Yeah, two wayward [i]s and some stuff with slashes and question marks whose intended function I do not know.

I've heard of Cleopatra before - big-budget flops are a kind of morbid fascination for me.

Just simple typos, guys. ? instead of / and your end tag doesn't close.

thank you for reminding me of this,
im gonna go call my dad up and watch ben Hur at home.

Also, I liked cleopatra.

Falseprophet:

MovieBob:
pre-Code knockout Claudette Colbert skinny-dips in a pool of milk,

OK, I had to track that clip down. Yowza!

Holy cow! For the 30s, that was almost pornographic!

I really hope the genre never fades. Like any other it just has needed a shot in the arm. One that 300 provided and the new Spartacus shows are a great continuation of that modernized aesthetic.

Falseprophet:

MovieBob:
pre-Code knockout Claudette Colbert skinny-dips in a pool of milk,

OK, I had to track that clip down. Yowza!

I like how they carefully introduced the idea that she is in a pool of milk, not water - it's pretty hard to tell with that awful 1932 camera tech.

I did not see the most epic of Roman epics ever, Roman Holiday, on that list! D: How could we forget about the mouth of truth? :0 If you put your hand in and tell a lie, you will have your hand bitten off! That is epic! :D

Falseprophet:

Therumancer:
For an example, let me use a well known example in entertainment. Shakespeare did this story called "The Merchant Of Venice".

Actually, Merchant of Venice is an example of a historical fiction that did humanize the villain. (If it counts as "historical"; I think it was contemporary for the time). For its time, Shylock was a complex portrayal of the stock Jewish villain character, in that he was actually given human motivation (Antonio spent years just throwing racist slurs at him, so when Antonio was in a position where he needed Shylock's services, damn right Shylock tried to screw him over). Like I said, I don't mind having villains (or heroes) in period pieces, I just wish they'd portray them as human beings, not strawmen.

A fellow Shakespeare admirer! :D

I loved Shakespeare's subtlety. Remember in Much Ado About Nothing, how Claudio actually asked beforehand about Hero's inheritance before professing his love for her? Classic jab at the stereotypical lover! And you nailed Shylock as well: he was simply reacting to Antonio's constant vile racism.

Steve Butts:

I couldn't disagree more. If you look at all forms of popular entertainment, from Homer and Aeschylus to Shakespeare and Spielberg, creators always use historical settings to comment on present circumstances. I'd argue that's actually the entire point of using the past. Whether it's Livy's History of Rome, Michaelangelo's School of Athens, or Copolla's Apocalypse Now, if the creator doesn't have something relevant to say to us about our own present reality, historical accuracy isn't worth much.
.

I believe your argument is (correct me if I'm wrong) that without being able to contextualize with our present, we won't be able to appreciate it. Call me weird, but last week I largely enjoyed the Godfather, Dr Strangelove and Apocalypse Now[1] (movies released before I was born). All these movies expected me to know a bit of background history and there were very few things I could connect with them in terms of present reality (except for the very basic human endeavors/ nature which is omnipresent regardless of timeline); yet I loved 'em. Same goes for my friends. Anyway, I think it's sad in a sense that we can't appreciate a timeline for its own sake without making it relevant to ourselves. Kind of... self-centered.

Well, at least I'm glad Dr Strange gets some Love! :D

[1] I'm guessing you meant Apocalypse Now as a modern reinterpretation of Heart of Darkness. Though in retrospect it could apply to the West's attempt at spreading 'democracy'...

Great classic epics, but I didnt see my favourite here, Quo Vadis?, I loved that movie to pieces.

Raiyan 1.0:
I believe your argument is (correct me if I'm wrong) that without being able to contextualize with our present, we won't be able to appreciate it. Call me weird, but last week I largely enjoyed the Godfather, Dr Strangelove and Apocalypse Now (movies released before I was born). All these movies expected me to know a bit of background history and there were very few things I could connect with them in terms of present reality (except for the very basic human endeavors/ nature which is omnipresent regardless of timeline); yet I loved 'em. Same goes for my friends. Anyway, I think it's sad in a sense that we can't appreciate a timeline for its own sake without making it relevant to ourselves. Kind of... self-centered.

Well, at least I'm glad Dr Strange gets some Love! :D

You raise a good point and, yes, Dr. Strange is clearly awesome. I don't think expecting historical fiction to speak to our contemporary life is self-centered.

First, the movies you're talking about all treat periods and points of view that are not that far removed from our own, so there's not much of a stretch for us to understand 20th century gangsters or soldiers as it would be to understand Roman gladiators, medieval Muslims, or even early American colonists. In the movies you mentioned, we're talking about worlds in which our parents and grandparents walked and we've inherited a lot of the attitudes and perspectives required to instantly understand what's going on.

It's so fundamental to our point of view that we don't even consider it. A fish may live in the water but it doesn't necessarily feel wet. Likewise, you may watch a 1960s movie about the Cold War and not even realize how much understanding we take for granted until you contrast it with something really alien, like Beowulf or Antigone.

The second thing is that entertainment is made for contemporary audiences. Those which survive to speak to new generations do so on the basis of their universality. We may still love Alice in Wonderland or The Marriage of Figaro or Casablanca but we do so because, in spite of the different worlds in which they were created, they speak to our current situation. That could be, as you say, because we recognize in them a familiar part of the universal human drama.

I was a history major in college, so I absolutely believe it's possible and worthwhile to appreciate a timeline for its own sake. But when it comes to using history as a vehicle for entertainment, you have to express its relevance to contemporary audiences. Yes, Hollywood glosses over accuracy for the sake of cheap plot and character points, and I still complain about revisionist movies like Troy or Robin Hood, but films and novels based on history are not meant to BE history.

Steve Butts:

Raiyan 1.0:
I believe your argument is (correct me if I'm wrong) that without being able to contextualize with our present, we won't be able to appreciate it. Call me weird, but last week I largely enjoyed the Godfather, Dr Strangelove and Apocalypse Now (movies released before I was born). All these movies expected me to know a bit of background history and there were very few things I could connect with them in terms of present reality (except for the very basic human endeavors/ nature which is omnipresent regardless of timeline); yet I loved 'em. Same goes for my friends. Anyway, I think it's sad in a sense that we can't appreciate a timeline for its own sake without making it relevant to ourselves. Kind of... self-centered.

Well, at least I'm glad Dr Strange gets some Love! :D

You raise a good point and, yes, Dr. Strange is clearly awesome. I don't think expecting historical fiction to speak to our contemporary life is self-centered.

First, the movies you're talking about all treat periods and points of view that are not that far removed from our own, so there's not much of a stretch for us to understand 20th century gangsters or soldiers as it would be to understand Roman gladiators, medieval Muslims, or even early American colonists. In the movies you mentioned, we're talking about worlds in which our parents and grandparents walked and we've inherited a lot of the attitudes and perspectives required to instantly understand what's going on.

It's so fundamental to our point of view that we don't even consider it. A fish may live in the water but it doesn't necessarily feel wet. Likewise, you may watch a 1960s movie about the Cold War and not even realize how much understanding we take for granted until you contrast it with something really alien, like Beowulf or Antigone.

The second thing is that entertainment is made for contemporary audiences. Those which survive to speak to new generations do so on the basis of their universality. We may still love Alice in Wonderland or The Marriage of Figaro or Casablanca but we do so because, in spite of the different worlds in which they were created, they speak to our current situation. That could be, as you say, because we recognize in them a familiar part of the universal human drama.

I was a history major in college, so I absolutely believe it's possible and worthwhile to appreciate a timeline for its own sake. But when it comes to using history as a vehicle for entertainment, you have to express its relevance to contemporary audiences. Yes, Hollywood glosses over accuracy for the sake of cheap plot and character points, and I still complain about revisionist movies like Troy or Robin Hood, but films and novels based on history are not meant to BE history.

Thanks for the insight. The point on inheriting a lot of the attitudes/perspectives of the bygone eras was particularly enlightening. I didn't necessarily get them from my parents, but from a rather large volume of reading since an early age (that reminds me: I need to look for my copy of The Dark Valley).

As for history being a vehicle for entertainment, I guess I see your point on historical significance being irrelevant to contemporary audiences. And yes, directors should have reign on revisionism - and I concede this solely because of Kubrick's liberal attitude at handling source materials. It just pisses me off when apathetic people go sprouting 'history' after seeing movies ("No. Harrison Ford was never President").

And finally I agree with you that "it's possible and worthwhile to appreciate a timeline for its own sake". For me, this itself is a vehicle for entertainment. Nothing is quite as enthralling as reading on Hitler's utter obsession with breaking down the morale of the British public (thus the V2 project) at the obvious expense of inflicting zero military damage. Let's face it, life can sometimes extend beyond the ultimate absurdities. Reality should dictate such awesomeness as Georges Clemenceau shouldn't exist. Yet he did.

MovieBob:
Unquestionably, Rome was the more popular of the two - its social structure was more immediately familiar to mainstream audiences (translation: Rome had more white people)

I lol'ed. Then again after seeing Charlton Heston as a Mexican and John Wayne as a Mongol, I doubt that sort of thing really bothered them.

I hate to get all nitpicky (okay, that's a lie,) but you do know that the title character of Ben-Hur is Judah ben-Hur, not "Ben," right?

There's one classic television series that neither Bob or any of you have mentioned; I,Claudius from 1976. It's based on a couple of books by Robert Graves and I highly recommend it. Mainly because it's full of awesome actors like Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed, Patrick Stewart, John Rhys-Davies and John Hurt.

Here's a sampling of the biggest and/or most-infamous ones that made the genre what it is:

Ummm... What's missing from this list? What's that movie that took ancient Roman sexual debauchery to new heights and earned the undying hatred of most film critics? What's the movie that ended up being an inspiration for the most current Rome-centered TV show (Sparacus: Blood and Sand & Gods of the Arena)?

CALIGULA (1979)

Roman epics may not have started with Gladiator, but modern Roman epics, Roman epics for the generations after the Baby Boomers, certainly did.

Robyrt:

Falseprophet:

MovieBob:
pre-Code knockout Claudette Colbert skinny-dips in a pool of milk,

OK, I had to track that clip down. Yowza!

I like how they carefully introduced the idea that she is in a pool of milk, not water - it's pretty hard to tell with that awful 1932 camera tech.

Well that probably worked to their advantage, because I'm pretty sure that's not a pool of milk. :p

The_root_of_all_evil:

Falseprophet:

MovieBob:
pre-Code knockout Claudette Colbert skinny-dips in a pool of milk,

OK, I had to track that clip down. Yowza!

Holy cow! For the 30s, that was almost pornographic!

Yes. Yes it is. :D

Hell, at 3:09 I was like "Woah! They really got away with this?"

Undead Dragon King:

Here's a sampling of the biggest and/or most-infamous ones that made the genre what it is:

Ummm... What's missing from this list? What's that movie that took ancient Roman sexual debauchery to new heights and earned the undying hatred of most film critics? What's the movie that ended up being an inspiration for the most current Rome-centered TV show (Sparacus: Blood and Sand & Gods of the Arena)?

CALIGULA (1979)

Yeah, I was wondering where that was. Goes to show you shouldn't attempt to film an accurate movie with a porn magazine's money.

You want a movie about Rome?

Room in Rome, dude.

I remember reading the book after watching the movie, and it was really lame in comparissin.

Vitor Goncalves:
Great classic epics, but I didnt see my favourite here, Quo Vadis?, I loved that movie to pieces.

Well, Signs of the Cross is based on a play which is *very* similar to Quo Vadis. Heck, even Bob's summary of Signs had me thinking of Quo (as both stories share essentially the same premise and even setting). Plus, which version would Bob discuss? By the time the Hays Code was in place, Quo Vadis had already been filmed three times (two of those while Sienkiewicz was still alive), and I'm guessing that you're thinking of Mervyn LeRoy's version from 1951, or one of the several films or TV mini-series that have been released since 1951.

The fact is, there's about a fuckton of sandal-and-sword epics that got released during that era, and discussing a decent sampling of them in the confines of a small article is nigh-on impossible. Personally, I'm kinda surprised that none of those low-budget Italian Hercules movies from the '60s got a mention. I would've thought that schlock like Hercules vs. the Moon Men would be right up Bob's alley.

Urh:

Vitor Goncalves:
Great classic epics, but I didnt see my favourite here, Quo Vadis?, I loved that movie to pieces.

Well, Signs of the Cross is based on a play which is *very* similar to Quo Vadis. Heck, even Bob's summary of Signs had me thinking of Quo (as both stories share essentially the same premise and even setting). Plus, which version would Bob discuss? By the time the Hays Code was in place, Quo Vadis had already been filmed three times (two of those while Sienkiewicz was still alive), and I'm guessing that you're thinking of Mervyn LeRoy's version from 1951, or one of the several films or TV mini-series that have been released since 1951.

The fact is, there's about a fuckton of sandal-and-sword epics that got released during that era, and discussing a decent sampling of them in the confines of a small article is nigh-on impossible. Personally, I'm kinda surprised that none of those low-budget Italian Hercules movies from the '60s got a mention. I would've thought that schlock like Hercules vs. the Moon Men would be right up Bob's alley.

You guessed right. I was thinking exactly of the 1951 version.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here