Descended from Hercules: Biopolitics and the Muscled Male Body on Screen

Descended from Hercules: Biopolitics and the Muscled Male Body on Screen

Descended from Hercules: Biopolitics and the Muscled Male Body on Screen

Descended from Hercules: Biopolitics and the Muscled Male Body on Screen

Synopsis

Muscles, six-pack abs, skin, and sweat fill the screen in the tawdry and tantalizing peplum films associated with epic Italian cinema of the 1950s and 1960s.Using techniques like slow motion and stopped time, these films instill the hero's vitality with timeless admiration and immerse the hero's body in a world that is lavishly eroticized but without sexual desire. These"sword and sandal" films represent a century-long cinematic biopolitical intervention that offers the spectator an imagined form of the male body--one free of illness, degeneracy, and the burdens of poverty--that defends goodness with brute strength and perseverance, and serves as a model of ideal citizenry.Robert A. Rushing traces these epic heroes from Maciste in Cabiria in the early silent era to contemporary transnational figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian, and to films such as Zach Snyder's 300.Rushing explores how the very tactile modes of representation cement the genre's ideological grip on the viewer.

Excerpt

This book represents the culmination of many years of engagement with a curious film genre, the peplum. Many readers, if they are familiar with this term at all, will think of a flap of fabric attached to a blouse or a skirt (see McDowell 1997). in fact, in classical antiquity the word “peplum” also referred to an article of women’s clothing, the Greek peplos (later Roman peplus or peplum), a loose, draped shift or tunic for women. in the 1950s, there was a real vogue for films set in classical antiquity, many of which made use of a certain freedom imparted by their ancient settings to present filmgoers with shapely young women in revealing and silky shifts. French fans of these films (popular in both Europe and the United States) began to refer to them as les péplums as a result. Even in the conformist 1950s, films set in the classical world (see Solomon 2001 and Wyke 1997a) allowed for representations of both virtue and vice, of great moral character and intimations of debauchery and decadence that permitted more of the body to be revealed than in contemporary settings. American studios produced a number of these epics set in Greece, Rome, or Egypt throughout this period, from Samson and Delilah (1949) to Spartacus (1960). the Italian film industry did the same, with films like Alessandro Blasetti s Fabiola (1949) and Pietro Francisci’s Attila (1954, starring Anthony Quinn and Sophia Loren). Beginning with the massive success of Francisci’s Hercules (Lefatiche di Ercole, 1958), however, Italy began to produce large numbers of cheaply and rapidly made peplum films that starred American bodybuilders, such as Steve Reeves or Gordon Scott, in the primary roles as mythological strongmen: Hercules, Goliath, Samson, and others.

By the early 1960s in France, the term “peplum” had found its way from provincial university film clubs onto the pages of the prestigious film journal Cahiers du cinéma as part of the ongoing debate about mainstream genres and auteur theory (Aziza 1998; Delia Casa 1968, 312–314; Ghigi 1977, 744–746). As they did with cheap American B movies about crime from the 1940s and 1950s, which they baptized “film noir,” or with Hollywood Westerns, French critics attempted to take the peplum seriously, making efforts to find peplum “auteur” directors who could successfully impose an individual vision on what was admittedly a pretty monotonous, repetitive, and narrow genre. These discussions took place as the peplum . . .

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