Academic journal article Film & History

Ancient Rome at the Cinema: Story and Spectacle in Hollywood and Rome

Academic journal article Film & History

Ancient Rome at the Cinema: Story and Spectacle in Hollywood and Rome

Article excerpt

Ancient Rome at the Cinema: Story and Spectacle in Hollywood and Rome Elena Theodorakopoulos Exeter: Bristol Phoenix Press, 2010. pp. 199.

This is a short book with 177 pages of double spaced text in relatively large font, barely 60,000 words. A little more than one-sixth of the book offers introductory material, and then follow six brief essays on Ben-Hur (1959), Spartacus (1960), The Fall of the Roman Empire, Gladiator, Fellini's Satyricon, and Titus. Not nearly as thorough as Cyrino's Big Screen Rome or Winkler's anthologies on Spartacus and Fall, this book could be very useful in the classics classroom, but not for film students. The short essays each raise several interesting questions and offer clear and positive readings of the films with minimal intrusions from contemporary scholarship. The book belongs to the "Greece and Rome Live" series and is well suited for that purpose.

The theoretical crux of the book is the tension between spectacle and narrative when applied in films set in antiquity, which by tradition are often large-scale spectacles. Theodorakopoulos announces at the outset (1-7) that these six films will provide interesting test cases in that they are all historical and divide into four Hollywood spectacles and two works more properly categorized as art cinema. She immediately underscores that spectacles assault our senses, sometimes overpowering us, sometimes becoming so obtrusive that they interfere with everything else, particularly the narrative.

The first chapter ("Narrative and Spectacle: Realism and Illusion, and the Historical Film") differentiates between the Realists, whose theoretical approach suggests that cinema might provide an exact reproduction of reality, and the Formalists, who recognize that film must shape or construct its own form of reality. Here she introduces such concepts as transparent narration, the 180-degree rule, and metahistory as well as wide-screen formats. …

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