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Abstract

The chapter examines recreations of armed conflict in Oliver Stone’s 2004 historical epic Alexander by paying attention both to the ancient textual and visual sources by which the film is informed and to the conventions of the war film genre and expectations of modern audiences to whom the film is addressed. The two scenes of armed conflict recreated in the film are the battles at Gaugamela and Hydaspes, both placed at strategic moments in the narrative. In particular, the chapter cast light on: a) the temporalities of warfare, that is, the different phases of military preparation and realization of warfare; b) the modalities of audiovisual narrative, especially those inspired by ancient historiographic and iconographic traditions; and c) the technicalities of the battle scenes and their position both within the Alexander filmography and the broader cinematic category of historical films. The chapter argues that Stone pays tribute to the historiographic tradition on Alexander (especially Arrian) and despite the condensations and revisions he manages to render the inherent tension of a controversial personality like Alexander. Landscape, color, armor, and body language are used by the American filmmaker to comment on male identity, here synonymous with extreme violence and mortality, while individual excellence, sacrifice, and combat trauma transform the frantic military conqueror to a self-destructive leader.

In: Brill's Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Warfare on Film

Abstract

The chapter seeks to restore to critical visibility in classical reception studies a neglected subgenre of Italian cinema: sound historical films set in Roman antiquity and were produced in the late interwar and early post-WWII period. This genre has been overshadowed by two internationally renowned genres: the pre-WWI silent Kolossal films and the peplum films (late 1950s through early 1960s). In particular, the chapter focuses on recreations of armed conflict in Scipione l’africano (1937, dir. Carmine Gallone), Fabiola (1949, dir. Alessandro Blasetti), Spartaco, gladiatore della Tracia (1953, dir. Riccardo Freda), and Attila (1954, dir. Pietro Francisci). Whereas the first case study uses warfare as a means to equate Fascist Italy with the glory of Republican Rome, the other three films use the classical past as a critical lens through which to comment on human suffering and material damage experienced by Italy’s civilian population during World War II, as well as on the ongoing hardships of the early postwar era. These films revive armed conflict in antiquity through images of destruction of towns and villages, persecutions of minorities, looting, reprisals, violence, death, and caravans of refugees fleeing the horrors of war and devastation. The chapter argues that although Italian cinema of this period turns to the distant past for inspiration, it continues to be concerned with modern Italians dressed in an ancient Roman garment and to address contemporary issues with which the domestic audience can fully identify.

In: Brill's Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Warfare on Film

Abstract

This chapter examines the representation of Atalanta as a celluloid warrior in the Hallmark mini-series Jason and the Argonauts (2020) and the film Hercules (2014, dir. Brett Ratner). A hunter, runner, athlete, and archer, Atalanta provides intriguing perspectives regarding the construction of warrior women, both desired and feared by men.

In the first case study, Atalanta, deeply in love with Jason, appears in somewhat boyish attire and is strikingly different from conventional women, such as the hero’s mother Polymele. Independent and under no apparent male control, she follows her own will. Yet, she shoots from afar, not engaging in physical combat. Despite her welcomed inclusion, Atalanta’s depiction is rather problematic: as a female warrior, not conforming to traditional beauty or eroticism, she cannot be cast as Jason’s true partner. The wedding of Jason and Medea at the film’s close fits into the Hollywood-esque model of gender and romance, and de-emphasizes, almost shuns, the alternative figure of Atalanta. Her inclusion seems more like a gesture to broaden the film’s audience than a novel approach to ancient women and gender.

In Hercules, Atalanta fights almost exclusively with bow and arrow, and participates directly in the battlefield. An attractive, Amazon-like and strong heroic figure, this Atalanta has to constantly prove herself to be as skilled and powerful as the male characters. Felicitously, the movie does not develop any romantic entanglements and thus avoids falling into Hollywood clichés. Yet, it skirts around more controversial issues, such as lesbianism, which appeared in the original comic book, and Hercules’ murders of his family.

While both productions give the ancient heroine a privileged role as an alternative fighter within a heroic group of skilled male warriors/adventurers, both Atalantas still do not seem to “count as women”: they suffer from some sexual discrimination, gender stereotyping, and erasure of gender difference.

In: Brill's Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Warfare on Film
Author:

Abstract

This chapter explores the underexamined dynamics between the physical star performance and digital effects within the sword-and-sandal film. A buff male body has always been central to the spectacular pleasures of this genre. From the silent era onwards, bodybuilders and sportsmen were the primary protagonists for the peplum, establishing a discourse around a highly constructed pro-filmic body. However, the advent of digital effects has led to uncertainty and anxiety around the mythic warrior’s body on screen. The actor’s body may be one of the few real images on the screen in the digital era, but may be digitally augmented to safely add weaponry, bodily contact, and injuries, or it may be replaced entirely by a digi-double. Using Brad Pitt’s Achilles in Troy (2004, dir. Wolfgang Petersen) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s performance in Hercules (2014, dir. Brett Ratner), this chapter argues the star bodies that enact cinematic ancient world warriors in the early twentieth century digital epic cycle signify a physical authenticity that must be anxiously asserted outside the film to a heightened degree. The digital sword-and-sandal film revels in its CGI spectacles of ancient warfare yet must work harder, both textually and paratextually, to emphasize an authenticity around its contemporary star bodies.

In: Brill's Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Warfare on Film
Author:

Abstract

This chapter examines the relationship between the ancient world epic and the modern war film through a study of The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) and the World War II battle film The Longest Day (1962). The films are clearly very different, both in setting and visual style, but their common focus on recreating historical combat and military culture, as well as their emergence at a crucial moment in Cold War history, provides the basis for a comparative analysis. The first section examines the industrial contexts in which the two films were produced, focusing on the decisive contributions of their producers (Samuel Bronston and Darryl F. Zanuck, respectively), the different ways in which they used Europe as a production base, and their collaboration with the governments of European nations. The second section outlines the political contexts of the two films, highlighting the ways they reflect the emergence of a US-centered, post-war political order through contrasting visions of diplomacy and the exercise of military power. Addressing the content of the two films more directly, section three examines their differing depictions of military leadership and martial conduct on the battlefield, including their representation of the enemy combatant. Finally, this chapter analyzes the key combat sequences in The Fall of the Roman Empire and The Longest Day, highlighting their differing approaches to the construction of battlefield spectacle. In placing these two films side by side, this chapter cuts across filmmaking genres which have typically been treated separately, establishing continuities between them and demonstrating the centrality of military combat in post-war American culture.

In: Brill's Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Warfare on Film

Abstract

From the middle of the 20th century, a very specific visual vocabulary was used in depictions of the Roman army in western cinema. While early depictions of Roman warfare were often wild and chaotic affairs, from the 1960s on the Roman army was increasingly, and consistently, presented as operating in a uniform, highly structured, and organized fashion – even, and perhaps especially, in the heat of battle. This model of Roman military behavior, which used massed formations as a key element, was based in part on the then-current understanding of the ancient evidence but was also influenced by the role which Rome and the army played in the films, typically representing either authoritarian regimes or the rigid structures of modern society. Visually stunning and impactful, this vocabulary proved both effective and popular, and shaped the common view of the Roman army and its subsequent depiction. When “sword and sandals” films reappeared in the 21st century, many directors drew heavily and directly from this existing visual vocabulary. The ideas and tropes seem to have worked equally as well in the new context, although it has stretched the connection to antiquity. Modern scholarly ideas about the Roman army have shifted dramatically since the 1960s, with more heterogenous and dynamic models now being the norm. This change, however, has not been picked up by either modern filmmakers or audiences. In cinema, the primary source material for the army has now become the mid-20th century films, reinforcing a very particular view of the Roman army and state.

Open Access
In: Brill's Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Warfare on Film

Abstract

The chapter uses as its key case studies two historical epics directed by Cecil B. DeMille for Paramount: The Sign of the Cross (1932) starring Charles Laughton as Emperor Nero and Fredric March as Marcus Superbus, Prefect of Rome, along with rising star Claudette Colbert as Empress Poppaea; and Cleopatra (1934) with Colbert’s titular performance dominating the film’s press alongside her co-star, Henry Wilcoxon, who played Marc Antony. Wilcoxon’s brawniness was received as an authentic depiction of Roman command, chiming with the film’s lauded fight scenes that culminated in the impressive montage sequence of the Battle of Actium. Margaret Malamud (2008) has argued that “DeMille saw a clear analogy between depression America and imperial Rome,” and examined how The Sign of the Cross resonated for Depression era audiences. As this chapter illustrates, DeMille and the Paramount studio also marshalled Roman imagery – most obviously the imperial Eagle and a discourse of shining light seen throughout The Sign of the Cross – as part of a very real industrial battle to stir exhibitors into action as part of a campaign to drive audiences back to the box office as the studio struggled to survive the Great Depression. I apply this contextual reading to a new focus on stardom and how the studio and trade and fan press aligned their stars and the characters they played with contemporary ideas about leadership, politics, gender, and sexuality. The specific qualities of screen stardom, in tandem with analysis of the individual star personae featured in this chapter’s selected films, are a matter that has not been explored before in detail. As well as utilizing textual analysis of the films, the chapter also draws on archival research into their promotion and reception in American and British fan-magazines of the 1930s, as well as trade and in-house publications.

In: Brill's Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Warfare on Film

Abstract

The chapter examines Lysistrata, the first modern Greek cinematic adaptation of Aristophanes’ iconic play directed by Yorgos Zervoulakos and produced in 1972 at the height of the Greek dictatorship (1967–1974). By drawing on archival research, the chapter compares and contrasts the various drafts of the script, which have so far escaped critical attention, in an effort to cast light on the artistic and political climate that surrounds the film’s production. Given the historical circumstances, Zervoulakos could have recreated the ancient source text in two different ways: either by resorting to a conventional reproduction of it that would have been consonant with the patriotic ideology and conservative moral and cultural values propagated by the junta; or by proposing a fresh, innovative look at ancient drama as a symbolic gesture of resistance and artistic autonomy against the appropriation of the classical heritage by the regime for its own purposes. The film, as the chapter illustrates, tried to do the latter, employing, however, tropes of the former, thereby struggling to reconcile incompatible artistic objectives. The result is a war comedy which assumes a safe distance from the contemporary battlefield (i.e., national and international military operations during the time of its production) and which – in the guise of an exaggerated verbal and visual discourse intended as a progressive, albeit ultimately weak alibi for demanding spectators – reproduces, in a refracted way, the dominant yet antiquated nationalist agenda of the Colonels. Although this reception of Lysistrata contributes nothing to our knowledge of the Peloponnesian War, it tells us a lot about the receiving modern Greek culture’s attitude towards art, antiquity, and itself in a period of another mutatis mutandis intra-war caused and nurtured by the junta.

In: Brill's Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Warfare on Film

Abstract

This chapter examines Fellini Satyricon (1969) and argues that the film destabilizes long-established images of ancient Rome, producing an iconoclastic narrative in which past and present intersect in unexpected ways. In particular, the chapter focuses on the film’s representation of battles and soldiers and shows how Fellini’s fragmented narrative, with its psychedelic soundtrack, deconstructs perceptions of Roman grandeur deeply rooted in the mind of the modern spectator. The chapter argues that images of war and violence function not as a spectacle, as is the case with post-WWII Hollywood epic films, but as an oneiric condition through which the Roman “Other” comes to the forefront. My analysis is divided into three parts. In the first part, I look at documentation pertaining to Fellini’s use of Petronius’ Satyricon as a source text. My aim is to illustrate how Fellini constructs his narrative as a fusion of elements from classical antiquity with images appropriated from the vanguardist visual arts from the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries. In the second part, I analyze select scenes in which anonymous soldiers are present, as well as the scene that recreates Cesar’s death – in fact, the only sequence in the film that comes close to being a battle scene. In the third part, I turn my attention to depictions of homoeroticism, as such scenes are important to understand Fellini’s deconstructing style when it comes to perceptions of Roman authority. I argue that Fellini gives life to characters who are most often anti-heroes, thereby creating a Rome not seen on the big screen before. In so doing, the Italian director offers a critique of the connection between heroic virility and classical antiquity projected in the fascist discourse of Romanità. Fellini’s Rome focuses, instead, on the travels and erotic escapades of young men, poor students who prefer poetry over war.

In: Brill's Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Warfare on Film

Abstract

The chapter argues that the use of sound in mid-century Italian peplum films, particularly in scenes of war, provides a powerful, and unconscious, support for their unspoken political ideology: a populist, benevolent authoritarianism that is a utopian political space, a natural expression of the people united as an organic and perfectly harmonious whole. Virtually every mid-century Italian peplum film recounts the same plot, essentially political in character: a foreign ruler has usurped the throne in order to exploit the people, and only the superior muscles of the hero (typically played by an American bodybuilder) can restore the natural and proper political order, embodied in the proper, legitimate (and unelected) ruler. This fantasy of benevolent authoritarianism elicits the viewer’s unconscious consent largely through a distinctive use of two types of cacophonous sound: noise, largely correlated with war and violence, and “exotic” diegetic music that is exclusively associated with decadence and perversity. Both are conspicuously absent from the monarchies that are restored at the end of the film, which are instead associated with speech and non-diegetic music. Peplum sound is curiously detached from its actual point of origin, rendering it uncannily “acousmatic” (Chion 1999). There is no version of these films in which the actors’ voices match their lips, a queer dis-synchrony that matches the peplum’s un-mooring in space (the burly hero shows up in Greece and Rome, but also in Egypt, South America, Russian, China) and time. At the same time, this spatio-temporal plasticity simply re-stages the same political fable over and over, giving it the force of a universal political truth. Ultimately, this is a “biopolitical fantasy” (Rushing 2016) about a body overflowing with health and vitality, and a body politic that is free of all foreign bodies.

In: Brill's Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Warfare on Film