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Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle

Posted January 21, 2011 to photo album "Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle"

The Eagle explores a part of ancient Roman history rarely seen on stage. But the history of Rome changes throughout history as well.

Slide 1: Exploring New Territory
Slide 2: Rome - The Eternal, Ever-Changing City
Slide 3: Rome and the American Imagination
Slide 4: Ben Hur, the great American/Roman Novel
Slide 5: Ben Hur (1907) in Silent Film
Slide 6: Ben-Hur (1925) and the Epic Grandeur of Rome
Slide 7: Scipio Africanus: The Defeat of  Hannibal and the Fascist Italy
Slide 8: Quo Vadis - Nero’s Rome as a Totalitarian State
Slide 9: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1959) and the Race to Freedom
Slide 10: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1959) and Making Rome Gay
Slide 11: Spartacus (1960) and the Return of the Opressed
Slide 12: Cleopatra and American Excess
Slide 13: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Rome turned Jewish
Slide 14: Satryicon (1969), Ancient Rome through Fellini’s Eyes
Slide 15: Caligula (1979): Rome Goes All The Way
Slide 16: Monty Python’s The Life of Brian - Rome as Parody
Slide 16: Gladiator (2000), and the Return of Rome
Slide 11: Spartacus (1960) and the Return of the Opressed

Slide 11: Spartacus (1960) and the Return of the Opressed

Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) fights with Draba (Woody Strode)

If Ben-Hur was mildly subversive, Stanley Kubrick’s tale of a Roman slave revolt Spartacus, was an outright attack on the American political culture that had blacklisted Howard Fast, the author of the book on which the movie was based. In his novel, Fast wrote: “A time would come when Rome would be torn down—not by the slaves alone, but by slaves and serfs and peasants and by free barbarians who joined with them. And so long as men labored, and other men took and used the fruit of those who labored, the name of Spartacus would be remembered, whispered sometimes and shouted loud and clear at other times.” The tale of a slave revolt was initiated by a different type of revolt: Kirk Douglas, angry with not having gotten the lead in Ben-Hur, fought back by not only inaugurating his own Roman epic, but by pushing for a very different type of epic. Chris McDonald, on “The Ooh Tray” website, writes, “While the Roman epics of the 50’s may have engaged with the fervent religious feeling and demagoguery that punctuated the McCarthy era, Kubrick’s 1960 tale of a slave (Kirk Douglas) who leads a rebellion against the Romans, Spartacus, openly opposed it. Birthed by two blacklisted communist sympathizers in the form of Howard Fast … and Dalton Trumbo, who wrote Spartacus for the screen, the piece openly reflects its creators’ political sympathies.” The film’s release was greeted by a right-wing boycott protesting the use of blacklisted writers. Fortunately the protest fizzled when the newly elected John F. Kennedy crossed the picket line see the film in a Washington D.C. theater. If Rome, in earlier films, was seen as an ancient analog to Fascist or Communist states, Spartacus began to position Rome as not separate from, but rather reflective of, America and its discontents. Among them was the linking of the burgeon civil rights movement with the Roman slave uprising through the casting of a Woody Strode, a celebrated African-American athlete, as Spartacus friend and fellow gladiator Draba. In Big Screen Rome, Monica Silveira Cyrino stresses that Strode “was recognizable to American viewers as a symbol of individual triumph against racial discrimination.”