Saturday, September 04, 2010

On "Spartacus" and 1960s Epic Writing

Rewatched the film Spartacus last week and I discovered something that many still do, as if now were forty plus years ago. Individual characters should be just that--individual. They should sound differently, use words differently, use different words and rhythmic phrases, perhaps even be more silent than some, more talkative than others.

Spartacus himself was supposedly a long-term slave, and perhaps a soldier turned slave, either way he sounds like a character, like the Kurt Russell lead in "Soldier" who speaks less than 100 words within the entire movie, but says much with his eyes and actions.

Kirk Douglas' Spartacus talks to much and speaks too well; he speaks as if educated and always talking throughout his day.

His slave wife, Jean Simmons, is even more elegant and, again, as an uneducated slave she's too snotty in tone and too verbose, although she's clearly in place to make the lead appear more a man, while her status as an unpaid sex slave prostitute is always kept to the fore, even in the promotions.

Oddly, the one slave who should talk all the time because he is educated is Tony Curtis, who seems to be mostly present to further the subtext that Romans were bisexual.

But, then again, they skipped as neatly as you please the fact that Spartacus went from virgin to husband with child expected because even though these topics clearly must have been in the novel, the subject of sexuality of male on male, or a hero being a virgin shan't be dwelled upon.

Icky Romans are bisexual and we run from them, icky Roman women are over-sexual and get a good man killed, black men are only around to make white men look open-minded and heroically deep, cute male slaves are only around so every man can hit on him for sex until his "best friend" gets the privilege of piercing him through with a phallic sword.

It's an interesting movie, but don't learn how to write or act from it, but how not to. Performances that do maintain naturalism are Curtis and Peter Ustinov and even the cryptic John Gavin, the only American ever signed to play James Bond. [see IMDB for more on that]

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