Classically Inclined

March 10, 2012

On writing for a general audience – reflections after the fact

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 5:35 pm
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I’ve just got home from giving that paper at the Birmingham and Midlands Classical Association branch sixth form conference, and I thought it was as good a time as any to draw together some concluding thoughts on the experience. It’s the first time I’ve given a talk to an audience  not made up of either undergraduates or academics, and a couple of things seem important to note after the fact.

Fourty-five minutes is not very long at all when you are trying to give a potted history of classics and film. It really isn’t. I have to salute Tony Keen here for generously giving me a list of the ‘greatest hits’ that should get name-checked, even if they didn’t get much analysis, which helped to crystalise my thoughts about what I wanted to do – as much in disagreeing with it as agreeing with it, but also in pointing out things like Agora (2009) which had completely slipped my mind. The problem with more modern material is that it isn’t included in Jon Solomon’s magisterial The Ancient World In The Cinema which is the more or less comprehensive account of all films made before about 2000. For more recent films, you have to rely on your memory, and I’m afraid to say that Agora had slipped mine – so I am very grateful to Tony for reminding me of its existence.

My original plan for the talk had been a quick-fire tour through cinema with a concentration on the three current big franchises (Clash, Immortals and Percy Jackson), but as I actually wrote the talk and worked out where I wanted to show clips, more and more time got used up – and I gradually figured out that this wasn’t actually a bad thing. My original structure had been based on my lecture format for my students, which is spend the first half of the lecture giving them basic information they need to understand the second half, and then spend the second half doing more in-depth analysis. For this talk, which wasn’t meant to give the audience any information on which they would later be examined, that more detailed analysis actually wasn’t necessary.

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February 17, 2012

“Shall I include the homoeroticism?” – on writing for a general audience

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 1:41 pm
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My current research task (at the end of a much-needed reading week) has been getting some ideas down for the talk I will be giving at the Birmingham and Midlands Classical Association branch sixth form conference. After a day of discussion about the set texts for the Latin and Classical Civilization A levels, as well as some speakers on general interest subjects, I will be giving the closing talk on Classics and Film. If you would like to find out more about the conference, or book a place, there are more details here – please pass them on to any sixth formers and their teachers you know who may be interested!

As I started to think about the topic to plan a general outline, I was struck by how many issues I had to take a position on to pitch the tone of the talk. First of all, I can’t assume any prior knowledge of classical film, and certainly not of reception theory. Second, I can’t expect to cover the whole range of classical film that has been produced in the history of film. The films produced by, for instance, Italian and French national cinema are going to have to go by the wayside, because I can’t do them justice in 45 minutes, and mentioning Maciste for the sake of mentioning Maciste doesn’t feel right. This means focussing on the cinema produced by American and English studios, which is a shame but probably makes the information more accessible to the audience and can be done respectably within the time limit.

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May 18, 2011

Monsters, landscape and gender in Clash of the Titans – a preview

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 8:48 am
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Good news! I have had an abstract accepted for the Enduring Monsters conference, which is going to celebrate the films of Ray Harryhausen and their contribution to the classical tradition in film for the last however-many years. I’m very excited about this opportunity, both as a chance to meet people in the UK reception circuit I’ve not yet had the pleasure to meet, and to speak about something that means I get to talk about my research interests of film, space and gender in one neat and interesting package.Bubo the Owl

I thought I’d do a quick outline the abstract that was accepted, just to give you a flavour of what the final talk will look like. The title of my paper is “The dragon-green, the luminous, the dark, the serpent-haunted sea”: Monsters, landscape and gender in Clash of the Titans (1981 and 2010).  So, I’m talking about the original Harryhausen Clash of the Titans  and the recent 2010 remake, and comparing the ways in which the two films handle monsters and landscapes. Monsters, after all, don’t just turn up – they have to turn up somewhere. As I was watching the 1981 Clash as preliminary research for writing this abstract (and yes, I love my job), it struck me that whenever monsters appeared, water was somehow involved. They appeared in oceans, close to lakes or in swamps. They also all had a fundmental connection back to the sea goddess Thetis. She’s a fairly minor character in the traditional corpus of Greek myth, primarily noted for being the mother of Achilles, but in the 1981 Clash her desire to avenge her previously unknown son-turned-monster Calibos drives the plot. The film seems to construct this very intricate set of interactions between water, monster and female.

When I went to look at the 2010 Clash remake, of course, no such pattern appeared, not least because  the film cuts Thetis and reinstates a kind of traditional three brother-gods ruling creation kind of mythic world view that’s totally lacking in the 1981 Clash. But the loss of Thetis actually severely impoverishes the film on a number of levels, not least narrative thrust, but also conceptual unity of its monsters. You get episodic set pieces rather than plot coherence. You also get monsters who appear in radically disparate landscapes, without any connecting elements. Some of this is due to the increased possibilities offered by CGI and other modern technology; some of it is driven by the demands created by the Hollywood Summer Blockbuster genre.  But the loss of that central concept of “monster”, and a sense of connectedness to the locations in which the plot takes place, means you lose a lot of the complexity that makes the 1981 Clash such a pleasurable viewing experience.

So, my paper is going to set out what I see as the connections between gender, landscape and the monsterous in the 1981 film, how the 2010 remake deals with these issues differently to emphasise different things, and what those changes tell us both about the shift in the nature of classical reception of the thirty or so years between the two films and about Harryhausen’s legacy to the film industry. Given the very self-conscious way that the 2010 Clash includes a couple of set pieces (not least of which, the giant scorpions) to show how it is superior as a remake, no, really, it’s actually interesting that a choice to return to a more “faithful” version of classical myth actually leads to a weaker film.

I should also note that I’m kind of interested to see how this question of space, gender and monsters plays out in the sequel to the 2010 Clash that we are supposedly anticipating. Courtesy of the Rogue Classicist, I picked up a piece on Cinemaspy.com that brings us photos of filming on Tenerife – most notably ruddy big boats. Clearly at the moment, the sea is playing an important role in the sequel – will it regain the prominence it had in Harryhausen’s original? I suppose we’ll just have to see what comes out at the box office.

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