Classically Inclined

December 17, 2012

End of term wrap-up

What with one thing and another, I’ve been run off my feet for the last fortnight or so. Term has now officially been over for a week, but I don’t feel as if I’ve got the paperwork and administration for everything quite under control yet. It’s getting there, but there are a couple of things that still need finishing off. I have, of course, finished all my teaching. The Roman novel first year seminar is working much more smoothly than it did last year; this is partly due to the department increasing seminar lengths from one to two hours across the board, meaning there’s more space for presentations and discussions, but I think the tweaks to the syllabus that I made at the start of the year have paid off as well. There’s still one class that isn’t quite working as I want it to work, but I’ve had another go at redefining the discussion questions, so we’ll see if that helps. It is, in fairness, the class dealing with literary form (e.g. why are parts of the Satyricon in poetry, and do we care?), so I think it’s going to be a case of continually experimenting until I get the formula right. I shall miss my first year tutees, who will be disappearing off to pastures new, but it will be good to meet some more of the first year intake next term.

The Roman Life Course lectures are going well – I have a good group of students, and we’ve established what feels like a productive discussion-based atmosphere to complement the parts of the session where I lecture more traditionally. The material seems to be engaging the students’ interest, and I’m sneakily incorporating as much philosophical evidence for social history as I can – one of the surprise hits was Plutarch’s The Training of Children, which seems to have gone over rather well! The blog posts are still working more or less as I want them to, and the students seem to like the idea of blog-based work in principle even if the practice is a little shakier. I’m also glad that I decided to stick it out with the critical incident questionnaire, for the simple reason that it’s really helping me see what is and isn’t working with this sort of teaching.

(more…)

October 31, 2012

The Harryhausen article: next steps

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:51 am
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Some of you may remember that I sent off an article on Ray Harryhausen, the two Clash of the Titans films, monsters, gender and landscape at the start of February. (For those who don’t remember, here’s a Wordle of that draft, and here’s an outline of the conference paper on which the article is based.) This morning I’ve heard back from the editors of the collected volume of which the article is part, with the reader’s report – and I’m delighted to say that the reader thinks both my paper and the volume are Good Things!

This is excellent news, not least because of being able to update the CV. It’s good to see the project moving forward, and especially good to get positive feedback about my approach to monsters and space, given some of the vague thoughts I’ve been having about doing more general research in this direction. It’s also good because the revisions the reader requests are fairly minor – they would like me to think about how Wrath of the Titans (2012) affects my argument, which was impossible in the original draft as the film had not yet been released. I have with some pleasure put ‘buy DVD of Wrath’ into my work objectives, and look forward to blocking out a research afternoon in December for Serious Academic Viewing…

I’ll also admit I’m relieved that this won’t affect my plans for #acwrimo. The reader’s suggestions are, as I say, pretty minor, and while I’ve had some other helpful feedback from other readers, I don’t want to spoil a good thing by reworking the paper too much. The timescale is also sufficiently generous that I can keep November as a dissertation-revision month – the volume editors would like the paper back by 1st February, so if I set aside enough time in December, I should easily meet that deadline; #acwrimo will give me the comfort blanket of knowing that I’ve done enough on revising the manuscript not to feel guilty about spending some time on another project. It’s wonderful when a plan comes together!

February 6, 2012

Work in Progress – the Harryhausen article

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:05 am
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The first full version of the Harryhausen article went off to the editors yesterday, at long last – the last week or so has been a bit hectic so I missed the deadline by a couple of days, but it’s been sent out now and that’s what matters. Rather than repeat what the article deals with, I thought I’d show you all a Wordle of what it looks like:

So, what’s next on the agenda for me research-wise, now that that’s off the table for the time being? Well, this coming week is looking absolutely hectic, as I’ve got not only my normal teaching load, but also a two hour grad seminar and an hour of first year lit survey (it will be good teaching, but it’s time consuming), so I think research might be going to the side this week. Then I need to write the talk I’ll be giving at the Birmingham CA’s sixth form conference in March, which won’t be too taxing but will probably need a bit of research to get clips and write something with a decent structure.

After that – well, I might actually be able to start thinking about doing some of those revisions to the thesis…

December 28, 2011

Thinking about monsters

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:20 pm
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I type to you from the British Library, where I have taken cover for the day in order to do some more reading for the Harryhausen article. The thing I’m currently trying to get a handle on is monsters and the monstrous in film. The problem is that the two Clash of the Titans films both appear in just the wrong eras for the usual social matrixes to apply, and I’m having trouble working my own way through the implications of historical context.

To back up a little. Film has to be understood as part of its historical context. It’s one of the things that creates a film’s production conditions, that emphasises what contemporary social and cultural concerns a film speaks to. The big player in this game is American society exploring its anxieties about itself through representations of the Roman Empire, normally through empire films like The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) or Gladiator (2000). Here, the historical context is set either in the Cold War, in which case there’s obvious historical interpretation about the anxieties concerning Russia and nuclear annihilation, or it’s a question of America’s new role in the world as the lone superpower, questions of modern empire, that sort of thing. (Monica Cyrino’s Big Screen Rome has a good intro to this sort of thing if you’re interested.) The monster analysis I’ve found so far fits into this pattern – 1950s monster movies work out the social anxieties of the Cold War period, and the danger of the end of humanity, through a dehumanised vehicle that allows fear to be fully represented without coming too close to home.

Here’s the snag. The two Clash films are neither set in the right period, nor are they about Romans. The non-Roman kit isn’t such a big deal, but the chronology is more of a problem. Even given the time delay involved in producing a Dynamotion picture, the 1981 Clash is a product of the late 1970s to early 1980s, but before the 1980s egotistic boom gets under way – Perseus is, in some ways, the last of the traditional film heroes before the anti-hero craze kicks in. The Cold War is over, more or less, and the biggest national incident is the Iran embassy hostages (now, this may be a lead worth following, but I digress). 1980, interestingly, is the year Mount St. Helens erupts, which may link into concerns with landscape and danger, but only tangentially. As for Clash 2010, it too falls in an interesting half-place – it’s too late to be all about the invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan (or indeed quite properly about the global financial crisis), and while it’s obviously more interested in the individual hero narrative, I don’t quite see Hades as Goldman Sachs or the collapse of the Eurozone.

So I’m trying to work out the historical context in which these two films place monsters, and which anxieties and fears those monsters express (and why the question of landscape is then relevant to how those monsters are thematically expressed). If you can see something I’ve missed or have any ideas, please do put them in the comments!

November 28, 2011

Film Review: The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 9:38 am
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As part of my preparation for the Animating Antiquity conference, at the urging of Tony Keen I thought it would be a good idea to watch some of Ray Harryhausen’s Sinbad films. Tony’s argument in his paper was that we can’t separate out Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans from the three Sinbad films in Harryhausen’s filmic corpus, because the mythical overspill from the classical world influences those films too. I have so far only managed to watch two out of the three – The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) – but I can very much see Tony’s point.

Seventh Voyage was the first in the trilogy and as such sets the tone for the other films. The overall trend here is rather more Arabian Nights than classical, at least on the surface; Sinbad, a prince of Baghdad, is to be married to the princess of Chandra in order to cement a political alliance between the two kingdoms. When Princess Parisa is shrunk by a scheming magician, Sinbad must sail to an island in order to recover the shell of a roc’s egg, which is needed for the magic potion to restore Parisa to her full size. Of course, the scheming magician Sokurah has arranged this, after being picked up from said island at the beginning of the film, in order to get hold of a magic lamp and its resident genie. Cue rest of film resolving both the resizing of Parisa and the release of the genie from the lamp.

The roc is a peculiarly Arabian Nights kind of creature, as is the whole Oriental setting and harem trousers worn by the female characters. Ditto magic lamps, which have a fine orientalist tradition. But the film owes an awful lot to the Odyssey as well, especially the encounter that Sinbad and his men have with the island’s resident Cyclopes (an especially beloved creation of Harryhausen’s fertile imagination). At the start of the film, it’s the discovery of the Cyclops, chasing  Sokurah clutching the stolen magic lamp, that signals to us as viewers that we are in the land of fantasy. When Sinbad and his crew return to the island to hunt for the roc’s egg, the Cyclops continues to play out his role as an Odyssean monster by capturing some of the sailors as they raid his treasure store, and putting one of them on a spit over a fire to roast for his dinner. (No brains, I hasten to add, were bashed out in the making of this scene.) Sinbad bravely picks up his Odyssean heritage, blinding the Cyclops by waving a burning brand in its face, and lures it over a cliff edge to its fate. Another Cyclops appears later in the film, but this time its main antagonist is a dragon which Sinbad lets loose from guarding Sokurah’s castle to distract it, and it seems unaware of its proud literary heritage. Still, the retelling of Odyssey 9 in the centre of Seventh Voyage does give the film some narrative tension, particularly about whether Sinbad and his crew will escape the cage (or larder) they’ve been stored in – it’s only the miniature Princess Parisa who is able to get to the bolt and shove it free. (more…)

November 15, 2011

Thoughts on Animating Antiquity

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:28 am
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Last week’s conference on Ray Harryhausen, Animating Antiquity: Harryhausen and the Classical Tradition, was a really good experience, both personally and intellectually. I should start out by thanking Steve Green and Penny Goodman of the University of Leeds for all the hard work they put in to making the day a success, and to the National Media Museum in Bradford for providing excellent facilities, including a great space, efficient tech and very tasty refreshments.

The conference day was split up into three panels of three papers each; you can see a full program here. I have to admit that I started off the day rather tired, as my sleeping patterns had for some reason been shot for most of the previous week, but I soon woke up as I listened to the stimulating ideas and perspectives of my fellow speakers.

I don’t want to give a complete summary of each paper, but I’ll give a quick outline in case you’re interested (more detailed abstracts
are here
). Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones gave us a framework for understanding the gods in Harryhausen’s films, while Dunstan Lowe argued for a shift towards narratives of gigantomachy in modern films rather than unquestioned divine authority. Eleanor OKell gave a persuasive and amusing account of how Harryhausen’s Cyclops in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad has influenced other filmic depictions of the creature, while Helen Lovatt continued the ancestor narrative by exploring the place of Jason and the Argonauts in the Argonautic mythic tradition. Tony Keen made the case for reading the Harryhausen myth films in dialogue with the contemporary Sinbad films, and Brock DeShane provided an overview of Harryhausen’s use of ancient ruins throughout his oeuvre. Stephen Trzaskoma wondered what happens if we read the gods in Clash and Jason as animators in Harryhausen’s own mould, and Steve Green closed the conference by considering Perseus’ negotiation of his identity as demi-god in the 2010 remake. (My post summarising my paper is here, just in case by some wild chance you’ve not already seen it.) (more…)

November 8, 2011

Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to conference we go…

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:56 am
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Things are a bit quiet on the blog at the moment, at least in part because I’m off to the Animating Antiquity conference this afternoon and have been putting elbow grease into getting my paper properly shiny. I’ve also been trying to get the next stage of my current major research project off the ground, which has involved re-reading the Senecan philosophical corpus – this has been an unexpected pleasure, as I’ve had about six months off from it, and I’m coming back to it with fresh and keen eyes that are looking for different types of passages. However, I’ve committed to giving a bit of a preview at a departmental research seminar in a fortnight – so while it’s a good spur to get me going, what with one thing and another, I’m not quite sure how everything is going to get done. Like all the marking that is already starting to appear in my inbox as students return from reading week with essays and essay outlines.

So! If the blog appears to have gone into hibernation, it’s because I’m busy getting on with teaching and research, and don’t have enough time to write about the process of doing it (a common but under-reported problem, I feel). I’ll be back with a write-up of the Animating Antiquity conference, and hopefully also a review of the ENO production of Castor and Pollux that I’m going to see at the weekend.

Incidentally, if you’re interested, you can see the outline of the paper I’ll be giving tomorrow here – no slides, I’m afraid!

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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