Classically Inclined

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!

July 25, 2011

Visiting the Billingsgate Roman house and baths

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 4:25 am
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I was very fortunate  to have a chance to visit the Billingsgate Roman house and baths at the weekend, which the Museum of London opened up to celebrate the Festival of British Archaeology. One of the things I’ve been looking forward to about being back in the UK is the chance to actually visit Roman sites, which tend to be a bit thin on the ground in New York. I jumped at the opportunity to visit this site, as it’s usually completely inacessible to the public. That’s because it occupies the basement of a particularly undistinguished office block on Lower Thames Street, just next to the river. You wouldn’t even know that the remains were there, if it weren’t for the posters advertising it outside the building (removed by the time I took the photo on the left, although you can still see the open door that leads down into the basement).

The site actually has quite a remarkable recent history. The “significant” bit, the bath house, was discovered in 1848 when the Victorians were putting up the Coal Exchange; as well-educated men of the period, they recognised that they’d got something important in the basement, and when the legislation for the Ancient Monuments Act of 1882 went through Parliament, the bath house was one of the sites included under its protections (along with Stonehenge, which isn’t bad company to be in). When the Coal Exchange was demolished in the late 1960s and the current buildings put up, the presence of the bath house meant that Proper Archaeology had to be carried out into the surrounding area; it was those works that uncovered the footings of the house, and that ensured the remains were put into a basement that enabled them to be accessed and conserved. There was talk, before the financial crash, of demolishing the present building and putting something up that was less – well, concrete, and that had a purpose-built space for the remains, but obviously that’s not going to happen any time soon. The site is open for viewing, from what I can tell, about two or three times a year; the next opening will be in September, I believe, so I’m feeling jolly lucky that I happened to be in London this weekend.

The house itself has a pretty interesting history too, although I have to admit that I think it’s a bit of a sad one, mainly because I’ve recently been reading a lot about reconstructing the history of domestic spaces in Pompeii. That work relies a great deal on the detritus of everyday life such as dropped hairpins, lost bracelets and rings, forgotten children’s toys and so on. There appears to have been none of that sort of thing found at Billingsgate, which on the one hand means it’s a fascinating site for the history of building, but strangely missing evidence of human habitation. (more…)

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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