Category Archives: Art, Literature, Plays, Movies, Music, and Television

Bastille’s “Pompeii”: A Modern Song About An Ancient Place

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Thank you for joining us today, whether it is your first time or you’ve been with us from the start. We try our best to bring you as many forms of media about Ancient Rome as possible.

Today we bring back the music as we share a modern take on an ancient location as we share Bastille’s Pompeii!

And if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you’ve been here before?

Pompeii is a song by English indie rock band Bastille. It is the 4th single from their debut studio album Bad Blood and the first to get major airplay and promotion.

The video follows Bastille frontman Dan Smith, as he wanders about an empty-looking Los Angeles, before realizing the few people around all have unnatural vacant black eyes. He steals a car and drives into the desert to escape them, but the car breaks down and he soon realizes he’s been infected as well.

He climbs a mountain and looks out at the view, before turning around to reveal his own eyes meanwhile have turned black as well. The story is an allegory for the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii.

The official music video was filmed in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, California. The video was first released onto YouTube on 20 January 2013.

Lyrically, the song is about the Roman town of the same name, which met its fate with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. It was nominated for British Single of the Year at the 2014 BRIT Awards.

We hope you enjoyed today’s musical interlude. Maybe you’ll even have a Pompeii experience of your own, real or imagined.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

Hercules (2014): A Film Made by The Rock

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If you’ve made it to this page then you certainly know a thing or two about Classical Antiquity. Based on this presumption, we shall infer that you are also familiar with Greco-Roman Mythology.

One of the most revered Classical Heroes was a well-known demi-god. Even though he was supposed to be Greek by birth, you know him by his Roman name.

Since many a movie has been made about this hero, today we review the 2014 film Hercules!

Theatrical release poster of or Hercules (copyright Paramount Pictures).

Based on the graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars, Hercules is an action/fantasy/adventure film directed by Brett Ratner and written by Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Starring Dwayne Johnson (Hercules), Ian McShane (Amphiaraus the Seer), Rufus Sewell (Autolycus the Rogue), and John Hurt (Cotys, King of Thrace), the film was distributed jointly by Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

As 1 of 2 Hollywood-studio Hercules films released in 2014 (the other one being Lionsgate‘s The Legend of Hercules), this version earned $244 million on a $100 million budget and received mixed reviews from critics, who, however, praised the action sequences and Johnson’s acting.

Full cast of the film

Also in the film are Aksel Hennie (Tydeus the Wild Child/Barbarian), Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (Atalanta the Archer), Reece Ritchie (Iolaus the Storyteller), Joseph Fiennes (King Eurystheus), Tobias Santelmann (Rhesus), Peter Mullan (Sitacles), Rebecca Ferguson (Ergenia), Isaac Andrews (Arius), Joe Anderson (Phineas), Steve Peacocke (Stephanos), Irina Shayk (Megara), and Barbara Palvin (Antimache).

To prepare for the role of Hercules, Johnson took on a grueling training routine, stating:

I trained and worked harder than ever for 8 months for this role. Lived alone and locked myself away (like a moody 260-lb. monk) in Budapest for 6 months while filming. Goal was to completely transform into this character. Disappear in the role. Press journalist asked me today, with the mental and physical toll the role had on me, would I do it again? Not only would I do it again…I’d do it twice.

In North America, Hercules was released on 25 July 2014 at 3,595 theaters, and grossed $11 million its opening day and $29 million its opening weekend. Hercules, described as “pumping some much-needed life into a lackluster summer at U.S. and Canadian theaters,” did financially better than expected, as it “topped the expectations of analysts by roughly $4 million”.

Dwayne Johnson truly could be the modern Hercules.

Outside North America, the film was released in 26 foreign markets in 3,364 locations and earned $28.7M. Hercules dominated the Russian box office with a strong debut ($12M from 930), along with Australia ($3.5M from 222), Malaysia ($1.6M from 110), Philippines ($1.2M from 134), Taiwan ($1.2M) and Singapore ($1.1M from 27).

Hercules received mixed reviews from critics with the general sentiment being, however, that the film was a pleasant surprise. Ridiculously critical review site Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 60%, based on reviews from 104 critics, with an average rating of 5.4/10.

Actor Dwayne Johnson and director by Brett Ratner seen on set of the movie Hercules.

Scott Foundas, chief film critic for Variety, wrote a positive review stating that the film was grandly staged, solidly entertaining, and cuts the mythical son of Zeus down to human size (or as human as you can get while still being played by Dwayne Johnson). Elizabeth Weitzman of New York Daily News stated Hercules was fun and packed with eye-popping action and impressive effects, but star Dwayne Johnson’s massive powerful physique perfectly suited the title role of the large-scale movie.

The film is about the hero Hercules, leader of a band of mercenaries composed of the these not so merry men: a spear-wielding prophet, a knife-throwing thief, a feral warrior, an Amazon archer, and Hercules own nephew storyteller. Hercules is said to be the demigod son of Zeus, who completed the legendary Twelve Labors, only to be betrayed by Hera who drove him insane and caused him to murder his wife Megara and their children during a visit to King Eurystheus.

Hercules fighting the Nemean lion as on of his Twelve Labors.

Throughout the film, it is not clearly established that Hercules is truly the son of Zeus, and many are skeptical of the claim as well as of the stories of Hercules’ famous Twelve Labors. Despite this, Hercules displays unusual strength and unmatched skill in combat.

After finishing a recent mission and saving his nephew on the Macedonian Coast in Northern Greece in 358 BC, Hercules and his team are celebrating and drinking at a tavern. During the celebration they are approached by Ergenia on behalf of her father Lord Cotys who wants Hercules to train the armies of Thrace to defend the kingdom from bloodthirsty warlord Rhesus.

Hercules accepts after he and his men are offered his own weight in gold, and the band is welcomed to Thrace by King Cotys and General Sitacles, leader of the Thracian army. However, Rhesus has reached the Bessi tribe in Central Thrace and Cotys insists that Hercules lead the army into battle to defend the Bessi, despite their lack of training.

Atalanta and Hercules lead the Thracians.

After the Bessi are defeated, Hercules properly trains the army, then Hercules and Sitacles confront Rhesus and his soldiers on the battlefield before Mount Asticus. The Thracians force Rhesus’ army to retreat, but Rhesus himself rides out to confront Hercules and is defeated by him.

Rhesus is taken back to Thrace as a prisoner, where he is tortured and humiliated. Hercules mentions Rhesus’ actions of burning down villages, but Rhesus tells him it was not him or his army and that Hercules has been fighting on the wrong side.

Ergenia confronts Hercules

Later in the palace hall, Rhesus has been chained up and left on display. Noticing that Ergenia has taken pity to him, Hercules confronts her and finds out Rhesus was telling the truth in that he was merely retaliating against Lord Cotys’s aggressive attempts to expand his kingdom.

After receiving their reward, the mercenaries are ready to leave. Hercules, though, decides to stay behind to stop Cotys, and all but Autolycus choose to follow him.

Coming to collect their gold.

However, they are overpowered and captured by Sitacles and his men. While chained, Hercules is confronted by King Eurystheus, who is in league with Lord Cotys.

Eurystheus reveals that he drugged Hercules the night his family died, viewing him as a threat to his power. Hercules’s family was in fact killed by 3 vicious wolves sent by Eurystheus, resulting in Hercules’s constant hallucinations of Cerberus.

I am Hercules!

When Lord Cotys orders Ergenia to be executed for her betrayal, Hercules is encouraged by Amphiaraus to believe in himself just as everyone believes in him. In a show of superhuman strength, Hercules breaks free of his chains, saving Ergenia and slaying the wolves with his bare hands.

Hercules releases the prisoners, including Rhesus, and then confronts King Eurystheus, impaling him with his own dagger. He is attacked by Sitacles, who is then stabbed by Iolaus.

Outside, Hercules and his forces battle Lord Cotys and his army. Arius is taken hostage, but then rescued by Autolycus, who has decided to return to help his friends.

Hercules tumbles the Thracian statue of Hera.

In the final battle, Tydeus is mortally wounded while protecting Arius, but fights on slaughtering numerous Thracian soldiers. Hercules again uses inhuman strength and pushes a massive statue of Hera from its foundations and uses it to crush Lord Cotys and many of his soldiers.

The remaining soldiers see Hercules as lightning flashes in the background. The surviving soldiers bow to Hercules, and Arius takes the throne, with Ergenia at his side, while Hercules and his men depart in search of other adventures.

As the credits roll, an animated retelling of the Twelve Labors shows how Hercules accomplished these feats with the help of his companions.

He is Hercules

As the professionals had previously stated, Hercules is, indeed, a role perfectly suited for Dwayne Johnson. The new take on a familiar character, along with the action and special effects, make for quite the entertaining film.

You don’t have to write articles for a living to recognize a fun, adventurous film when you see it. If you are looking for some fast-paced adventure, with a little history mixed in, then look no farther than Hercules starring Dwayne Johnson.

We hope you enjoyed today’s look into a worthwhile film. Maybe you’ve seen it already and care to reply, or maybe you’ll now want to watch it.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Berardinelli, James. “Hercules”ReelViews, 25 July 2014.

Busch, Anita. “Box Office: ‘Lucy’ To Overpower ‘Hercules’ And ‘Apes’ This Weekend”. Deadline.com, 21 July 2014.

DeFore, John. “Brett Ratner’s ‘Hercules’ is actually entertaining in places”The Washington Post, 25 July 2014.

Kay, Jeremy. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes surges to $54.8m international box office”. screendaily.com, 27 July 2014.

Kit, Borys. “Ian McShane Joins Dwayne Johnson in ‘Hercules’ for MGM and Paramount (Exclusive)”The Hollywood Reporter. 21 March 2013.

Kroll, Justin. “Ingrid Bolsø Set to Battle with Dwayne Johnson in ‘Hercules’ (Exclusive)”Variety, 2 May 2013.

McClintock, Pamela. “Brett Ratner and Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules to Hit Theaters in August 2014”The Hollywood Reporter, 15 January 2013.

Weitzman, Elizabeth. “Hercules: movie review”New York Daily News, 25 July 2014.

Zuckerman, Esther. “The Most Unexpected Quotes from ‘Hercules’ Reviews”The Wire, 24 July 2014.

“Hercules 3D Blu-ray”Blu-ray.com.

“Hercules (2014)”. Box Office Mojo. 25 July 2014.

“The Rock Opens Up About ‘Hercules’ Preparation”. Muscleandfitness.com.

“Hercules”. Rotten Tomatoes. 1970-01-01.

“Hercules Reviews”. Metacritic.

Campagna Romana: Beautiful Roman Countryside or Disease-filled Marsh

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Being the obvious fans of The Eternal City that we all are, there seems to be an endless amount of topics to discuss. From the Founding of Rome to the rise of the Res Publica Romana (Roman Republic) to the start of the Imperium Rōmānum (Roman Empire) to its final collapse, there has always been people and places that stood out.

The influence and culture of Ancient Rome spread from the Mediterranean Basin into Western Europe, Asia MinorNorth Africa, and parts of Northern and Eastern Europe. This impact led to what was later called The Grand Tour (for more on this check out The Grand Tour: No Longer Just for Rich Men).

With this in mind, today we set our sights just outside the City Walls and into the countryside as we explore the Campagna Romana!

Campagna Romana as seen today

The Campagna Romana, or just Campagna, is a low-lying area surrounding Rome in the Lazio region of central Italy, with an area of approximately 810 sq mi. It is bordered by the Tolfa and Sabatini mountains to the north, the Alban Hills to the southeast, and the Tyrrhenian Sea to the southwest.

During the Ancient Roman period, it was an important agricultural and residential area due to the rivers Tiber and Aniene running through the area. However, the Campagna was abandoned during the Middle Ages due to malaria and insufficient water supplies for farming needs.

The Amphitheatre of Tusculum and Albano Mountains, Rome by Thomas Worthington Whittredge (1860).

The pastoral beauty of the Campagna inspired many painters who flocked into Rome in the 18th and 19th Centuries. During that time, the Campagna became the most painted landscape in Europe and an excursion into the Roman countryside was an essential part of The Grand Tour.

During the 18th and 19th Centuries, whether en route to Rome for the first time or making an excursion from the city as a seasoned resident, all who traversed the Campagna did so in a state of heightened emotion and imaginative excitement.

Prior familiarity with a combination of classical texts and the idealized landscape imagery of the 17th Century established an expectation that the Campagna would reveal itself to be a suitably picturesque and poetic setting for the historic scenes which had been enacted and imagined within its expanses. Encountering the contemporary reality of a bleak expanse of landscape provoked various kinds of reflection.

By Claude Lorrain

In the 17th Century the Campagna became endowed with a further form of cultural prestige through the belief that it was here that Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin discovered the inspiring raw material out of which they created ideal landscape painting. This association was based on an idea of Claude inhabiting the landscape, savoring and absorbing its beauties, and translating them into pictorial form.

Approaching the Campagna primarily as a resource for landscape painting’s pursuit of an ideal level of representation was, in fact, a very effective way of steering historical understanding away from problems which were recognized as intractable and disturbing. There was much common ground between the various initiatives to investigate the root causes and identity of this pervasive but mysterious disease-producing agent and the excursions of artists in search of sites which would yield the ideal beauty promised by myth.

View of Ariccia with the Sea in the Background by Franz Ludwig Catel (1821).

Both were premised on the importance of what could be learnt from studying the distinctive visual appearance of the land and its inhabitants. Such scrutiny focused closely on topography and the less tangible matter of air, factors which were assumed to have shaped the physical constitution and appearance of local people.

Artists were predisposed to seek out locations that matched their expectations of a terrain defined by its claimed copiousness of the beautiful. Equally, similar qualities were assumed to have been inherited by the inhabitants of this landscape from their ancient forebears.

Accounts of the Campagna’s appearance are often curiously uninformative precisely because of the burden of expectation weighing on the moment of the travelers’ encounter, and the overwhelming sense of a divergence between the anticipated scene and the impoverished reality revealed from actual examination. In both respects, the attention given to visual characteristics in the early 19th Century was a change from more established literary conceptions of the Campagna.

Undertaking a tour of Latium in search of Virgil’s sites and settings, the Campagna played a fundamental role in ideas and images of Rome. Having been discussed at length, the city was viewed and understood to be co-extensive with the surrounding landscape.

Pope Pius VI’s visit to the Pontine Marshes, by Abraham-Louis-Rodolphe Ducros (1786).

This was a connection that had been politically and economically sustained in the long term by virtue of the ownership of land by a symbiotic combination of papal state and Rome’s elite families. As was repeatedly observed, the whole farmland around Rome was owned by a small number of families, who in turn paid tenant farmers to manage their property.

Land was valued as a sign of status, more than as a source of income. Indeed, the conservatism of landowners to any improvement in agricultural exploitation of the Campagna was usually pointed out as the crucially obstructive factor in its almost unrelieved stagnation.

The question of definition extended to the interrelation of The Eternal City and the country, or more precisely involved recognizing that this distinction did not apply in any familiar or simple way. For all its density of monuments, both ancient and modern, the city of Rome was a patchwork of archaic and majestic townscape juxtaposed with parcels of cultivation.

Goethe in the Roman Campagna by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (1786).

This unusual configuration of urban and rural spaces gave to Rome an identity that fed into perceptions of the city in a way which was just as distinctive as the specific effects produced by individual ruins and monuments. For the philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt, writing to his compatriot Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, it was indeed impossible to compare Rome and its surroundings with any other place.

The unparalleled physical presence of the city, with its loveliness of forms along with the grandeur and simplicity of its figures, was the definition of outlines in the translucent medium. So compelling was this level of experience that Humboldt condemned the excavation of half-buried buildings and viewed the idea of cultivating the Campagna as a disaster.

By contrast, in the view of Camille de Tournon-Simiane, former Prefect of Rome under the Napoleonic occupation, the fact that city and country were indistinguishable was the result of a local attitude of nonchalant neglect. However, this appealingly prolific evenness has important consequences for our understanding of the place of landscape painting in Rome.

Extensive Landscape on a Road Above the Tiber Valley, North of Rome

Yet ideas of mythic fertility informed a wide range of imagery, both Italian and foreign. The Roman artist Giovanni Battista Lusieri’s Extensive Landscape on a Road Above the Tiber Valley, North of Rome (1781) shows an interlocking view of buildings, cultivation, and open countryside, in which these different types of structure and terrain are elided together.

View From the Ancient Road of the Tombs

Such benign conventions for showing the Campagna continued through the 19th Century almost unchanged in their components. Théodore Caruelle d’Aligny’s print View From the Ancient Road of the Tombs (1844) shows a remarkably intact aqueduct running across the Campagna, in the midst of which a group of peasants are placed before a solid wall of corn, with a fig sprouting vigorously from a ruin.

Precisely the same juxtaposition of monument and cultivation is found in some photographic views of Rome from the mid-19th Century. Representing such contiguity as natural acts to hold at bay not only anxieties about the Campagna as barren and poisoned, but also the unwelcome spectre of modernity.

The accuracy of the name Campagna Romana has been called into question for some believe it to have been called countryside out of politeness, for in all directions this area is no more than a diseased and often sterile wetland. In so doing, this belief hints at the way Rome was bound to its surroundings by the immaterial but inescapable presence of bad air.

The harrowing contrast of the Campagna with the prospect of the great city was rendered not merely a dramatic anti-climax, but was potentially life-threatening. This was poetically alluded to by the English writer William Hazlitt, when he asked why artists would want to remain in Rome at all.

Rome: St Peter’s and the Vatican from the Janiculum by Richard Wilson (1783).

Hazlitt further conceded that the enthralling experience of being able to watch the morning mist rise from the Marshes of the Campagna and circle round the Dome of St. Peter’s might persuade some that this was enough to offset the city’s squalor and disease. The novelist Lady Morgan was an authority of such symbolic conflicts, stating that St. Paul’s and St. John Lateran rise on the lifeless limits of the infected deserts (referring to malaria) they dominate.

Whether the collapse of the Imperium Rōmānum had led to physical degradation of the Campagna, or that local bad air was to blame for the destruction of a wealthy and sophisticated culture, was a problem recognized as having existed in antiquity. The science historian Robert Sallares has recently provided an authoritative account of awareness of and attitudes to this in classical texts, informed by a modern understanding of malaria.

Roman Campagna By Thomas Cole (1843).

By virtue of this literary evidence, later commentators carried on an extended debate on the changing condition of the ancient and modern Roman landscape. The 19th Century historian of Rome Jean-Jacques Ampère, for example, sought to establish a physical context for the evolution of early Roman history.

Indeed, that Roman culture was too successful in its struggle with an inhospitable climate and environment was further evidence of the indomitable spirit of these early generations of Romans. The Campagna was thus the converse of conventional ideas of a rural retreat where artists of all kinds escaped the city’s hustle and bustle while actually being was a space seen as empty and forbidding.

Evening Entertainment in the Campagna by Wilhelm Oswald Gustav Achenbach (1850).

Rather it was a territory which predominantly encouraged quick traversal, cautious if not distant inspection, accompanied by melancholy reflections perhaps alleviated by scientific curiosity. This sense of circumspection can be linked to the way views of the Campagna are often constructed as if looking out from a protective screen of buildings or vegetation.

The celebrated oil sketches of P.H. Valenciennes, renowned as a reformer of landscape painting, exemplify this tendency to maintain a certain distance, at once aesthetic and precautionary. Seen from this perspective, these studies retain their sense of being products of a desire to explore Rome as a source of landscape imagery, but express that engagement precisely through setting the motif at one remove from the space occupied by the artist.

Remains of the Appian Way in Rome

The region was reclaimed in the 19th and 20th Centuries for use in mixed farming, and new settlements have been built. Starting with the 1950s, the expansion of Rome destroyed large parts of the Campagna, all around the city. The only continuous green area where the natural resources of the region were saved from overbuilding is along the Via Appia (Appian Way).

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey. Maybe it has even inspired you to traverse the Roman countryside on your adventure.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Ashby, Thomas. The Roman Campagna in Classical Times. London 1927.

Gage, John and J.M.W.Turner. “A Wonderful Range of Mind”. New Haven and London 1987.

Hazlitt, William. “English Students at Rome”. Criticisms on Art. London.

McGann, Jerome. “Rome and its Romantic Significance” in Annabel Patterson (ed.), Roman Images. Baltimore 1984.

Negro, Silvio. Seconda Roma, 1850–70. Milan, 1943.

Powell, Christine. Turner in the South: Rome, Naples, Florence. New Haven and London 1987.

Tommasi-Crudeli, Corrado. The Climate of Rome and the Roman Malaria (trans. by C. Cramond Dick). London 1892.

Wrigley, Richard. “The Roman Campagna Revisited”. Tate Papers, no.17, Spring 2012.

Ralph Fiennes Presents William Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Lately, we have had our attention brought to William Shakespeare’s love of contemporary tragedy that is set in Ancient Rome. As with most things dealing with our favorite topic, we have jumped headlong into discovering the passion with Anya Rose’s Animated ‘Julius Caesar’, Mark Antony’s Speech in “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare, and Julius Caesar (or How William Shakespeare Hit a Grand Slam).

Our spirits soared when we discovered there was another play, aside from Antony and Cleopatra, which dealt with the glory of Rome. Today we share our experience as we present to you Coriolanus!

Theatrical Release Poster

Coriolanus is a 2011 British film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name, ultimately about the Roman-Volscian Wars, starring Ralph Fiennes in his directorial debut. Produced on a budget of US $7.7 million, the film was shot in Belgrade and other areas of Serbia using many locals as extras.

The first page of The Tragedy of Coriolanus from the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays (1623).

The film premiered on 14 February 2011 at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival and it opened the 2011 Belgrade International Film Festival. On 2 December of that year, it opened in New York City and Los Angeles.

As of February 2012, it has only been shown on a limited basis in other large US cities, such as Chicago. It received a full UK cinema release on 20 January 2012 after premiering at London’s Curzon Mayfair cinema on 5 January.

Considering a cast including Gerard Butler (Tullus Aufidius), Vanessa Redgrave (Volumnia), Brian Cox (Menenius), Jessica Chastain (Virgilia), along with Ralph Fiennes as Caius Martius Coriolanus, it is hard to see why there was such limited release. Maybe folks today just don’t appreciate Shakespeare like in years past?

The Rome of Coriolanus is facing an uprising from an economically restless people.

Set in a contemporary day alternate version of Rome, riots are in progress after stores of grain are withheld from citizens and civil liberties are reduced due to a war between Rome and the neighboring Volsci.

The rioters are particularly angry at Caius Martius, a brilliant Roman General whom they blame for the city’s problems. During a march, the rioters encounter Martius, who is openly contemptuous and does not hide his low opinion of the regular citizens.

Gerard Butler as Tullus Aufidius

Tullus Aufidius, the commander of the Volscian army who has fought Martius on several occasions and considers him a mortal enemy, swears that the next time they meet in battle will be the last. Martius leads a raid against the Volscian city of Corioles and during the siege.

Much of Martius’s unit was killed, but the commanding General Martius gathers the necessary reinforcements for the Romans to take the city. After the battle, Martius and Aufidius meet in single combat, which results in both men being wounded but ends when Aufidius’ soldiers drag him away from the fight.

Martius returns to Rome victorious and in recognition of his great courage, General Cominius (John Kani) gives him the agnomen of “Coriolanus”. Coriolanus’s mother Volumnia encourages her son to run for Consul within the Roman Senate.

Coriolanus elected Consul

Coriolanus is reluctant, but eventually agrees to his mother’s wishes and easily wins the Roman Senate. Initially it seems Coriolanus has also won over the Plebis (Common Citizens) as well due to his military victories.

A pair of scheming Tribūnī (Tribunes), Brutus (Paul Jesson) and Sicinius (James Nesbitt), are critical of Coriolanus and his entrance into politics. Fearing that his popularity would lead to Coriolanus taking power away from the Senate for himself, the Tribunes plot to undo Coriolanus and so stir up another riot in opposition to him becoming Consul.

When they call Coriolanus a traitor, Coriolanus bursts into rage and openly attacks the concept of popular rule as well as the Citizens of Rome, demonstrating that he still holds the Plebeians in contempt. Coriolanus compares allowing Citizens to have power over the Senators as to allowing “crows to peck the eagles”.

The Tribūnī term Coriolanus a traitor for his words and order him banished. Coriolanus retorts that it is he who will banish Rome from his presence.

No matter whom he is with Coriolanus is always the outcast.

After being exiled from Rome, Coriolanus seeks out Aufidius in the Volscian capital of Antium and offers to let Aufidius kill him, to spite the country that banished him. Moved by his plight and honored to fight alongside the great General, Aufidius and his superiors embrace Coriolanus.

The Volsci then encourage Coriolanus to lead a new assault on Rome, so that he can claim vengeance on the city which he feels betrayed him. Coriolanus and Aufidius coordinate a plan and lead a Voscilian attack on Rome.

Panicked, Rome sends General Titus to persuade Coriolanus to halt his crusade for vengeance. When Titus reports his failure, Senator Menenius attempts to dissuade the former Roman hero but is also shunned.

Coriolanus’s family pleads for him to return to Rome.

In response, Menenius, who has seemingly lost all hope in Coriolanus and Rome, commits suicide by a river bank. Finally, Volumnia is sent to meet with her son, along with Coriolanus’ wife Virgilia and his son.

Volumnia succeeds in dissuading her son from destroying Rome, and Coriolanus makes peace between the Volscians and the Romans alongside General Cominius. When Coriolanus returns to the Volscian border, he is confronted by Aufidius and his men.

They now also brand Coriolanus as a traitor. The Volscians call him Martius and refuse to call him by his stolen name of Coriolanus.

Aufidius explains to Coriolanus how he put aside his hatred so that they could conquer Rome but now that Coriolanus has prevented this, he has betrayed the promise between them. For this betrayal, Aufidius and his men attack and kill Coriolanus.

Coriolanus received positive reviews and currently holds an aggregate of 93% at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 134 reviews. The consensus states:

Visceral and visually striking, Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus proves Shakespeare can still be both electrifying and relevant in a modern context.

2011 Berlin Film Festival Premiere

The film was nominated for Golden Berlin Bear award at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival. Ralph Fiennes was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer at the 65th British Academy Film Awards.

Coriolanus was released by Anchor Bay Home Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray in the United States on 29 May 2012. Both home media formats of the film contain director commentary with Ralph Fiennes and a behind-the-scenes featurette entitled The Making of Coriolanus.

The film was later released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United Kingdom by Lionsgate Films on 4 June 2012. This release contained the same director commentary audio track but replacing the Making of… featurette with Behind The Scenes of Coriolanus with Will Young.

If you have yet to see, or even read, Coriolanus then we highly suggest you get moving. Set in a modern era with contemporary stars, there is no better way to see Shakespeare if you aren’t already a fan.

Thank you for stopping by and thanks for sticking by us. We hope that you keep spreading the word about us to everyone you know.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Dargis, Manohla. “He’s the Hero of the People, and He Hates It”The New York Times, 1 December 2011.

Katz, Josh. “Coriolanus Blu-ray”Blu-ray.com, 15 March 2012.

Maher, Kevin. “Ralph Fiennes peers outside the hurt locker for Coriolanus”The Australian, 4 February 2012.

Monk, Katherine. “Film review: Fiennes finds heart of Bard’s Coriolanus”The Vancouver Sun, 19 January 2012.

Sulcas, Roslyn. “A First Plunge into Directing Is Hardly Routine”The New York Times, 25 November 2011.

Wiseman, Andreas. “Why Coriolanus Matters”. Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus Blog, 31 March 2010.

“Berlinale 2011: Competition Films”Berlin International Film Festival.

“Coriolanus (2012)”Box Office MojoIMDb.

“Fiennes makes directorial debut in Serbia”AFP. 17 March 2010.

“Belgrade film festival closes, Ralph Fiennes’ movie opens 2011 FEST”Earth Times, 28 February 2010.

Coriolanus at Rotten Tomatoes

“Coriolanus – Blu-ray and DVD details”. Chris and Phil Present, 3 May 2012.

Coriolanus at the Internet Movie Database

Even More Music from Ancient Rome

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Since our inception, we have shared written articles, quotations, images and videos. About a month ago we did a RAE first and shared acoustic presentations (Music of Ancient Rome and More Music from Ancient Rome).

Let’s keep that trend going as today we bring you even more music of Ancient Rome!

Musicians in a detail from the Zliten mosaic (2nd Century AD), originally shown as accompanying gladiator combat and wild-animal events in the arena (from left: the tuba, hydraulis, and 2 cornua).

Roman-style instruments are found in parts of the Empire where they did not originate, and indicate that music was among the aspects of Roman culture that spread throughout the provinces.

The Roman tuba was a long, straight bronze trumpet with a detachable, conical mouthpiece like that of the modern French horn. Extant examples are about 4.3 feet long, and have a cylindrical bore from the mouthpiece to the point where the bell flares abruptly, similar to the modern straight trumpet seen in presentations of ‘period music’.

Since there were no valves, the tuba was capable only of a single overtone series that would probably sound familiar to the modern ear, given the limitations of musical acoustics for instruments of this construction. In the military it was used for bugle calls, while the tuba is also depicted in art such as mosaics accompanying games (ludi) and spectacle events.

The cornu (horn) was a long tubular metal wind instrument that curved around the musician’s body, shaped rather like an uppercase G. It had a conical bore (again like a French horn) and a conical mouthpiece.

It may be hard to distinguish from the buccina. The cornu was used for military signals and on parade.

The Cornicen was a military Signal Officer who translated orders into calls. Like the tuba, the cornu also appears as accompaniment for public events and spectacle entertainments.

The tibia, usually double, had 2 double-reed (as in a modern oboe) pipes, not joined but generally played with a mouth-band capistrum to hold both pipes steadily between the player’s lips. Modern changes indicate that they produced a low, clarinet-like sound.

There is some confusion about the exact nature of the instrument. Alternate descriptions, however, indicate each pipe having a single reed (like a modern clarinet) instead of a double reed.

We hope this struck a chord with you. Hopefully we shall be able to bring you more music, along with more information about the music of Ancient Rome.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Julius Caesar (or How William Shakespeare Hit a Grand Slam)

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Last week we took a glimpse into the theatrical life of Julius Caesar as we listened to Mark Antony give his famous oration about the slain ruler of Ancient Rome. After the Assassination of Julius Caesar, we hear Antony exclaim Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!

Today we are going to delve deeper and take a look at what is The Tragedy of Julius Caesar!

The first page of Julius Caesar, printed in the Second Folio of 1632.

Written by William Shakespeare, this aptly named tragedy was believed to have been written in 1599. It is one of several plays written by Shakespeare based on true events from the History of Rome, which also include Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra.

Although the title is Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus (Brutus) speaks more than 4 times as many lines as the title character. Also, the central psychological drama of the play focuses on Brutus’ struggle between the conflicting demands of honor, patriotism, and friendship.

Title page of the First Folio, 1623. Copper engraving of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout.

Julius Caesar was originally published in the First Folio of 1623, but a performance was mentioned as early as September 1599. However, the play was not mentioned in the list of Shakespeare’s plays published by Francis Meres in 1598.

The text of Julius Caesar in the First Folio is the only authoritative text for the play. The Folio text was notable for its quality and consistency.

The play contains many anachronistic elements from the Elizabethan era, such as hats and doublets (large, heavy jackets), neither of which existed in Ancient Rome. Caesar is mentioned to be wearing an Elizabethan doublet instead of a Roman toga, and a clock is heard to strike and Brutus notes it with “Count the clock”.

The Triumphs of Caesar created by Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna (1484 – 1492).

The play opens with the people of Rome celebrating Caesar’s Triumphus (Roman Triumph) defeating Pompey‘s sons at the Battle of Munda. Two Tribuni (Tribunes), Lucius Caesetius Flavus (Flavius) and Gaius Epidius Marullus (Marrullus), discover the commoners celebrating, insult them for their change in loyalty from Pompey to Caesar, and break up the crowd.

There are some jokes made by the commoners, who insult them back. The Tribunes also plan on removing all decorations from Caesar’s statues and ending any other festivities.

Beware the Ides of March!

In the next scene, during Caesar’s parade on the feast of Lupercalia, a soothsayer warns Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March.” Caesar disregards the warning, and the action then turns to the discussion between Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus (Cassius).

Cassius has a conspiracy to kill Caesar in the works and desperately wants Brutus to be part of it. In this conversation, Cassius attempts to influence Brutus’s opinions into believing Caesar should be killed.

Caesar rejecting the laurel crown

Brutus and Cassius then hear from Servilius Casca (Casca) that Mark Antony has offered Caesar the crown of Rome 3 times and that each time Caesar refused it, fainting after the last refusal. Later, in Act 2, Brutus eventually joins the conspiracy.

It was after much moral debate that Brutus decided that Caesar, although his friend and never having done anything against the people of Rome, should be killed to prevent him from doing anything against the people of Rome if he were to become Rex Romae (King of Rome). He compares Caesar to a snake that has yet to be hatched, and by killing it now would thusly save the world from the ill deeds the snake is capable of doing.

Caesar’s assassination is one of the most famous scenes of the play, occurring in Act 3, Scene 1. After ignoring the soothsayer, as well as Calpurnia’s (Caesar’s wife) own premonitions, Caesar comes to the Senatus Romanus (Roman Senate). The conspirators create a superficial motive for coming close enough to assassinate Caesar by means of a petition brought by Lucius Tillius Cimber (Metellus Cimber), pleading on behalf of his banished brother.

Caesar predictably rejects the petition, and this is the signal to kill Caesar. Casca grazes Caesar in the back of his neck, and the others follow in stabbing him in the chest, back, arms, hands, and abdomen.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Brutus is last to stab Caesar, and it is at this point Shakespeare has Caesar utter the famous line Et tu, Brute? (And you, Brutus?). Shakespeare has Brutus reply “Then fall, Caesar!” suggesting that such treachery destroyed Caesar’s will to live.

The conspirators make clear that they committed this act for Rome, not for their own purposes, and do not attempt to flee the scene. After Caesar is killed, Brutus delivers an oration defending his actions, and for the moment, the crowd is on his side.

Antony’s oration of Caesar

It is now that Mark Antony makes a subtle and eloquent speech over Caesar’s corpse, beginning with the much-quoted “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” In this way, Antony deftly turns public opinion against the assassins by manipulating the emotions of the Plebeians, in contrast to the rational tone of Brutus’s speech, yet there is method in his rhetorical speech and gestures.

Antony reminds the people of the good Caesar had done for Rome, his sympathy with the poor, and his refusal of the crown at the Lupercalia, thus questioning Brutus’s claim of Caesar’s ambition. Then Antony shows Caesar’s bloody, lifeless body to the crowd to have them shed tears and gain sympathy for their fallen hero.

The People of Rome riot upon hearing Caesar’s will.

Continuing, Antony reads Caesar’s will, in which every Roman citizen would receive 75 drachmas. Even as he states his intentions against it, Antony rouses the mob to drive the conspirators from Rome.

Amid the violence Cinna, an innocent poet, is confused with the conspirator Lucius Cinna and is taken by the mob. The poet is subsequently torn to pieces for such “offenses” as his bad verses that were supposedly committed against Caesar.

The beginning of Act 4 is marked by the quarrel scene, where Brutus attacks Cassius for supposedly soiling the noble act of regicide by having accepted bribes. The pair then reconcile, especially after Brutus reveals that his beloved wife Porcia Catonis (Portia) had committed suicide under the stress of his absence from Rome.

The ghost of Caesar taunts Brutus about his imminent defeat. Copperplate engraving by Edward Scriven from a painting by Richard Westall (London, 1802).

The conspirators now prepare for a war against Mark Antony and Caesar’s adopted son, Octavius Caesar. That night, Caesar’s ghost appears to Brutus with a warning of impending defeat at Philippi.

At the Battle of Philippi, Cassius and Brutus, knowing that they will probably both die, smile their last smiles to each other and hold hands. During the battle, Cassius has his servant Pindarus kill him after hearing of the capture of his best friend, Titinius.

After Titinius, who was not really captured, sees Cassius’s corpse, he commits suicide. Brutus wins that stage of the battle, but his victory is not conclusive however.

Brutus takes his own life

With a heavy heart, Brutus battles again the next day. He loses and commits suicide by running on his own sword, which is held by a soldier named Strato.

The play ends with a tribute to Brutus by Antony, who proclaims that Brutus has remained “the noblest Roman of them all” because he was the only conspirator who acted, in his mind, for the good of Rome. There is then a small hint at the friction between Mark Antony and Octavius which characterizes another of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, Antony and Cleopatra.

Caesar and Brutus

Critics of Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar differ greatly on their views of Caesar and Brutus. Many have debated whether Caesar or Brutus is the protagonist of the play, because of the title character’s death in Act 3, Scene 1.

The logic and philosophies of Caesar and Brutus have even been compared, for Caesar is deemed an intuitive philosopher who is always right when he goes with his instinct. Brutus is portrayed as a man similar to Caesar, but whose passions lead him to the wrong reasoning, which he realizes in the end.

It has been acknowledged that some critics have tried to cast Caesar as the protagonist, but that ultimately Brutus is the driving force in the play and is therefore the tragic hero. Brutus attempts to put the Res Publica Romana (Roman Republic) over his personal relationship with Caesar and kills him.

Did Brutus truly help kill Caesar due to his love of Rome?

He acts on his passions, does not gather enough evidence to make reasonable decisions, and is manipulated by Cassius and the other conspirators. Instead of saving the Republic, Brutus makes the political mistakes that ultimately bring down the Republic that his ancestors created.

Caesar compares himself to the Northern Star, and perhaps it would be foolish not to consider him as the character around whom the entire story turns. Intertwined in this debate is a smattering of philosophical and psychological ideologies on republicanism and monarchism.

The Northern Star himself, Gaius Julius Caesar.

It has also been written that the play reflects the general anxiety of Elizabethan England over succession of leadership. At the time of its creation and initial performance, Queen Elizabeth, a strong ruler, was elderly and had refused to name a successor, leading to worries that a civil war similar to that of Rome might break out after her death.

We hope you have enjoyed today’s journey. With so many variations of Julius Caesar that are available, there really is no losing in this game.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Evans, G. Blakemore. The Riverside Shakespeare. Houghton Mifflin Co, 1974.

Shakespeare, William. Arthur Humphreys, ed. Julius SYSR. Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-19-283606-4.

Taylor, Myron. “Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and the Irony of History”. Shakespeare Quarterly Vol. 24, No. 3, 1973.

Wells, Stanley and Dobson, Michael eds. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. Oxford University Press, 2001.

Wills, Garry. Rome and Rhetoric: Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Yale University Press, 2011.

No Fear Shakespeare – Includes the play line by line with interpretation.

Julius Caesar – The British Library

Julius Caesar – from Project Gutenberg

Anya Rose’s Animated ‘Julius Caesar’

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

John Wilkes Booth (left), Edwin Booth and Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in 1864.

I don’t know if it’s my lack of time for original ideas, or the fact I love things that are mainstays in history across the board from people to literature to film but I feel the need to share this now. Feeling inspired from yesterday’s post, Mark Antony’s Speech in “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare, I feel the need to share both Shakespeare‘s play and connect with a younger audience at the same time.

When I came across this video I just couldn’t resist, so we now present Anya Rose’s Animated ‘Julius Caesar‘!

Believed to have been written in 1599, this is one of several plays written by Shakespeare based on true events from Roman history that also include Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra.

Julius Caesar was originally published in the First Folio of 1623, but a performance was mentioned by Thomas Platter the Younger in his diary in September 1599. Based on a number of contemporary allusions, and the belief that the play is similar to Hamlet in vocabulary, and to Henry V and As You Like It in metre, scholars have suggested 1599 as a probable date of creation.

With so many versions, both on stage and on the big screen, having taken place there is no doubt of the significance of this piece. Granted Shakespeare has put out lots of quality work, few works maybe aside from Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet stand out more than Julius Caesar.

If we have inspired you here to take a peek at either the written, stage, or film version of Julius Caesar then we have been successful. If you don’t care at all, we’re shocked you even made it to this sentence.

No matter what, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

More Music from Ancient Rome

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Since our inception, we have shared written articles, quotations, images and videos. A little over a week ago, we did a RAE first and shared an acoustic presentation (Music of Ancient Rome).

Let’s keep that trend going as today we bring you the music of Ancient Rome!

Trio of musicians playing an aulos, cymbala, and tympanum.

Etruscan music had an early influence on that of the Romans. During the Imperial period, Romans carried their music to the provinces, while traditions of Asia Minor, North Africa and Gaul became a part of Roman culture.

Music accompanied spectacles and events in the arena, and was part of the performing arts form called pantomimus, an early form of story ballet that combined expressive dancing, instrumental music and a sung libretto.

Clicking the play button below will give you almost 2 hour’s worth of music that will take you back in time.

This was “Ludi Inter Pana Atque Nymphas” by Synaulia.

We hope this struck a chord with you. Hopefully we shall be able to bring you more music, along with more information about the music of Ancient Rome.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Music of Ancient Rome

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Since our inception, we have shared written articles, quotations, images and videos. Never, though, have we brought you an acoustic presentation.

That all ends now as today we bring you the music of Ancient Rome!

The music of Ancient Rome was a part of Roman culture from earliest times. Song (carmen) was an integral part of almost every social occasion.

Etruscan music had an influence on that of the Roman Kingdom (Rēgnum Rōmānum) and Roman Republic (Res Publica Romana). During the Roman Empire (Imperium Rōmānum), Romans carried their music to the provinces (provinciae), while traditions of Asia Minor, North Africa and Gaul (Gallia) became a part of Roman culture.

Clicking the play button below will give you over an hour’s worth of music that will take you back in time.

Music accompanied spectacles and events in the arena, and was part of the performing arts form called pantomimus, an early form of story ballet that combined expressive dancing, instrumental music and a sung libretto. Music was also customary at funerals, and the tibia (Greek aulos), a woodwind instrument, was played at sacrifices to ward off ill influences.

The Secular Ode of Horace, for instance, was commissioned by Emperor Augustus and performed by a mixed children’s choir at the Secular Games in 17 BC. Under the influence of ancient Greek theory, music was thought to reflect the orderliness of the cosmos, and was associated particularly with mathematics and knowledge.

We hope this struck a chord with you. Hopefully we shall be able to bring you more music, along with more information about the music of Ancient Rome.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Ben-Hur: A 2016 Film Apatation of a Popular 1880 Novel

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

With today being Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, it is now 6 weeks till Easter. The purpose of Lent (Quadragesima : Fortieth) is the preparation of the believer through prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgivingatonement, and self-denial.

Because of this religious theme we thought we should experience the origins, in at least a film setting. That is why today we journey back to Ancient Jerusalem as we experience the newest take on Ben-Hur!

Ben-Hur is a 2016 American historical epic film directed by Timur Bekmambetov and written by Keith Clarke and John Ridley. It is the 5th film adaptation of the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace following the 1907 silent film, the 1925 silent film, the Academy Award-winning 1959 film and the 2003 animated film of the same name.

It has been termed a “re-adaptation”, “reimagining”, and “new interpretation” of the novel. The film stars Jack Huston (Judah Ben-Hur), Morgan Freeman (Sheik Ilderim), Toby Kebbell (Messala), Nazanin Boniadi (Esther), Haluk Bilginer (Simonides), Pilou Asbæk (Pontius Pilate), and Rodrigo Santoro (Jesus).

Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur

The story is of a Jewish nobleman, Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and his adoptive Roman brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) are best friends despite their different origins. While racing horses, Ben-Hur is hurt and Messala carries him back to their family home in Jerusalem.

Despite the hospitality of Ben Hur’s mother Naomi (Ayelet Zurer) and the affections of sister Tirzah (Sofia Black D’Elia), Messala feels alienated in his adopted family. He enlists in the Roman Army (Exercitus Romanus) and fights in the Roman Empire‘s wars in Germania.

Ben-Hur also develops feelings for the family slave Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) although their different station in life compels him not to pursue her. But when her father Simonides (Haluk Bilginer) seeks to marry her off to a Roman, Judah declares his love for her and takes her as his wife.

Toby Kebbell as Ben-Hur’s adoptive Roman brother Messala

Three years later, Messala returns as a decorated Roman Officer but his return coincides with a rising insurrection by the Zealots, who are opposed to Roman rule. Judah treats and shelters a young Zealot youth named Dismas (Moisés Arias).

Messala reunites with Ben-Hur and attempts to convince his adoptive brother to serve as an informant. Following a reunion dinner with Ben-Hur and his family, Messala informs them that a new Roman Governor Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbæk) will be taking residence in Jerusalem and that no incidents must occur.

Days later, Pilate marches into Jerusalem with Ben-Hur and his family watching from a balcony. The Zealot Dismas attempts to assassinate Pilate with a bow but fails.

Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus Christ in Ben-Hur

In retaliation, the Romans storm Ben-Hur’s household and arrest him and his family. Rather than betray a fellow Jew, Ben-Hur takes responsibility for the assassination attempt and is sentenced to be a galley slave aboard a Roman boat.

Ben-Hur’s mother and sister were sentenced to be crucified, all of which causes Ben-Hur and Messala to have a falling out. While being led to the galley, Ben-Hur encounters Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro), who fetches him some water.

Ben-Hur as a galley slave

Ben-Hur endures 5 years of slavery as a rower aboard a Roman galley under the command of Quintus Arius (James Cosmo). During a naval battle against Greek rebels, Ben-Hur’s galley is destroyed and he manages to cling to a floating mast.

Ben-Hur washes ashore and is found by Sheik Ilderim (Morgan Freeman), who recognizes him as an escaped slave. Ben-Hur manages to convince Ilderim not to hand him over to the Romans by treating one of the Nubian‘s racing horses.

Ben-Hur with Sheik Ilderim (Morgan Freeman)

After Ben-Hur develops a bond with the 4 racing horses, a grateful Ilderim then trains Ben-Hur to be a chariot racer. Ben-Hur and Sheik Ilderim later travel to Jerusalem to take part in a grand chariot race at the newly built Roman circus.

Governor Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbæk) at the Circus for a race.

Meanwhile, Jesus’ preaching ministry draws the attention of Governor Pilate and Messala, who is now the commander of the Roman garrison and a champion chariot racer. While visiting Jerusalem, Ben-Hur encounters Esther, who has become a follower of Jesus and is involved in charity work.

Esther tells Ben-Hur that his mother and sister are dead. Despite their reunion, the pair are kept emotionally apart due to her new cause which is contrary to Judah’s insistence on seeking revenge against Messala.

Ben-Hur leading in the big race versus Messala.

There is, of course, a huge race that brings everything all together. In the end, the message of love and peace over all that Jesus has preached rings true.

In 2013, MGM acquired Keith R. Clarke’s script, an adaptation of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, which was in the public domain. In April 2014, Paramount Pictures and MGM announced that they would co-produce a new version of Ben-Hur, based on the novel, with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey serving as producer and executive producer, respectively.

John Ridley was hired to revise the script, with the new film differing from the 1959 version because of the foundational relationships of Ben-Hur and Messala growing up as best friends. Since the film was to be set in Jerusalem before the Roman Empire, Christ would have a more prominent role.

Director Timur Bekmambetov

In September 2013, Timur Bekmambetov reluctantly accepted the Director position since its predecessor had so much impact. Bekmambetov was fascinated by the 1959 film but found the focus on revenge rather than forgiveness to be the main problem, so he was intrigued by the new interpretation of the novel.

He went on that the film is not just the story of Ben-Hur, but rather the shared story of him and his brother, Messala. Bekmambetov was aware of the comparisons being made with the earlier classical adapted films, and hence felt the need to make a film that was more grounded and tangible than the 1959 version.

Ridley re-wrote the script based on an original screenplay by Keith Clarke, which itself was based on Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel. Ridley admired how Clarke went back to the source material and focused his attention on the subjects of racial slavery and colonization, and the deep relationships between the friends.

Location shooting in the Sassi di Matera (Stone City) area of Italy.

Principal photography began 2 February 2015 and finished in June 2015, like the original film, and, like the 1959 version, filming took place mostly in Italy (specifically in Rome and Matera). The Sassi di Matera in Basilicata and the Cinecittà studios in Rome were also chosen among the film’s settings.

Producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett chose Matera as a location for Jerusalem, one of the same locations where Mel Gibson‘s biblical movie The Passion of the Christ was filmed. Exterior shooting lasted for 2 months.

In most instances, CGI were used extensively. Bekmambetov, however, wanted to rely more on practical effects and tried to do as little CGI as possible in moments where it was not heavily needed.

Canyon in the Coachella Valley served as one of the filming locations for Ben-Hur.

In March 2016, production staff sent a request to the Bureau of Land Management’s South Coast office in Palm Springs, which oversees federal land in the Coachella Valley area, asking if the team could shoot a horse scene in the Painted Canyon with 2 horses, several cameras, and a film crew of about 30. With the help of local lawmakers, they were able to convince the BLM to approve the request, but this time with a much-scaled down production of 8 crew members, no horses, and the use of a drone rather than handheld cameras.

The trailer was released a week after Paramount released 10 Cloverfield Lane in theaters. Although Paramount did not secure a Super Bowl commercial spot for the film, Scott Mendelson of Forbes felt that it was an appropriate film to advertise before Sony Pictures‘ faith-based Miracles from Heaven opened on March 16.

Theatrical release poster

The trailer garnered a polarized reception from critics and audiences, with comparisons being made to 300: Rise of an Empire, Gladiator, and Spartacus: Blood and Sand. In its first week, the trailer was viewed over 8.2 million times across YouTube and Facebook, making it the 4th most viewed trailer of that week.

The Hollywood Reporter placed Ben-Hur among the biggest summer box office risks of 2016, while Forbes deemed it “the summer’s most predictable miss/catastrophe”. Critics pointed out that a lack of star power, its August release date, competition, negative reviews (both from critics and audiences), and a lack of marketing, were potential causes for the film’s underperformance.

Ben-Hur premiered 9 August 2016 in Mexico City and was released theatrically by Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 19 August 2016 in the United States in 2D, 3DRealD 3DDigital 3D, and IMAX 3D.

Cast at the Mexico City premiere

The film received generally negative reviews by the professionals. With a $100 million production budget plus a large amount spent on marketing and distribution, the film was considered a box office bomb grossing $94.1 million worldwide.

Due to its underperformance at the box office, executives at rival studios believe the film lost around $100–120 million theatrically. Sources close to the film, however, believe the ultimate losses were likely $60–75 million, noting the film could do well on DVD and other home entertainment platforms.

Crucifixtion of Christ as seen in Ben-Hur.

According to Variety, the film was unable to expand beyond its core Christian audience. It performed well in areas of the US that are more religious, but did not do as well in more secular regions of the country.

As a result of its debacle opening, Ben-Hur joined various other films set in ancient times to underperform at the box office, especially recent big-budget movies from major studios – Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), The Legend of Hercules (2014), and Gods of Egypt (2016).

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 25% based on 160 reviews; the average rating is 4.6/10. The site’s consensus reads:

How do you fight an idea? By filming a remake that has too few of its own, and tries to cover it up with choppy editing and CGI.

Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote:

Overseen by a director not known for his human touch and lacking a name star, except for Mr. Freeman, Ben-Hur feels like a film made on the cheap, although it looks costly.

Richard Roeper gave the film 2 stars out of 4, writing:

Ben-Hur struggles to find an identity and never really gets there. The well-intentioned efforts to achieve moving, faith-based awakenings are undercut by the casually violent, PG-13 action sequences.

On the other hand, Sister Rose Pacette wrote one of few positive reviews of the film for the National Catholic Reporter. Her only objection was for the anachronistic costumes worn by Jewish women in the film.

For our part, we felt Ben-Hur to be entertaining. So it wasn’t a word-for-word visual representation of Wallace’s novel, nor was it busting with stars.

The 2016 Ben-Hur filled a void. It will probably inspire others to view the 1959 version as a comparison, and just may get some people interested in Ancient Rome.

As for its religious connotation, I was more of a film that happened to have a character named Jesus in it than be a film based upon Jesus. People nowadays need to relax about religion as a whole.

Remember what offends you, may not offend someone else. So instead of possibly ruining another person’s positive experience, please commiserate to yourself.

Thanks for stopping by and joining us on today’s journey. Be sure to check back again with us soon for you never know where or when we’ll be traveling.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Cieply, Michael. “Paramount Promises Respectful Portrayal of Jesus in ‘Ben-Hur'”The New York Times. 25 June 2015.

D’Alessandro, Anthony. “‘Ben-Hur’s Weekend Apocalypse: Is There Redemption For Faith-Based Epics At The B.O.?”Deadline.com.

Debruge, Peter. “Is ‘Ben-Hur’ a Dark Horse in the Chariot Race for Global Audiences?”Variety. 10 August 2016.

Fleming Jr, Mike. “Sweet Chariot! MGM is Rebooting ‘Ben-Hur'”Deadline.com. 14 January 2013.

Ford, Rebecca. “‘Ben-Hur’ Director on How His Remake Differs From Charlton Heston’s Film and How He Found His Judah”The Hollywood Reporter.

Funaro, Vincent. “‘Passion of the Christ’ Film Location Helped Bring ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake to Life”Christian Post. 15 October 2015.

Giroux, Jack. “Don’t Expect to See Any Slo-Mo Chariot Races in the ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake”. 29 March 2016.

Harrod, Horatia. “Jesus meets the Fast & Furious: remaking Ben-Hur for 2016”The Daily Telegraph.

Kirchgaessner, Stephanie. “Ben-Hur remake filming banned from Rome’s Circus Maximus”The Guardian. 9 March 2015.

Mendelson, Scott. “Box Office: ‘Ben-Hur’ Bombed (In America) Because No One Wanted To See It”. Forbes.

Nussbaum, Daniel. “‘Ben-Hur’ Producer Mark Burnett: Faith-Based Films Need ‘Epic’ Feel to Attract Secular Audiences”Breitbart News. 7 August 2016.

Pena, Xochitl. “Palm Springs area plays backdrop for new ‘Ben-Hur’ film”The Desert Sun. 12 August 2016.

Siegel, Tatiana. “Why Religious Movies Are Luring Mainstream Stars”The Hollywood Reporter.

Truitt, Brian. “Sneak peek: Jack Huston takes reins of new ‘Ben-Hur'”USA TODAY. 14 March 2016.

Truitt, Brian. “Everybody got down and dirty for epic ‘Ben-Hur’ race”USA Today.

“‘Ben-Hur’ remake set for 2016 release”USA Today. 25 April 2014.

“Ben-Hur: Italy’s Matera the film location of choice”. theaustralian.com.au. 27 November 2015.

“Pope Francis blesses actor playing Jesus in ‘Ben-Hur’ film”Christian Today. 18 April 2015.

Official website

Ben-Hur at the Internet Movie Database

Ben-Hur at Rotten Tomatoes