Ben Greet: Classics in Star Trek

Star Trek exists as what Daniel Bernardi calls a ‘mega-text’, a group of televisual, filmic, literary, auditory, and other ‘texts’ that all share a relatively cohesive fictional universe. The amount of ‘texts’ that make up the Star Trek franchise includes hundreds of hours of television and films, hundreds of books and audio books, and numerous video games. It spans over fifty years, from the first television episode in 1966 to the latest novel published in February 2017. Not only is this ‘mega-text’ similar to Classical mythology – which also uses the same characters and stories told by different authors across different media – it also includes a number of classical references itself.

The franchise therefore provides us with a unique opportunity to examine classical reception in science-fiction through semantically connected texts and over a significant time period. Not only can we see how approaches to the classical world change over time, we can also see how the audience response to them has altered. While some receptions will be rooted in their historical contexts, others may morph over Star Trek’s long fifty-year history. Continue reading

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Introducing the ‘Classical World New Zealand’ Project

by Anastasia Bakogianni, Lecturer in Classical Studies, Massey University (Auckland campus)

How have New Zealanders received the classical world? How have they adapted and transformed it for use in their own culture and the arts? Why do they feel this deep connection with ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt? These are the fundamental questions that Classical World New Zealand, a new project based at Massey University, seeks to illuminate.

Raemon Rolfe, Reliquiae: Text and Vessels (2016)

When I arrived on the beautiful shores of Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand) last year I was curious to learn more about how New Zealanders and New Zealand based practitioners responded to the classical world. Having worked for many years for the CRSN and been an interviewer for Practitioners’ Voices in Classical Reception and Classics Confidential I was already aware of the existence of such receptions. But I was still surprised by the richness and variety of these connections, and I am happily looking forward to discovering more. This is surely yet more proof of the ongoing impact of the classical world on our own modern global culture. Continue reading

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Anastasia Bakogianni: Between Tradition and Creativity – Modern Greek Cinematic Receptions of the Classical World

How can ancient tragedy be transplanted into the modern medium of film? What are some of the obstacles filmmakers have to overcome when they attempt to transform an ancient theatrical play into a movie? What challenges do we face when we use their films in our classrooms? And finally, is there ever a point beyond which we should stop referring to a film as a ‘reception’ of an ancient drama(s), or could we even talk about the reception of the very concept of ancient tragedy itself? These are some of the exciting questions that scholars working in this area have been engaging with and the discussion is ongoing, so join in!

Cacoyannis' chorus comforts Electra

Cacoyannis’ chorus comforts Electra

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Kim Shahabudin: Simply the best? Or not so simply…

A recent post on a Facebook Group asked what the “best” film versions of the Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid were. BIG QUESTION, was my immediate reaction. After all, how do you qualify ‘best’, when you’re thinking about cultural objects? And is it different when those objects are examples of classical reception?

I don’t think this is a trivial question for those of us interested in reception studies with a focus on popular culture. Most academics have had the experience of marking undergraduate essays where critical discussion is replaced by subjective assessments of value. In my experience this is even more prevalent when the topic is film. Indeed it can feel as if discussing ‘the best film’ on a particular topic is perceived by students as the purpose of this strand of reception studies. And ‘best’ is most often identified with ‘most authentic’: which is taken to mean the adaptation that most closely follows the narrative, chronology, and (most importantly) the visual and aural conceptions of antiquity students have acquired through their studies.

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Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones: The Epic World of Norma Desmond – An Alternative Guide to Watching Hollywood Epics – Part 2

As I showed in Part 1 of this post, Sunset Boulevard is a film saturated in allusions to an earlier age of filmmaking, but it is in the film’s extraordinary final scene that the blurring of time, space, and genre (film noir and epic) has the greatest impact. The despairing end of Sunset Boulevard sees the mad and murderous faded movie star made to believe that she is shooting the film – Salome – she has been so desperate to make. She is compelled to believe it so that she can be taken away to prison or, more likely, an asylum. This is the last scene of the movie as it appears in the original shooting-script: Continue reading

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Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones: The Epic World of Norma Desmond – An Alternative Guide to Watching Hollywood Epics – Part 1

At the moment I’m writing a book. It is called Designs on the Past: How Hollywood Created the Ancient World. It is all about movie-making in Hollywood and movie-watching in twentieth-century America (and Britain). All of the movies I explore in the body of the book are classified as ‘epics’ – a distinct and popular cinematic genre which played a central role in twentieth-century filmmaking and defined the ancient world for generations of spectators. Designs on the Past will provide a comprehensive study of how epic films were made during the period 1916-1965. The book examines issues of film-promotion, the casting of actors, set design, costume, hair and make-up design, music and sound, script, editing, and post-production marketing. The book keeps one vital point in mind: Hollywood film making was an industry and films were primarily made and sold as financial ventures. Sure, Hollywood movies could have integrity and artistic flair, but epic films, with their grandiose budgets, rarely took artistic risks; epics were the most conservative and conventional of the movies produced during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

I’m mad about old-time Hollywood. I collect pressbooks, original memorabilia, autographs of the stars, designs… All of these things are helping me put the book together. I love epic movies and I’m not ashamed to say that I am a product of overdosing on epics (like Ben Hur, Cleopatra and Quo Vadis) when I was a child. The more I watched epic movies, the more I became attuned to the ‘language’ of the genre – the conventions which traditionally combined to make the epics ‘Epic’. I became familiar with the works of the movie stars who performed in epics, the directors who created them, and the designers who visualised them – and as I did I came to realize the deep impact which epic films had on contemporary American filmmakers and cinema audiences.

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Sasha-Mae Eccleston: Doing the Right Thing in Chi-Raq (2015)

Like the iconic song solicited for it, Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing (1989)(hereafter, DRT), highlights the competing voices and values underlying the banal term ‘community’. Using a heat-wave as metaphor, it follows the increasingly tense relationships between individuals on a Brooklyn block. Tensions erupt, NYPD officers kill a young black male, and Sal’s Famous Pizza burns to the ground.

DRT illuminates how individual, heated exchanges are merely the peak of a massive subterranean mountain. Its plot covers 24 hours, the setting less than a square mile. But, direct address and Lee’s ‘signature shot’, for example, interrupt realism with surrealism. These techniques and others make it difficult to abstract generalized truth, whether about a racialized Other or about a sibling, from one perspective and, as a result, moral imperatives: how does one do the right thing and to whom is that owed?

The film garnered both acclaim and criticism as fundamentally neoliberal fare. That an African-American man directed, wrote, produced and acted in a film populated by mostly non-white actors deepens the film’s significance in an industry that rarely uses people of color to drive plot. Yet, as bell hooks explained, Lee avoids tackling race as a gendered phenomenon. Moreover, because the film focuses on spectacular violence, brazen utterance, and interpersonal conflict, entrenched structural racism remains untouched. In other words, Lee doesn’t go particularly far down the mountain once he uncovers it exists.

large_CHIRAQ_TEASERS_FINISHED_HALFSIZE_lowres1446591776Lee’s challenging 2015 film Chi-Raq rehashes DRT on many fronts.[1] Drawing on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and its perceived contemporary legacy, Chi-raq portrays a neighborhood negotiating America’s gun violence epidemic. Following a Black child’s murder, gang-affiliated women ‘sex-strike’ for peace. This time Chicago provides the setting, not Lee’s native Brooklyn, and Kevin Wilmott adapts the ancient Greek comedy alongside Lee. They versify most of the dialogue and inject humor into their adamantly labeled satire (instead of, as some deem appropriate, tragedy).

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Clytemnestra in your living room? Greek Tragedy on the Small Screen

Picture3It’s not often that the ancient Greek adulteress and murderer graces the cover of the Radio Times – still less often does she wear a costume that combines Minoan art with Doctor Who.  But Diana Rigg’s 1979 performance as Clytemnestra was just one of dozens of extraordinary TV events enjoyed by audiences in Britain between 1958 and 1990.  During these years, British TV channels regularly screened productions of Greek tragedy, beaming the ancient stories of war, revenge, and heroism directly into the home.  In spring 2017 the Department of Classics at the University of Reading is hosting a unique opportunity to watch three films of Greek tragedy that were first shown on the small screen.

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Amanda Potter: Putting Audience Reception Centre Stage in Classical Reception Studies

Picture1From a very young age I was fascinated by all things ancient Roman and Greek, fuelled by my consumption of films made before I was born like Ben Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963), which were broadcast on British television in the 1970s.  I found these stories exciting and exotic, and more information (with pictures) was available in the Ladybird books that I collected.  An early memory as a very young child is of playing at being Antony with my plastic helmet and sword.  I was never interested in being Cleopatra; in those days I thought that Cleopatra spent all her time in a bath of asses’ milk, looking like Amanda Barrie in Carry On Cleo (1964), which seemed a very dull existence.  Filled with Roman bravado I hit a neighbour’s fence with my plastic sword repeatedly.  When he told me that he would smack me if I did it again, I, of course, called his bluff, and the episode ended in tears.  A lesson gained from this encounter was that engaging with the ancient world could cause me pain as well as pleasure, but this did not put an end to my interest. Continue reading

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Gideon Nisbet: On not getting round to watching the 2016 Ben-Hur

I didn’t see Timur Bekmambetov’s Ben-Hur when it was at the cinemas (not that it hung around long). Meant to; would probably have had fun; just never got around to it. Doubtless I’ll pick it up on DVD once it’s dropped in price. What’s happened to me?

Back in the day, I would have been there like a shot: professional duty. My way into classical reception studies, way back in the late 1990s, was filling in for Maria Wyke (of Projecting the Past fame), which in part meant teaching Rome in Film. I was a film nut already so it didn’t seem like a big deal. Back then, of course, ‘Rome in Film’ was mostly what we were doing; we were still figuring out, mostly through trial and error, what Classical Reception meant, or might come to mean. Though that gig, I lucked into an invitation to write a book on (daring innovation!) cinematic representations of the other Class. Civ., called Ancient Greece and Film in Popular Culture. I still vividly remember the sinking feeling I got part-way through Oliver Stone’s Alexander (2004): ‘I am going to have to watch this TWICE. For Science.’ Let no-one say classical reception is the easy option.
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