Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hollywood's Identity Theft

During the latter half of the spring semester, I wrote a paper for my University Writing class. The topic was about the Roman Empire, specifically, the movie Gladiator and its historical accuracies and inaccuracies. I’m not sure if anyone was aware, but in my research, director Ridley Scott had a vision of America when he collaborated with writer David H. Franzoni. The dream was to show the glory of America, but aim to show it by using Eric Hobsbawm’s idea of “invented traditions”. I’ve pasted a paragraph of my paper below just to give you a quick idea of what the paper touches on.

There is a chapter within the book The Historical Film: History and Memory in Media where they mention “Projecting Ancient Rome,” a chapter which incorporates strong examples of the many films made to portray Rome through their techniques. There is a term by historian Eric Hobsbawm called “invented traditions”.[1] These “traditions”, now seen more frequently in historical films as noted by Hobsbawm attempts to establish modern communities such as the United States to suit themselves with an appropriate historical past like the Roman Empire. Furthermore, for these traditions to relay credibility there must be elements of continuity displayed in the past that are seen in the present.[2] “Being aware of this historical continuity serves to enhance a communal identity. By tracing its origins back into the past, a nation could validate its claims to power, property and international prestige”.[3]
To fully understand my claim that the Roman Empire and America have unique, continuous ideals embedded in each culture, an appropriate film that displays a valid correlation must be accounted for. Thus, by looking at the representation of Rome, we can then look to America to see what this past empire may have contributed to this present empire. The best known epic in the recent past to deliver this idea is the Academy Award-winning film Gladiator. This movie rises above all others because almost all other epic films of this category take place in the past, and keep you in the past, while Gladiator is able to show various themes relevant to both The Roman Empire and America.
American audiences respond well to Gladiator because it portrays human nature and instinct common to both Ancient Rome and America today. There is a familiar sense in the film, something American audiences can relate to. Certainly the idea of the whole population being distracted by entertainment, causing them to forget the larger more serious issues is something that can be seen then and now. The movie increases our enthusiasm for sport, even blood sport. The film’s directors and producers created these ideas intentionally to further question, “Could we [Americans] be like these guys [the Romans]”?[4] According to them, we can be. Furthermore, our desire for the brutality of their fighting seems alien to us, but beneath, it is a human instinct we dare not indulge in.[5]

Please let me know here on the web-blog or in class if you have any questions.

[1] Maria Wyke, “Projecting Ancient Rome” in The Historical Film: History and Memory in Media, eds. Marcia Landy (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001), 125-142
2 Ibid, 125
3 Ibid, 125
4 Ibid, 126
5 Andrew Wallace, interview by DreamWorks Home Entertainment, Gladiator, Audio Commentary, 2000
6 Kathleen Coleman, interview by DreamWorks Home Entertainment, Gladiator, Audio Commentary, 2000


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