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Seminar Fall of the Hollywood Epic

Seminar: Fall of the Hollywood Epic

Clip #1: Fall of the Roman Empire (1964): the map

Read the distributed excerpt from Kai Brodersen’s article (from Colin Adams and Ray Laurence (ed.) (2001), Travel and Geography in the Roman Empire).

Watch the clip, making selective notes as you do so. Decide on your own answers to the questions that follow.

Then go into groups (3-4 each) and compare answers. Finally, re-watch the clip.


  1. In what ways is the mise-en-scène in this clip different to that of the 50s Roman blockbusters?
  2. Is the mise-en-scène different enough to mark the film out as a different kind of film about Rome?
  3. Similarly, is the acting style and dialogue different enough from that used in the 50s films? (For instance, is Commodus just more of the same old mad-emperor cliché — a rehash of Nero in Quo Vadis?)
  4. Fall of the Roman Empire lists a historical adviser in its opening credits (just like the 50s films). In what ways does the clip try to establish ‘authenticity’ via mise-en-scène?
  5. We’ve seen bogus maps before, e.g. in the opening sequence of Ben-Hur, but this map tries harder to look authentic. In the light of Brodersen’s points, though, how ‘authentic’ can it be — and in what ways?
  6. What thematic effects are created by having the map take the form of a mosaic floor (rather than, e.g., putting it on a wall)?

Clip #2: Fellini Satyricon (1969): the brothel

Read the distributed excerpt from Petronius’ fragmentary novel.

Watch the clip, making selective notes as you do so.

Then go into groups (3-4 each). Working in collaboration, compare your notes about the clip and draw up a rough plan for a presentation. You will not be asked to deliver the presentation in class.

Presentation topic:

How effective is the brothel sequence in ‘defamiliarising’ Rome for an audience familiar with the Hollywood version?

A few sub-topics you might consider (but your list might be much longer!):

  1. General mise-en-scène.
  2. Why a brothel at all? Is its inclusion ‘authentic’? (Pompeian archaeology, etc)
  3. Physical difference and disability.
  4. Multilingualism. Would everyone have spoken Latin? What kind of Latin, anyway? (Pompeian graffiti)