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Essays and reading lists

Term 1 essay titles

If writing on one of the three ‘core’ films, you should bear in mind the following guidelines:

  • Your essay should make detailed reference to two or more episodes from the film (c. 10-15 minutes each).
  • Where appropriate, you may — and are encouraged to — refer to other semester 1 ‘core’ films to support your argument.
  • You should also demonstrate knowledge of at least one of the semester 1 ‘additional’ films.

1. Ben-Hur

either

(a) Is Ben-Hur more about the twentieth century than the first century AD?

or

(b) Is Ben-Hur’s Evangelical perspective incompatible with a ‘faithful’ version of the classical past?

Additional reading:

Wyke (1997) chs 1, 2, 7.
Babington and Evans (see index for ‘Ben-Hur’).
Mayer (on play and first silent film).
General Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur (the original novel, available in Wordsworth Classics series of cheap reprints).

2. Spartacus

either

(a) “Could we have won, Spartacus? Could we ever have won?” — did the sources for Spartacus, in particular Howard Fast’s novel, stand a chance against commercial pressures and Classical Hollywood conventions?

or

(b) Does the recently restored ‘oysters and snails’ scene substantially alter Spartacus’ status as a classic of camp cinema?

Additional reading:

Wyke ch.3.
Kirk Douglas, The Ragman’s Son (autobiography of star/producer).
Richard Dyer, ‘Don’t look now: the male pin-up’, Screen 23 (1982).
Ina Rae Hark, ‘Animals or Romans: looking at masculinity in Spartacus’ in Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark (edd.) (1993) Screening the Male: exploring masculinities in Hollywood cinema — but read Mulvey first.
Leon Hunt, ‘What are big boys made of?: Spartacus, El Cid and the male epic’ in Pat Kirkham and Janet Thumin (edd.) (1993), You Tarzan: masculinity, movies and men — again, read Mulvey first.

3. Cleopatra

either

(a) How have representations of Cleopatra changed over the twentieth century?

or

(b) Do spectacle and star image make nonsense of Cleopatra’s attempt at serious history?

or

(c) To what extent are female audiences invited to identify with Cleopatra?

Additional reading:

Wyke ch.4.
Hughes-Hallett.
Mary Hamer (1993), Signs of Cleopatra: histories, politics, representation: chapter on 1934 Cleo.
Jackie Stacey (1994), Star Gazing: Hollywood cinema and female spectatorship.

4. Depression Hollywood

You may choose to write on the 1930s films as an alternative to the three ‘core’ films. If so, you should bear in mind the following guidelines:

  • You should demonstrate knowledge of at least two of the 1930s films (and ideally all three).
  • Where appropriate, you may refer to the 1950s-60s films to support your argument.
  • Your essay should make detailed reference to at least one episode from each film discussed (c. 10-15 minutes each).

either

(a) Is the lack of ‘realism’ in Hollywood’s 1930s fictions of Roman history simply a consequence of tighter budgets than those of the 1950s-60s epics, or is there more at stake?

or

(b) Are Hollywood’s Depression spectacles of Rome simply escapist fun, or do they offer serious social comment on contemporary problems?

Further reading:

Wyke ch.6 on 1935 Last Days of Pompeii.
Andrew Bergman (1971), We’re In the Money: Depression America and its Films.
Richard J. Thompson and William D. Routt (1987), ‘”Keep young and beautiful”: surplus and subversion in Roman Scandals’, in Tom O’Regan and Brian Shoesmith (edd.) History on / and / in Film.

TERM 2

1. Last Days of the Roman Empire

either

(a) Was Last Days of the Roman Empire too innovative for its own good, or not innovative enough?

or

(b) Taken as a pair, do Last Days (1964) and Cleopatra (1963) indicate a significant ideological shift in what ‘Rome’ could stand for? What political and cultural changes do you think might account for this apparent change?

2. Fellini Satyricon

either

(a) Is Fellini successful in replicating the fragmentary nature of his ancient source? Why would he have wanted to try?

or

(b) ‘Rome. Before Christ. After Fellini’ (poster caption). Does Fellini Satyricon succeed in contradicting the pious certainties of Hollywood’s Cold War epics?

3. Alexander the Great

either

(a) Does Alexander the Great succeed in creating a coherent mise-en-scène for ancient Greece? Discuss with reference to at least one other film of your choice.

or

(b) Can Alexander the Great maintain clear distinctions between history, myth, and star image? Should it even try?

4. Greece and Rome in popular culture

either

(a) In what ways does the pre-production manoeuvring of the rival Alexander projects enhance our understanding of Alexander’s own ancient ‘Successors’? Discuss with reference to materials of your choice, including online sources.

or

(b) Write an essay-length critical-comparative review of two websites chosen from the list circulated early in term. Your ‘review essay’ should demonstrate the same analytical skills as a regular essay in assessing the websites’ content and presentation, and in developing a substantial conclusion.

or

(c) Do television documentaries about Greece and Rome persuade their audiences via the same techniques as Hollywood films, or do they develop a distinctive set of narrative procedures (mise-en-scène, types of shot, etc) and style of argument? Discuss with reference to two or more television documentaries of your choice.