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Narrative and Spectacle in Gladiator.

Does Ridley Scott's Gladiator (2000) provide a critique of spectacle? Such a question may appear odd insofar as the film's most engaging moments are undoubtedly those which are spectacular--the opening battle scene and the scenes of gladiatorial combat. On this manifest level the film clearly offers a celebration of spectacle rather than a critique. And without a doubt, audiences, myself included, were impressed by Gladiator's "wow" factor, by the elements of delight and spectacular stimulation which make up what Simon During, with reference to early cinema's celebratory mechanisms, has called "the cinema of action-attractions".[1] Why, then, would I ask whether Gladiator offers a critique of spectacle?

To answer such a query we must ask ourselves what Gladiator is about. The film's main narrative line concerns the story of Maximus/Russell Crowe and his quest to avenge the murder of his wife and child by the new Emperor of Rome, Commodus/Joaquin Phoenix. There is, however, also a sub-plot concerning the corruption of the Roman Republic and the leading astray of the Roman people--the "mob"--in the name of Commodus's ambitions of power. And what is the main way in which Commodus leads the Roman mob astray? By spectacle-the gladiatorial games. The film offers its own extra-diegetic comments-we might say that the film has a "voice"[2]--on the moral and political value of "spectacle" as it takes place within the diegesis of Gladiator. The film is arguing that Rome is self-destructing because it is hypnotised by the spectacular productions of the Colosseum and that it is therefore nothing less than spectacle which provides the environment in which tyranny thrives. Ultimately, for there to be any hope for democracy , freedom, happiness and "the greatness of Rome", such a society of the spectacle must be renounced and overthrown, a process which the film duly enacts. The moral lesson of the film, if I can be so bold as to attribute a "moral" dimension to the film on a historical/social/political level, is that democracy and freedom are only possible if we first of all free ourselves from the lure of spectacle.

And yet, as spectators of the film are we not also entranced by spectacle, the filmed spectacles of the Colosseum and its gladiatorial combats? Are we not reduced to members of the mob, baying for blood and action and spectacle and sensation? Are we not duped and lulled and drugged into a willing tyranny of special effects or, at least, of spectacular combats? Are we not also and ultimately reduced to subjects of a tyrannical order, to subjects who willingly and joyfully submit to Hollywood's imperialism and its spectacles of action-attraction? The film is drawing an analogy, "unconsciously", we might say, between the tyranny of Commodus and the tyranny of the contemporary Hollywood blockbuster with the imperialism of both dependent upon the audience's enslavement to spectacle.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. What is the nature of the "spectacular" scenes in Gladiator? The combat scenes are not bombastic, "thrills'n'spills" effects; there are no helicopters in tunnels, no acrobatic dangling-from-harrier-jump-jet feats, no jumbo jets landing in Las Vegas. Rather, the action scenes in Gladiator are virtuosic, montage-laden combinations of "shock-effects" in a manner reminiscent of Eisenstein. In fact, the complexity and displacement of these scenes was a major irritant for some reviewers of the film. John Simon in the National Review declared that what happens in the action scenes in Gladiator is most often "hard to tell because Scott's chief technique through much of the film is lightning-fast cutting, so that chopped-off limbs, severed heads, gushing blood, etc., fly by so quickly that you can't be sure of what you saw, or whether indeed you saw it." [3]

We may, then, despite Simon's reservations, be treading upon the territory of a truly radical, post-classical Hollywood form of filmmaking that is characterised by what Thomas Elsaesser has called "engulfment". For Elsaesser, engulfment is a characteristic trend in contemporary Hollywood cinema that brings forth spectacular visual effects which directly push the viewer into moods of awe and wonder, but also into modes of disorientation, affective complexity and shock. This engulfing mode of address occurs when a film "can be seen to suspend narrative in favour of spatial play or aural perspectivism . Instead of the bounded image," Elsaesser continues, "the mode of engulfment works with the ambient image in which it is sound that now 'locates', 'cues' and even 'narrates' the image, producing a more corporeal set of perceptions." [4]

Such claims surely pertain to Gladiator; the combat scenes clearly suspend narrative in favour of visual display, and the sheer incomprehensibility of the combat sequences necessitates the guidance--however minimal--of our perception by the use of sound: the clashing, clanging and squelching of swords and bodies. The combat scenes are clear examples of the form of corporeal engagement Elsaesser describes: we are not moved by our understanding of the combat sequences; rather, we are moved by the sheer bodily response to the cuts and slashes of both the film's surface and its subjects. Such a bodily response is also heightened by the gory bodily nature of the violence; it is a matter of swords and spears tearing the flesh rather than the dissociated hail of bullets one associates with "body count" action films (those of Schwarzenegger at the peak of his career, for example).

Can we now claim, then, that Gladiator is playing its part in bringing about the downfall of traditional Hollywood narrative precisely because of its use of spectacle, that it is a profound example of "New Hollywood" cinema? Gladiator's use of spectacle is not of a clearly defined goodies-versus-baddies nature, but is rather of a radical, disjunctive and disconnective nature which institutes a mode of spectatorship that is close to the revolutionary style of Eisenstein (it may be interesting to compare these scenes with the storming of the Winter Palace in October, or the Battle on the Ice from Alexander Nevsky, for example) and far removed from the action-spectacles that Elsaesser so accurately describes as "the video game emplotment of 'shoot them, thrill them, chase them, thrill them." [5]

The aesthetic of engulfment, on the other hand, opens a doorway to a vision that enables political progress: its aesthetic of astonishment can be linked with Walter Benjamin's notions of the shock-effect, of that which allows the dreary and addled imagination of the work-a-day masses to be sparked into excitement and energy; if not the excitement and energy of the revolution, then at least perhaps the energised hope that change is in fact possible and even desirable. [6] And it could be argued that it is only as a result of spectacle that a political victory is secured in Gladiaton surely: it is only by way of the combat sequences that victory over the tyranny of Commodus is achieved; it is precisely from within the logic of the spectacle--for Commodus eventually enters the Colosseum to fight Maximus--that the revolution is won and the freedom of Rome secured. Can we argue that Gladiator presents the thesis of "spectacle as revolution"?

Far from being a critique of Hollywood spectacle, we may be inclined to regard Gladiator as an affirmation of spectacle in the face of the tyranny of Hollywood narrative: no longer do we need to be held captive by the imaginary dream-worlds of Hollywood and its petty stories, its "tutor-code" of ideological mirages, [7] for Gladiator and its aesthetic of engulfment can allow us to throw off the shackles of (so-called) bourgeois ideological representation in order that we may have a more direct engagement--a bodily, corporeal, or, in short, a "real" or "true" engagement--with the film world and with the cinematic apparatus itself. Gladiator may therefore be experienced as a truly "filmic" creation that stands against the reduction of the filmic to the realm of merely "telling stories". After all, cinema's vocation is not to tell stories (which is a property of myriad other art forms), but rather to display its own specific properties and potentialities.

Warren Buckland has outlined this characteristic aesthetic of contemporary film that has been championed by recent criticism: "[T]his aesthetic is created through an overemphasis on techniques such as saturated colours, strong backlighting, rapid editing or constant camera mobility, sound effects and special effects that directly assault the spectator's senses and nervous system. The result", Buckland tells us, "is that style in the New Hollywood film becomes self-sufficient and autonomous, rather than being subordinated to a film's themes and narrative." [8]

And yet, such statements certainly leave me feeling rather short-changed--as they do Buckland in his article. Buckland analyzes a film by one of the founding fathers of New Hollywood, Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark. He describes a scene from the film in which the aesthetic of engulfment is paramount, where "the overall effect of [the] stylistic choices is indeed to foreground the action and assault the senses of the nervous system of the spectator". [9] However, Buckland points out that in addition to its aesthetic of engulfment, this spectacular action sequence also, and perhaps even more importantly, functions as a key transitional moment in the narrative of the film. Indeed, dividing the film into discrete episodes, Buckland shows that each episode culminates in an action sequence the outcome of which facilitates the entry into a new episode. In such terms, then, the function of spectacle is no longer one that opposes narrative, but rather, spectacle becomes an integral element in the unfolding of narrative.

Although its narrative structure, in contrast to Raiders, is not episodic, examining the combat sequences in Gladiator can nevertheless grant Buckland's claim further weight. The spectacular scenes do, in fact, give rise to important transitions in the narrative:

a) The battle between the Romans and the Germanians. This battle is important because it is here that we are introduced to Maximus's greatness as a General, and it adds weight to the claims of hardship during the Romans' campaign, thus adding evidence for Maximus's desire to return home.

b) Maximus escapes his executioners. This is a brief scene, but it is obviously essential for the narrative; had Maximus been executed, the film would effectively have been over.

c) Maximus's first fight as a gladiator in the Provinces. This scene proves that Maximus is a formidable combatant, but it also proves that he will fight only when absolutely necessary (when it is a matter of life and death); he will not fight merely for the thrill of the kill.

d) Another gladiatorial contest in the Provinces. Here, Maximus proves that he has the potential to win the support of the crowd (they all chant his nickname, "Spaniard"). This point is an extremely important one for what follows in the narrative, and it is repeated immediately following the contest when Proximo speaks with Maximus about the necessity of "winning the crowd".

e) The first gladiatorial contest in the Roman Colosseum. This is a truly spectacular scene which was supposed to be a re-creation of the second War of Carthage. It therefore has the shape of a strategic battle in which Maximus once more assumes the role of General. Victorious, Maximus instantly becomes a crowd favourite. As the figure of the "leader" he impresses Commodus who then demands to meet him. This necessarily leads to Maximus's unmasking and the setting into play of the events of the second half of the film.

f) Maximus fights against Tigris of Gaul (a previously undefeated gladiator). Maximus wins, but declines to kill Tigris. This reinforces the point made in (c) above, whereby Maximus kills only when absolutely necessary. For showing such mercy the crowd loves him even more.

g) Soldiers attack the gladiators' barracks. This scene is a narrative mover; it serves to facilitate Maximus's attempted flight from Rome. But it also shows Proximo's willingness to stand against the Imperial forces, something he would never have done prior to meeting Maximus. This asserts a moral attitude that is important to the film, that "bad men can be redeemed". (Of course, only some bad men can be redeemed; Commodus, for example, cannot.)

h) The contest between Maximus and Commodus. This is the climax of the film and the eventual deaths of both participants is necessarily part of the film's story. Nonetheless, within the sequence there is also an important moment when Commodus's protectors refuse to hand him another sword, driving home the point that he did not have the will of the people.

It is important to realise that the spectacular sequences of Gladiator, while being thrilling, corporeal, disorienting and "engulfing", also provide important information for the narrative of the film. It is becoming more difficult to make a clear division between what is spectacle and what is narrative, between what resists or suspends narrative and that which contributes to narrative.

If we examine the structure of the film as a whole, we realise that it is a fine example of classical Hollywood cinema. Kristin Thompson has recently re-affirmed the narrative techniques of classical Hollywood by analysing those techniques in terms of recent Hollywood films. Thompson has affirmed a continuity between "classical" Hollywood and "new" Hollywood, and her argument is indeed convincing. [10] I will not go through the terms of Hollywood narrative technique in great detail--readers can gain such information from Thompson's book--though I will assert that Gladiator neatly fits the parameters of "clarity of comprehension", and that it follows a clear sequence of "causes and effects", that it has consistent, psychologically-based characters (e.g., Maximus is motivated by personal revenge and triumphs as a result of the "strength and honour" of his personality), that there is a clear goal established early in the film and that the film's ending more or less ties up all of the conflicts that had been pres ent throughout the film.

In Storytelling in the New Hollywood, Thompson fervently defends her thesis on the "large scale portions" of Hollywood films. The large scale portions are the main narrative divisions of a film--we might typically think of them as "acts" or "segments". The division between one narrative segment and another occurs when there is a significant change in the direction the narrative takes. Whereas many writers before her had insisted that Hollywood narratives can be divided into three main "acts", Thompson insists that there are typically four main narrative segments rather than three. These four large scale portions are: Setup, Complication, Development, and Climax. And Gladiator takes its place comfortably within this system, albeit with rather long setup and complication sections. These sections can be divided in the following manner:

Total Running Time: 149 mins

Setup: 44 mins (the change in narrative direction occurs after Maximus discovers his wife and son have been murderered)

Complication: 46 mins (change occurs when Maximus reveals his identity to Commodus in the Colosseum)

Development: 38 mins (change occurs when Maximus's escape from Rome is foiled)

Climax and Epilogue: 21 mins [11]

Thompson persuasively argues that "classical" as well as "new" Hollywood films appear to favour this kind of four act structuration and Gladiator presents a fine example of such a framework. For those who would point to a significant change in Hollywood film practices, for those who would claim that "spectacle" or an aesthetic of "engulfment" or "action-attractions" has radically altered the status of so-called "post-classical" or "new" Hollywood films, Gladiator stands as a triumphant and exemplary refutation.

Indeed, Gladiator is perhaps even more significant for having taken the contemporary fascination with spectacle to another level. If our fascination with Terminator 2: Judgment Day Games Cameron, 1991), Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) and Twister (Jan de Bont, 1996), among many others throughout the 1990s, was to a large degree determined by our desire to see the display of cinematic technology (the "wow" factor that has placed contemporary audiences alongside the audiences of early cinema for some writers), that is, with a desire for spectacle, then Gladiator creates a curious impasse. For Gladiator, the spectacle no longer wishes to draw attention to itself, the screen is no longer proudly proclaiming to the audience "look what I can do!" Rather, such "exhibitionism" is absent from Gladiator. Now, the spectacle and its special effects have merged with and become indistinguishable from the remainder of the mise-en-scene. Again I will refer to a Spielberg film to demonstrate this difference.

When we first see the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park we are baited and teased and lured by the camera into believing there is something truly astounding-spectacular--being hidden from our view. The camera lingers on the amazed expressions of the scientists as they peer off-screen to objects that have rendered them speechless and dumbfounded. It is as though the screen is announcing to the audience (in that inimitable way that Spielberg has mastered): "You-are-about-to-witness-something-truly-spectacular." And indeed we do: when the dinosaurs are unveiled for our view in the following shots we marvel not merely at the spectacle of the dinosaurs roaming among the film's human characters, but also at the spectacular processes of the cinema and its technological magic that have granted us the opportunity for this flight of fancy.

Compared with this, Gladiator is remarkably understated. A "You-are-about-to-witness-something-truly-spectacular" moment also occurs--when the gladiators first lay eyes upon the Colosseum. During this sequence we are invited to wonder what the gladiators, who have never been to Rome before, are looking at; Juba, for example, states, "I did not know man could build such things." But when the facade of the massive amphitheatre is eventually shown to us, it is downplayed as if to say, "Yes, we can accurately reproduce the grand nature of Colosseum, but we don't want to draw attention to this. We're not going to shamelessly flaunt our expertise and technological prowess merely for the sake of a few short-lived thrills." In contrast to the scenes from Jurassic Park, these moments in Gladiator confirm a sense that the film wants the audience to "keep its eyes on the story", that it does not want its spectacular effects to "stand out" from the rest of the drama, but wants them to be smoothly and seamlessly integrat ed into the narrative.

Can we thus leave spectacle behind? Can we finally and ultimately declare that "spectacle" in Gladiator is very much a secondary consideration and that narrative wins the day? Can we now be certain that Gladiator's popularity and success are due to its adoption of classical Hollywood techniques of storytelling?

I indicated earlier that there were (at least) two plots in Gladiator: the main plot line which centres on the personal story of Maximus's quest against Commodus, while another is concerned with the political status of the Roman Empire and the activities of the Roman Senate, with the question of whether Rome will ever again become a Republic. There is, however, also a third plot, a plot that seems, I admit, rather amiss and contrived. I am speaking of what is perhaps a rather minor narrative line involving Commodus's love for his sister, Lucilla, and its associated "family romance" consequences. Commodus did, after all, murder his father (like Oedipus), and with this deed the door was opened not only to his becoming the Emperor of Rome (as did Oedipus become ruler of Thebes), but also to his potentially securing the love of Lucilla (a Jocasta-substitute, to continue the analogy). Furthermore, there is the issue of a past romance between Maximus and Lucilla and the indication that they may still love one anoth er--or certainly that Lucilla may still love Maximus--hence one may even argue that the conflict between Maximus and Commodus contains its own Oedipal structure.

However, I am rather less interested in the allegorical significance of Commodus's familial desire than I am concerned with analysing the role of this sub-plot within the compositional and narrative structure of the film. What is the relationship of this plot to the other narrative strands of the film--the "dominant" plot of Maximus's revenge, and the other minor "political" plot concerning the re-establishment of the Roman republic?

When all is said and done, the Commodus-Lucilla family romance plot is designed to accentuate Commodus's evil nature. It is probably accurate to call it a "negative" plot, for this is the part of the narrative which we hope doesn't work out, we hope it is negated, as indeed it is. The other parts of the narrative I have mentioned would therefore be "positive": we hope that Maximus does succeed in his quest for revenge and that Rome therefore becomes a republic again. We associate Maximus with his much vaunted "strength and honour", his familial loyalty (he does not succumb to Lucilla's advances), his mercy and his humane virtues. On the other hand, we associate Commodus with decidedly "weak" virtues (as Commodus outlines to Marcus Aurelius near the beginning of the film, his virtuous traits are ambition, resourcefulness, courage, devotion, none of which Aurelius believes to be among the chief virtues), with familial treachery (he murders his father and desires his sister), with bloodlust (he enjoys the sports of killing) and tyranny. And it stands to reason that part of the film's ideological message may be that all tyrannous leaders are in some way or other perverted, while those who cling to a faith in democracy are pure hearted and true.

The terms of the film and its narrative that I have been discussing can be divided into a range of oppositions:

negative positive
tyranny democracy
incest family values
ruthlessness mercy
spectacle narrative
horrible death beautiful death

These divisions illustrate the ways in which Gladiator clearly plays out its drama of good versus evil, of democracy against tyranny, of the family opposed to bestial desires, of mercy and fairness against treachery and ruthlessness, and of the positive power of narrative against the negative effects of spectacle.

I have indicated in the table above what is a final dimension of this division between good and evil: the nature of death. Following the outcome of their final combat, the body of Commodus is left to wither and rot on the ground of the Colosseum, no-one sheds a tear for his death, no-one embraces him as a beloved master or dearly departed leader. Instead, all attention is paid to the body of Maximus as he is triumphantly carried from the Colosseum on the shoulders of the guards who had previously been loyal to Commodus. In short, Maximus is graced with what the Greeks referred to as a "beautiful death", while Commodus suffers the indignity of being written out of all honour, of being denied all of the history and memory that accompanies glory, so that he is left behind to endure what can only be described as a thoroughly ignoble death. [12] This is important because by ignoring the mutilated corpse of the disgraced villain, there is an attempt to erase him from memory; in effect, Commodus is assigned a fate t hat is worse than ordinary mortality, a mortality that would at least include the rites of funeral and burial. It is fair to say that Commodus suffers the kind of fate that Marcus Aurelius (the "real" Aurelius in his Meditations) reserved for death, but without Aurelius's consolation of living virtuously, and certainly without the desired mode of "inner detachment" for which Aurelius strives.

It is Maximus, on the other hand, who personifies the kind of detachment and virtue prescribed by the Meditations, and yet he faces a death that is far in excess of the bland and all too human insignificance of life's passing pondered by the philosopher-Emperor. Maximus's death brings to an end a journey that had been prefigured in the film's opening scene and alluded to many times throughout the film. His death sees him delivered into an Arcadian promised land where he is reunited with his wife and son. His "beautiful death" ensures that his deeds and fame will live in the memory of the people of Rome who, we must presume, will reclaim Rome as a Republic (once again confirming that Hollywood has never let the truth get in the way of a good story).

We should not underestimate the significance of these moves that the film makes, for it places before us none other than the story of our own democracy, of our modern re-presentation of the political. The Kingdoms and Empires that preceded modern democracy (and many of them are still with us) were (are) based, according to Claude Lefort's analysis, on the notion of a society that "represented its unity and its identity to itself as that of a body--a body which found its figuration in the body of the king.. [13] A people gained its conception of itself by way of its identification with the King, or in the case of Gladiator, by way of identification with the Emperor of Rome. The change occurs in modern democracies when the place and role of the king is left "empty", when the body of the king is no longer granted the substance that imbues it with power; when the body of the King becomes, as it were, a "mutilated corpse", like that of Commodus. The place of supreme power previously occupied by the King-Emperor is now occupied by no-one; it is a place that can be filled definitively by no-one, insofar as, with democracy, the place of power becomes a "no place"--precisely like the Arcadian utopia to which Maximus's dead body is transported. The question of who or what represents this "no place" of power--a place that was previously and unquestionably occupied by the King-Emperor--is, in democracy, deemed uncertain, as something decided only on an impermanent basis, as a result of elections, for example. [14]

In short, democracy must continually tell, re-tell and remake its own stories; its historical form is that of narrative, of mediation, of stories told by others from the past and for the future (a "democracy to come"). [15] This is why Lefort will claim that "This society is the historical society par excellence." [16] Democracy is also a mode of representation; that is why we refer to "representative democracy"--a fact which all postmodern critiques of representation may have overlooked--though democracy provides a mode of history and representation that is markedly different from that of kingly representation. Democracy does not lay claim to any immediate relation to power, but derives its power only insofar as it is mediated by "representatives" (i.e., members of parliament). Against this, as Louis Marin made clear in his exhaustive analysis of "The Portrait of the King", during that age which preceded democracy, the telling of a nation's (the ancien regime's) story was exercised in such a way as to ensur e the erasure of its quality as a story, to cover the traces of its emergence as narrative, so that rather than being perceived as narrative, history was instead raised to the level of the icon: the picture, the spectacle, "the fiction of presence". [17] Can it be stated that contemporary cinema's penchant for spectacle--its "fiction of presence" or its tendency toward "engulfment"--is reverting to the very same process that Marin describes, an ancien regime of spectacle built upon the process of what Marin calls "narrative's negation"? [18]

And so we return to spectacle. There is perhaps one other significant moment of the spectacular in Gladiator. When Commodus returns as the victorious and newly crowned Roman emperor following the battles against the Germanians, there are several shots featuring him and his entourage being greeted by cheering crowds. When he eventually reaches the Roman forum, the mise-en-scene clearly and deliberately recalls the famous sequence when Hitler walks between massed columns of S.A. men in Leni Riefenstahi's Triumph of the Will (1935). Commodus, therefore, is directly linked with Hitler.

Steve Neale has observed of Triumph of the Will that its beauty or fascination with audiences--in contrast to its status as a Nazi propaganda film--was purely and simply a result of its composition of spectacle. The film's troubling beauty, its cinematic or artistic power was, according to Neale, the product of a carefully conceived strategy of spectacle, a deliberate dazzling of the eye that was not based on careful observation, not based on "the visible as guarantee of veracity (of truth, of reality)", but which was based, rather, on the creation of spectacle as a "mask" or "lure". [19] The link between Gladiator and Triumph of the Will is therefore a telling one: the choreographed spectacle of Nazism is transferred onto the supreme spectacle of a triumphant emperor, and spectacle itself is conveyed as an integral part of totalitarian power.

However, while Triumph of the Will offers only the repetitive lure of spectacle in the manner of a bounteous or splendid brainwashing, of seduction and surrender to the orchestrations of the almighty Fuhrer, Gladiator offers a counterstrategy. Gladiator provides the spectacular in abundance, but if the link between spectacle and totalitarianism is made (a connection that the film explicitly makes) and by extension, if a link between spectacle and Hollywood is also made (a connection that we can say is made, at best, unconsciously) then Gladiator also offers the possibility of going beyond the repressive lure of such spectacles. That it provides an answer or solution to such a "problem" of spectacle is clearly not the case; the film undeniably delights in its own spectacular productions. But it nonetheless provides a position from which audiences can criticise this use of spectacle. In this way the film qualifies as a reflexive one: it places in question its own representational strategies. As Leslie Felperin has pointed out, the film does offer ample "dollops of exquisitely choreographed violence", but it is also "nonetheless implicitly critical" of these spectacular displays. [20]

Gladiator may not go so far as to offer a critique of spectacle, but it does place spectacle in question. The film certainly provides scenes of spectacular engulfment, but it also adheres very closely to the tenets of traditional Hollywood storytelling. This is the film's great virtue: it tempts us with the spectacular, but it also asks us to see that the spectacular is always linked in some way to a narrative or a history; that the spectacular must be considered from within the framework of wider discourses. The film equates spectacular dazzlement with repressive power structures, with a totalitarianism or imperialism that is political as well as cultural. Even though I would hesitate to declare that classical Hollywood narrative techniques would offer a way out of the repressive representations of Hollywood spectacle, I would certainly argue that they offer a better starting point than does a blunt renunciation of classical storytelling techniques and an out and out embrace of spectacle.

And this is ultimately the question Gladiator asks: "Yes, the cinema can produce spectacular effects, but is that what we want the cinema to do?" Contemporary film studies' desire to find alternative narratives or alternatives to narrative in Hollywood cinema (or in any other style of cinema for that matter) should be wary that any perceived deviation from classical Hollywood narrative may, on the one hand, not at all be a deviation from the principles of classical narrative (as Kristin Thompson's book so clearly demonstrates), while, on the other hand, such deviations from classical narrative may not be the stuff of which dreams of a postmodern radical freedom are realised. Freedom from the constraints of classical narrative does not add up to freedom per se.

I am grateful for the helpful suggestions made by Brin Grenyer, Jane Stadler and David Musgrave on early drafts of this paper.

Richard Rushton received his PhD from the University of Sydney. He teaches in the Department of Critical and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.

(1.) Simon During, "Towards the Global Popular? Knowledge, Strength and Magic" in David Bennett (ed.) Cultural Studies: Pluralism and Theory, (Parkville: University of Melbourne, 1993), 133-155.

(2.) 1 am referring to Bill Nichols' notion of "voice" in documentary films (though he believes it is a term that could be applied to any film form). It designates "that which conveys to us a sense of a text's social point of view, of how it is speaking to us and how it is organizing the materials it is presenting to us". Bill Nichols, "The 'Voice' of Documentary" in Nichols (ed.), Movies and Methods Volume H, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1985, 260.

(3.) John Simon, "What, No Orgy?" National Review, (June 5, 2000), 59.

(4.) Thomas Elsaesser, "Specularity and Engulfment: Francis Ford Coppola and Bram Stoker's Dracula" in S. Neale and M. Smith (eds), Contemporary Hollywood Cinema, (London and New York: Routledge), 1998, 205.

(5.) Elsaesser, 204.

(6.) See Tom Gunning, "An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)credulous Spectator", Art & Text, Spring, 1989, 31-45; Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, (New York: Shocken Books, 1969), 211-244.

(7.) Daniel Dayan, "The Tutor-Code of Classical Cinema" in Nichols (ed.), Movies and Methods Volume I, (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press), 438-451.

(8.) Warren Buckland, "A close encounter with Raiders of the Lost Ark: notes on narrative aspects of the New Hollywood blockbuster" in Neale and Smith (eds), Contemporary Hollywood Cinema, 170.

(9.) Buckland, 170.

(10.) Kristin Thompson, Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique, (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 1999).

(11.) My strategy here is nowhere near as rigorous or accurate as that provided by Thompson. For an indication of Thompson's methods see her "Appendix A: Large-Scale Portions of Classical Films" in Storytelling, 355-362. My times are based on the Australian VHS and DVD releases.

(12.) See Jean-Pierre Vernant, "A 'Beautiful Death' and the Disfigured Corpse in Homeric Epic" in Mortals and Immortals: Collected Essays, edited by F.l. Zeitlan, Princeton, (Princeton University Press, 1991, 50-74).

(13.) Claude Lefort, "The Image of the Body and Totalitarianism", in The Political Forms of Modem Society, London, (Polity Press, 1981, 203).

(14.) See the analysis of Slavoj Zizek in For they know not what they do: Enjoyment as a political factor, (London: Verso, 1991), 229-277.

(15.) Jacques Derrida theorises democracy in terms of a "democracy to come" in "Call it a Day for Democracy", The Other Heading: Reflections on Today's Europe, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992).

(16.) Lefort, 205.

(17.) Louis Marin, The Portrait of the King, trans. M. M. Houle, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988) 87.

(18.) Marin, 87.

(19.) Steve Neale, "Triumph of the Will: Notes on Documentary and Spectacle", Screen 20:1, (1978), 85.

(20.) Leslie Felperin, "Decline and Brawl", Sight and Sound, vol. 10:6, (June 2000), 34.
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Author:Rushton, Richard
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Date:Jun 22, 2001
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A Companion to Malory.
Tarantino's incarnational theology: Reservoir Dogs, crucifixions and spectacular violence (1).
The world of the gladiator.

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