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Sword and sandal film
Related: film - homoeroticism - Maciste
Related: Titles Cabiria (1914) - Quo Vadis? (1912)
Intolerance (1916) - D.W. Griffith
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Sword and sandal
Sword and sandal films are a cinematic genre of adventure or fantasy films that have subjects set in Biblical or classical antiquity, often with contrived plots based very loosely on mythology or history. Most movies based on Greco-Roman history and mythology, or the surrounding cultures of the same era (Egyptians, Assyrians, Etruscans, Minoans), etc. are sword and sandal epic films. The greatest productions of this film genre were made during the 1950s, but it has experienced a recent renaissance. Broadly considered, this could compass such diverse films as Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, Titus, or The Ten Commandments. In this sense, it is one of the oldest movie genres; the original Ben-Hur was made by Sidney Olcott in 1907; the 1914 silent film Cabiria was important in the development of the art of cinematography. Another name for the genre is peplum, from a Latin word for a sort of tunic, easy to make, and favoured by the costume departments for these films.
More specifically, however, the "sword and sandal" film genre usually refers to a low-budget Italian movie on a gladiatorial or mythological subject; for the genre occupied much of the less pretentious segment of Italy's movie industry before the invention of the spaghetti western. Gladiators were perennial favourite subjects, as were the adventures of Hercules, Jason and the Argonauts, or the more recent legendary strongman Machiste. The fad began with the 1959 release of Hercules, starring American bodybuilder Steve Reeves. This spawned the 1960 sequel Hercules Unchained, among literally dozens of low-budget imitations starring other bodybuilder stars such as Reg Park or Alan Steele.
The absurd plots, out-of-synch dialogue, wooden acting of the muscleman heroes, and pitifully primitive special effects that were utterly inadequate to depict the legendary creatures on-screen, all conspired to give these films a certain camp appeal. This, and the beefcake factor, made the films' unintended humour notorious in the gay community. Several have been subjects of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. A movie series and syndicated television show called The Sons of Hercules was made from a number of different films; this ran in the 1970s. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sword_and_sandal [Jun 2005]
Italian cinema: beginnings to superspectacles
Motion pictures captured the Italian imagination from the first demonstration of the Lumières' Cinématographe in Rome on 12 March 1896. The driving force was Filoteo Alberini, who not only founded the first production company (Cines) in Italy and opened the first purpose-built cinema (the Moderno), but who also directed the country's earliest dramatic film, La Presa Di Roma (The Fall of Rome) (1905). Five years later, Italian studios were churning out 807 short subjects a year, many of them inspired by classical mythology, ancient history and local literature. But slapstick clowns like Cretinetti, Robinet and Polidor were also hugely popular, as were melodramas starring divas Lyda Borelli and Francesca Bertini.
Encouraged by intellectuals like Gabriele D'Annunzio, Italian films grew in sophistication and were noted for their use of location and natural light, staging in depth, long takes and the integration of character and environment. But superspectacles like Mario Caserini's Gli Ultimi Giorni di Pompei (The Last Days of Pompeii) (1913) and Enrico Guazzoni's Quo Vadis? (1913) were also famed for the sheer scale of their sets and casts of thousands. Giovanni Pastrone's 15-reel Cabiria (1914), which made a star of Bartolomeo Pagano as Maciste, gave Italian cinema international pre-eminence. --http://www.bfi.org.uk/gallery/cinemaitalia/bfi-00m-tap.html [Jun 2005]
In peplum movies, while Gordon Mitchell rose in starhood with The Giant of Metropolis (1961), Richard Harrison became popular as the "creator" of the character of Perseus (in Medusa against the Son of Hercules) before acting in more "sword and sandal" movies such as Gladiators 7, peplum version of The Seven Samurai. In adventure movies, Richard Harrison appears bearded in Domenico Paolella's Avenger of the Seven Seas (1961) (one of Michèle Mercier's fifty movies) or in Three Sergeants of Bengal (1964), with a Malay crew led by Umberto Lenzi.
If Richard Harrison's fame in peplum remained lower than Steve Reeves, Gordon Scott, Ed Fury or Mark Forest (from the usual "Maciste" from Cinecittà), his ability to adapt allowed him, unlike the others, to survive the fall of the genre in the middle of the 60's. The newer styles were mostly western and the Giallo genre (Italian horror thriller). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Harrison_%28actor%29#Peplum_Movies [Apr 2005]
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