Spartacus (1960)
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Spartacus (1960)

Some superlatives are greatly overused when describing a movie. We see words like ‘Greatest’, ‘Fantastic’, or ‘World Changing’ but few ever are based on merits that can be readily quantified. Among the most misused is ‘Epic’. The misunderstanding surrounding the usage of this term since it can be applied to not only the scope of a film but also is a recognized genre. in the case of the film under consideration ‘Spartacus’, the word epic is properly applied correctly denoting the grandeur of its production but also for its ability to deservedly reserve a spot in almost every laudable list of the greatest films to be made. The general category that most are quick to assign to this film is the sword and sandal flick. The times of Spartacus has recently received a boost in public awareness with the success of the recent Showtime original serials that uses the life of the world’s most famous gladiator as a jumping off point for action, political intrigue and plenty of sex. There is a lot less of the sexual component present as you would expect from a film created back in 1960. Still, there is no shortage of action to be found here and the political aspects remain strong and relevant in today’. The real Spartacus became a central historical figure for leading one of the historically renowned rebellions leading slaves of in open conflict against Rome, the political super power of an epoch. It was unthinkable that a group of slaves tolerated for amusement and service could rise against the most powerfully armed society in the known world. Spartacus sparked what would become the Third Servile War in 73 BCE indelibly marking his place in history. There have been many versions of this heroic tale but this one, released in 1960, was carefully crafted by a legendary filmmaker, Stanley Kubrick. The movie has had many media releases but the high definition edition takes a half century old movies and breathes new life into It.; film of such sheer splendor deservers nothing less than the best technical presentation. Albeit this is not intended to provide historical accuracy in any measure but it is entertainment on a level the likes of which are barely ever seen anymore.

Stanley Kubrick was not the most prolific director the film industry ever produced but nearly every movie he directed went on to be consisted as a masterpiece. Kubrick was an eclectic filmmaker rarely revisiting a genre once he placed his indelible stamp upon it. Kubrick has successfully taken on period pieces, horror, science fiction and even an erotic thriller I a fashion rarely approached by any other auteur. This was one of his earliest main stream major motion pictures and although it was made at the start of his career it does not exhibit the usual missteps of a new filmmaker. Kubrick was truly born to master the art of film direction and this movie demonstrate didn’t require a number of films to discover his directorial style or artistic voice; it appeared to have come to him quite naturally. The diversity of topics in his films does make it difficult to pin down any thematic trademarks other than the man was a perfectionist that made each frame of his films add to the overall look and feel. Despite his predilection for lengthy films it cannot be said that a single frame is superfluous.

His style is precise, demanding and controlled; that was his directorial trademark and his enduring legacy. The sword and sandal epic had been well established by 1960; in fact that period was just in the twilight of the genre’s golden age. The requisite elements for this kind of film included the proverbial cast of thousands of extras, manly men in short skirts and plenty of swords, shields and horses. Typical of Kubrick he could not rest with repeating this format; he had to use that as a foundation to build his own vision. This vision offered many divergences from the usual the most outstanding innovation was creating a thinking man’s epic. There is plenty of violence to be seen here but what provides cohesion to the story was the introduction of classic themes that have literally stood the test of time. Of these the most vital is the issue of freedom. The scene were one slave after another rises up to proclaim that HE is Spartacus is one on the most timeless moments in cinema. Of all the powerful performances given by the legendary Kirk Douglas this is by far considered a fan favorite by many. With his steel chin thrust out in defiance he won the audience over in a heartbeat making us all empathize with a man trained to die for the amusement of the elite deciding he would rather die free and on his own terms. Kubrick was one director that achieved greatness but was continually snubbed by the Academy. The film did provide a vehicle for Laurence Olivier to take home a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role of the Roman antagonist, Marcus Licinius Crassus. Considering the time this film was produced some feel it was an allegory for the growing Civil Rights movement but Kubrick’s vision was not myopic; it uses Spartacus as an emblem for all men that have given their lives to oppose the theft of another man’s freedom. This version of the story depicts Rome in its effete declining years when human life was cheap and dignity a sullen commodity. The catalyst here is that a strong, fiercely proud man like Spartacus would be forced to fight to the death for the amusement of bored society ladies.

For many years ago to themes action films historical epics such as this. The Roman empire continues to be a fascinating subject for many because of how organically you can combine political intrigue, romance salacious affairs still have room both massive battles and scenes of deadly one-on-one combat. This is Kirk may have been just a little bit after his prime but he was still able to able to generate appeal for both the men and women in the audience. Stanley Kubrick had an uncanny eye for framing such a wide variety of shots that was necessary this film. He could switch between panoramic vistas of exceptionally personal close-ups with panache. He was also considered to be a thinking man’s director; one would not thumb down the story fully expected the audience to keep up with him. So many of the sword and sandal movies the plot was little more than the scaffold to connect the action scenes. This film had a literary majesty to it that made you care about the characters and their motivations. He could elicit passionate responses from the audience for this examination of the heinous atrocity of slavery. Slaves were very common in that period of time but the special thing about the gladiators was the sole purpose was to suffer and die the amusement of the upper class. There are many who feel that this film is heavily diluted particularly in the portrayal of violence and sexual attitudes of the Romans. That would be a perspective held by somebody who has grown up in a post premium cable era of entertainment. In 1960 was still eight years before the MPAA would institute their rating system as a guideline for parents. Was at that time still had to pass the board of decency which upheld the standards and content that was deemed acceptable for motion picture. Considering these constraints directly did a remarkable job of pulling the audience back in time for the culture elite of society bordered on being psychopathic sadists. Whatever you choose to take away sociologically from this film you will be greatly entertained during the journey.

bullet Disc I:
Audio Commentary by Producer/Actor Kirk Douglas, Actor Peter Ustinov, Novelist Howard Fast, Producer Edward Lewis, Restoration Expert Robert A. Harris, and Designer Saul Bass
Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo's Scene-by-Scene Analysis
Additional Alex North Score Compositions
Restoration Demonstration
 
bulletDisc II:
Rare Deleted Scenes
Vintage Newsreel Footage
1960 Promotional Interviews with Jean Simmons and Peter Ustinov
1992 Video Interview with Peter Ustinov
Behind-the-Scenes "Gladiatorial School" Footage
The 1960 Documentary The Hollywood Ten Plus Archival Documents About the Blacklist
Original Storyboards by Saul Bass
Hundreds of Production Stills, Lobby Cards, Posters, Print Ads and A Comic Book
Sketches by Director Stanley Kubrick
Original Theatrical Trailer

Posted 07/05/11        05/27/2016

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