Tag Archives: Classics

Ancient and modern: how silent cinema animated the classical world

This is a guest blog for Silent London by Maria Wyke, professor of Latin at University College London.

Recently I came across a silent short in the archives of the US Library of Congress that displays the eruption of Vesuvius in 1906. It was the first time the destructive volcano had been captured in moving images. But what caught my attention even more than that was how the (as yet unidentified) Italian filmmaker had juxtaposed scenes of destroyed buildings and dead bodies in the local towns with shots of tourists serenely visiting the ancient city of Pompeii – as if to accuse the elegant visitors of preferring to look at the pretty ruins of the past instead of helping overcome present suffering. I’ve managed to got hold of a digital copy of the film and now you too can see it alongside three other rarely seen silents about the classical world (including a recently restored feature about the emperor Caligula, about which more below).

The screening takes place at the Bloomsbury Theatre, on Saturday 6 July, 7.30 to 10pm. Tickets are £12 and available from the Bloomsbury Box office. Live accompaniment will be provided by Stephen Horne, whose impressive performances have won several Silent London awards.

2 Excursion_in_ancient_Greece
An Excursion in Ancient Greece (1913)

Silent cinema delivers a democratic take on the classical world. That’s one theme that emerges from across the films I’ll be screening. From Filmarchiv Austria comes a Pathé travelogue, An Excursion in Ancient Greece (1913), that follows its well-dressed sightseers along the Corinthian canal to view various celebrated monuments on and around the Acropolis. Distributed worldwide, the short rescues ancient Greece from its associations with high culture and moneyed tourism and offers its spectators the opportunity to visit sites affordably from the comfort of their local picture house. Continue reading Ancient and modern: how silent cinema animated the classical world

Entering the ancient world through silent cinema

Cléopatra (1910)
Cléopatra (1910)

This is a guest blog for Silent London by Maria Wyke, professor of Latin at University College London.

Few people realise how important and innovative a role early cinema played in shaping modern knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome. In the vaults of film archives scattered across the world, a large number of entertaining, provoking and often quite beautiful films survive that are set in the classical world. Through their enticing use of gesture and look, exotic sets and extravagant costumes, colour, music and movement, these films still offer their spectators the opportunity to enter into the history or myth of antiquity, and to experience a distant past where life is lived differently or to an extreme.

Antiquity is also one of early cinema’s most important means for bringing the past into the present, making it accessible to mass audiences across national boundaries, offering it up as a past that binds audiences to each other, and utilising it to legitimate cinema as a new and global art form. Yet early cinema’s use of the ancient world is little known or understood.

For a few years now, I have been involved in a research project with Pantelis Michelakis of the University of Bristol. Both of us are classicists, with my specialism being Rome and his Greece. Together, and with the help of film archivists, and historians of film and of cultural studies, we have been trying to understand this close relationship between cinema and Classics (we published an edited collection on the subject in 2013 with CUP, The Ancient World in Silent Cinema).

We see film screenings as an integral (and very enjoyable) part of our project – an opportunity for audiences to participate and help open up new routes for our research. So on 21st November 2015, at the fabulous Cinema Museum in East London, and as part of the Being Human Festival of humanities research, Pantelis and I will be screening a number of early “antiquity” films. If it interests you, do register for your ticket here and come along.

Though your Sins be as Scarlet (USA, 1911)
Though your Sins be as Scarlet (USA, 1911)

From 2 to 3.45 we will be showing 35mm films from the Joye collection in the National Film Archive and from 4.15 to 6pm films from archives in Paris, such as the Cinémathèque Française. What films exactly? Well, we are in final negotiations about that.

Continue reading Entering the ancient world through silent cinema