Gladiator was on cable last week and I'd forgotten that Derek Jacobi featured so prominently in the movie. Jacobi is cemented in my mind with I, Claudius, the risqué and influential BBC drama (it played here as a Masterpiece Theater) that was an illicit thrill to a certain 7th grader at the time. Gladiator prompted me on to do some 'Claudian' research, and, yesterday, a browsing expedition to the library, which yielded the awkwardly-titled "Mammoth Book of Eyewitness Ancient Rome."** All that was then joined by my weekly Rome viewing. I've been on a veritable Roman Holiday.

Periodically I go crazy over some tv show or other— watch religiously, pore over details obsessively, proselytize— and right now
I love HBO's Rome. (above, images of the Rome set at Cinecitta, Rome's --the city-- famed studio, and apparently the world's largest standing set). The series has a rankness, a gutter naturalism, that's a vibrant contrast to the white marble pomp one is used to seeing. There are several scenes in fetid graffiti-marked alleys and two and three story wooden tenement houses. From the finer points of animal sacrifice to the murky dimness of life by oil lamp to the blotting powder spread on a freshly written document, the small passing details of the lives of the working populace are the most fascinating aspect of the series for me.
There is a good deal of blood, both human and animal, and just about every other body fluid
as well being flung around by the bucketful. BBC News reported on the show's more lurid charms, with a comical mix of prurience and formality, in an early review:
"Rome drama generates shockwaves"..."Those who do not switch off in disgust will be treated to a flogging, a crucifixion, numerous deaths and an impalement."
I stand by my obsession and am crushed that the series isn't returning for a third season. It appears that the scope of the production just got out of hand. An astonishing tidbit I just picked up from the bbc site:
The Roman coins were all made at the Vatican mint, and have the likeness of the series' Caesar, Ciarán Hinds, stamped on them.
How perfect that Rome was brought down by excess.

Addendum: Somehow I neglected to mention the excellent "historian's blog" on the HBO/Rome site. Jonathan Stamp, an Oxford-educated BBC historian,
was the historical consultant for the series. Here he's explaining the significance of "ambition."

images from the sets of Rome, from top: side street (wikipedia); "the spice market" and "view of the Basilica Giulia and the Temple of Jupiter"
*SPQR-- Senatus Populusque Romanus "The Senate and the people of Rome" Used as an official signature of the government
** The book is a series of excerpts from various sources of the time. Here Suetonius, the Dominick Dunne of ancient Rome, gives some background material on Julius Caesar: "And that no man might have any doubt how infamous he was for sodomy and adulteries, Curio calls him, in one of his orations, 'Every woman's husband and every man's wife.'"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You continue to outdo yourself.

I hope you're a fan of the incomparable (but alas, in its last season) SLINGS & ARROWS!


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