Monday, August 29, 2005

Roman review...

Well, it was an interesting introduction... I think it would have made more sense at the end if they had aired a two-hour premiere, instead of just the first hour though because it ended on a kind of "quoi?" note.

They've done very well with the sets and costumes that I've seen so far. I know that the costume designers said that they were being careful to use only period materials, but I'm not sure that they had double-weave silk in the 1st century BCE. Silk, yes, but double-weave? I just don't know. I've heard that they did have that in Europe by the mid-1500s, but I don't know about the Roman period. At least there's no gold lame! And the city really does look more like Calcutta than the Rome of movies like "Cleopatra" and "Gladiator." It's dirty and colorful and dare I say, exotically beautiful. (Paradoxes, I love them!) The language is also very interesting... "Impudent whelp" instead of "S.O.B." and the like... Excellent job there. There were a lot of other interesting idioms that I thought at least sounded very authentic... Things that modern people probably would find awkward in everyday conversation. I'll have to watch it again to come up with specific examples. I liked the lack of explanation... There was a feeling that everything that was going on with the characters was very everyday for them, so why would they need to explain anything? I love it when movies do that.

I also liked the vulgar pagan superstitious nature everyone casually possesses... and yet there's a touch of... what would it be called... Cynicism about it, very like Romans are reputed to have had. Like when Atia goes through this elaborate ritual involving the sacrifice of a black bull. She gets completely covered in blood, and she just turns around and looks expectantly (as if to say, tiredly, "Is that enough? Are they appeased?") at the priest when it's all over, and he tells her that now Octavian will be protected while he's traveling to Gaul. Or when Pullo is desperately praying to every god he can think of in front of a makeshift alter he scrambled together to get himself out of prison, and he says something like, "...If you are the right god to address this to and you get me out of here, I'll sacrifice a white goat to you... Or, if I can't get one that's good enough... or at the right price... at least six pidgeons!..." Great! The man's going to die in the arena if he's not pardoned and he's basically got his fingers crossed behind his back while making promises to the gods for their help. (Incidentally, he is released right after he finishes that little speech.)

The contrast between the common Roman citizen and the nobility is also striking. From what I understand, this is to be expected since this is the end of the Republic and corruption was rampant at the time. There is Octavian, though a child, casually threatens and slap slaves around for every minor "mistake" they make, and Atia, who throws her money and power around like it's dirt to gain even more, blatantly using her own children as pawns. Then there is Vorenus, who though a soldier is not of the nobility and is surprisingly conservative in his behavior, and is appalled by the very idea of being disloyal to his wife, Niobe, eventhough he hasn't seen her in nearly 8 years. At the same time, completely turning that stereotype on its ear, there are vulgar theatrical performances in the street which delight the common people who have come to watch it, but shock Cornelia, a nobleman's widow of at least 30 years of age, so much that she asks her father to take her home before her reputation is ruined.

The one thing that was slightly erksome was that the Germanic tribes were looking a bit like a cross between 12th century British peasantry and unwashed Highlanders after Culloden... I didn't get a terribly good look at them though, just glimpses; they were very background, so there might be nothing at all wrong with the way they looked. At least I didn't see any horned helmets. I'm not sure what sources they are using for them, but at least if they're using the Roman writings about the Germanic tribes they aren't taking them seriously because they tend to be about as accurate as the National Enquirer. Also, I think that the number of people writing and reading their own letters is strange... especially that all the high-born women seem to be able to read and write. I'd have to double-check in my text books to be totally certain, but that doesn't seem correct. I could be wrong though. And I'm not terribly sure that they used arsenic in cosmetics... White lead, yeah... But arsenic? I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that arsenic wasn't isolated by chemists as an element and not a compound until the Renaissance in Italy. Honestly, if they are going to go this over the top trying to be historically accurate the least they could do is get little things that don't require huge amounts of money correct. (I do nit-pick, don't I?)

Overall though, I liked it very much and I'll be sure to watch the new episode next Sunday.

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