Film 445* Special Topics:
The 1950s Italian and American Sword-and Sandal Film. This course will explore"sword-and-sandal" films of the 1950s and early 1960s, focusing both on schlock Italian products such as the Steve Reeves Hercules films that enjoyed surprising economic success and the more "serious" Hollywood epics of the same period, many of which were shot in Italy. Neither the Hollywood nor the Italian versions would have been possible without the strong interpenetration of Hollywood and Italian film, practically and economically, during the 1950s. The focus will not be so much on the history of a genre as on the analysis of a significant moment in the postwar history of media and representation. The western world was, in the late 1950s, beginning to undergo the transformation in capitalism, media (with the emergence of television), and cultural signification that has now acquired the label "postmodernity." The sword-and-sandal epic in terms of both production modes and signification provides a great deal of insight into this transformation. In relation to the Italian films, we will also examine the "seriousness" of seemingly airhead cinema, exploring how mass entertainment, seemingly empty of serious intent or meaning, and intended only to reap profit can become, through its popularity and "timeliness," a bearer of major social meaning. Other issues to be discussed in relation to the sword and sandal film will be melodrama, spectacle vs. narrative, camp, and kitsch. Assignments will include group presentations, brief bi-weekly individual assignments on screenings and readings, a group Mystery Science Theatre 3000 overdub, and a 15-page final essay.
Hat tip to Jeff Segal.