The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


The direness of "Rome", which seems to be quite consciously cowering in the shadow of "I, Claudius", with a rotten script ("I'm your man for that, to boot") and incoherent story-telling, nevertheless whetted my appetite for Roman hokum, so I ended up watching "Gladiator" for the umpteenth time. It seems to be one of the few films I can watch over and again, and as it's been a few years since the last viewing, a few things came out differently - most clearly, how melodramatic it is. A little more exposition on the history and background, a little more fleshing-out, wouldn't have been missed either, and I think that's what stops it being a truly great rather than simply a very good movie. Someone said to me, after seeing it for the first time, "You never see anything they don't want you to see", which I still think is pretty perceptive. It's very directed, and never takes its foot off the gas. I still haven't seen the extended version, so it'll be interesting to see if that makes any improvements, and includes any material not on the original bonus DVD.

That doesn't stop it being hugely enjoyable, of course. Performance-wise it scores over "Rome" simply because the actors seem to be working with the script rather than labouring under it, and despite some standout speeches and exchanges, the dialogue in "Gladiator" isn't always great, either. Done badly, it could be very bad indeed; but they always look as if they believe in it, rather than merely wanting to, as they do in "Rome". With the exception of Kenneth Cranham (Pompey), there's an awful lot of mugging going on in place of getting to grips with the words, and it's not for want of talent and experience, either.

Standout this time round in "Gladiator" was Joaquin Phoenix. His substitution of "w" for "r" ("The gweatness of Wome?") should be laughable: it isn't. It's chilling, as if he were a little boy in the body of a man. There's something unevolved about him. The character's a true monster, and yet totally human; Phoenix, who I've always thought was very good, struck me this time as absolutely superb. I only saw a piece of acting once, where he almost seems to tip a wink to the audience - "He vexes me. [Pause] I'm tewwibly vexed." Which, to be fair, is just crying out for it.


At 18 November 2005 at 11:21 , Blogger Yvonne said...

Yes, Gladiator was much better than I had expected. And Joaquin Phoenix was truly chilling, you're right there. I didn't notice the pronunciation of R's as W's, but now you mention it, it reminds me of "Welease Wodewick" in Life of Brian. I'm still not quite sure why one of the gladiators was wearing a facsimile of the Sutton Hoo helmet though...

Kingdom of Heaven was really good as well (even though it was panned by the critics), I don't know if you've seen it? There were a few flaws of course, but the overall result was very pleasing.

At 20 November 2005 at 14:33 , Blogger Joe said...

I was very disappointed by Kingdom of Heaven - had the usual Scott fascinating visuals but completely failed to engage me emotionally; even the action scenes didn't stir me.

Looking forward to seeing Phoenix in the Johnny Cash biopic coming soon though - clips look good and he looks great as a young Man in Black. Now inspired to listen to some Cash again (his cover of NiN's Hurt is incredible).

At 22 November 2005 at 22:48 , Blogger The Silver Eel said...

Late reply. I'd forgotten about poor Wodewick! I'm overstating slightly - Phoenix's pwonunciation isn't nearly as bad as all that, but clearly he had to get round his American accent (though that wasn't something that seemed to bother Tomas Arana (Quintus), which is weird, as Arana has joint US and Italian citizenship and regularly works in Italian film and theatre). He draws attention away from it though great phrasing and by softening his voice, but mostly, he gets round it through bloody good acting.

It's a problem I recognise. My RP's pretty good, with the exception of the letter R. When I first went from Scotland to England, what I spoke as Cameron others heard as Camedon, and serum as sedum. My father got the piss taken out of him by English colleagues until he figured out how to stiffen his upper lip into immobility, which neatly put the boot on the other foot. The only way I've found to make it disappear completely is to put on a cod Geordie accent, at which point the problem - if one can call it that - seems to disappear of its own accord.

I hadn't seen Kingdom of Heaven at the time, though I got it out on Saturday. Um. I have to say I'm underwhelmed, which is a shame, as I so wanted to like it. It is fascinating in two respects: as a portal into the history for people who know little or nothing about it (me), and as a companion-piece to Gladiator - it's as if the original story had been broken into pieces and these have been used in different settings, or with a reversal of emphasis, perspective or morality, or simply put in a different sequence. The scene at the oasis, where Bloom is forced to fight to keep the horse he's found, seems to be a near-direct lift from Lawrence, and the feeling that this is a collage-film is strengthened when one hears music which has simply been taken from other films - Hannibal and The 13th Warrior were the two I noticed. Regarding the latter, this was extremely irritating as it's a film I like a lot.

On anachronistic helmets, check out on the really horrible errors in The 13th Warrior (sorry, don't know how to turn this into a link).


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