Entries from March 2011 ↓

On learning the difference between Great Britain and the United Kingdom

We’ve been watching a lot of Father Ted lately, and I was delighted to find that Craggy Island has its own Wikipedia page, which describes such “Places of note” as “The Field: While not actually a field, the area has fewer rocks in it than most other places on the island.”

The “real” Craggy Island, the one in the helicopter shots shown in the opening sequence, is Inisheer, the little one on the right.

The whole thing is tucked away in the Galway Bay:

That got me to thinking about the most outlying points of the British Isles, and sure enough, there’s a wikipedia page for that too. Did you know that the first person to visit each of the most outlying points of Scotland is also the only person to do so? He did that in 2007. He’s also the only person to sleep on all of them, a feat accomplished in 2009.

There’s also a list of the most extreme points of the United Kingdom. But when I was looking it over, I became confused. The points of the United Kingdom are listed…but so are points for Great Britain, and they’re different. And what are Crown dependencies?

Luckily Jey came to my rescue, sharing with me this video which was apparently making the rounds not too long ago. It explains in a very clear and concise manner the difference between Great Britain, the United Kingdom, the Crown and a whole mess of other titles of ownership I had no idea even existed. Enjoy!

The Anglofilmia process

I realized I haven’t written much about exactly how we’re going about this process beyond what’s on the timeline, so while we’re between films I thought I’d devote some blog space to discussing it.

What’s taking so long?
Most of the films we’re chosen are on the timeline because they’re great works of art, or tell a fascinating story. Others are there because they’re the only available option. This makes for some slow movie watching periods, because it’s hard to make time to sit and watch something we know we probably won’t enjoy all that much.

Where are you on the timeline now?
We’re currently eight films ahead of the blog, meaning we’ve just watched the film about St. Patrick, while I’ve only written up to Alexander (a gap of about 800 years). This is mostly because we’ve been settling into our new house, and I’m going to make an effort to catch up on writing before we get too much further along.

Where do you find copies of all the films?
Some of the movies we’ve chosen for the timeline are rare, from a small release, or aired on television many years ago, and frankly lots are nearly impossible to find. Our sources are, in descending order: Netflix discs and Netflix Instant (the American equivalent of Lovefilm), DVDs rented from the library, series posted to YouTube or other video-sharing sites, and torrents.

It’s frustrating when we can’t find copies of something (I wrote a bit about that here and so far that list includes the animated Y Mabinogi, VercingĂ©torix, the 1978 BBC series “Living in the Past” and a TV version of St. Patrick’s story narrated by Liam Neeson)…but most of the time it’s a fun little treasure hunt.

Do you watch everything in order/what do you do when a new film is released?
We watch everything in order, with some backtracking allowed where necessary (for example, we are waiting for the DVD release of The Eagle).

There have been some fantastic films about British history released recently, including Bright Star, The Young Victoria and The King’s Speech. We have watched none of them. (If you know about my passion for Romantic and Victorian literature, you’ll understand the level of my commitment to this project.)

Is the timeline complete?
I created the timeline with a lot of online research, but as we begin a new period I have another look and try to add things I missed the first time around. The History of Britain series by Simon Schama is one of the things I discovered after we’d finished with pre-history, but it’s proven very useful as a primer on the Saxons and Normans, and that’s only the first episode.

Also, I’m wondering if I should create a timeline with the films intermixed with significant events or artifacts like the Lindow Man. Thoughts?

How has it been so far?
We both agree that even though we are only just now getting into post-Roman Britain (with a side journey into Europe, for context) we’ve already learned a massive amount about Britain’s history. Britain is wonderful in that many of the artifacts of even these earliest periods still exist, from henges to the Roman roads and beyond.

Any other questions about how the project is run? Post a comment below.

Alexander

Meanwhile, in nearby Macedonia…

I’ll start my review of Oliver Stone’s Alexander by stating a simple fact: the story of Alexander III of Macedon is too epic – in both scale and badasssery – for one film to contain. That doesn’t stop Alexander from trying.

The real-life Alexander (356-323 BC) is fascinating, to say the least. Alexander’s mother (played in the film by Angelina Jolie) groomed him from childhood to believe it was his destiny to rule. He began his command at the age of 16, a period when most of us are writing in journals about how much that song reminds us of this boy we’re crushing on, omg. By the age of thirty he had created one of history’s largest empires. At the time of his death at age thirty-three, he was undefeated in battle and today “is considered one of the most successful commanders of all time”.

This film tries to cover all of that in its 175 minute run time, focusing mainly the miscellaneous battles he engaged in as he took over the world, as well as his relationships to his mother (confused), his male lover (tender) and his wife (raw).

A lot of reviews of the film point out how well-received it was outside of the United States, and Stone himself said Americans are too squeamish about homosexual love. But you know what? I think people didn’t like it because it wasn’t gay enough.

The film sets up a contrast between Alexander’s true love Hephaistion (Jared Leto) and his political wife Roxane (Rosario Dawson). Supposedly, Alexander and Hephaistion are as close as two souls can be, having grown up together, and they now remain always at each others’ sides, while Alexander and Roxane marry only for the sake of proving he’s down with people from “barbarian” nations.

Yet the film devotes a significant amount of screen time to an uncomfortable, not-entirely-consensual sex scene between Alexander and Roxane, in which you see her partially nude. The most action poor Hephaistion sees during the entire 2.5 hours is some hugging and a whole lot of wistful gazing. They don’t even kiss.

Agape vs. eros? (Historical documents suggest their relationship was sexual as well as erotic.) Studio meddling? Whatever the case, this handling of their relationship was a mistake so large the film simply couldn’t overcome it.

Aside from the disingenuous handling of the character’s sexual relationships (and did I mention, there seems to be an implied sexual tension between Alexander and his ambitious, scheming mother?) I thought the casting left something to be desired.

I like Colin Farrell a lot and he’s an electric actor, always roiling with a kind of nervous energy. Supposedly the real Alexander had a violent temper and an impulsive nature (attributed, by Plutarch, to his penchant for drink). But he was also a statesman, a general and a man possessing great intelligence and dignity (and, dare I say it, gravitas). For me, Farrell always manages to come off as a lovable rogue, and that just doesn’t work for a character that’s supposed to be the ruler of 90% of the known world.

The film looks great, and it’s a treat to see wonders of the ancient world such as the Library of Alexandria and the gates and palaces of Babylon. But there’s an excess of narration and the battle scenes are cumbersome and blend together.

And there’s also the issue of the portrayal, as in 300, of the Persians as barbarians in need of Occidental civilizing. There’s the usual amount of Hollywood whitewashing, with Alexander appearing as the traditional-but-misinformed Nordic blonde, and barbarian Iranian Roxana as dark-skinned when she would apparently have been from a northern tribe of blue-eyed, blonde nomads.


Detail from the Alexander mosaic from the House of the Faun, Pompeii, c. 80 B.C.
National Archaeologic Museum, Naples, Italy

A lot of this is due, naturally, to drawing from Greek historical sources, which aren’t going to be particularly subtle in their praise or their condemnation. A lot of ink has been spilled over the other historical inaccuracies in this film, and I won’t add any more to it except to say that viewers should keep in mind that the Persians were pretty great at empire-making, themselves.

It’s interesting to note that Stone released an extended final cut of the film in 2007, in which he restores every piece of cut footage and subplot that had been edited out of the original and the 2005 director’s cut. The total running time is 3 hours 40 minutes, with an intermission between the two acts. (Our next entry Ben Hur clocks in at 3 hours 32 minutes.)

Surprisingly, given how we chafed under the length of the original, if I were to ever watch Alexander again, it would be this longer version. There’s a thorough review of the lengthier film here, and while the review says the movie still “doesn’t exactly gel”, it notes the film has been re-edited to help the narrative flow and give a lot more time to the human influences on Alexander’s life. Even if his political and militaristic motivations are made “hopelessly muddy” by the reshuffling, at least there’s this:

While there still isn’t much physical expression of their affection, the relationship between the king and Hephaistion is not shied away from. Their liaison is quite clear. Expanded scenes of Hephaistion counseling Alexander also show their connection is more than physical.

And finally, I can’t wrap up this post without discussing my own first exposure to the myth and legend of Alexander, which came through the animated series Reign: The Conqueror (Alexander Senki). It was designed by Peter Chung, whose Liquid Television series Aeon Flux started me as a child on the path of appreciating animation as an art form, and gave me a taste for shows of the the surreal and mind-bending variety.

Reign follows in the same vein, drawing as much on metaphysics, Euclidian geometry and the Pythagorean cult (believers in a mathematic mysticism, of sorts, and forebearers of hermeticism, gnosticism and alchemy as well as modern physics) as on the actual historical legend of Alexander.

Someone has uploaded the entire show onto YouTube, and it’s well worth a watch to gain an entirely different, still fascinating perspective of the Alexander mythos.

 

 

Support Anglofilmia by purchasing Alexander through our Amazon Affiliate links. US: Alexander Revisited, UK: Alexander – Director’s Cut.