Monday, December 06, 2004

Beware of Greeks bearing litigation

The Greeks are angry because the new Oliver Stone film on Alexander the Great portrays the Macedonian conqueror as bisexual. And the rest of the world tries very hard to keep from laughing. Come on, guys! Do you read about your own history? Plato, the teacher of Aristotle (who was Alexander the Great's tutor for a time), wrote a whole freakin' dialogue on gay love called the Symposium. It was an accepted practice of the time, and should be accepted in our time as well. I recommend William Percy Armstrong III's Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece for a far more convincing argument than I could ever express here.

I had high hopes for this film. Stone's primary inspiration for the film is Robin Lane Fox's seminal biography of the conqueror, and he secured Fox's services as consultant on set. I did a book report on Fox's Alexander the Great in my first-year classics class and really enjoyed it.

Fox's book takes the form of a historical narrative that will have you turning pages. Right from the first chapter, Fox draws you in with the mystery of Philip II of Macedon's assassination? Who killed the king at the celebration of his wedding to his seventh wife? Was it his jealous first wife, Olympias? Was it his wrathful half-brother, pushed aside in his quest for the throne? Was his son Alexander involved at all? And that's just the murder mystery at the beginning, folks! Wait until he gets to the war...

...unfortunately, the
film was not nearly as compelling as Fox's book. It had potential, but ultimately was laid low by four things:
  1. It was too freakin' long.
  2. The dialogue was extremely clunky.
  3. The action sequences in the film suffer from "Braveheart syndrome," i.e. big battles are filmed as blurs of colour and action, with lots of shaky-cam work and motion-blurring. While this might be a realistic depiction of pre-modern warfare, it sure as hell isn't compelling from a dramatic standpoint.
  4. It was too freakin' long.

Someone remarked to me that, recently anyway, period dramas are very good at doing their research and making everything historically accurate, every costume and set checked and rechecked down to the last detail. But they emphasize the superficial elements so much, the filmmakers forget we're there to watch a movie. An accurate depiction of an historical setting does not absolve you of the task of writing a compelling story.