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‘Ruins and (digital) reconstructions: the cinematic city in Pompeii (2014) and other recent films.’ - Dr Joanna Paul (OU)

A Department of Classics and Ancient History seminar
Date1 December 2016
Time16:30 to 17:45
PlaceBuilding:One Bateman Lecture Theatre

The cinema has always been deeply fascinated by the ancient city: from Griffith’s Babylon in Intolerance (1916), through the grandiose Romes of the Hollywood epic heyday, and down to the present crop of CGI Troys, Alexandrias, and more, the urban landscape has been an ideal vehicle for the spectacular display on which such films heavily depend. But the cinematic city is not simply a source of visual pleasure. It also reveals a great deal about how popular culture receives antiquity, and the ways in which interpretations of the past evolve over time. This paper focuses on the recent Pompeii in order to address two key questions: firstly, what kinds of aesthetics govern 21st century screen versions of the ancient city, and how do they relate to earlier traditions? And secondly, how has the digital age affected depictions of these cinematic cities, and the interpretations of the ancient world that they represent? In considering these questions, my paper will explore such issues as: the narrative and cinematographic tropes that characterise cinematic ancient cities; these cities' relationship to other versions of the ancient city, especially digital reconstructions; and the distinctive ways in which these 21st century cinematic ancient cities offer moviegoers a position on the ‘balcony of history’ (Barthes).


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