More stupid crap in Empire:
No, the punishment for treason by a Vestal was not being buried up to the neck and then stoned. The Vestals were untouchable except for the severe offense of fornication. The punishment for that was being buried alive with a jug of water and a loaf of bread. The purpose of that was no specific person was responsible for the Vestal’s death, because that would have outraged the gods. Touching them, even to punish them, was unacceptable because it was seen as impinging on their chastity. Since their chastity was understood as vital to the health of the Roman state, the idea of punishing them in any way that involved physical contact was unacceptable.
No, Italy did not have a massive gladiator school somewhere in Mordor where Tyrannus (Jonathan Cake), Octavius (Santiago Cabrera), and Senator Magonius (Dennis Haysbert) could be thrown after they are captured, only to fight their way out of. Gladiators were valuable property and were not forced to live like wild animals in a mine.
No, it did not take an enormous crisis for the Senate to have the authority to appoint a new Pontifex Maximus and no, Brutus was not appointed as said Pontifex Maximus so that he could forcibly take Camane from the Temple of Vesta. The college of pontiffs elected the Pontifex Maximus from their own number, and after Caesar’s assassination, the office went to Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, who became an ally of Antony and Octavian.
No, Romans did not use medieval broadswords, even during gladiatorial training. Nor did they use medieval flails for gladiatorial training.
No, Romans did not say ‘Hail, Caesar!” during his lifetime. The phrase is a common modern misquote of the phrase “Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant” (“Hail, emperor, those who are about to die salute you.” The only recorded use of the phrase dates to 52 AD when a group of fighters in a fake naval battle (technically these were not gladiators at all, but naumachiarii) greeted Claudius with the salutation. While widely known and misquoted today, there is literally no reason to think the phrase was customarily used by gladiators or anyone else.
No, ‘Caesar’ was not a title in this period. It was just a cognomen, which Octavian acquired as soon as he was adopted. When Cassius shouts “you’ll never be Caesar,” it’s like someone telling me “you’ll never be Larsen.” But then, we already know that movies and tv shows never get Roman names right.
No, Cicero (Michael Byrne) was not a supporter of Caesar and Octavius and an opponent of Brutus and Cassius. It was pretty much the opposite. He was politically opposed to Caesar, and Mark Antony (Vincent Regan) was a personal enemy of his. He was something of an ally of Brutus and praise Caesar’s assassination. He did to some extent befriend Octavius, but mostly as a way to play him off against Antony, and in the period 44-43 BC, produced a series of 14 Phillipic Orations against Antony.
No, Mark Antony did not have a beloved dog named Sulla. How do I know this? Because Sulla was one of the optimates, the pro-Senatorial, anti-crowd factions in Roman politics, while Mark Antony was one of the populares, the pro-Tribune, anti-aristocratic elite faction (I’m oversimplifying, because many of the populares were themselves aristocrats and senators). So naming his dog after one of the arch-optimates of the previous generation would be like Hillary Clinton naming her beloved dog Nixon. Nor is it likely that he would joke about his wife being his ‘commanding officer’, because submission to women was seen as a sign that a man was unfit to rule.
No, there were not people called ‘master assassins’ in ancient Rome. The whole concept of being a master at an occupation is a fundamentally medieval concept, only beginning to emerge in the 12th century with the guild system. The concept of people who were trained as assassins only emerged around the 12th century in the Middle East when the Ismaili section of Shia Islam was established, and even these people weren’t ‘professional’ assassins, but rather religious fanatics who went on suicide missions. And whatever assassins existed in ancient Rome sure as hell weren’t magical beast-masters who could see what their falcons saw and shape-change into wolves. This is supposed to be actual history, remember?
No, orgies were not regular features of Roman parties. While Romans had somewhat more lax rules about where and when and with whom sexual activity was acceptable than modern Americans do, they regarded unrestrained sex parties with disapproval and suspicion as something likely to erode the morality of Rome and as potentially politically subversive. Simply a rumor about such activity was enough to get the cult of Bacchus banned in Italy in 188 BC. Stories about Roman emperors such as Tiberius and Caligula throwing debauched parties were told to demonstrate the emperor’s unsuitability to rule and may well simply be slanderous inventions. Even if these stories are true, later Roman historians report them disapprovingly, demonstrating that even a century after this period, Roman culture considered sex parties disreputable.
No, there was no mass murder of Caesar’s supporters using asps and wolves during an orgy in Rome. It certainly wouldn’t have been engineered by Mark Antony, because he would have been killing off his own supporters and allies.
And no, the screenwriters of this horrid piece of dreck should not have been allowed to write a mini-series about a historical period they clearly cared nothing about.
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Go take a walk instead. It’s nice out. The exercise will do you good.
Andrew, you’ve destroyed my dreams of getting revenge on my enemies by magically commanding falcons to drop asps on them when they’re having orgies, and I don’t think I can forgive you for that.
(Also, if you want to get technically, for a little while, there was a law that opened the election of the Pontifex Maximus to the Tribal Assembly, and one Pontifex Maximus who was just appointed by Sulla (Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, who led Sullan forces to victory of the Marians in Cisalpine Gaul, was co-commander, with Pompey, of the Senatorial forces in the Sertorian war, and whose nephew and adopted son, Metellus Scipio, committed suicide after his defeat by Caesar at the Battle of Thapsus). But that’s just nitpicking.
Also, I meant to ask, did you get my recommendation that you watch Fall of Eagles? I promise it’s better than Empire.
Yes, there was a brief window when the PM was appointed through election, but that was decades before this, and is really more of an aberration, so I omitted it. I can’t possibly be exhaustive in these posts and hope to stay sane (which is definitely an issue with this movie).
And yes I did get your request. I need to locate a copy of it for review.
Thanks. And I seem to recall that Empire was one of a bunch of movies, series, and so on that came out around the same time about the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Empire There was HBO’s Rome, there was the British-Italian productions “Imperium: Augustus”, “Imperium: Nero” and “Imperium:St. Peter. This was pretty clearly the worst of all of them.
The New York Times review of the show suggested it was a (bad) attempt to cash in on the popularity of the movie Gladiator, but the reviewer figured it was influenced more by Star Wars than anything else…Octavian is Luke Skywalker, forced to learn to be a Jedi Knight….err, Emperor with the help of the wisecracking rebel Han Solo….err Tyrannus, while being advised by the elderly wise Obi-Wan Kenobi….err, Cicero.
It’s really one of the worst movies/miniseries made about ancient Rome, and I’m including the 1979 movie Caligula, of which one reviewer said, “There’s too much porn to make it a good historical drama, and too much historical drama to make it good porn.”
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Caligula at least had a solid script by Vidal and decent performances by the non-porn actors (including a very young Helen Mirren).
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It still amazes me how they were able to get such a high quality cast and crew for that. Mcdowell, Mirram, Gielgud, O’Toole, Wertmüller and Vidal writing the screenplay. Brass directing.
Apparently, the people working on it thought it was going to be a satire about the corruption of power, and then after filming was done, a lot of scenes were cut and those other scenes edited in.
Yes. Guccione had not told any of them about his intentions for the film. So after primary filming had finished, he brought in porn actors and filmed them on the sets and then spliced those scenes into the legitimate scenes in a very clumsy way.
The situation was a little more complicated than that. At the time there was something of a pop cultural boom in porn. A number of out and out pornographic films had achieved good reviews and artistic notice. X rated (back when that was a real rating that doesn’t mean what it does today) art-house cinema was a hot subject. And there was a legitimate push to make pornographic films as big budget, respectable, artistically valid projects.
Guiccione wanted in on that. So the intent was to make a big budget, pornographic (but not hardcore) satire of roman history. Over the top and loaded with nudity and sex. The cast and crew, including Vidal and the (IIRC multiple) directors knew that’s what they were making. And they did so. Though Guccione took the editing away from the original crew, and purportedly took it over himself. It was at that point that he had the hard core material shot an edited it. It seems less like he planned it. And more like he simply didn’t understand the results he was handed during post. Scrambled to porn it up at the last minute to make money on the project. It was done without the involvement of the original creatives, who were by that time replaced by a rotating group of uncredited editors and directors (again largely rumored to involve Guccione himself). The movie *was* still carefully premiered and shown in rented art house theaters. And not submitted for MPAA rating. To prevent it from being shown in and associated with porn theaters and the like.
There are still at least two versions of Caligula out there. The “full” porno one. And one with much of the poorly cut in porno removed. The less hardcore version is largely responsible for the movies reputation as a camp classic. It doesn’t appear to have any relation to the unfinished original version of the film. As its basically just the regular release with the penetration cut out. I believe it dates from the 80’s and was intended for cable and repertory theater use as a hard R option. Recent DVD versions contain a more recent non-porn recutting that’s closer to the original theatrical release. Though that still has no relation to what Tinto Brass was trying to put together. But apparently the original shooting footage still exists at least in part, and there have been occasionally pushes to find it and put it in front of some one who actually knows what they’re doing. Try to recreate that unfinished original cut, or see if there’s a good film to be made out of what was shot.
So less that they though they were making X and were tricked into making Y. And more that they made X, and the money guy took it away and turned into Y to make a profit. After the fact.
Wikipedia’s account of the film claims that Guccione had always intended for the film to be hardcore but was dissatisfied with Brass’ treatment of the sex scenes because Brass focused on women Guccione considered ugly.
Given the rather extreme personalities of several of the driving forces behind it, I doubt a truly accurate picture of what was intended will ever come out.
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