Wednesday, April 09, 2003
Stephanie Bunbury ponders the epic film.
There was, however, without question a time when epics were not being made. The great apotheosis of the genre was the early '60s, but by the end of that decade, themes of heroism, men's journeys and struggles with nature seemed at best old-fashioned and, at worst, reactionary. The dreamings of imperial Rome or of Greece, cradle of a self-consciously superior Western civilisation, did not sit easily with a generation eager to embrace Eastern cultures. The confrontation with ethnicity and the exotic that sustains much of Lawrence of Arabia, along with any number of lesser films, was now something to be treated with kid gloves. After all, the most compelling confrontation with ethnicity happening for Americans in the '70s was a war. [...]
Now – although who knows for how long – we are more prepared to take any genre on its own terms because, in a remarkably media-savvy world, we are all ready to conduct our own interrogations of the texts. Anyway, if a film like Gladiator is carrying a freight of hidden agenda, does it really matter? We don't mind, these days, admitting we like a good spectacle and a sweeping adventure yarn once in a while. We are ready for the epic, which may explain the new fashion for Bollywood extravaganzas and Chinese sword-and-sorcery films. They don't need to be our stories. We'll enjoy anyone's bumper yarns.