The idol body: stars, statuary and the classical epic
Film & History, 39, (2), . (doi:10.1353/flm.0.0120).
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This article explores the relationship between the male star body and the ancient world constructed through production design and star iconography. My primary case study is provided by M-G-M's 1925 production Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Fred Niblo; henceforth Ben-Hur). The film influentially exploited the slippage between the star, Ramon Novarro, as a contemporary idol, and the diegetic hero he plays, who rises to become "the Idol of Rome." This historical interplay was achieved through extra-textual publicity that constructed Novarro as a rising "Apollo," and his on-screen performance of a contrapposto pose that referenced canonical sculptures of Hellenistic art.
Equally important was Cedric Gibbons' production design (in particular his Circus Maximus set), replete with monumental sculptures that frame the action of the chariot race. Zack Snyder's 300 (2007) is the second film discussed in this essay, which I examine to interrogate the themes of the star body, 'frieze-framing' and monumentality in a contemporary context. In both cases I will draw upon archival research undertaken in both the United States and the United Kingdom, including studio production files, promotion and reception materials, and textual analyses of the films themselves.
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