ANTHONY MANN AND STANLEY KUBRICK,
SPARTACUS (1960, RESTORED VERSION 1991) 3HRS
THE DIRECTOR: STANLEY KUBRICK (1928-)
The original director Anthony Mann was sacked after having
difficulties with the star and producer Kirk Douglas. Douglas
insisted on the young Stanley Kubrick after his experience of
working with him in Paths of Glory (1957).
SK was born in New York in 1928. Became an apprentice photographer
for Look magazine 1946-50. Made his first film in 1950.
From 1974 SK has lived and worked in England in order to have
complete independence from Hollywood. Since he insists on complete
control over every aspect of his films he could not work for a
major film studio. SK has had no direct experience of war (other
than living through the Cold War of the late 1950s to the late
1980s - see Dr Strangelove) yet he has made 4 films about
war: Fear and Desire (1953) about the assassination of
a general by a lieutenant in order to seize a plane to escape;
Paths of Glory (1957) about the court martial and execution
of three French soldiers in WW1; Dr Strangelove (1964)
about an accidental nuclear war between the US and the USSR; and
his Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket (1987). Some of
his other well known films include Lolita (1962) based
on a novel by Nabokov, Spartacus (1959) about a slave revolt
in ancient Rome, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) about man's
first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, A Clockwork
Orange (1971) about violence in modern society, and Barry
Lyndon (1975) his historical drama and The Shining
(1980) his horror movie.
Howar Fast, Spartacus (1952) (London: Panther, 1959).
The Screenwriter: Dalton Trumbo (1906-)
Left-wing writer and filmmaker who transferred Fast's 1952
novel to screen. Howard Fast was a member of Commuist Party 1944-57,
quit after invasion of Hungary, novel was popular in left-wing
circles in America. War correspondent in the Pacific during WW2.
Special consultant to United Nations Conference in 1945. Active
in communist circles in LA and California in 1940s. Wrote screenplay
for war movie Thirty Seconds over Tokyo (1944). Wrote powerful
anti-war novel and later film, Johnny Got his Gun (1970).
Member of Hollywood Ten investigated by McCarthy inspired House
Un-American Activities Committee looking into commuist inflitration
of government and film industry (suspected corruption of Amerian
values, fifth column), imprisoned in a Federal Prison in Kentucky
for not cooperating with HUAC (i.e. for not dobbing in his mates),
and banned for 12 years for suspected communist activities in
film industry. Accused of soliciting membership of Communist Patry
in California, trying to form trade union on movie lots. Forced
to write under assumed names (Sam Jackson) or used wife's name.
Won Oscar as "Robert Rich" in 1956 for best screenplay
for The Brave One. Liked to write his scrips in the bath,
chainsmoking, with typewriter on tray. Douglas helped break the
ban by adding DT's name to the credits (British cast refused to
keep DT's name a secret) and for this audacious act the American
Legion (veterans association) picketed the opening of the film
- Spartacus (Thracian gladiator slave)
- Kirk Douglas
- Varinia (German slave) - Jean Simmons
- Crassus (Senator, leader of aristocratic
faction)- Laurence Olivier
- Gracchus (Senator, leader of popular
faction) - Charles Laughton
- Antoninus (slave poet) - Tony Curtis
- Lentulus Batiatus (slave trader) -
SK claims this is not a good film (because he could not control
it from the very beginning!) but it is a superior epic and perhaps
one of the best films about the ancient world. It is based upon
a true story of a slave revolt, led by the Thracian gladiator
slave Spartacus, which threatened Rome about 74-70 BC. S is a
slave who is taught martial skills at Lentulus's gladiator school
in order to be sold and then to entertain the Roman crowds in
the Colliseum in fights to the death. S is a born revolutionary
whose fierce belief in freedom and human dignity compells him
to rise up in revolt against the oppression of slaves like himself.
His personal revolt ends up as an Italy-wide rebellion of slaves
who form a slave army to challenge the authority of the slave
owners and the Roman state (represented by Crassus, Gracchus,
In a speech given shortly after the theatrical release of the
film DT stated the theme of the movie: to be the struggle for
"human freedom" against an dictatorial society dominated
by aristocratic elites:
Human freedom - the need to secure it,
the obligation to defend it, the resolution to die for it - this
is the great theme of our time. This is the theme we have sought
to dramatize for you in Spartacus. Our film is the story
of men and women who opposed totalitarianism with the burning
dream of freedom. Men and women who truly believe that any dangerous
(? word not clear) is tenable if brave men will make it so and
who in the end prefer to die as free men than to live as slaves.
Such must be the choice of free men, whether in the 1st century
BC or in the 20th AD. For it seems to be a law of nature, or
of history, that men who prefer slavery to death inevitably get
both. (From Criterion edition of Laser Disc)
One reason SK did not like the film was his rejection of the
left-wing romanticism of Trumbo with regard to revolution and
armed conflict. SK's cynicism regarding the capacity of individuals
(whether poets like Antoninus or warriors like Spartacus) to undergo
personal transformation and to do good in an uncaring universe
was severely limited in this film. The weaknesses of Trumbo's
script were noted by a British critic Peter John Dyer:
... Dalton Trumbo' highly emotional
brand of left-thinking goes back to Roosevelt and the New Deal.
The result ... is preordained. Freedom is represented by eve
of battle visits to the troops, nude bathing scenes, babies,
aged peaseant faces, trysts in forest glades, Super Technarama-70
rides across sunset horizons, and a heroine shot in romantically
gauzy close-ups; its intercommunication with art by one of those
brotherhood relationships between the poet Antoninus and Spartacus
which can only be sundered by death and a fervent kiss; and Rome
by a bisexual dictator who inquires of the body slave bathing
him whether his taste runs to both oysters and snails. (quoted
in Norman Kagan, The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick (New York:
Continuum, 1989. New expanded edition), p. 71.)
Joseph Vogt, " The Structure of Ancient Slave Wars,"
Ancient Slavery and the Ideal of Man, trans. Thomas Wiedemann
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974).
Keith R. Bradley, Slavery and Rebellion in the Roman World,
140B.C.-70 B.C. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989).
Michael Grant, Galdiators (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971).
THINGS TO NOTE
- The "Hollywoodisation" of Spartacus's fate. Historians
believe he was probably killed in battle and his body never found
by the Romans. In the film S is crucified like Christ.
- The magnificently staged gladiator bouts and large-scale
battle scenes (filmed outside Madrid using 10,000 extras including
8,000 Spanish soldiers) in which Roman units arrange themselves
like pieces on a chess board prior to battle. Note these recurring
themes in SK's work: symmetry and chess. Film cost $12 million
to make and was most expensive film made to that date.
- The triangle of leading male characters: the autocratic aristocratic
general and senator Crassus who wants to defend "Rome"
at any cost; the corrupt, demagogic, lover of luxury, Senator
Gracchus who is a friend of the Roman poor; the "freedom
loving" slave rebel Spartacus who rises above his own concerns
to liberate all the slaves of Italy.
- The competing interpretations of Spartacus as "large"
or "small": the "small" Spartacus who starts
a jail break, is concerned only with his own "freedom"
and being with Varinia, has no idea of military strategy or a
broader concept of "freedom". The "large"
Spartacus (favoured by DT), who launches a popular uprising against
the Roman state in the name of liberating all slaves, who is
intelligent, a clever military strategist, a wise leader of his
- The theme of slavery - DT "attitudes about slavery is
what our story is about".
- The theme of the lives of ordinary people: DT wanted to balance
scenes of the Roman elite with scenes of the slave leadership,
and scenes of the lives of ordinary working Roman citizens with
that of ordinary ex-slaves. Several scenes of the latter were
cut (the slum street scene in Rome).
- The anachronistic ideological motivation of Spartacus who
fights for "freedom". The political philosophy of natural
rights and individual liberty which was used to undermine the
legitimacy of slavery is a product of the 18thC Enlightenment
and the revolutions it engendered (the American and French Revolutions).
S acts more like a Lafayette or a George Washington (or perhaps
DT had Lenin, Trotsky, or Mao in mind) than someone with the
values of the first century BC.
- The influence of contemporary events on Dalton Trumbo's view
of history and the nature of "freedom": black Americans
and the civil rights movement in the 1950s, opposition to the
McCarthy persecutions, opposition to the Cold War between the
Soviet Union and USA (especially threat of nuclear anihilation);
the the movements against colonies and the emergence of independent
nations in the Third World (especially Patrice Lamumba in Africa
and Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in Cuba). Compared rise of Imperial
Rome with rise of Imperial America as a result of WW2. Defeat
of popular slave revolt important stage in aristocratic revolution,
rise of Crassus and Julius Caesar to dictator and then emperor.
- DT's idea of revolution and resistance to oppression. Idea
that maltreatment provokes S into spontaneously resisting oppression,
that a man of action is converted into a man of thought. Idealised
image of the revolutionmary hero: a Roman Che Guevara?
- The scenes restored in the 1991 restored version: e.g. some
violence in the gladiatorial bouts, but especially the bath scene
with Crassus and Antoninus talking about the relative merits
of eating snails and oysters (a veiled reference to bisexuality).
The American censors helpfully suggested using the words "artichokes
and truffles" as a less offensive alternative.
- The depiction of violence. DT regarded the gladiatorial contest
between Draba and S to be "the finest scene of a killing
ever shot." DT's concern that they had to show the violence
of slavery but not revel in depicting it. Compare SK's intention
to shoot 17 violent scenes showing brutality of both sides, but
over-ruled by KD and DT who wanted to romanticise slave's revolt.
- Compare this film with William Wyler's Ben-Hur (1959)
starring the poltically conservative Charlton Heston, and the
spate of Biblical epics made in the 1950s. Is it a Marxist retort
to Cecil B. DeMille's Cold War defence of the values of Christian
America? First secular film about Ancient Rome with focus on
politics and not religion. Rivalry between DT and makers of Ben-Hur
- DT believed BH would show Rome in its "gross" imperial
self. DT wanted to show life of ordinary Romans and slaves -
"history from below". Wanted to show "ugliness"
of escaped slaves, due to their harsh treatment. Wanted to show
role of women as wives, cooks, mothers, and warriors in S's army.
- Note Trumbo's reference to the HUAC investigations: General
Crassus crushes the slave revolt and warns that "In every
city and province, lists of disloyal have been compiled".
- The possible influence of Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky
on SK's battle scenes.
- The many different versions of the film: cuts were made because
it was too long (SK had at least 6 hours in one cut), the preview
release was 202 mins, the uncensored release was 189m, the censored
release was 182 mins, the cut 1967 version was 161 mins, the
1991 restored version was 186mins. There were 4 different endings
of the film: one version cut the crucifiction scene at the end
because of pressure from the Catholic League of Decency.
- The promotional posters which depict a naked classical warrior
with arm raised high & holding sword, another with wrist
and chain with chipped or broken sword in style of Picasso's
fallen warrior in "Guernica". Slogan "Spartacus
- Rebel Against Rome".
- The opposition to the film (and Exodus also written
by DT) by the American Legion (conservative veterans association)
which sent letter to 17,000 "posts" (branches) advising
memmers "Don't See Spartacus!" because of its use of
black-listed screen writer. Story of Pres. Kennedy sneaking out
of the White House to see it privately and giving it his blessing.
- The passages or "unacceptable elements" in the
film which the Hayes Code enforcers objected to: the depiction
of Crassus as a pervert (being bisexual); the scanty costumes
of the slaves, the "leering" at women of Batiatus,
the use of the words "damn" and "eunuch",
the nude bathing, the reference (cut) of milk stains on Varinia's
clothing when breast-feeding Spartacus Jr.
- The use of British actors to play members of the aristocratic
Roman elite. Slaves were to have American or "foreign"
accents. Exception British Simmons as Varinia (originally offered
to Ingrid Bergman).
- Laurence Olivier: starred as and directed film Henry V
(1944); used role as Crassus as a trial run for role of Coriolanus
at Stratford-on-Avon which he played when filming finished, wanted
to direct film himself.