This month we’re taking it back, way back to the Classical age, and shining a spotlight on our main man Gaius Julius Caesar (100BC-44BC) Dictator of Rome, Pro-Consul before that.
Caesar is a man who is as much legend as genuine historical figure. As evidenced by the varying and unending works in which he has appeared since that fateful day at the Senate House over two thousand years ago, we are highlighting March 15th. Also known as ‘The Ides of March’, there are many great features on this subject to see. If you’ve got the time, we’ve probably got the features on the subject.
Rome (HBO Series, 2005-2007)
This British drama portrays the turbulent transition from Roman republic to autocratic empire, which changed world history through civil war and wars of conquest. It is sketched both from the aristocratic viewpoint of Julius Caesar, his family, his adopted successor Octavian Augustus, and their political allies and adversaries, as well as from the politically naive viewpoint of a few ordinary Romans, notably the soldiers Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo and their families. Rated: TV-MA (not for children)
One of the most intriguing series I’ve ever watched, it is an easily digested story about political maneuvering and cutthroat politics set in a surprisingly sophisticated, yet alien ancient setting. I’ve consistently recommended this for viewing and it helps one gain an idea of the dynamics of ancient culture.
Julius Caesar (1953)
Starring Marlon Brando, James Mason, John Gielgud, and Greer Garson
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
The assassination of the would-be ruler of Rome at the hands of Brutus and company has tragic consequences for the idealist and the republic.
Based on the play by William Shakespeare, this adaptation of Julius Caesar was made during the Hollywood era of grand epics. This film is a good example of what great actors can do to an existing story. The powerful (and sometimes funny) Cassius (Gielgud) is a very captivating character. A lot of the time I could just feel his anger. Brutus (Mason), of course, is a very melancholy character, but for him I didn't feel as much as I did for some of the others. Marc Antony (Brando) was superb, and his presentation of near insanity that builds up throughout the movie is breathtaking.
Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) available on VHS only
Starring Claude Rains and Vivian Leigh
Directed by Gabriel Pascal
Based on the play by George Bernard Shaw
Cleopatra hasn't been on the throne of the pharaohs of Egypt very long when Julius Caesar pays a visit. Caesar finds the prospect of romance more tempting than he expected, since Cleopatra is a rare woman who is bright as well as beautiful. And for Cleopatra, a friendly relationship with the most powerful man in the world may pay dividends in the future.
Claude Rains is perfectly cast as the cynical, world-weary and "ready for the knife" Julius Caesar. I'm not sure if it's makeup, or perhaps lighting, but Rains's face looks like it was taken from one of those memorial portraits in the Roman catacombs. In any case, while it may be Caesar's countenance we see, it's Shaw's voice we hear. In the beginning Cleopatra is a sheltered, naive...well, princess. By the end, she has learned well at Caesar's knee and possesses the ruthlessness and guile of statecraft - she is a queen.
There are many other works including the stage productions of Julius Caesar available at the Kansas City Public Library. We hope you’ll check them out this month.
Brandon Roper is a Technical Assistant at the Kansas City Public Library. His expertise is in cinema culture and film scores. He also presents the Saturday showings in the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault.