Sunday, February 13, 2011


1934: The Year of The Scarlet Empress by Josef von Sternberg

Cleopatra by Cecil B. DeMille, 1934:

In the wake of one of the most electrifying title-screens of all time, DeMille indulges whenever possible his desire to see the human body folded and bound struggling-acquiescent before an unbridled exhibitionism; slaves will asphyxiate, black out /

Claudette Colbert is a Cleopatra who might have taken up residence at the drinking end of some pianoforte on Broome / It's not a pleasure-garden without a peacock / DeMille imbues the Roman party with contemporary cadence, a surface equality of sexes in the scheduled ease and amphilogy among his women, just as one might witness in the era of Antonioni (that is, in Antonioni's oeuvre, and in the era of il boom) / "A woman's a woman." / Ritual tableaux / The flex of fake-submission — as performed by extras / DeMille stages this so well / X /

The sirens raised from the sea-floor net for proffering oyster-jewels / Leopard-skin retainers whipped by a male consul /

A women's clothing store in Avoca, PA, before the Internet / "Women should be but toys for the great; it becomes them both." / "I could fall in love with you, but I don't intend to." / Brilliant shot where a foreground-stationed harpist 'caresses' Cleopatra's near-naked figure /

Cleopatra's hippie garment, because 'hip' felt 'hip' always, the actors couldn't hear the crusty trumpets and trombones of the soundtrack telegraphing each Sexy Gesture /

Diamond-facet cuts in the astonishing war sequence, an orgy of trick-shot mayhem around the shatter of prows and the letting of jugular blood, the war machines of the Romans at full employ (the catapults and spring-loaded chevaux-de-frise which, earlier in the film, in the form of prototypes scaled down for Caesar's inspection, were 'played' as devices customized for sexual torture) /

No less baroque than Metropolis, it stands to reason that DeMille's Cleopatra = the greatest Cleopatra-picture that ever will be made / Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra treated as Little Golden Book mashup, Crowley and Anger


"What we knew

about the blood's map

went back to the court

of King Zoser."

—from "Imhotep" by Yusef Komunyakaa, 2004.


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