Friday, December 2, 2016


Charles Laughton as Emperor Nero in Cecil B. DeMille's The Sign of the Cross (1932), via Peplum, a website entirely devoted to the sword-and-sandal film genre.
Commenter Ohsopolite had a useful thought after everybody was identifying Emperor Trump with Caligula this morning:
Maybe he'll go the Nero route and take up the violin.
Of course Nero did not actually have access to a fiddle, or a lute either—that only happened for Italy a thousand years later, when all the hipster crusaders picked up rababs and ouds in the Middle Eastern bazaars as souvenirs to bring home and took to writing troubadour poetry, and it was another 500-odd years before the violin itself was invented, but that's another story.

Nero's performance art wasn't so much the instrumental music as the declamation of Greek and Latin poetry, accompanying himself on the tortoiseshell lyre, and focusing on his own big Latin epic, apparently (per Juvenal) one of the worst poems of all times, the Troica—what he would have been out there chanting during the great fire of 64 C.E., if he was (there's no real evidence) would have been his own description of the burning of Troy, illuminated by the flames of Rome, what an incredible dramatic effect! He might have had the fire set himself, just to find out how cool it was (no, there's no evidence he did that either).

And you know what other famous dictator of history fancied himself an especially gifted artist? (It's OK, Mike Godwin himself says we can start doing this if we want, as long as we make an effort to know what we're talking about.) Not those watercolors, either, I'm talking about movies. I got this idea from one of the greatest movies I've ever seen, as a matter of fact, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's Unser Hitler: Ein Film aus Deutschland (1977), which I saw twice, believe it or not (it's 442 minutes long), in which a major thesis or thesis-like theme is that Hitler increasingly saw himself as a filmmaker, in particularly from the war onwards, what we'd later call an auteur, literally having the war filmed, as we know, and watching the takes in his redoubt like a studio director going over the rushes. A Wagnerian film, obviously, with a Götterdämmerung at the end. Like the emperor Nero, Hitler felt the destruction of the world around him was interesting and deep, and a credit to his deep artistic sensitivity. Hitler was the Dramaturg of the end of the world.

And then, you know, there's Trump, who does "reality" shows, of which our experience in the last couple of years is certainly an example, and who is, as we know, similarly psychotic. I will doubtlessly be coming back to this thought, but I want to let it sink in a little. 

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