- Cinema and Classical Texts: Apollo's New Light, and: Hellas on Screen: Cinematic Receptions of Ancient History, Literature, and Myth
In the first chapter of Cinema and Classical Texts: Apollo's New Light, Martin Winkler refers us to three programmatic statements made by editors of this very journal, each one "representative of and instructive about changes in classical philologists' responsibilities" (65): in 1987, Georg Luck praised his predecessor, Diskin Clay, for his "range and sensitivity" in overseeing the "ever-broadening profession" (AJP 108:v), while more recently, in 2001, Barbara Gold stated her intention to "publish work that stands at the intersections of various aspects of our discipline, that incorporates new and innovative approaches, and that opens up classical philology to different ways of thinking" (AJP 122:iii). For Winkler, this "opening up" of classical philology is at the heart of this book, and so it is fitting for this journal to offer some reflections on its achievements. In many ways it represents the culmination (if in no way the final conclusion) of a career trajectory which has established him as perhaps the leading scholar, in terms of both quantity and quality of output over the past couple of decades, on the relationship between the cinema and the ancient past: from his first edited collection (Classics and Cinema [London 1991], reissued with some revisions as Classical Myth and Culture in the Cinema [New York 2001]) to his ongoing examinations of the relationship between film and history, the most recent title focusing on The Fall of the Roman Empire. In his wake follows an ever-growing number of scholars, succeeding in positioning the study of "classics and film" as central to the flourishing discipline of classical reception studies. The other title under consideration in this review, Berti and García Morcillo's Hellas on Screen, stands out from the crowd as the first collection of essays to offer a sustained appraisal of the variety of ways in which ancient Greece is tackled in the cinema. Winkler's monograph, though, is far more distinctive in its approach, and so we shall begin here.
Cinema and Classical Texts sets out to open up classical philology by arguing for what Winkler terms a "classical film philology," an approach which rests on two key assumptions: first, that cinema has a very great affinity with texts in general, and so can be subjected to the "close analysis that classical philologists are trained to carry out" (13); and second, that not only can films be analyzed using the tools of classical scholarship, but that films often demonstrate considerable continuity with the themes and content of classical literature. Whether or not filmmakers are consciously aware of this continuity, antiquity thereby maintains its presence, and most importantly its relevance, in the modern world.
The first assumption is explored in depth in the first chapter, "A certain [End Page 339] tendency in classical philology." There is nothing new in saying that cinema is like writing, and that films can be considered as texts, but Winkler's tour through the many filmmakers, theorists, and intellectuals who support this view (from Sergei Eisenstein to Orson Welles, Jean Renoir to Jean Cocteau) is deft and insightful, amassing a weight of opinion that is difficult to override, and yet remaining alert to the differences between film and literature, as well as its powerful similarities. Careful steps are taken to identify both. After establishing how films can be read as visual texts (especially so with the proliferation of DVD apparatus such as commentaries, or the existence of variae lectiones in the form of directors' cuts), Winkler offers a resounding endorsement of auteur theory, showing how leading filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard assert creative and narrative control over their cinematic texts, before demonstrating how films can be "poetic," drawing particularly on...