Cinema and Classical Texts: Apollo’s New Light (review)
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Reviewed by
Martin M. Winkler. Cinema and Classical Texts: Apollo’s New Light. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Pp. xiii, 347. $99.00. ISBN 0-521-51860-4.

In this book Winkler aims to lay out a consistent and effective methodology for bringing together the disciplines of Classics and Film Studies. His target audience is both classicists and film theorists who may be interested in writing on classics and cinema. Winkler’s ultimate goal is to bring cinema into the fold of classical reception studies. In order to do this, he wants to arm his readers with a possible methodology and basic background in film studies. Winkler is very thorough in his discussion of theories of film and provides, as he aims to, a novice with the resources to begin scholarly work on classical reception in film. Winkler offers the phrase “classical film philology” as a possible way to think of what a classicist could bring to film studies (13). As a result, the book in the end is better suited more for classicists than film theorists, though there is much to offer a non-classicist who may be working on one of the films under discussion.

Because of the survey nature of the book, there are times when Winkler does not draw conclusions from his observations, especially in his shorter discussions of films. A question that is sometimes addressed, and other times not, is what does evaluating film in the context of classical culture or literature do? This can be frustrating for the reader because Winkler’s proposed aim of demonstrating various methodologies and ways of applying philological methods to film study and vice versa leads the reader to expect conclusions and sustained analyses of films in order to have examples of how this would play out. For example, his discussion of oracles in science fiction, which comes directly after his discussion of the oracle in films related to Greek tragedy, could have been linked to the theme of oracle as prehistorical in those films to the post-historical (or pre-?) world of sci-fi and how the oracles of sci-fi highlight the failure of technology to control destiny or replace belief. Here, as well, a discussion or mention of the television series Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009) would have been welcome.

Winkler is at his most successful when he engages in sustained analyses of films, such as Ulysses’ Gaze and Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex, and when he discusses “neo-mythology,” such as his discussion of the Star Trek episode [End Page 149] “Who Mourns for Adonis” (1967), Disney’s Hercules, and Alexander Hall’s Down to Earth. In these instances Winkler persuasively argues for taking “neo-mythologizing” (Winkler’s phrase) on its own terms. While I am not a fan of the phrase, Winkler does get his point across that modern adaptations of ancient myth should be treated with the same respect that classicists give to ancient variations of myths. Winkler argues that considering these films within the tradition of adaptation can guide the classicist away from criticizing perceived errors to considering what makes this myth appealing to a modern audience. As classicists, we need to forget about issues of “authenticity” and “accuracy,” and embrace myth in cinema in all its multiform glory—adaptation is proof of classical myth’s vitality and why this is the case should be the issue in question, not the “right” and “wrong” way of telling a story. The thing I like the best about this book is that it offers multiple ways into cinema, through straight reception—e.g., historical films, tragedies or myths in film, and through shared themes. I think the shared themes component is the most interesting and sophisticated part of the book because it offers the reader ways to think originally about how considering shared themes in ancient literature or visual culture and modern cinema can work to inform both.

Overall, this book is a significant and welcome contribution to scholarship on classics and cinema. Winkler leaves his reader with multiple points of entry into film studies from a classical viewpoint. For the most part, the book is extremely well documented, making it an excellent...