Cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv

Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-x

Thanks first and foremost to Lilya and Sasha, for every thing.

In 2007, Michael Rothberg asked me to give a lecture for the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory at the University of Illinois and even let me continue when he learned that it was about campy movies starring bodybuilders. That lecture received great feedback from colleagues, both those who have since gone elsewhere (Jed Esty, Andrea Goulet, Matti Bunzl) and those who are still at the University of Illinois (Yasemin Yildiz, Pat Gill), and eventually became an article in Camera Obscura, where it received further...

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Note on Film Titles and Foreign-Language Citations

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pp. xi-xiv

Peplum films made in Italy during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1980s often had quite different titles in the United States; referring to these films is further complicated by the fact that some were released with multiple English titles at different times. The 1961 Mario Bava film Ercole al centro della terra, for example, has been released with the fairly literal translation Hercules in the Center of the Earth, the slightly altered With Hercules to the Center of the Earth, and the radically different Hercules vs. the Vampires, but it is most widely known today under the title Hercules in the Haunted World. For Italian...

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Introduction: A Peplum Genealogy

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pp. 1-32

This book represents the culmination of many years of engagement with a curious film genre, the peplum. Many readers, if they are familiar with this term at all, will think of a flap of fabric attached to a blouse or a skirt (see McDowell 1997). In fact, in classical antiquity the word “peplum” also referred to an article of women’s clothing, the Greek peplos ( later Roman peplus or peplum ), a loose, draped shift or tunic for women. In the 1950s, there was a real vogue for films set in classical antiquity, many of which made use of a certain freedom imparted by their ancient settings to present filmgoers...

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1 Nos Morituri: Time in the Peplum

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pp. 33-64

The Ballerina and the Biceps

Most genealogies of the peplum point back to the 1914 film Cabiria as the origin of the genre.1 We might also acknowledge the many previous traditions that contributed parts of the peplum, from the classical or mythological epic adventure to vaudeville and circus traditions of the strongman. Still, Cabiria was the first time at which a significant number of the elements that would eventually become the peplum’s standard features appeared together, in one image, on film. Although the entire film is classical and fantastic, arguably...

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2 Pre/Post: Sexuality in the Peplum

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pp. 65-99

The blockbuster success of the 1958 Hercules guaranteed a sequel, and indeed, the following year saw the release of Francisci’s Hercules Unchained, which reunited virtually all the cast of the first film in new adventures. After the credits roll, we see Hercules and Iole, now married, taking their leave of the rest of the Argonauts and preparing to return to Hercules’s hometown, Thebes. We learn that the young Ulysses is being entrusted to the care of Hercules and Iole, and Laertes, Ulysses’s father, gives Hercules a birdcage filled with homing...

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3 Skin Flicks: The Haptic Peplum

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pp. 100-135

The term “haptic” means “related to the sense of touch”; etymologically, it means “graspable” or “palpable,” but in recent years it has acquired a specialized meaning, first in art history and then in cinema studies. This specialized use refers to the ability of visual art to produce a tactile response in the viewer or, more generally, the ability of visual imagery to activate senses other than sight. Film often uses slow, lingering pans across surfaces to reveal their tactile quality, from rumpled silk sheets after an erotic tryst to the hot, viscous goo dripping down the walls in the movies of the Alien franchise. If such...

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4 Immune Systems: The Peplum as Biopolitical Genre

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pp. 136-174

The term “biopolitics” is used in a number of different but interrelated ways, all referring to the state’s interest in the regulation and management of life as a source of power. One usage is essentially (although not exclusively) metaphorical and applies to attempts to think about the nation as a body, a recasting of the state in biological terms, such as the body politic, the health of the nation, and the border patrol as a kind of immune system. The most extreme example of this metaphorical thinking was no doubt the Nazi conception of the Reich as an idealized and racially pure body in need of Lebensraum, uncontaminated...

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Conclusion: Biopolitical Fantasy

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pp. 175-182

By way of conclusion, I would like to return to where I began in this book. I have argued that to fully understand how the peplum works as a biopolitical genre, we also need to understand how it works to captivate its viewers. To that end, I selected three particular points of fascination: the peplum’s reliance on slowed or even stopped time to accommodate the spectator’s admiring and lingering gaze on the hero’s muscled body; its consistently queer refusal of sexuality, situating itself in a psychic time either before or after desire; and its seductive expanse of skin, the haptic register of the peplum...

Filmography

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pp. 183-190

Works Cited

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pp. 191-200

Index

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pp. 201-210

About the Author

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pp. 211-212