- Mark Antony and Popular Culture: Masculinity and the Construction of an Icon by Rachael Kelly
All for Love, the title of John Dryden’s 1677 drama, effectively summarizes Antony’s posthumous reputation as the man who threw everything away for a wily seductress. Rachael Kelly now devotes a monograph, based on her dissertation in Film and Gender Studies, to Antony’s Nachleben in film and television. The main title of her book is apt to disappoint readers who take it literally. Her subtitle, however, is to the point. This book is intended mainly for the cognoscenti, whereas the cumulative effect of all its abstract terminology on disbelievers is first boredom and then resistance. She promotes gender and masculinity theory at the expense of historical accuracy and filmic analysis and to the detriment of clarity and readability. Basic mots du jour include “Antony’s gender performance,” “the negotiation of gender ideology,” “the bounding [sic] of hegemonic masculinity,” “Othering-by-effeminacy” (3 and 6; all in her Introduction) and are repeated mantra-like across 250 pages of text. Kelly inadvertently gives much of the game away when she translates one of her resounding abstractions (“the audience’s privileged teleological positioning”) into basic English: “we know what will happen” (129; cf. 205). All this is regrettable, for Kelly is the first to have examined Antony on screen in such detail. She is neither a historian nor a classicist but makes a number of good observations in both areas. She distinguishes, sensibly if not always consistently (cf. 92, 100, 114), between the historical Antonius and the later Antony or “Antony-icon.”
Kelly limits her analysis to seven English-language films and television productions in which Antony is a central character--Cleopatra (1934, 1963, 1999), Serpent of the Nile (1953), Julius Caesar (2002), Imperium: Augustus (2003), Rome (2005/2007)--and one (Caesar and Cleopatra, 1945) in which he does not appear. She deliberately excludes film and video versions of Shakespeare plays (94), although she correctly maintains that Shakespeare has influenced all films about Antony and Cleopatra (77-79, 95, 97)S She thereby deprives herself and her readers of the best cinematic adaptation of Shakespearean drama, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar (1953). Marlon Brando’s Antony in this film is the most accomplished incarnation of Antony the politician on screen, not least for the astonishing delivery, staging, and editing of the events immediately after Caesar’s assassination. This Antony’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech, which Kelly rightly calls “Antony’s most famous political achievement” (114), could have received close analysis, for “political performance is a key signifier of masculinity in the diegesis of Antony-on-screen” (191). Kelly’s publishers even put a color image of Brando’s Antony on the book’s dust jacket. Brando, however, is mentioned only in passing (96-97, 269 n. 2, 272 n. 10).
The first of Kelly’s six chapters examines the political propaganda against Antony in the ancient sources. This is an effective and useful start to point out the fundamental dichotomy in Antony’s character: his military accomplishments and political astuteness in contrast to his personal shortcomings. Chapter 2 deals with the omission of certain historical characters (Fulvia, Curio) from most or all of the films. The next chapter emphasizes, correctly, Shakespeare’s huge importance for any portrayals of Antony; here Kelly’s refusal to include any films of his plays becomes questionable. Charlton Heston, who played Antony on screen more often than any other actor, gets short shrift. One of his earliest appearances was in David Bradley’s independently made Julius Caesar (1950). Stuart Burge’s stagey Julius Caesar (1970) could have been contrasted effectively with Mankiewicz’s film. Heston’s own Antony and Cleopatra (1972), a labor of love that Kelly mentions briefly, uneasily combines Shakespearean tragedy with the spectacular demands of epic cinema. Kelly could have made illuminating points by analyzing the different directors’ and actors’ approaches to their material...