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The Return of the Epic Film$
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Andrew Elliott

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780748684021

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748684021.001.0001

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The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and America since the Second World War

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and America since the Second World War

Some Cinematic Parallels

(p.36) Chapter 3 The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and America since the Second World War
The Return of the Epic Film

Kevin J. Harty

Edinburgh University Press

The founding fathers of the American Republic intentionally looked to Ancient Rome rather than to Ancient Greece as a guide for their shining new cities on the hill. More recently, screeds lamenting the downfall of America—politically, socially, morally, culturally—have once again used Ancient Rome to show that those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat it. Films since the Second World War have forged a similar link, reading events surrounding the fall of Rome against contemporary events in American history. This chapter looks at three pairs of films to show how they do so: Douglas Sirk’s Sign of the Pagan (1954) and Pietro Francisci’s Attila (also 1954); Anthony Mann’s Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000); and Neil Marshall’s Centurion (2010) and Kevin Macdonald’s The Eagle (2011). Collectively, these films reflect key moments in post-war American history such as the Red Scare and McCarthyism, the war in Vietnam, the triumph of Reaganism, and the rise of the Tea Party, and further fuel debates that continue to link the fortunes of contemporary America with those of its ancient ancestor on the banks of the Tiber.

Keywords:   epic film, historical film, US politics, Red Scare, Tea Party, McCarthyism

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