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The battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) in American popular culture

Datiles, MJ; (2016) The battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) in American popular culture. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

The ancient account of the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) that has become canonical for both scholars and filmmakers is found in Book VII of Herodotus’ The Histories. The account is a significant source that has been cited as the chief historical text for the cinematic renditions of the battle since its first celluloid appearance in 1962. However, the reproduction of history into film has often carried with it an implied value system that involves a preference for aesthetics over accuracy, audience expectation and satisfaction over literal historical authenticity as emerges in this thesis’ associated documentary film. What is seen through historical epic cinema is a struggle between accepted historical text and film fiction which has reaped disappointment in its extreme for the historian yet, more often than not, garners box office triumph for the Hollywood studio executive. The present study’s main focus is on the strategies employed during the film development, production, post-production and distribution processes of The 300 Spartans (1962) and 300 (2006). These strategies required an emphasis on creating the ‘look’ of Sparta and Thermopylae that perhaps operates separately from history, instead residing in the world of myth. In order to properly discuss the film renditions of the ancient battle, the production processes receive ample consideration while historical issues are discussed when vital for the interpretation and better understanding of the historical epics under investigation. Film methods and the production process of the films themselves are discussed, not for their own sake but to the extent that it is necessary for the study of cinematic receptions of antiquity to progress towards a more inclusive scholarship of film aesthetics and production. Serious study of this growing practice of interpreting the past through cinema should include emphasis not merely on textual translation, attention to plots and dialogues but on mise-en-scène and the production methods required for their execution. Only then can a more complete picture of what constitutes the ancient world on screen be achieved. This study of production processes as integral to our understanding of the look of historical films set in antiquity focuses in on the two aforementioned Thermopylae films as well as the acclaimed graphic novel, 300 (1998) which acted as a bridge between the two and allowed for the widely-successful transition of the battle’s cinematic representations from the Hollywood ‘Golden Age’ of the Cold War epic into twenty-first century big budget antiquity films.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: The battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) in American popular culture
Event: UCL (University College London)
Language: English
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1529323
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