Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Eagle of the Ninth" to get the Taymor Treatment

I was so excited to see "The Eagle of the Ninth" was being made into a film until I read that the Romans will be made to look like US GIs. Rosemary Sutcliff is probably turning over in her grave! I'm so tired of ancient Romans getting the Taymor treatment! Last summer I went to a production of "Cariolanus" at the Oregon Shakespearean Festival and it was "modernized" as well. The acting was fine but I went to see men in scarlet cloaks and muscled cuirasses and I got guys dressed like Nazis and guerilla fighters! Sometimes I wonder if this "artsy" approach is just a disguise for a tight budget that doesn't have enough money in it for authentic costumes. What's wrong with presenting a moving, award-winning story just the way it is!!

Another film in production "Centurion" claims it will look at history directly, but it sounds like just a chase movie with lots of gore.
"Centurion" is apparently not based on Simon Scarrow's book since the book takes place in Palmyra (ancient Syria) not Scotland like the film.

When "Gladiator" reawakened a world-wide interest in historical drama there was so much buzz about a new era in historical film making. But Hollywood has squandered this market opportunity with productions that were poorly edited (the theatrical release of "King Arthur" - at least the DVD put back some of the scenes that gave context to the story), poorly edited and/or directed (Oliver Stone's "Alexander" - slightly improved in the Ultimate Director's Cut but still too slow in the intro. I wish they'd release film clips of it for people to remix - I bet one of us could come up with something far more exciting by simply rearranging the scenes), or miscast ("The Last Legion" - I'm sorry
Colin Firth but you just don't have the commanding presence of a Russell Crowe and John Hannah you're just not the villain type). I must admit, though, that I love historical epics so much I still have these films, despite their shortcomings, in my collection and King Arthur on DVD has actually become one of my favorites, although I must admit a heroic Clive Owen is definitely a big part of the reason! Maybe that's all Hollywood cares about.

The Eagle of the Ninth is being adapted for a Hollywood film, one of two productions examining the failure of the Roman army to crush the Picts in Scotland in the second century AD.

Both are intended as allegories of recent American experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kevin Macdonald, the director of The Last King of Scotland and State of Play, is directing the adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliffe's 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth. It tells of a disillusioned young Roman soldier who travels to Scotland to find out what happened to his father who fought there.

The Romans will be made to resemble American GIs in the film in a clear attempt to draw parallels between past and present, said Macdonald.

Christian Colson, who produced Slumdog Millionaire, said Centurion told the story of how the Ninth Legion was destroyed by a group of rabble-rousing Picts who kept targeting Rome's most northerly garrisons.

He told The Times: "It is their biggest and best and most famous legion and they get massacred. Seven or eight hundred are then stuck hundreds of miles behind enemy lines and have to get home. It's a chase movie and an action movie and a violent, gory war movie with heads being lopped off and limbs going missing." - More:

Update: I see William Napier, author of an Attila The Hun trilogy, wrote quite a rousing summary of the history of the ninth legion in the UK's Daily Mail. He mentioned a rather poignant find in York that demonstrates these battle-hardened warriors has a tender side:

"A tiny tombstone was found at York recently, set up by one of those hardbitten, grim-faced legionaries, in memory of his little daughter.

It reads: 'To the Gods, the Shades. For Simplicia Forentiana, a Most Innocent Being, Who Lived Ten Months. Her father, Felicius Simplex, made this.'"

He also paints a vivid picture of the Picts, The Painted People of early Scotland who, legend says, wreaked the ultimate vengeance on the Ninth:

"The tribesmen of Caledonia were fine specimens of men, with reddish hair and huge limbs. They called themselves 'the last men on earth, the last of the free'.

In even the coldest weather they wore nothing but primitive kilts of homespun wool, their bare chests and arms covered in tattoos depicting terrifying emblems of severed heads, shining suns, intertwined serpents and crossed daggers dripping blood.

In time of war, though, they painted blood-red stripes across their faces, clad themselves in animal pelts, wolf skins and bear skins, clasped with brooches of red Hibernian gold, and decorated their spears with blue-grey herons' feathers.

As they rushed into battle, their shaman priests, called the Druithyn in the ancient Celtic tongue, wearing deer's antlers on their heads, stood on nearby hillsides and raised their arms to heaven to summon the spirits of the dead.

They gashed themselves with knives, beat monstrous drums, burnt huge bonfires and howled in fury." - More: MailOnline
Napier apparently supports the view that the Ninth disappeared in Scotland and does not mention reports that remnants of the Ninth are said to have served later in Palestine.

[Image Above Left: Illustration by Roman Pisarev for the Folio Society's edition of "Eagle of the Ninth"]

Note: When I was searching for an appropriate graphic for this post, I found a reference to the Folio Society's beautifully illustrated edition of "Eagle of the Ninth" illustrated by Russian artist Roman Pisarev. Roman Pisarev was born in Leningrad in 1963. He graduated from Muhin's Institute of Industrial Decorative Arts in Saint Petersburg and lives and works in Saint Petersburg and Edinburgh. He is a member of the Royal Association of Illustrators, the Association of Britain Ex-librists, and member of the Russian Artists Union. He has collaborated on a number of titles for British publisher “The Folio Society”. He has also illustrated "The Hobbit" for Vita Nova Publishers of St. Petersburg, Russia. If you visit the Folio Society link, you can view more of his wonderful illustrations from "The Eagle of the Ninth".

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Comic book publisher Devil's Due to collaborate with Starz on Spartacus titles

I had heard last year that Starz was planning to produce a new series with Spartacus as its lead character. Now I see that a comic book publisher has been brought on board to write four graphic novels that will tie into the storylines of the new series as well to generate a little pre-release hype. Stylistically, it will reflect a "300" influence. Australian Andy Whitfield will star in the title role. Starz also recently announced that John Hannah will play Batiatus. Apparently they must be planning the Batiatus character to be comic relief - sort of in a Peter Ustinov kind of way. If so I think John Hannah will be good in the part. I liked him as the bumbling brother in "The Mummy" but just couldn't quite accept him as a serious Roman Senator in "The Last Legion".

"Devil’s Due will be working closely with Starz, the production studio for its sibling premium entertainment channel, to create four self-contained stories that intertwine with the show’s continuity.

Contributing to the series will be DeKnight, DDP President Josh Blaylock and noted comic scribe Jimmy Palmiotti, with others to be announced. Evan Sult will edit the comic books with R.H. Stavis overseeing the project.

The first issue will debut as a promotional collectible at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con with a unique variant cover available only at the convention, followed by the release of the issue in stores nationwide in October.

“This is a very exciting project for Devil’s Due,” Blaylock said. “Not only do we get to tell an incredible story full of intense action, battles, and sexy characters, we also get to work with a project from Tapert and Raimi and the entire awesome team. We couldn’t be happier.”

“We have an expansive vision for the retelling of the classic Spartacus story, filled with astounding visuals and larger than life characters. A comic book is the natural extension to the world we’re constructing,” DeKnight said. “Josh Blaylock and the artists at Devil’s Due have just the right sensibility to make this the perfect complement to our show.”

“Spartacus: Blood and Sand” is scheduled for a debut on the Starz premium entertainment channel in January 2010. - More:

Oh dear! I went to the Devil's Due website to see if I could find a graphic and see that the comic book publisher is also releasing "Barack the Barbarian" this summer! I think I prefer President Obama just the way he is rather than buffed up to look like Governor Schwarzenegger in his earlier career! I'm pretty sure that's not Michelle wearing a thong bikini and seductively gripping the president's leg either. It's a good thing we still have freedom of speech here in the US! Although I must admit, Julius Caesar would probably have enjoyed starring in his own graphic novel! I wonder what Servilia would have looked like in a string bikini?

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Has ground-penetrating radar revealed the location of Cleopatra's tomb?

I read this article with excitement but am a little skeptical because of the site's distance from the location of Cleopatra's palace near the harbor in Alexandria. Ancient sources mention that Octavian rushed to the tomb, where Cleopatra had imprisoned herself when Octavian's forces approached Alexandria, after reading a missive from her alluding to her death, that was sent to Octavian shortly before Cleopatra committed suicide.

One of the programs I watched that was produced by the Discovery Channel entitled "The Mysterious Death of Cleopatra" mentioned that the tomb and palace were only about 20 minutes apart. I realize the Discovery Channel is not the ultimate reference in such matters but the distance between the palace where Octavian was staying and the tomb were key to the theories being discussed in the presentation. However, I must admit that finding a bust of Cleopatra and coinage with her image is pretty convincing. I'll try to remember to ask Dr. Hawass when I attend the Archaeology Channel International Film Festival right here in Eugene, Oregon next month.

An archaeological team may be closing in on the suspected tomb of Cleopatra thanks to the use of modern radar techniques able to "see" underground.

A CNN report, quoting a statement by Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the team has been working for three years at a site in the temple of Taposiris Magna and its surrounding area, west of Alexandria


The radar survey of the site was completed in March, said the Council statement, which also added that the radar survey had uncovered three possible site locations of a royal nature.

"The discovery of this cemetery indicates that an important person, likely of royal status, could be buried inside the temple. It was common for officials and other high-status individuals in Egypt to construct their tombs close to those of their rulers throughout the Pharaonic period," outlined the statement.

A number of important discoveries have already been made at the site, including an alabaster bust of the famous Cleopatra and a number of coins bearing her image.

"Among the most interesting finds is a unique mask depicting a man with a cleft chin. The face bears some similarity to known portraits of Mark Antony himself," said Council Secretary-General Zahi Hawass. - More: The Tech Herald

[Image: Fresco depicting Cleopatra meeting the god of the Underworld Roman 1st century CE, Museo Archaeologico di Napoli, Naples, Italy. Photo by Mary Harrsch]
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Ben Hur Marx playset figures are reissued

My enthusiasm for Roman history spills over into many aspects of my life. In addition to reading about this period of history, I play computer games with ancient themes and love to collect historical figures and miniatures depicting people from this era.

I used to prowl eBay and look for miniatures and discontinued playsets of figures that I could paint and add to my collection. I especially liked the Marx playset miniatures for their detail. So, I was excited to see that someone (Marx is no longer in business) is reissuing a number of their trademark playsets including the Ben Hur set. I have several of these figures in my collection that another artist painted. Now I can try my own hand at painting some of them! I have found Michigan Toy Soldiers to be an excellent source of historical miniatures and figures. They not only offer a wide range of commercially available figures but purchase estate collections as well.

I have taken advantage of a number of Michigan Toy Soldiers' great sales, purchasing extremely detailed Ignite 12" figures including a Roman legionary, a Spartan warrior and King Leonidas. I also like the Dragon In Dreams figures. I have several of their 12" figures including Alexander the Great, Subodai the Mongol, Attila the Hun, Julius Caesar, and a Roman retiarius.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Yes We Can! salute to Caesar on the Ides

When I was in Rome on the Ides of March this year and went to pay my respects to Caesar's statue that stands along the Via Foro Imperiali, my friend and I saw a huge wreath at the foot of the bronze sculpture of him. This must have been the one referred to in this article. It's too bad we had not been there just a little sooner! As it was, we got to witness a group of American college students dressed in make-shift togas and adorned with wreaths made from plants probably pilfered from a nearby hotel or park. They sang bawdy songs that I'm sure Caesar's tenth legion would have been proud of then gave their somewhat altered rendition of the death scene from Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar" complete with shouts of "Yes We Can!"

"Recently, residents and tourists around the Coliseum watched in awe as a legion of Roman soldiers marched in unison down Rome’s Imperial Avenue.

“Caesar!” called out the commander in Latin as the legion came to a stop. “I, Centurion Lucius Valerius Seianus, have brought your favorite legion here to return the scepter of command to your hands!”

A horn blared as the Centurion placed a large laurel crown on the pedestal of the statue of Julius Caesar, the great Roman general who was stabbed to death in the Forum 2,053 years that day — March 15, or the "Ides of March." - More: Global

My friend, Patricia Hunter, author of "Immortal Caesar", always brings roses to lay on Caesar's funeral pyre and on his statue whenever she visits Rome. Here, she places this year's offering.

While we were at the statue of Caesar a Roman family approached the statue and the father of the family took out some sheets of paper, held his hand up in salute and began reading a memorial to Caesar while his son respectfully placed his hand on his father's shoulder and raised a salute as well. It was very touching even though I couldn't understand what he was saying. After fifteen minutes or so, though, I told Pat that the man must have decided to recite the entire Commentarii de Bello Gallico so we moved on!

[Photo credits: Top left: Image courtesy of Fulvio Paolocci]; Other photos by Mary Harrsch]

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Polynomial Texture Mapping Continues on Herculaneum Amazon

I first read about polynomial texture mapping (PTM) a year or so ago in an article about its use in the study of potsherds. I'm pleased to see that it is now being used to study surface detail of recovered sculptures. I like the way you can move the light source around with a PTM file (via javascript) to reveal a different aspect of three dimensional objects. I often photograph artifacts in museum settings and have found that available light imagery (flash is usually forbidden in museum settings) seems much more dramatic and insightful than artificially lighted studies of an object. A PTM file enables you to not only study the surface details, like the beautifully painted eyes in this sculpture of an Amazon warrior recovered from Herculaneum, but lets you view the art from various perspectives as it would have been viewed in its ancient context illuminated with only natural light sources. If the position of the recovered sculpture is recorded you can even duplicate the direction of lighting at various times of the day and truly experience the art as it was by ancient peoples.

Cutting-edge imaging techniques are being used in the digital restoration of a 2000-year old Roman statue.

The delicately painted statue, which was discovered in the ancient ruins of Herculaneum in 2006 and believed to depict an Amazon Warrior, is now the subject of a joint restoration project by the University of Southampton, the University of Warwick, and the Herculaneum Conservation Project.

Highly sophisticated digital imaging is vital for the recording, subsequent analysis and restoration of cultural heritage material. Experts in archaeological computing led by Dr Graeme Earl of the Archaeological Computing Research Group in the School of Humanities, used a novel form of photography – Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM), developed by HP Labs - to provide a detailed record of the texture and colour of the painted surfaces.

A specially-designed rig, camera structure, and associated custom software was developed in the School of Electronics and Computer Science by Dr Kirk Martinez and the team in the Mechanical Workshop to enable very fast acquisition of PTM data, with variable sample sizes. The rig uses a lightweight tripod running on battery power, making it adaptable enough to use on archaeological sites. The whole kit is highly portable and can be carried in a suitcase. 'It was fascinating to pull together various elements from my imaging research projects in order to solve all the issues for the new rig design,' said Kirk Martinez.

The head of the Amazon Warrior was discovered in 2006 in the ancient ruins of Herculaneum, a town close to Pompeii, which was buried in the AD79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The delicate painting of the statue’s features and its fine state of preservation meant that it was regarded as a landmark discovery by archaeologists, providing clues to the decoration of Roman statues that had previously been only guessed at. - More: University of South Hampton

The PTM viewer enables a virtual light source to be moved across the virtual scene. The viewer can also vary lighting intensity, add additional virtual lights, derive surface models and to carry out image processing tasks such as edge detection. Try it out for yourself!

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