A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #105: Stan­ley Kubrick’s Spar­ta­cus.


The first time I saw this film I was about ten. There­fore I missed all the polit­i­cal crit­i­cism, sex­u­al under­tones [there should total­ly be a lounge band called The Sex­u­al Under­tones] and pathos con­tained in the film. I also knew jack about film his­to­ry, so the impor­tance of this epic in terms of back­lot Hol­ly­wood machi­na­tions was also lost upon me. Now that I’ve seen it again, 15 years lat­er, I have a slight­ly dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, although ulti­mate­ly the same feel­ing about the film itself.

Spar­ta­cus is more about the peo­ple who made it and the rea­sons they made it and how they made it than it is about some long-dead rev­o­lu­tion­ary with a humon­gous chin. So many peo­ple had a vest­ed inter­est in mak­ing Spar­ta­cus suc­ceed [espe­cial­ly Kirk Dou­glas as pro­duc­er-actor, Kubrick as direc­tor and Dal­ton Trum­bo final­ly using his own name again as screen­writer] that the not-so-sub­tle social­ist fla­vor­ing of the slave revolt mir­rors the mav­er­ick wills of the film­mak­ers. This is a good exam­ple of why I don’t like auteur the­o­ry; too many peo­ple are involved in the pro­duc­tion of a film and leave their mark on it, to speak of it sole­ly as a director’s cre­ation.

The reac­tionary tone to McCarthyite Com­mu­nist witch-hunt­ing could also find reflec­tions with con­tem­po­rary events; the focus on order at the cost of free­dom, the com­pil­ing of lists of trai­tors, the oppos­ing fac­tions whose polit­i­cal maneu­ver­ings even­tu­al­ly destroy Spar­ta­cus. Yet where the noble goal of Spar­ta­cus ulti­mate­ly fails, the efforts of Dou­glas & Co. suc­ceed­ed in revi­tal­iz­ing a Hol­ly­wood that had been toe­ing the line to a select group of peo­ple for far too long. Even though the film moves far too slow­ly for my taste, I think we could use anoth­er Spar­ta­cus any­time.


Cri­te­ri­on Essay by Stephen Far­ber
Wikipedia arti­cle on the film