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

2 thoughts on “Spartacus

  1. It’s been a few years since I’ve watched it, but I think I missed the com­mie an­gle on it. I think at the time the an­gle I thought of it more in the con­text of the failed slave re­volts in the US in the 1800’s and I al­so thought a bit about the Civil Rights move­ment, but I guess I should have thought about the fact that the movie pre-dates any sort of Spartacus/​MLK link.

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