Cleopatra (1963)

CleopatraPosterI’m an incredibly fortunate person to live so close to the AFI Silver, a beautiful theater that is always playing something I’m interested in seeing in some ridiculously awesome print, and sometimes will have the directors there (David Lynch!) to answer questions from any old Joe. When I saw they were playing Cleopatra I thought it’d be a great way to see it for the first time.

I guess there are just some movies I feel obligated to see. Lawrence of Arabia was one of those: now that I’ve seen it I can put the Larry badge on my sash, I guess. I felt the same way about Cleopatra, but now that I’ve seen it, I think I may have been wrong about it. This isn’t actually a good movie. It is just spectacle, pure and simple. One-hundred and ninety-two minutes of costume changes, retouched make-up and mawkish romance. I got serious antsy-pants in the theater, and thought if I saw another dress with an asp appliqued on the shoulder I was going to throw up.

I’m not sure I get the appeal of this movie, like, at all. Elizabeth Taylor’s version of Cleopatra is an unreasonable woman who doesn’t care about “the people” and manipulates just about everyone she can, but melts in the arm of all the damn Romans that walks into her palace. To be fair, I’m not super-familiar with the history behind the woman Cleopatra, but I have to guess there was a little more nuance to it than what we see here. And it’s not like there wasn’t time in this film to explore some of those nuances, I just assume the director, Joseph Mankiewicz, wasn’t interested in the actual character as much as he was in wasting lots of studio money on battle scenes and men in short skirts.

If someone asked me to describe this film in two words, I would say exasperating and excessive. I guess I’ve earned my Cleopatra badge, but I’m not sewing it onto the sash!


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