Spartacus: What a difference 50 years makes

Having now watched the first two episodes of the Starz series Spartacus:Gods of the Arena and re-watched last year’s Spartacus:Blood and Sand, I decided to go back and re-watch the 1960 Stanley Kubrik film based on the revolutionary gladiator.  Wow, what a difference half a century makes. I’ve long been a fan of Kubrik’s work and he created some amazing films including Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket.

However, sitting down and watching Spartacus this afternoon I’m reminded that Kubrik also often needed a strong editorial hand on his work. Of course given his reputation as something of a control freak, it’s unlikely that he ever would have accepted such oversight in the final cutting of his films. Despite having won four Oscars, I found the movie to be very uneven and often plodding with long wordless sequences of the camera panning over the camps of escaped slaves or other scenes that really did nothing to move the plot forward or develop the characters.  Both the dialog in many places and the performances also left much to be desired, although the bath scene with Laurence Olivier’s Crassus and Tony Curtis’s Antonius remains a classic.  Don’t even get me started on the This three hour epic could have easily been cut by a third without losing anything of significance.

Aside from being set in a ludus (gladitorial school) in Capua, the modern iteration of this tale couldn’t be more different from the film. In typical modern fashion, the new Spartacus takes advantage (or is that disadvantage?) of lots of digital effects.  Unfortunately, much of it used to produce gratuitous amounts of violence. Despite that, the story telling and character development in this modern iteration is actually quite good and goes well beyond what Kubric achieved 50 years ago.  The back stories of many of the characters are quite fleshed out, especially in this second season which is actually a prequel. Andy Whitfield who played Spartacus was unable to film the second season after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

The full first season and each of the episodes of season two are available for streaming on Netflix and well worth checking out.

Andy Goldsworthy

A couple years ago we first saw a documentary called Rivers and Tides about Andy Goldsworthy a British artist. He is primarily a sculptor and photographer. All of his work is created with natural materials from the area where the pieces are created. Many of his pieces are temporary by their nature, although some are permanent. Right now there is an exhibit of some his work at the Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture park in Grand Rapids. The show was put on in conjunction with a new permanent installation of an archgrand rapids arch created by Goldsworthy. The show runs through May 7, 2006 and if you have time to drive to Grand Rapids it is definitely worth going to see the Goldsworthy show. If you can’t get to Meijer Gardens definitely rent the movie and see it. Even if you can’t to Meijer Gardens before this show ends it is still worth visiting any time. Among other things they have the 24 foot highDaVinci horse. davinci horseThe sculpture is one of two castings made from molds based on the original design by Leonardo DaVinci 500 years ago.

Jules, Max and I went to Grand Rapids for a couple of days earlier this week while Sofia was on her trip to England. the Meijer Garden also has a tropical butterfly exhibit in one of the tropical conservatory. They have thousands of butterflies during the months of March and April. While we were there we also went to the VanAndel Museum downtown to see the Treasures of Ancient Egypt:The Quest of Immortality which also runs through May 7. This exhibit has artifacts dating back to the Old Kingdom in 2300 BCE. Among other things their is an eight foot high red granite head of Ramses II and full reproduction of a burial chamber from Thutmose III’s tomb.