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EPICS : Let's talk the big talk


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Recently, on a variety of threads, the subject of big long movies has come up: epics.

I've probably made it tediously clear that I usually don't like this kind of movie, although there are always exceptions.

But I'm aware that a lot of people do like epics. I'm very interested to hear why, what it is about epics that they like. Maybe I'm missing something and will have a Hallelujah ! moment when it comes to the epic film.

 

The usual suspects - *Gone with the Wind, Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia* , are all well-beloved by many people who participate on these forums. Of course there are many others.

I know, why am I starting a thread about epic movies if I personally don't like them? Well, because, as I've said, a lot of people love them, and I'm always interested in hearing opinions different from my own.

 

Enlighten me, folks...Epics? Let's talk BIG.

 

Edited by: misswonderly on Mar 4, 2011 11:26 AM

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I admittedly like them less than I used to, though I can occasionally still get sucked in. After I discovered the tight way that a saucy, rollicking pre-code, or a gritty B-noir, can entertain without scruples for 60 min more or less, I'm much more a fan of shorter films.

 

I still am a sucker for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) and GANDHI (1982), and SAMSON AND DELILAH (1949), but overall I don't dig them like I used to.

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Good topic! I think I feel the same as you, misswonderly. In general I don't care for them, but there are exceptions.

 

First, what exactly is an "epic"? Originally, it meant a long, classical poem (oh, no, let's not open that "what is classic?" can of worms again!). Today, I believe in most minds, "epic" simply means "a really long movie."

 

Roger Ebert said: "The word epic in recent years has become synonymous with big budget B picture. What you realize watching Lawrence of Arabia is that the word epic refers not to the cost or the elaborate production, but to the size of the ideas and vision. Werner Herzog's *Aguirre: The Wrath of God* didn't cost as much as the catering in Pearl Harbor, but it is an epic, and *Pearl Harbor* is not."

 

If we're just talking "big," I like movies that have sentimental meaning to me. *The Wizard of Oz* was on TV once a year, as far back as I can remember. Second only to Christmas, that was the most special night of my life as a child. In 1967 GWTW was re-leased and it had a huge impact on me (after seeing it I even read the book). I'm revealing my age, I'm old enough to remember it vividly, seeing it for the first time, and on a big screen yet! But I was young enough that I went with my mother to the theatre. I never miss those two movies and can quote most of the dialogue verbatim.

 

Even after spending $44 million and paying Elizabeth Taylor $1 million, I still can't sit through all of *Cleopatra*, it's longer than the Nile! Ditto *Lawrence of Arabia* and most of those "sword-and-sandal" and biblical epics. (ZZZZZZ) I know I'm terribly bored with TCM each Easter weekend.

 

To turn this topic around, there are many musicals that were cut and I'm terribly dissapointed that they were. Clearly, these movies should have been longer. The "powers that be" decided that audiencies didn't want to sit through a movie that was too long. So what did they cut? Really good songs, usually. Many of us have seen the "newly restored" versions of such films. Sometimes the old footage still exists, sometimes they have to show stills while we hear the audio with the cut songs. In *Meet Me in St. Louis* a fabulous song was cut: "Boys and Girls Like You and Me."

 

Often pure dialogue was cut, and if you listen closely it disturbs the continuity so parts of the finished film don't make sense. Example: in *A Star is Born* (1954), Esther and Norman are on their way to the premiere of her first movie, and she's extremely nervous. To calm her, Noman jokes "just think of a man in a car eating a nutburger!" Esther laughs. Makes no sense does it? The scene was cut where Esther was telling Norman the degrading things she had to do before she got a steady job as a singer. She worked at a drive-in joint where she sold every imaginable kind of burger, including nutburgers. NOW his line has meaning. Without the scene that was cut, the line just sounds stupid.

 

Is it evident I'm a Judy Garland fan? Is there such a thing as an "epic musical"?

 

I'll be looking forward to others' points of view on missworthy's topic.

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I love certain epics: I have sat through Gone with the Wind and The Ten Commandments many times. I also loved the Lord of the Rings films (I saw them in the theater more than once) . What about the Great Escape? Does that count as an epic? I can watch that every time its on.

 

I also saw Lawrence of Arabia all the way through once but I really liked it. I have a recording of it maybe I will watch it again one of these days.

 

What about Seven Samurai? I also only saw that only once but I liked it enough to buy the DVD.

 

So I definitely enjoy a lot of epics. However that being said lately (in the last few years or so) I think I am more impressed by a movie that can tell its story in less than 2 hours.

 

 

As for Ben-Hur I like it up to the chariot race after that it goes down hill for me!

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Many have said the chariot race sequence in 1925's *Ben Hur* with Ramon Navarro is superior to the 1959 version with Charlton Heston. Poor Ramon Navarro! He came to such a sad end. I know this isn't a forum for politics, but I can't help myself. I'm not sad that Heston's self-described "cold, dead hands" are finally cold and dead. Where do you suppose someone is prying guns from those hands, Heaven or Hell? I would guess the latter.

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Thanks for the responses, folks !

I hadn't thought of epics the way Roger Ebert (via Film Aficionado) put it: a movie on a big scale, with big ideas and a big budget.

I was thinking more in terms of the length of the film; but of course usually a film that is at least three hours long is going to be "big" in terms of its scale and scope, as well as its length.

 

I do like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, all three, and they are undeniably "big", a very big concept ( in simplest terms, good vs evil ) done on a big scale, and each one is looong. But they don't seem long to me, because I'm never bored watching them. And here we come to the crux of the thing: I get just plain bored with many long epic movies. I get restless (and not because of Alfred Hitchcock's reason ! ) and after a certain point I just want the damned thing to end !

 

The other reason I don't care for epics is, I don't like movies that cover a long period of time - decades, a life-time, in three hours. It's disorienting for me. "What, I thought they just got married, they were in love, now they're divorced and are sharing visits from the grand-children ? ! ? "

Ok, I made that one up, but that's how I experience epics -one moment the lead character is doing something, the next it's years later and some characters who seemed essential to the story aren't even around or even mentioned anymore.

 

There are epics that are long but only span a few months or a year or so in time , like David Lean's *Bridge on the River Kwai*. I know this is a good movie, and I like Alec Guiness and William Holden both very much. But it's three friggin hours long! I can't seem to stay awake for it to see the whole thing through, ever !

In fact, David Lean is a real misnomer, because after about 1957, all his films were fat. It's as though he made a conscious choice to go this route -the "epic" route. Does anyone know why? I like his movies before he started doing this.

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> {quote:title=FilmAficionado wrote:}{quote}

> Many have said the chariot race sequence in 1925's *Ben Hur* with Ramon Navarro is superior to the 1959 version with Charlton Heston. Poor Ramon Navarro! He came to such a sad end. I know this isn't a forum for politics, but I can't help myself. I'm not sad that Heston's self-described "cold, dead hands" are finally cold and dead. Where do you suppose someone is prying guns from those hands, Heaven or Hell? I would guess the latter.

 

You want the "Dogs and Spirituality" thread.

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What do I love about epic films; the recreation of the past- sometimes historically accurate and sometimes preposterous-but where else can we see the glories of ancient Egypt , Rome or Greece.

Epic heroes are larger than life- El Cid, Spartacus and Robin Hood belong on the big screen.

 

Edited by: joefilmone on Mar 4, 2011 6:15 PM

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I'm a sucker for the Biblical epics and find myself watching them Christmas Day when I go home to my folks' house for the holidays.

 

I don't know if it is the story, the visual experience or Peter O'Toole that makes "Lawrence or Arabia" so interesting to me.

 

I do know the chariot race is what interests me the most in "Ben Hur"

 

I can watch "Gone With the Wind" at least once a year, and usually in inclement weather. Just an overall entertaining film.

 

Some films are longer than 2.5 hours but not really considered "epics" and I have watched them. One being Brando's "Mutiny on the Bounty" I actually like this film.

 

I admit I can't seem to sit still and get into "Dr Zhivago" the same goes for "Ghandi". Maybe one day....

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I've got this big coffee-table book -- *Epic: History on the Big Screen* by Baird Searles. Searles's definition is that an epic film is a "retelling of history." The book, which has gorgeous pictures, is arranged by historical period, from Antiquity through the 20th Century. Near the beginning of the book there is a stunning double-page photo from my favorite epic, *The Egyptian*. The last photo in the book is from *The Last Emperor*. He also includes *Queen Christina*, *The Scarlet Empress*, and *The Adventures of Robin Hood*, which I really don't think of as epics.

 

I guess for me, epic films refer to the big widescreen color movies, largely from the 1950s, which take place in ancient days. That's a rather limited view. Perhaps a good subject for a TCM series would be silent epics. I guess a broader definition would include *Reds* and *A Passage to India*, both of which would be among my favorite epics, if they were classified as epics.

 

Yes, some epics can be dull. Someone referred to *Gandhi* -- I could never watch the whole of that noble film. I much prefer the depiction of Gandhi in the TV miniseries *Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy*.

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Your eulogy for Heston was certainly "cold and dead" for an actor who has left behind a catalogue of films folks will be watching and enjoying 100 years from now. Myself i wish chuck was back , guns and all, young and still able to give us more like El Cid, Ben Hur and 55 days at Peking. Films today seem for the most part little in comparison.

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> {quote:title=stjohnrv wrote:}{quote}

> Your eulogy for Heston was certainly "cold and dead" for an actor who has left behind a catalogue of films folks will be watching and enjoying 100 years from now. Myself i wish chuck was back , guns and all, young and still able to give us more like El Cid, Ben Hur and 55 days at Peking. Films today seem for the most part little in comparison.

 

Ditto...

 

The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur and El Cid are three of the finest movies ever made--Epic or otherwise.

 

There are few actors who had the presence of command as Big Chuck on the screen.

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Well, actually stjohnry and jake, it was not I who posted that eulogy about Charlton Heston, but FilmAfilcionado, who said:

 

"Many have said the chariot race sequence in 1925's Ben Hur with Ramon Navarro is superior to the 1959 version with Charlton Heston. Poor Ramon Navarro! He came to such a sad end. I know this isn't a forum for politics, but I can't help myself. I'm not sad that Heston's self-described "cold, dead hands" are finally cold and dead. Where do you suppose someone is prying guns from those hands, Heaven or Hell? I would guess the latter."

 

I merely made a joke in response, something about the "dogs and spirituality" thread. No disrespect to Mr. Heston intended.

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> {quote:title=joefilmone wrote:}{quote}

> Heston was a perfect actor to play larger than life historical heroes. He is the king of the Epic Film.

 

I totally agree with you. There is few actors in history who are able to take one huge roles and historical figures and make them realistic. Heston definitely achieved that.

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I've never seen the silent *Ben Hur* , and I've only seen the William Wyler *Ben Hur* in bits, never all the way through from beginning to end. This is not intentional, it just seems like whenever I turn on the television, and there's Charton Heston as Ben, it's always in the middle of the movie. And since it's such a long film, the middle covers a lot of time ! One day I'd like to see it from start to finish; I know this can be easily accomplished as it is shown a lot on TCM -and other channels - and is readily available to purchase or rent.

I've heard it's really good, but I know I'd have to be in the mood for a 212 (?) minute movie.

 

Why is it that so many epics are "sword and sandal" stories?

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Interesting the segues that can range from the topic. As Heston was a BIG voice for the NRA it did shade my perception of him as an actor. Interesting how an actor's personal life affects him/her on the screen, I don't care much for Heston, perhaps just his style of acting, but will admit I liked him when I was younger. Don't like epics on TV very much, maybe it's because I've probably seen them all on the big screen. I much prefer a mini series & now "Upstairs Downstairs" is going to be continued on PBS. I also enjoy the 3 part series on PBS of "Any Human Heart."

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I continue to wish for a big-screen retrospective of the epics here in our one-dog-with-three-legs town. We have the theater of my youth, which has become our civic center, thus having the necessary big screen, the seating, etc. I would love to see again the Heston movies mentioned, and so many of the TCM classics aired each month. Alas, with our one three-legged dog, we have the same mentality among the general population, and it's too much work for our current CC board of directors. I am so envious of anyone who is getting to go to the upcoming TCM festival. Have any of you been or are you going? Can I live vicariously through you?

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*I am so envious of anyone who is getting to go to the upcoming TCM festival. Have any of you been or are you going? Can I live vicariously through you?*

 

jbh,

 

Check out the Film Festival Forum! There are plenty of threads where last year's Festival goers talk in detail about the films and events they attended.

 

There are also threads about this year's Festival and what posters are excited about seeing.

 

http://forums.turnerclassicmovies.com/jive/tcm/forum.jspa?forumID=415

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Well, there are epics and then there are epics. I'm not partial to the "sword and

scandal" type that seem to go on forever. But there are some movies, such as

Since You Went Away and The Best Years of Our Lives, that are epic in

terms of running time, close to three hours, but that don't deal with large, spec-

tacular events, but are intimate and personal in terms of subject matter.

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