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EPICS : Let's talk the big talk


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That's an interesting twist on the topic, clearskies, TV movie epics. Is there such a thing as episodic epics? The best ones are on PBS, as you mentioned "Upstairs Downstairs." I got hooked on "The Forsyte Saga" on "Masterpiece Theatre." As I recall it was a British import, from only a few of a series of books by John Galsworthy. Shown in the U.S. in the late '60s and early '70s, I think it was 20-30 episodes and in black and white. I was really hooked on that! Does anyone else remember watching it?

 

Most mini-series on network TV are pretty cheesy, but there have been a few excellent ones. My favorite is *Little Gloria, Happy at Last*. You know, the two Glorias Vanderbilt, (Anderson Cooper's mother and grandmother) and their long custody battle, circa 1930. It surly looks high budget, and very well made. The set design, costumes and even the automobiles were first rate. We get to see some of the Vanderbilt mansions in Newport. And what a cast!: Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Glynis Johns, Christopher Plummer, many others. It is faithful to Barbara Goldsmith's book. All of the dialogue in the courtroom scenes were taken verbatim from court transcripts. I could never understand why it was made for TV and not the big screen. At 180 minutes and spanning many years, shouldn't it qualify as an epic?

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It's ok to criticize, I think, and to disagree about an actor's talent and values, within respectful bounds. If that isn't the case, then I'm waiting for an apology from the poster who criticized Jane Fonda recently.

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No need to apologize to me, FilmAficionado. I am benignly indifferent to Mr.Heston, and am unaware of whatever were his political beliefs. I did not take umbrage (good word, that ) at your remarks about *Ben Hur* and Charlton Heston, I was merely clarifying to others that I had not posted the comment in question, you had.

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*The Best Years of Our Lives* clocks in at 172 minutes, therefore undeniably an "epic" if we are just speaking of its length. But I agree with you, far from having the "feel " of an epic, it feels like an intimate story about characters. Also, all the action takes place within a relatively short time ( a few months?).

It is certainly one of the few films I have seen whose nearly three hour running time is not noticeable to me. I've seen it a number of times, and I"m always surprised when I realize I've been watching a movie for almost three hours.

This is because despite its length it is thoroughly engaging to me, all the characters are sympathetic and interesting (except Virginia Mayo ! ) and well-played by the actors portraying them, and the film tells a good story.

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> {quote:title=C.Bogle wrote:}{quote}

> 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.

Good point. Both of those involve epic periods of their current history; the large, specular events take place off screen (Since You Went Away), or just after (BYOOL), or in the case of From Here to Eternity, just before the historical event.

 

I love all the previous mentioned as well; and I really like the earlier Cleopatra with Claudette Colbert, The Sign of the Cross, Intolerance, and Lawrence of Arabia . I believe DeMille may have the franchise, but many directors handled sweeping stories.

 

SO, how do we define epics? Swithin's book seems about right, but the Studios presented Roadshow Editions of movies and those editions were usually reserved for epics.

 

Edited by: casablancalover on Mar 5, 2011 7:22 PM

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I think I am still confused with the general idea of what an "epic" film is.

 

Honestly, I always thought they were about 2.5 hours or more and were based on historical events. Most epics seem to be biblical, but I thought Gone With The Wind may have been the exception because of how much it is celebrated (to be such a lengthy film).

 

If Cinemascope and the screens like it and the film covering a long period of time are part of the definition, then I guess that will change things.

 

What is a biblical film vs a biblical epic. Is The Robe simply just a biblical film?

 

And what do we call films like *The Inn of the Sixth Happiness*, *The Best Years of Our Lives*, *All This, And Heaven Too,* *Mutiny on the Bounty* (1962), *Ryan's Daughter* and other films I have seen on TCM that have run times over 2 hours?

 

Anyway, this is a good topic.

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And lots and lots of actors! Abel Gance's *Napolean*, for example, is a great, big, silent epic. Is *Lord of the Rings* an epic? Where do CGIs fit in? Maybe the "retelling of history" angle is a useful one.

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Of course Lord of the Rings is an epic :)

 

This is what an epic originally was as pertains to poetry

 

"is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation"

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*The Iliad* and *The Odyssey* were epic poems which told the stories of Ancient Greece -- even more ancient than the period of Homer. And of course the epic of Gilgamesh, even older, told stories of an earlier age. Is the Bible an epic? Much of it is offered as history. And for better or worse, I guess we would consider films inspired by the Bible to be epics -- *Samson and Delilah*, *The Ten Commandments*, etc.

 

But an epic film has come to mean something a little different. How to define that? We don't want to say it's merely length, though that was a feature of the epic poems. Many of them were oral stories -- a way of handing down history.

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In 1954, Warner Brothers utilized some overseas assets and produced two big ancient spectaculars, back to back. The first was ?Land of The Pharaohs,? directed by Howard Hawks and its screenplay was mainly handled by popular writer William Faulkner. Unfortunately, what probably hurt this film wasn?t so much the lame storyline of how the pyramids were built, but the lack of star-power. The movie starred two British performers, Jack Hawkins as the Pharaoh and a sultry Joan Collins as the evil queen. Director Hawks employed nearly 10,000 extras, shooting most of the exteriors in Egypt.

 

The second epic film was a version of Homer?s ancient historic poem of the "Iliad." Or, most of us know it as, ?The Trojan War.? The movie entitled, ?Helen of Troy,? would be handled by director Robert Wise, who gathered up another, mostly British cast and a few Italians to film on location, just outside of Rome, at the famous Cinecitta studios. The sets for this production were impressive. However, the two major principal roles of Helen and Paris were played again by foreigners, who didn?t speak good enough English and both were dubbed! They were the beautiful Italian Rossana Podesta and French actor Jacques Sernas.

 

Both these films from Warner Brothers were a candid response to the success 20th Century-Fox studios had with ?The Robe,? ?Demetrius and the Gladiators? and ?The Egyptian.? Like the films at 20th Century-Fox, the Warner epics were presented in Cinemascope and multichannel stereophonic sound. But only ?Helen of Troy? was presented with an impressive overture by composer Max Steiner. Both the Warner epics ended up as a moderate success at the box-office. Over the years, film buffs and devoted fans have argued and debated over which film is the best? Certainly, each film has its merits and while they weren?t exactly classics, they are nicely produced, if a bit on the melodramatic side of the movie spectrum. I believe, ?Land of The Pharaohs? and ?Helen of Troy? are as good as ?The Ten Commandments,? if you consider the issue of the script!

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One of the very best . . . But, as I once said to you . . .

 

Holman! Come Down!

Come Down Holman!

Come Down Holman!

 

Fire a Bust Into The Water . . .

 

I'm Sorry Sir, The Gun Is Jammed . . .

 

* * * *

 

Great music score by Jerry Goldsmith. What a beautiful overture! I wish they would have restored the original full-length roadshow version, instead of showing the restored cut version with a poorly produced full-length version on the special edition two disc DVD on Blu-ray. The general release (cut version) should have never been considered, when first presented on video! There are important scenes omitted from the general release that the full-version clearly expands upon the storyline and action. The problem as I see it is that the film was cut in bits and pieces and there are areas on the full-length version that are in terrible shape and neend some sort of enhancement. I always knew, when first released on video, the film was shredded and its lenght shorten.

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The play *Mourning Becomes Electra* by Eugene O'Neill is an update of the Greek myth *Orestes*. He certainly retained all the elements of a Greek tragedy. The play, and later the movie feature murder, adultery, incestuous love and revenge, and even the townspeople function as a Greek chorus. Based on some of the recent posts, does the movie *Mourning Becomes Electra* then qualify as an epic?

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I don't know that I quite understand the definition of the word, "epic", in the context of this thread. As for run-time of a film, I have zero problem with long movies, as long as there is something to engage me. I like just as many movies that exceed the 2 hour mark, as I don't.

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Well, john, I freely admit that I can not clearly define "epic" either; I was kind of hoping to get some suggestions from those posting on this thread, and they've certainly been helpful.

 

I resorted to wikipaedia, and here's their definition of "epic" as pertains to its cinematic form:

 

"An epic is a genre of film that emphasizes human drama on a grand scale. Epics are more ambitious in scope than other film genres, and their ambitious nature helps to differentiate them from similar genres such as the period piece or adventure film. They typically entail high production values, a sweeping musical score (often by an acclaimed film composer), and an ensemble cast of bankable stars, placing them among the most expensive of films to produce. The term "epic" comes from the poetic genre exemplified by such works as the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

As popularly applied to motion pictures, the term epic refers less to a set of generic qualities than to a vague sense of "epic-ness," a quality more or less synonymous with enormity. The "epic" movie is often set during a time of war or other societal crisis, and covers a long span of time, in terms of both the events depicted and the length of the reel. Typically, such films have a historical setting, although fantasy or science fiction settings have become common in recent decades. The central conflict of the film is usually seen as having far-reaching effects, often changing the course of history. The main characters' actions are often central to the resolution of this conflict.

 

The epic is among the oldest of film genres, with one early notable example being Giovanni Pastrone's Cabiria, a three-hour silent film about the Punic Wars that laid the groundwork for the subsequent silent epics of D.W. Griffith.[1]

 

The genre reached a peak of popularity in the early 1960s,[2] when Hollywood frequently collaborated with foreign film studios (such as Rome's Cinecitt?) to use relatively exotic locations in Spain, Morocco, and elsewhere for the production of epic films. This boom period of international co-productions is generally considered to have ended with Cleopatra (1963), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), and Doctor Zhivago (1965). Nevertheless, films in this genre continued to appear, with one notable example being War and Peace, which was released in the former Soviet Union in 1968, directed by Sergei Bondarchuk, and said to be the most expensive film ever made.

 

Epic films continue to be produced, although nowadays they typically use computer effects instead of a genuine cast of thousands. Since the 1950s, such films have regularly been shot with a wide aspect ratio for a more immersive and panoramic theatrical experience.

 

The definition of epic has expanded over the years to include films that in general have a large scale or scope in history, time, or events. The crime films The Godfather (1972), Scarface (1983), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), and Casino (1995), for instance, could hardly be considered epics in the same way that the Cinecitta films were, but are sometimes listed as such by critics."

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I feel it?s easy enough to define a motion picture epic by its length, historic subject matter and then the cast. Of course, during the height of the 1930s, films that were considered epic productions didn?t exceed what would basically become the extended time of just over 3 hours or so. A good example, are such classic films as Cecil B. De Mille?s ?Cleopatra,? Warner Brothers: ?The Charge of the Light Brigade,? 20th Century Fox?s: ?In Old Chicago,? MGM?s: ?San Francisco,? Universal Pictures: ?Show Boat,? ?RKO?s: ?Gunga Din,? just to name a few. One of the primary exceptions of this period was MGM?s 1936 production of ?The Great Ziegfeld,? complete with overture, intermission and exit music! Leading to this term of what we now might feel is an epic production was changed with the entry of David O. Selznick?s ?Gone With The Wind? at the end of the decade.

 

Interestingly enough, Warner Brothers sometimes had their big productions of the year, highlighted at a premiere with a real orchestral playing an overture! This was specially the case with noted composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who wrote the scores for ?The Adventures of Robin Hood,? ?The Prince and the Pauper,? ?The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex,? and ?The Sea Hawk.? The studio made it a point to have Knorngold conduct the live orchestral at the film?s premiere! This later on was done by others, such as composer Dimitri Tiomkin and Alfred Newman. I have to say: Those were the days, when movies were marketed with an immense amount of grand showmanship! Probably the likes of which we will never, never see again!! Or, at least: while I'm now in the twlight of my years. :(

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> joefilmone you say:

> I can see the Godfather trilogy as an epic or even "Once Upon A Time in America" but really "Scarface" and "Casino" are neither.

 

While I'll go along with "The Godfather Trilogy," and "Once Upon A Time in America," it's sort of a toss-up on "Scarface" and "Casino." I'd give the edge to "Casino," based solely on the cast.

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*The Godfather* and *Once Up a Time in America* span decades of American history and I consider both to be epics.

 

*Scarface* (the remake) is just a bad film. Nothing epic about it except Pacino's chewing of the scenery.

 

*Casino* concerns the mob in Las Vegas in the late 1970s/1980s and while it has a great cast that hardly qualifies it for epic status.

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> johnm_001 you ask:

> So, how would you define the big-budget, long-running musicals of the 1960s?

 

Well, as far as a special "raodshow" presenation goes, certainly such big productions as the Rogers & Hammerstein film versions of the late 1950s with overtures, intermission and exit music, as well as what the 1960s produced with "Can-Can," "Pepe," "West Side Story," "The Wonderful World of The Brothers Grimm," "My Fair Lady," "The Sound of Music(R&H)," "Thoroughly Modern Millie, "Camelot," "Doctor Dolittle," "Funny Girl," "Oliver," "Star," "Goodbye, Mr. Chips"(1969), "Sweet Charity," "Paint Your Wagon" and the last big one of the 1960s, "Hello Dolly," all qualify as epics according to the way of their marketing or promotion. This I think sets aside what might be considered a general release or even average film. This situation gets a bit tricky, when you consider other famous musical films, such as "The Music Man," "Mary Poppins," "Bye-Bye Birdie," "Gypsy" and the other three of Rogers & Hammerstien muscials, "Flower Drum Song," "State Fair"(1962) and the beautiful "Carousel" were not given the "roadshow" treatment. It has to boil down to presenation at the theater and this means: overture, intermission and exit music . . . the film must have ALL THREE! And, as important as part of the marketing specialty to give the movie epic status: a souvenir program. After all, purchasing that program at around 50 cents to about 1.50 meant you were part of the grandeur or taking it home with you to always remember, whether the film was a success or not!

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