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Essay: Cleopatra in film

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  • Subject area(s): Media essays
  • Reading time: 2 minutes
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  • Published: 3 October 2015*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 509 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 3 (approx)

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For many years film makers have depicted Cleopatra as the typical ‘female fatale’ using her female wiles to pursue powerful men. She was portrayed as a seductress, doomed lover and a smouldering timeless character. Unfortunately in the end she took her own life in an extremely dramatic fashion instead of succumbing to the fate she had been dealt by her enemies. The story of Cleopatra is clearly a movie-makers dream however is this a glitz upped interpretation of the film makers version of this powerful Hellenistic Ptolemaic Queen accurate with the way the Roman’s depicted her?
In the first Cleopatra movie in 1917 with Theda Bara the film makers show Cleopatra as an exquisitely intense beauty and this is emphasised by Bara’s own astounding beauty. Whilst I appreciate there are barely any artefacts remaining of Cleopatra you can see from her portrait on the coin (Fear, 2008 p,21 Fig 1.4) that she is not as exquisitely beautiful as the 1917 movie would have you believe. The coins show Cleopatra as rather unattractive and hag like. Her features on the coin are exaggerated and could be described as overly comical. This is further highlighted with the harsh features and protruding eyes, not what you would except of a women who is perceived in the movies as a captivating beauty. The film industry uses Cleopatra’s so called beauty projected by Bara to seduce the audience and they have done this for decades. In doing this Hollywood have created a timeless icon which in the 1917 movie focuses on her alluring beauty rather than the image the coins are trying to portray. I feel the coins portray Cleopatra as a warrior, harsh and threatening this is further implemented by the image of her on the coins.
The depiction in the 1917 film by Theda Bara has Cleopatra as quite risqu?? this is portrayed via the costumes she wore throughout the movie. Bara was incredibly well known for playing roles in which she sexually manipulated men however Bara was best known for her role in the Cleopatra movie. This depiction of her is very similar to how the Romans viewed Cleopatra, the image makers of Fox Studio made a vamp of Theda Bara not only in her performances but also in her own persona. She was described as ‘the women with the most wicked face’ and I feel this is reiterated in the ‘Horace, Odea 1.37’ reading when he describes Cleopatra as a disease with her ‘contaminated flock of men diseased by vice’. I feel the description here is very clear that Cleopatra as a woman used her sexual allure to control the men in her orbit. She is also likened to a witch this is shown in references made in the Augustus reading of Cleopatra 1.1 where it states that Anthony is ‘bewitched by that accursed women’ therefore I do believe the 1917 movie has depicted Cleopatra’s personality in a consistent fashion to the Roman’s the only difference is the portrayal of her beauty and this is more so, to entice the movie-goers than anything else.

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