Guitar repertoire and 300

My highly-limited (and largely partial and/or off-beat, often simply grinding to a halt while tab is consulted) repertoire (and for those not interested, skip straight to a review of 300):

  • Smoke on the water
  • Boys don’t cry (cure)
  • Wish you were here (pink floyd)
  • Belief (john mayer)
  • blue skies (pink floyd)
  • trust (cure)
  • a forest (cure) ok so it’s just a bass line, but whatever, there’s a cool solo
  • also on the docket, but I wouldn’t say it’s music, yet

  • silver and cold (afi)
  • friday i’m in love (cure)
  • And some other random stuff that I’m either too embarassed or unwilling to admit, surely.


300

I must admit to a passing fondness for war movies–not sure if it was the formative years spent watching M*A*S*H or the old-fashioned epics on TV and in books… but I like them. Platoon is, after all, my favorite film. I also like comic books–the darker the better. It is not a far stretch to imagine that I would find the combination of the two, a screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300, something quite interesting.

My immediate response was that the film was beautiful. It was gorgeously rendered with a comic-book palate and the same cropped and artistic camera angles that make Heroes so satifsying. Brilliant panels of the best graphic novels brought to life, scenes shot like miniature paintings. Everything from the tumultous skies to the blood-soaked swords was stylized and clean. In fact, the gore treatment may have been my favorite feature. A chief complaint I have about the genre is the over-saturation of pornographic violence. Though I understand that war is generally quite violent, I don’t particularly need the lingering tight shots of realistic bloody wounds, the repeated fantastic dismemberment or otherwise unlikely uberviolence. Braveheart is the natural example of this type of filmmaking–and all of Gibson’s recent work follows suit. I find nothing interesting in sheer brutality as a means to stoke the viewer’s ire; that is neither good acting nor art.

(Aside: Yes, I know–this is a position seems at conflict with my love for 24. However, the violence in 24, particularly that of torturous origin, is part of what makes a show that is almost entirely unbelievable turn towards simply unbelieveable. It’s over the top, meant to be that way. By the same token, annoying repeated heavy-gore scenes in real thriller-style horror films? Bug me. Dude running over zombies with a lawnmower alá Dead Alive? Funny! It’s a narrow line, but I like to think I can walk it.)

300 wasn’t really humor, per se. (Though it did have quite a few amusing one-liners.) It was instead something easily as pleasing–art. From the distinctive title mark, splattered in blood, there is little doubt that the film is about violence, death, and bloodshed. And there is some amount of visceral combat–severed heads and mutilated walls of bodies, among other highlights. But the blood itself is fairly sparing–the artistic spatters are frequent, but that’s pretty much the extent of it. And those spatters make a telling transition. As the Spartans begin their stand, in the first day, none among them will die. The battlefield is laced with flashes of crimson, but they come only from the cloaks the Spartan warriors wear. The spattering gore is black, with no shine, almost a shadow of what it is. The blood grows more red in the ensuing battles, as Spartan blood is shed. And it is only in the end, as the remains of the 300 die, that the blood truly gains the sheen of CGI realism. The dead lay in pools of blood then, and it truly is a shocking scene because of its previous absence. A clever conceit, I thought.

Many things about the film were quite clever or interesting–including the license taken with the historical story. If you are searching for truth within this art, you may find some of the liberally altered details a bit out-of-bounds. The Spartans, in general, are shown in a more favorable moral position, according to modern-day social standards, with regard to issues of sexuality, gender, and freedom. They don’t get off quite so easily on religion.

There is the much-discussed issue of homophobia. In the film, Spartan warriors make a wisecrack about the “boy-loving” Athenians. This is a convenient device for emphasizing the disconnect between Greek city-states, but in reality, homosexuality was part and parcel of both societies. The relationship itself is alluded to by the Spartans–that of the great friendship between brothers-at-arms as the shield beside you in the phalanx–but it has been stripped of sexual context. Unless you consider the very nature of the action sequences or the subtlest clues between the characters of Stelios and Athelios. (And, certainly, their treatment in the resultant fan-fic universe will reflect this idea.)

The treatment of Spartan women is a decidedly favorable one. The mythology does suggest that the mothers of Spartan warriors were given a great deal of leeway. And Gorgo was, certainly, a supermother even for Spartans. She is the daughter, wife, and eventual mother of kings. However, the relationship between Leonidas and Queen Gorgo is likely more on film than it was in real life. In reality, Spartan women were married to much-older husbands, much as proper mares are mated with race-winning horses. They were educated and given a fair amount of freedom and honor (women who died in childbirth or other ‘divine service’ were honored as men who died in battle; women could own property and keep lovers of their own), but the relationship with their husbands was not a marriage as we would consider it today. It was often arranged, and usually fairly chaste, save for purposes of procreation. The primary filial relationship, for a Spartan warrior, was with other warriors, not his wife.

Leonidas was, in fact, Gorgo’s half-uncle and she was married to him when she was still a teenager. It is highly unlikely that she would have had such influence over him–or over the council in his absence. Or that they would have had the meaningful night before battle. The film (and the graphic novel) expand her role as a minor advisor quite a bit, giving her a meaty–and pleasing, if not accurate–role to play. For entertainment’s sake, I find that addition interesting.

The role of Spartan women was substantially altered, but other aspects of the society were ignored in their entirety. The Spartan state would not have been possible without the absolute adherence by all citizens (and some partial citizens) to a strictly-enforced heirarchy. Not all men (or women) born in Sparta were prospective warriors or warrior-bearers. In addition to the citizen soldiers, Sparta also was home to a class of freemen (and women), the Perioeci, who were usually foreigners or craftsmen who performed services useful to the Spartans. There was also a third group, the Helots, a state-owned group of serfs made up of prisoners of war and their progeny. Helots were considered communal state property, bound to the land they worked, and were required to give up half their earnings or goods to the state in exchange for their continued existence. No mention is made of this class in the film, and the repeated emphasis on the freedom of Sparta from the slavery desired by the Persians is interesting in this context.

The one treatment I found less interesting was the look of religion. The Oracle at Delphi–and its attendants–is pretty gross and one-dimensional. The significance of Greek religion is downplayed, even cast in a somewhat malevolent light. The priests are scabbed and terrifying, but seem to wield little real power, bound not by gods and prophecies, but by greed and avarice. They are clearly the bad guys. And the Oracle herself appears as a writhing sex-kitten, clad in little more than CGI smoke. It is made clear that the Oracles are in sexual service to the priests, a fact which may actually be true–but it was given no context or further development. The priests were simply letches; the Oracle simple a whore.

I’m not sure what it was I wanted out of the Miller’s portrayal of Delphi. The history itself was, I believe, largely oral and not very well-known, so whatever liberties taken were at the writer’s discretion. I suppose I just wished for something a little more substantial. Did the gods have a hand in Thermopylae? Was the storm at their discretion? What was it the Oracle truly said? (According to what history there is, Oracle’s predictions were often vague and at the discretion of punctuation alone. Which would have been a fun conceit to play with.)

That aside, 300 was quite enjoyable. The Persian army, in particular Xerxes, made for a delightful opponent. One of the pitfalls of war movie-making is finding ways to present multiple battles in a way that is fresh and progressive, but doesn’t repeat itself with common enemies or situations. The varied enemies Leonidas and his men fight keep the long series of battle scenes from growing stale. Historians may protest that the races are a fantastic melting pot of various historical warriors, but–again–I’ll give license for entertainment. It is, after all, not a history movie, but a comic book movie.

And quite a good one at that.

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