Historicism in Film

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After watching the films Titus (1998) and Elizabeth (1998), it has come to my attention that both of these films consist of two things. These two things that stuck out to me are violence and history. I will also be touching very briefly on the religious mechanics that drive these two films. Now many great movies contain these important aspects, but it’s the way that Julie Taymor (Titus) and Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) have used them to portray the times and above all else, provide us with great films to have in our library. I will be discussing in detail the similarities and differences of these two films with regards to the violence, history, and religious motifs behind them.

The film Titus (Julie Taymor’s adaptation of Titus Andronicus) “is riddled with just about every horror imaginable” (Bartyzel). Things and deeds such as “murder, rape, disemboweling, limb removal, decapitation, live burial, cannibalism, and assisted suicide” (Bartyzel) run wild throughout the entirety of the film. The violence portrayed throughout the film is gruesome and at times even hard to watch. However, I would have to agree that “the horror is all the sweeter and more impactful” when the devilish and scandalous villain can “breed contempt, charisma, and even a fleeting moment or two of relate-ability,” (Bartyzel). The human mind was not constructed in favor of such atrocities and evil doings.

Now the film Elizabeth has many violent aspects to it as well. It can be almost guaranteed that if one is to make a film oriented around the 15th to 17th centuries in England, it will more than likely be rather violent. Although Elizabeth isn’t near as violent as Titus is, it still doesn’t hesitate to make view of beheadings, sacrifice, and murder. Almost all of the violence in this film has stemmed from the Protestant and Catholic disagreements in which the Protestant Christians are overtaking the throne of England. Of course the Catholics want nothing to do with it, and they will go to any extent necessary to remove these supposed ‘atrocities’ and ‘blasphemies’. Howard Schumann from the web forum “Talking Pictures,” has this to say:

“If an individual tortures and murders people, it is called psychotic and criminal. If a monarch tortures and burns a thousand heretics for believing in a different religion, however, it is called an accepted practice of the times.” (Schumann)

I honestly could not agree more with Schumann’s view of the backward types of thinking that religious figures will go to in order to prove their hate for others in the name of religion. It’s incredibly disgusting and the film Elizabeth does an outstanding job of pointing this out with regards to historical accuracy.

When looking at the historical accuracy of these two films, we need to approach it in a couple of ways. Let’s start with the film Elizabeth. In this film we can understand that for the most part, the story is rather accurate. The main issue to look at here isn’t the historical events we are watching, but the chronology of them. The fact that the Catholics and Protestants were battling for the throne of England during this time is historically true. “The turmoil of the Reformation embroiled England in religious wars with Europe's Catholic powers, notably Spain, but the kingdom preserved its independence as much through luck as through the skill of charismatic rulers such as Elizabeth I” (Sacred Destinations.com).

As mentioned before, the greatest inaccuracy of the film Elizabeth is the time span of events that had taken place in this time. “It was not the intention of the film's producers to create an accurate portrayal of Elizabeth's life or reign, but to create a fantasy around the actual historical figures” (ElizabethI.org). The movie works a lot better this way, because if the producers literally only covered 5-10 years of Elizabeth I’s reign, then there would not be enough information to make a quality film.

When we observe the film...
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