Why do we watch Cleopatra over and over again? We know it’s a flawed film, but we are curious about every scene, obsessed with the costumes, fixated on sets and legends of the Silver Screen. And now with Elizabeth Taylor’s passing, the clunker epic will only increase in popularity, perhaps surpassing even Gone With the Wind with idle adoration.
What’s the source of durability for Cleopatra? It’s the details surrounding its making and future legacy that fascinates us so. For example, I just read that Elizabeth Taylor threw up when viewing it at the premiere. This astonished me so, I pulled the film up on Netflix Instant Watch to see for myself what so sickened Liz.
The acting is abysmal, the sets gaudy, teeming with malapropisms, the telling of history is riddled with inaccuracies, the dialog is corny, forced and melodramatic. I’m not particularly fond of the music (scored by Alex North) either, but it beats John Williams’ Star Wars. So why do people continue to watch it? It’s for these vary reasons.
The campiness makes it a keeper and everyone gets to put on a film critic hat for a day. This is fun. We get to hack it to pieces with a brazen Roman sword of authority (keeping the metaphor gaudy to synch with the film). I prefer to do my hacking on the historical bloopers, such as the sets that better reflect the period of Queen Hetepheres I, not that of the Ptolemy’s.
One inaccuracy I approve of, however; a teenage Octavian is portrayed as weak and power-mad, whereas this wasn’t the case. Roddy McDowall plays the older Octavian (Augustus) perfectly, but I always rather hated him, since he brought down the extravagant Liz and Richard. Afterall, who wants good to triumph over excessive self-indulgence and stormy destructive romance? Not me.
Well, maybe I better make my main point, before I have to change this typewriter ribbon. The crusty crux of the matter is, not so much the fopaux of Twentieth Century Fox that we ruthlessly flagellate, but rather the beauty (especially the beaucoup blue eyeliner) and style of Liz Taylor, who seems to emulate the historical Egyptian Queen with dazzling splendor.
For if Cleopatra was indeed the most beautiful woman that ever walked on earth, then surely Elizabeth must be the most beautiful actress that ever graced our planet. This is not a thing that can be so easily proven, but we tend to have the faith. We want to believe it. And now that she is gone, we are finally convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt. Liz is the incarnation of Cleopatra!
All our thoughts are working to reinforce this idea. We review the biography of the Egyptian Queen, then we review Liz’s entire life, and the connection comes together. The romantic scenes with Richard Burton are authentic; this must have been how it was with the real Antony and Cleo. Here’s another crux for you! The steamy, realistic chemistry between Liz and Burton negates all the other flaws of the film.
True love conquers! The authenticity of this spark allows us to forgive the other problems of Cleopatra. It almost helps. Liz and Burton were trashy in their romantic fling when filming Cleopatra. The film itself is so trashy and flawed, that it couches the ridiculousness of this epic spectacle with the tabloid excesses of scandalous adultery and abandoned excesses of Hollywood carnal glamour. Vapid Babylonian va va voom!