Alexander, son of Philip
Posted: Sun Mar 18, 2007 2:47 pm
Oliver Stone recently came out with his third and reportedly definitive version of Alexander
. Watching it gave rise to some thoughts that I suspect may soon become an essay. In the meantime, I think that although Colin Farrell captured the human aspects of Alexander well, he didn't have Alexander's incandescent charisma -- one point on which all his biographers agree, whether friendly or hostile.
Physically, Alexander was reputedly relatively short, sinewy but not lanky, quick-moving and light in complexion, though not necessarily blond. In fact, Roxanna may have been fairer than he was -- Afghanis are Indoeuropean and often have the green eyes and auburn hair found on the Urumchi mummies and immortalized by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry in the famous 1985 cover: Sharbat Gula
So who do you think should have played Alexander? No obvious candidates, please, fangirls! (*laughs*)
Posted: Sun Mar 18, 2007 11:16 pm
Uhm... interesting question. Meditate upon it, I will. :p
Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007 2:33 pm
I, too will have to give it some thought. A good deal of thought, in fact.
Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007 4:43 pm
^ goof ball...
Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007 4:44 pm
sanscardinality wrote:Michael Jackson!
Security! Arrest this man for frivolity and impiety! (*snickering helplessly*)
Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007 8:49 pm
Excellent and lovely visual to go with an engaging article, and a great help.
Hmmm - from the statue, he apparently had a large nose and now the end's off it so...
Really, who else could it be? *snickers* But, in the interest of seriousness (and warding off a second arrest warrant), I suggest Tom Hardy. Just a thought.
Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007 8:56 pm
intrigued_scribe wrote:In the interest of seriousness (and warding off a second arrest warrant), I suggest Tom Hardy.
Now that's an excellent choice. I saw him as Robert Dudley in the latest BBC production of Elizabeth -- and he both looked and acted the part. He'd need a lion's mane for hair, but if they could do it for Farrell, they could do it for him as well. For those who don't know him: Tom Hardy
Posted: Wed Apr 18, 2007 6:41 pm
As threatened, I did write the essay on Alexander and posted it on the blog. I should issue a warning: it is not what you might expect... but then again, maybe it is. In a way, it's a continuation of the discussion about inspiration versus comfort on another thread, seen from the angle of an archetype.
Posted: Mon May 14, 2007 12:19 am
During my introverted youth, I spent hours in the library, carefully selecting ancient history books of conquest and valor, kings and generals, lands known and unknown.
I saw as many “sword and sandal” films as my limited budget could sustain, both extraordinary and trashy.
Not much has changed since I reached my majority except the choices were slimmer and I became more cynical.
I never saw the 2004 “Alexander”, although this famed historical figure stood out prominently in my mind as undefeated yet mortal, great yet flawed, larger-than-life yet human and leaving his mark in the histories of so many peoples. My reasons were never about reviews for the critics be-damned in my estimation. Basically, the casting did not impress me and I never admired Oliver Stone either as an actor or director. Therefore, I let the opportunity slip away until Athena broached the subject on this thread. So, I bit the bullet and bypassed the first 2 attempts by Stone and committed myself to view the “Revisited” version with its extra footage.
I am not an expert on the background of Alexander the Great and his father Philip II “Lion of Macedonia” but I do have some knowledge of that period of history. I stumbled through my cluttered library and pulled down a few tomes from the shelves for a rapid update before my marathon. I think this may have been a mistake because after the first seating it was hard to equate my idea of Alexander to that of Stone’s creation. There was so little of the “Great” in Colin Farrell’s personification.
First of all, I truly disliked the flash forward and back sequences from adult to youth (“the lost times”) with an aging Ptolemy filling in the gaps of a confusing script. The constant narration of telling us what happened rather than allowing us to see it happening muddled what could have been a memorable epic.
Alexander was influenced by three important mentors:
Aristotle, (played by a passing Christopher Plummer) who nurtured this gifted insatiably curious dreamer. He gave Alexander a thorough training in rhetoric and literature and stimulated his interest in science, medicine, and philosophy, all of which became of the utmost importance for Alexander in his later life. We can see that in the insistent challenge by a young Alexander during the lesson scene and the challenge “that the myths of the past lead to the greatest glory and why is it wrong to act on them.” Whereas, Aristotle’s response is the “The East has a way of swallowing men and their dreams and beware what you dream for, the gods have a way of punishing such pride.” Unfortunately, we also see in the film a brief defense and a clumsy description of male relationships. Another plug by the invisible Ptolemy that Alexander was never defeated except by Hephaistion’s thighs. This blunt hammer approach by Stone of the bi-sexuality of the men in this time fails to explain that this was accepted practice and merely “normal”. It is impossible to compare the sexual stimulus of this period to that of today’s mindset. And besides, Hephaistion was shown as an eye-linered fop walking around in billowing robes. This general was as skilled a warrior as Alexander and a successful commander in his own right. Maybe Stone could not bring himself to accept a deep relationship between two very masculine men.
His father Philip who was as much a military genius as his illustrious son and minimizing his personality to that of a drunken sot was an egregious error on the part of Stone. Alexander did not learn battle strategy by osmosis and was advised for 2 years by some of Philip’s generals. So, in a prime example, the featuring of the battle of Charonea would have shown Philip as mastermind and Alexander at 18 leading the cavalry in a critical tactic to assure the victory. By the time Philip was assassinated his son had already far surpassed him. How disappointing that Val Kilmer was not given the opportunity to elevate his character to more than a bumbling almost incoherent wastrel.
His mother, Olympias, was a strong ambitious woman who loved her son to the point of madness. This particular figure should have been one of the crowning jewels in Stone’s production. However, inserting Angelina Jolie (An actress almost the same age as Colin Farrell. Even the wrinkles and sagging couldn’t disguise this very obvious fact) in this part with such an atrocious accent was another matter altogether. She was better in Laura Croft, Tomb Raider. Now, I assume because Olympias was a devout worshipper of Dionysus she was said to have kept pet snakes. Nevertheless, I think Stone overdid the serpents in my estimation. Despite the arrival of his first legitimate son, Philip II was scorned for having a child not of "pure Macedonian blood". Angry at her husband for not accepting Alexander, Olympias insisted it was Zeus, King of the Gods, who had impregnated her while she slept under an oak tree (which was sacred to him). We see this argument several times in the film and Alexander appeared to have believed the tale, as he later sought – and probably received – confirmation of his divine descent at the sanctuary of Zeus Ammon (of the sands) in the Siwa Oasis in Egypt.
I read a smattering of reviews and decided that most of the negative ones centered upon the flaws exhibited by the director’s choice of events that were minor compared to the meteoric rise of Alexander’s fame through the significant episodes of his short life. The best is illustrated by the fact that he “died at the age of 32 having subdued Greece, conquered Persia, founded 18 cities, married three times, vanquished almost 100 cities, butchered tens of thousands, freed tens of thousands, fought in 10 major battles, traveled 10,000 miles, crossed mountains, rivers, seas…a man who was a destroyer, a builder, madman, lover, hater, dreamer, philosopher, a general, a king, an emperor.” Yet Stone portrayed him as moody, spoiled, weak and alarmingly indecisive. If the true Alexander had acted even close to the way he was shown in the film, there is no doubt that his advisers would have assassinated him before he had even set foot in Persia.
This was not the Alexander I was expecting to see.
The only 2 engagements of the film were displayed without thought of their accuracy. The battle of Gaugemela (the last major not the first in Persia) was one of the greatest victories in the history of the world, that left the army of Darius, King of Kings, completely annihilated and his empire open for free reign. Which, of course, was the object of the engagement! Also, his generals never failed him especially Parmenion, one of his best, who held the Macedonian left not bungled his position as depicted. Incidently, the battle at Hydaspes was a thrilling victory, not a bloody near-defeat with a wounded Alexander being carted off the field while watching his horse Bucephalus (which he had ridden since the age of 10) be skewered like a pincushion.
I feel that Stone was trying to create a character study of one of history’s most charismatic, self-contradictory and enigmatic leaders who commanded the largest army seen by the world at that time. To a degree, between the displays of silliness, coyness, romantic ineptitude (sorry, I can’t even discuss the romantic part of this film because it was so clumsily handled) and poor dialogue, I was able to catch glimpses of some of the greatness Stone may have wanted the audience to see.
Plutarch reports that Alexander offered sacrifices to the god Phobos on the eve of the Battle of Gaugamela. When Hephaistion asks Alexander as he watched the progress of a lunar eclipse “To whom do you pray?” and he responds “Phobos”(god of fear). Author Mary Renault believes this was part of Alexander's psychological warfare campaign against Darius III, who had proven himself to be indeed most timorous: At their previous encounter in the Battle of Issus, (unfortunately not depicted in the film) Darius had fled with such haste that he left behind his mother, his wife, his children, and many treasures. From the field of Gaugamela also, Darius fled with great speed. Alexander's tactic of praying to Phobos (presumably asking him to fill Darius with fear) would seem to have been successful.
The unusually early development of perception, one of his best attributes, as he carefully observed the unstable stallion’s fear of his shadow, where no one of experience noticed.
Here, the life long bond with the horse Bucephalus (ox-headed) would begin and a prophesy from his own father after he conquered the animal “O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee.”
The respect, curiosity and drive that prompted Alexander to advance far into the unknown was a thorn that frightened, irritated and later angered his generals. One particular scene stood out during the examination of the palace of Darius. Cassander caressing a golden statue remarking on the treasures “The Golden Age, Alexander. Worth much to Athens and to our alliances.” And the response “Take back what is ours, but spare what belongs to the Persians.” This telling phrase will be the mainstay of Alexander’s farsightedness. From Persia to India, he took his army and as he battled and conquered each nation, he absorbed, studied and adapted those parts of the cultures that satisfied his endless thirst for the undiscovered.
I also agree with Athena in her outstanding essay that, “The universe was his true home. And the universe is too vast and lonely, unless you have like-minded companions on the journey to keep you sane.” There were none, other than perhaps Hephaistion, his confidant and lover who understood his passion better than most. The scene after Alexander’s recovery when he confronts the masses and says “Macedonians, we are going home...home?” The sadness, longing and bitter disappointment was reflected so vividly it gripped the viewer with a sense of loss and frustration that others could not see the future as he did.
The soliloquy of Alexander’s vision “A thousand ships we will launch from here (Babylon), Hephaistion. We’ll round Arabia and sail up the coast to Egypt. From there we’ll build a channel through the desert and out to the Middle Sea. And then we’ll move on Carthage and that great island Sicily….they’ll pay large tribute. And after that, the Roman tribe…good fighters…we’ll beat them and then explore the northern forests. Then out to the pillars of Heracles to the Western Ocean. And then one day, populations will mix and travel freely. Asia and Europe will come together and we’ll grow old Hephaistion, looking out our balcony at this new world.”
Of course, as history and Oliver Stone reveal, Alexander never attained these glorious dreams. Watching the last scenes of his generals fighting over his body like a pack of jackals was truly indicative of the decline of the empire so carefully nurtured by this idealist. I can still see him striding down the hall of the palace asking about the progress of the libraries. Another quote by Ptolemy gave a view of the extraordinary essence of Alexander..”He was Prometheus, a friend to man, he changed the world. Before him there were tribes and after him all was possible. There was suddenly a sense the world could be ruled by one king and be better for all. 18 great Alexandrias he built across this world. It was an empire not of land and gold, Cadmus but of the mind. A Hellenic civilization open to all!
This was the Alexander I was hoping to see but unfortunately, Oliver Stone never gave me the chance. Even the soundtrack could not generate enough excitement and drama indicative of this story. I have both the Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner scores because I felt that Vangelis (Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou,(what a wonderful name!) the only Greek affiliated with the film) created the perfect atmosphere that surrounded the viewers with the purpose of those scripts. However, the overuse of chorus and harps did nothing to accentuate the grit of battle, triumphant victories, tragic losses and even thoughtful commentary of Alexander. The music is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it did not fit. In comparison, I found that Tyler Bates’ track for 300 was ever more appropriate for the context of that movie. At least, I knew a battle was conflict, a storm was thunderous and a death blow was truly terminal.
In conclusion, I will only say that my stars for 300 will glimmer far brighter than those for Alexander.
Posted: Mon May 14, 2007 1:25 pm
Marie, I share all your reservations about the film, both artistic and historical, as you can tell from reading my blog essay.
Two historical notes: by all accounts, Hephaisteion was the least bright among Alexander's generals. One of the reasons for his closeness to Alexander may be that he knew he might not be able to keep his place (or his life) among the prickly and ruthless Macedonian elite without Alexander's backing.
Regarding the battle of Hydaspes, Stone conflated it with the siege of Multan, where Alexander almost got killed by being reckless (he jumped over a wall to the enemy side completely alone and got his lung punctured by an arrow; he never completely recovered from that wound).
Besides being a military genius in his own right and preparing both his son and his army for the Asian undertaking, Philip was a supreme pragmatist who preferred diplomacy or bribery to war. He did indulge in wine, women and boys; the wedding scene is historically accurate. Olympias, whose birth name was Myrtale, did have snakes in her bed, partly to discourage Phillip from visiting too often. Alexander got his romantic, otherworldly steak from her, but both parents groomed him very carefully for the succession, since his brightness left no doubts about his future.
Stone could not have depicted everything, or the film would have become a series. However, I agree completely that had he stuck with history he would have created a far more interesting film, given the astonishing nature of the material at his disposal. All I can say is that the definitive film on Alexander has not yet been made. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a director alive today who could handle his story. Perhaps Sergei Bondarchuk, who dared to do an amazing ten-hour War and Peace... or David Lean of Lawrence of Arabia fame.
Response to your notations
Posted: Mon May 14, 2007 11:55 pm
Thanks Athena, for taking the time to read through my extensive review.
It got out of hand for length.
Okay, maybe Hephaistion was not the brightest bulb in Alexander’s chandelier and I got a little carried away in my annoyance with Stone’s depiction. Snatches of evidence in the extant sources suggest his real gifts were diplomatic and logistical, not military. It would be wrong to dismiss him as unimportant, and unnecessary to assume him a mere yes-man in order to get along with the king. His skills and those of Alexander were complimentary, not competitive. Armies do not just pick out a place to stay, fill their bellies or float down the river or over the seas without a special talent for preparation. At least here he was able to pit some of his strengths. He was not just a pretty face after all.
Regarding the Siege of Multan, is this not where Alexander’s life was saved when one of his companions covered his body with the Shield of Achilles that he Alexander took from the tomb in Troy, eight years prior?
And you are right on the money regarding Olympias. I saw a quote that exactly mirrors your statement " For the offspring derive their natures from their mothers as plants do from the earth " Aristotle, Politcs 7.16. She was definitely the main source of his character.
Finally, as to a more formidable director for Alexander, my vote is also for David Lean. His magnificent adaptation of Lawrence of Arabia has been one of the most memorable films in my library as well as the soundtrack composed by Maurice Jarre. After seeing the movie, I promptly went out and purchased “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” and read it from cover to cover.
So, again, thanks for your so very perceptive observations.
Posted: Tue May 15, 2007 4:05 pm
Thanks for sharing such an in-depth, nuanced review with us.
I'm no expert on this time period myself, but this effectively illuminates prominent events from Alexander's life as well as inspires speculation on the improvements that could have been made on the film had it adhered more closely to historical facts, as you and Athena fittingly observe. Also, I especially agree with these points:
His mother, Olympias, was a strong ambitious woman who loved her son to the point of madness. This particular figure should have been one of the crowning jewels in Stone’s production.
There were none, other than perhaps Hephaistion, his confidant and lover who understood his passion better than most. The scene after Alexander’s recovery when he confronts the masses and says “Macedonians, we are going home...home?” The sadness, longing and bitter disappointment was reflected so vividly it gripped the viewer with a sense of loss and frustration that others could not see the future as he did.
Wonderful phrasing, which deeply resonates with the essence of who Alexander was and the frustration and loneliness he (like many visionaries) suffered. Outstanding exploration!
Posted: Tue May 15, 2007 5:04 pm
Speaking of incandenscent talents and that part of the world: if you want to read about someone who outshone Lawrence of Arabia by at least one order of magnitude and who might have been a fit companion to Alexander, read a biography of Getrude Bell (I prefer the one by Janet Wallach over that by Georgina Howell). I won't say more, it would give too much away!