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Cleopatra Revisited

Mostly Film revisits Frances Grahl‘s piece on the 1963 epic, Cleopatra

Was Cleopatra gorgeous? In a gown of gold? Langston Hughes

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Cleopatra

Frances Grahl revisits the 1963 epic, Cleopatra.

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Was Cleopatra gorgeous
In a gown of gold?
Langston Hughes

Row after row of plumed and armoured horsemen gallop into the Forum. Behind them, dozens of decorated chariots. Naked dancing girls whirling long streamers perform a decidedly risqué dance into the widening space. The crowds of bedazzled Roman citizens surge forward, entranced, and are forced back by the guards. Next come troupes of Sudanese warriors, and dancing Black Africans with great tufted head-dresses (of course, as according to the norms of 1963 Hollywood, these dancers look rather more like Black Californian dancers  than the subject tribes of Lower Egypt). Feathered filmic fantasies on the theme of witch-doctors leap forward on giant stilts. A scantily dressed Nubian woman steals the scene for a moment, then disappears in clouds of coloured smoke. New rows of pharaonic guards march through the square bearing the great banners of Egyptian sovereignty. Showers of gold coin fall through the air. Suddenly the space is filled with beautiful girls with long, golden wings, pulling behind them a giant pyramid. Is it the queen? The show’s not over yet. The point of the pyramid opens and hundreds of doves fly up and away.

A military fanfare. The crowd is frantic. The new banners are made of dangling gold pieces and white plumes. Then come hundreds more Nubian slaves, pulling a great wooden harness. It’s not possible: a giant Sphinx of black onyx is slowly wheeled forward. At its mouth, gold steps lead up to a golden throne. Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, slowly descends to the feet of Julius Caesar. Her dress is a thousand golden feathers, with a crown and golden cloak to match. The Senate rises. The crowds cheer. Caesar nods. Will she? Yes, she will. She’s bending her beautiful head, bowing low before the entire power system of Rome. And as she rises, she closes one beautifully kohled eye at Caesar. First a submission, then a wink.

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