- 1) (1951)HOWARD FAST began work on Spartacus in 1950 while serving a six-month prison sentence on a charge of contempt of Congress for his refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee about his alleged communist activities. As a result of receiving rejections from several publishers who had published his earlier works—the results of a “blacklist” that would dog his career for several years—he decided to publish Spartacus himself under his imprint, the Blue Heron Press, in 1951. Despite a general disinterest from the literary establishment, the novel sold more than 48,000 copies in its first three months and remains to this day one of his most popular books. Spartacus told the story of the slave rebellion led by the historical Spartacus, which lasted a little less than two years (73–71 B. C. ) but which shook Rome to its foundations. The novel chronicles how Spartacus, a prisoner of war from Thrace, was impressed into slavery. With 70 other slave gladiators, he broke out of the training school of Lentulus Batiatus at Capua, established a base on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, organized a large army, led several victories over contingents of Roman soldiers, and was eventually defeated by an army commanded by M. Licinius Crassus. Spartacus was killed in the battle, and 6,000 survivors from his army were crucified along the 132 miles of the Appian Way between Capua and Rome.“Who will write of our battles and what we won and what we lost?” cries out Spartacus. “And who will tell the truth?” Indeed, Fast suggests the elusiveness of the truth by adopting a complex narrative scheme. In the manner of The Decameron, he constructs Spartacus’s story from an aggregate of tales and recollections told by several characters gathered for several days at an inn, the Villa Salaria, on the Appian Way—the young patrician Caius, general Licinius Crassus, the politician Gracchus, and the orator Cicero. Additional historical contexts and meditations on the institution of slavery and the dream of freedom are contributed through several dramatic interludes involving the gladiator trainer, Batiatus, Spartacus’s great friend-in-arms, the Jew David, and Spartacus’s wife, the lovely Varinia. As a result, Spartacus himself remains a rather shadowy figure, kept at arm’s length from the reader, as it were, by the fragmentary and sometimes contradictory information provided in this tangle of recollections. “Spartacus is a mystery as far as we are concerned,” says Cicero. “According to the official records, he was a Thracian mercenary and highwayman. According to Crassus, he was a born slave out of the gold mines of Nubia. Whom do we believe? . . . And who will write about him? People like myself. ”Spartacus has already been defeated and killed on the field of battle when the novel begins. The crucified bodies of his men line the Appian Way. Pausing on their journey to Capua to regard the torn and lifeless bodies are the young patrician Caius Crassus and his two companions. They know little of the fabled Spartacus; he is already a myth that may outlive the armies that cut him to pieces. Caius reaches an inn where he joins Crassus, Gracchus, Cicero, and others for the night. He first turns to Crassus for more information about Spartacus. Crassus confesses he never met the man, although they contended on the battlefield. He relates how years before, while Spartacus still held Rome in thrall, Crassus had gone to the gladiator trainer Lentulus Batiatus for information about the slave rebel. Batiatus had told him about his first encounter with Spartacus at the gold mines of Nubia where the Thracian koruu (a thirdgeneration slave) Spartacus is held in veneration and called “father” by his fellow slaves even though he is only in his early twenties. This portrait is offered of the fellow, laboring under the unrelenting sun: “What is he like, this man Spartacus? . . . His skin is burned brown as his dark, intense eyes, which peer out of his cadaverous face like hateful coals. . . . The face is broad, and because the nose was broken once by the blow of an overseer’s rod, it appears flatter than it actually is. . . . Under the bear and the dust, the mouth is large and full-lipped, sensuous and sensitive, and if the lips move back—in a grimace, not in a smile—you see that the teeth are white and even. ” Back at the inn following his conversation with Crassus, Caius recalls his own memories of Spartacus: Four years previously, he had visited Batiatus’s gladiator compound in Capua, where he witnessed the fight to the death between Spartacus and the black man, Draba. Before either combatant could slay the other, however, Draba bolted from the arena toward the Roman grandstand. Spartacus watched on helplessly as Draba was speared just before he could reach Kirk Douglas in Spartacus (this page and next) (1960) (Author’s collection) the onlookers. A few days later, Spartacus’s revolt began as a speech to his fellow gladiators in the mess hall:“I will never be a gladiator again. I will die first. Are you my people? Now we must be comrades, and all together like one person. . . . We will go out and fight, and we will make a good fight, for we are the best fighting men in the whole world. ” Overpowering the Romans, Spartacus and his forces broke out of the compound and into the fields neighboring Capua. Their small army grew swiftly as slaves from the surrounding regions joined in their march. The narrative shifts back to Gracchus, who sifts through his own memories of the revolt. He remembers how slow he and others in the Senate were to appreciate the seriousness of the situation. Fragmentary images come and go, of battles engaged and lost by the Consular Armies, of Spartacus’s defiance of the Roman Senate.Late in the novel an extended stream of consciousness from the tortured last hours of the crucified Jew—Spartacus’s great friend, David—provides more information about Spartacus’s battle tactics, last days, the relationship with his beloved Varinia, and ideals of brotherhood. It is here that a few details are given about the last great battle, when Spartacus was at last defeated by Crassus’s army. The novel ends after the travelers depart the inn and Gracchus and Crassus are back in Rome. Former rivals in politics and war, they now find themselves rivals for the love of Spartacus’s widow,Varinia. Crassus owns her, and he refuses Gracchus’s extravagant offer to purchase her. Undaunted, Gracchus arranges to have her spirited out of Crassus apartment and brought to him. Hopelessly in love with her, and now embittered with the life he had led in Rome, he offers her freedom if she will just stay the night and talk with him. She agrees, and the next morning departs for the foothills of the Alps, where she will remarry and bear more children before her death. Gracchus, after mourning Varinia’s departure, falls on his sword and kills himself.Doubtless Fast was initially drawn to the Spartacus story because of his leftist politics. He constructs an implicit parallel between Spartacus and his fellow slaves as tools of the Roman ruling class and Marx’s portrait of the masses as slaves of the modern capitalist state. The historical events, fragmentary as they are, had already attracted the attention of revolutionary leaders like Marx and Engels, who saw in Spartacus an authentic representative of the ancient proletariat. Fast seized upon the story not only to dramatize his vision of the marxist ideal, but to critique modernday corrupt capitalism. He frequently punctuates the narrative with effusions about how Roman society was “built upon the backs of slaves,” as contrasted with the brotherhood of Spartacus, “where all men, and women too, had been equals and there was neither master nor slave and all things had been held in common. ” Flushed with his first victory against the Roman soldiers, Spartacus envisions a new world: “Whatever we take, we will hold in common . . . We will make an end of Rome, and we will make a world where there are no slaves and no masters. ” His wife,Varinia, explains it to Gracchus, who has himself become sympathetic to Spartacus’s dream: “He wanted a world where there were no slaves and no masters, only people living together in peace and brotherhood. ” Before his suicide, Gracchus declares that the Roman ruling class has ruthlessly exploited the proletariat: “You see, we live in a republic. That means that there are a great many people who have nothing and a handful who have a great deal. And those who have a great deal must be defended and protected by those who have nothing. ” As a result, the novel’s story and character development sag under the burden of the ideological message. The convoluted narrative strategy further works to distance Spartacus himself from the reader. Vivid as are the details of gladiatorial training and Roman life, clearly Spartacus required a substantial overhaul if it were to become a Hollywood film.References■ Fast, Howard, Spartacus (New York: Dell Books, 1979);■ Wald,Alan,“The Legacy of Howard Fast,” in The Responsibility of Intellectuals: Selected Essays on Marxist Traditions in Cultural Commitment ed. Alan Wald (Atlantic Highlands, N. J. : Humanities Press, 1992), pp. 92–101.2) Universal-International, 184 minutes, October 1960 Producer: Kirk Douglas and Edward Lewis; Director: Stanley Kubrick; Screenplay: Dalton Trumbo, based on a novel by Howard Fast; Cinematographer: Russell Metty; Music: Alex North; Art Direction: Eric Orbom; Set Decoration: Russell A. Gausman and Julia Heron; Costume Design: Bill Thomas and Fred Valles; Makeup: Bud Westmore; Sound Department: Waldon O. Watson; Editor: Robert Lawrence; Production Manager: Norman Deming; Production Designer: Saul Bass, Alexander Golitzen; Cast: Kirk Douglas (Spartacus), Laurence Oliver (Marcus Licinius Crassus), Jean Simmons (Varinia), Charles Laughton (Sempronius Gracchus), Peter Ustinov (Letulus Batiatus), John Gavin (Caius Julius Caesar), Nina Foch (Helena Glabrus), John Ireland (Crixus), Herbert Lom (Tigranes Levantus), John Dall (Marcus Publius Glabrus), Charles McGraw (Marcellus), Joanna Barnes (Claudia Marius), Harold J. Stone (David), Woody Strode (Draba), Peter Brocco (Ramon), Paul Lambert (Gannicus), Robert J. Wilke (guard captain), Nicholas Dennis (Dionysius), John Hoyt (Caius), Frederick Worlock (Laelius), and Tony Curtis (Antoninus).KIRK DOUGLAS asked STANLEY KUBRICK to direct the film of HOWARD FAST’s novel Spartacus (1951) after Anthony Mann quit as director. Douglas was both the star and executive producer. When Douglas invited Kubrick to direct the film, Kubrick told Gene Phillips he thought at the time that he might be able to make a good picture, if he were allowed to revise the screenplay: “The script could have been improved in the course of shooting, but it wasn’t. ” Douglas had initially hired novelist Howard Fast to adapt his own book to the screen, but his script turned out to lack the requisite dramatic punch, Douglas went on to hire DALTON TRUMBO. Although Trumbo, like Fast, had been sympathetic to communist ideology and also had served prison time for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee, they were not “comrades” in any sense of the word. When Fast met him to discuss the adaptation of the novel, he not only pronounced Trumbo the world’s worst writer, but he dismissed him as a “cocktail Communist” and chided him for not holding classes on marxism for his fellow prison inmates. For his part, Trumbo wrote off Fast as a fanatic. Fast took one look at Trumbo’s script and pronounced its author the world’s worst writer. Nevertheless, Trumbo’s screenplay was better than Fast was prepared to admit. Thus Trumbo scuttled the incident in Fast’s book—which was pure fabrication-that the Romans sold the corpses of the vanquished rebels for sausages after they were crucified. In addition, he added the suspenseful episode in which Spartacus negotiates with Cilician pirates to transport him and his slaves out of Italy to escape Roman reprisals (an incident cribbed from Arthur Koestler’s novel about Spartacus, The Gladiators. ) As for the source of the friction between Douglas and Kubrick while Spartacus was being made, someone who was involved with the production and spoke on condition of anonymity relates the following incident. Initially Douglas was disposed to accept Kubrick’s suggestions and changes, but when he heard Fast remark that he (Douglas) was lucky to have found such an accomplished director on such short notice, Douglas was offended at the implication that the director, not Douglas, was responsible for the film’s future. Thereafter, Douglas’s comments on Kubrick to the press were mostly snide and self-serving. Kubrick stated, “My experience proved that if it is not explicitly stipulated in the contract that your decisions will be respected, there’s a very good chance that they won’t be. Of course, I directed the actors, composed the shots, and edited the movie. But Spartacus remains the only film over which I did not have absolute control. ” Yet because Kubrick did direct, compose, and edit Spartacus, it deserves more scrutiny as a Kubrick film than it has received in the past. At 196 minutes, it is, the longest film in the Kubrick canon. Consequently, it is important to fill in that lacuna here by treating the movie at some length. As the film opens in 73 B. C. Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) is a slave working in the Nubian mountains. When he defends himself against a slave master by biting through the man’s ankle, he is bought by Batiatus (PETER USTINOV) and taken to Capua in southern Italy to be trained as a gladiator. He and other trainees are treated brutally, beaten, and ritually humiliated. After Spartacus’s friend, Draba (WOODY STRODE) is fatally stabbed by General Crassus (Laurence Olivier), Spartacus stages a mass revolt of the slaves, who break out of the slave compound. Spartacus marshals the fugitives into an army of crusaders fighting for freedom from their Roman oppressors. He recruits more escaped slaves as he and his slave army travel across Italy, including Varinia (JEAN SIMMONS), whom he marries, and Antoninus (TONY CURTIS), who becomes his best friend. Ultimately, Spartacus plans to escape with his army from Italy in ships bought from Tigranes, the leader of a band of Cilician pirates. He is aided in this enterprise by Gracchus (CHARLES LAUGHTON), a Roman senator, who persuades Julius Caesar (JOHN GAVIN), to allow the slaves to escape, since Rome will be well rid of them.The wily Crassus, a Roman general persuades Caesar and the Senate to allow him to quell the slave revolt in order to demonstrate the might of Rome to all the world. He really intends to win fresh laurels as a conquering hero by destroying Spartacus, who is already a legend among the populace. He accordingly bribes the mercenary pirates to depart ahead of schedule. When Spartacus is informed that the Cilician pirates have set sail without him and his army, he exhorts his crusaders as follows:“The Romans hope to trap us with our backs to the sea. We have no choice but to march toward Rome and face Crassus and end this war the only way it could have ended: by winning this battle and freeing every slave. I’d rather be here, free among brothers, than be the richest citizen in Rome. ”As the Roman army engages Spartacus’s men in combat, Kubrick’s cameras seem to be everywhere at once, framing the two armies in breathlessly static shots, burrowing into the bloody pileups of combatants who fight furiously, until at the end of the day the carnage is complete. Dolly shots across the heaps of corpses mutely testify to the brutal defeat of Spartacus’s army.Crassus rummages among the bodies in a fruitless effort to find Spartacus’s corpse, while a tribune announces that the surviving slaves will be spared crucifixion if they will identify their leader’s remains. In what is one of the most moving scenes in all cinema, Antoninus, who has been sitting next to Spartacus, stands up and shouts, “I am Spartacus!”—and he is joined by a whole host of his comrades who stand up and shout the same cry. Crassus stares in amazement at this demonstration of devotion to a leader, even as he realizes that his hope to make an example of Spartacus has been frustrated. The slaves who have survived the battle are condemned to be crucified outside the gates of Rome. Batiatus, meanwhile, brings Varinia and her baby son to Gracchus, who gives them all senatorial passes to leave the city, along with articles of freedom for her and the child. Gracchus, who has been a political enemy of Crassus all along, does not want Crassus to claim Spartacus’s widow and child as his own personal spoils of victory. While Batiatus is presenting their papers to the guard at the city gate,Varinia walks with her baby to the foot of Spartacus’s cross nearby and looks up at him. “This is your son,” she says,“He is free!” Spartacus looks down from his cross, an image clearly intended to represent him symbolically as a crucified Christ figure. He repeats the single word free, as his head falls back against the cross.Spartacus fits into Kubrick’s total canon of films better than most critics of his work are prepared to admit. ALEXANDERWALKER points out perceptively in his book on Kubrick that films like Spartacus touch upon a theme that is a frequent preoccupation of Kubrick’s films: the presumably perfect plan of action that goes wrong through human weakness or chance. Spartacus had devised an apparently foolproof plan to lead his crusaders to freedom, a plan which fails in the end through a mixture of chance and human frailty. Crassus’s bribe of the Cilician pirates is just as decisive in bringing about Spartacus’s downfall as the might of the Roman army. In a Kubrick film, human weakness and/or malice, along with chance, are always ready to disrupt the best-laid plans of his heroes and antiheroes.We see reverberations of this theme most notably in films like DR. STRANGELOVE, in which a mad general upsets the carefully planned U. S. nuclear fail-safe system, and in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, in which HALL-9000, the infallible computer, goes lethally awry.Spartacus was shortened from 196 minutes to 184 minutes for a 1967 reissue, but the missing footage was restored by Kubrick himself for the 1991 release of the movie on video. Admittedly, the picture does seem somewhat overlong, particularly in the restored version, because of the dramatic weaknesses in the screenplay.In any case, the reviewers of the finished film, when it was released in 1960, paid court to the director’s success in raising the film above the level of the Stanley Kubrick,Tony Curtis, and Laurence Olivier on the set of Spartacus (1960) (Kubrick estate) average spear-and-sandal epic. They pointed to the staggering battle scenes, to ALEX NORTH’s stunning underscore, and to the standout performances of Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, and Peter Ustinov. Indeed, Ustinov went on to win an Academy Award for his performance. Another Oscar went to Russell Metty, for his cinematography. In the last analysis, Kubrick proved with Spartacus that he could handle commercial subjects with distinction. There is little doubt that Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) was inspired by Kubrick’s Spartacus. There are several parallels between the two films, with Russell Crowe in the latter movie playing a rebellious slave who, like Spartacus, becomes a champion gladiator. The scenes in the school for gladiators and the scenes in which the hero bests his opponents in the arena all recall Spartacus.References■ Phillips, Gene, Stanley Kubrick. A Film Odyssey (New York: Popular Library, 1976), pp. 65–78;■ Solomon, Jon, The Ancient World in the Cinema (New York:A. S. Barnes and Company, 1978), pp. 34–38;■ Walker, Alexander, Stanley Kubrick (New York: Norton 1999) pp. 50–52.
The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. Gene D. Phillips Rodney Hill. 2002.
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