Will the Real Cleopatra Please Stand Up?

2 04 2011

Cleopatra – has there ever been a historical figure more misunderstood or grossly misrepresented?  More importantly, are the cinematic depictions of her EVER going to stop?  Seriously folks, Cleo-mania might as well be the eleventh plague of Egypt.

Ever since moving pictures were invented,  they have continued the theatrical tradition of actresses vying to prove they’re the bomb by starring as this legendary character.  Because, as we all know, there is no greater proof of a woman’s worth than her sexuality and ability to manipulate others with it.  (Yawn).  Her supposedly clever political machinations aside (personally I think she was more of a tool), the exhaustive main focus of these movies has never been her mind.  Rather, it has been on a pair of objects located a bit south of her mind.

Elizabeth Taylor’s 1963 role was one of the most lavish of all time.  That the film was shot in color certainly reinforced this – Claudette Colbert’s 1934 version was probably equally beautiful, but we’ll never know since the film is in black & white.  One of the more interesting aspects of all these Cleopatra films is how they serve as a cultural reflection of feminine beauty.  Theda Bara may have shown the most skin while wearing her costumes in 1917, but she was more plump than was popular in later decades.  Liz Taylor’s costumes follow the artificial hourglass shape of the mid 1900’s, and in many cases resemble modern gowns more than ancient ones.  Now rumor has it that Angelina Jolie is about to jump into the Cleo menagerie, in which case historical accuracy will once again be sacrified – Angie is far too buff and angular for this role.


Items pictured are from my collection –
top: Life Magazine (International), Oct. 1961
bottom: 1963 booklet about Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor




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