Julius Caesar (1908)

*. You’d think that when trying to do Shakespeare in one reel (10-12 minutes) you’d have to spend a lot of time figuring out which scenes you were going to keep, because you’d know that most of the play would have to be cut.
*. This makes it all the more interesting that one of the big scenes in this film isn’t strictly in the play at all: Caesar’s rejection of the crown offered him by Antony, which is a part of the play that is only relayed to us indirectly by Casca. But for a movie it makes sense, as it gives us Caesar’s one big scene in front of a crowd.
*. After that we get the greatest hits. The assassination of Caesar. Antony giving his rousing speech over Caesar’s corpse. Brutus being visited by Caesar’s ghost at Philippi.

*. The violence doesn’t hold up that well. I think the way the murder of Caesar and the suicides of Brutus and Cassius are done would work on stage but they don’t translate as well to the screen. Though brief, they’re oversold and unconvincing, with swords seeming to pass straight through bodies. In fact, in each case they’re just doing the old (and never very persuasive) trick of “stabbing” the sword into the side of the body turned away from the audience/camera. I doubt that fooled anybody even in 1908.
*. It’s interesting how they maintain the horizontal levels established at Rome when the action moves to Philippi, with the scenes taking place half in a lower foreground and half on a raised berm in the background. Without the ability to move the camera this layering effect was one of the easiest ways to pack more movement and depth into the frame.
*. I’m fond of a lot of these early, silent Shakespeare shorts, but while this one looks really good (and it’s a well-preserved print) there was nothing about it that stood out as special. It’s a play that lends itself to this kind of production because it has a lot of large, political gestures. Beyond that, however, there’s not much going on.

12 thoughts on “Julius Caesar (1908)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      It looks good. And it’s quick. But in 1908 you have to just appreciate little things that are being done because obviously they were really limited in what they could achieve.

      Reply
  1. Alex's Review Corner

    I’ve been meaning to watch an adaptation of this for a while – though I’ve never seen or read the play. Being the Shakespearean film expert, is there one you’d recommend over the others?

    Reply
    1. Alex Good Post author

      Caesar hasn’t been well served. The most famous one is from 1953 with Marlon Brando as Antony and James Mason as Brutus. I don’t think it’s aged well at all, but lots of fine actors. The 1970 movie with Charlton Heston is even worse. I’d go with the HBO miniseries Rome! Even though that’s not Shakespeare . . .

      Reply
      1. Alex's Review Corner

        That’s a shame – Rome is kind of my thing when it comes to history, and Caesar is such an itnersting figure in history. I’ll give the show a try and one day one of the movies then. Thanks.

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