Descended from Hercules
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Winner, 2017 American Association for Italian Studies Book Award in Film and Media Studies

Muscles, six-pack abs, skin, and sweat fill the screen in the tawdry and tantalizing peplum films associated with epic Italian cinema of the 1950s and 1960s. Using techniques like slow motion and stopped time, these films instill the hero's vitality with timeless admiration and immerse the hero's body in a world that is lavishly eroticized but without sexual desire. These "sword and sandal" films represent a century-long cinematic biopolitical intervention that offers the spectator an imagined form of the male body—one free of illness, degeneracy, and the burdens of poverty—that defends goodness with brute strength and perseverance, and serves as a model of ideal citizenry. Robert A. Rushing traces these epic heroes from Maciste in Cabiria in the early silent era to contemporary transnational figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian, and to films such as Zach Snyder's 300. Rushing explores how the very tactile modes of representation cement the genre's ideological grip on the viewer.

A Note on Film Titles and Foreign Language Citations
Introduction: Descended from Hercules: A Peplum Genealogy
1. Nos Morituri: Time in the Peplum
2. Pre/Post: Sexuality in the Peplum
3. Skin Flicks: The Haptic Peplum
4. Immune Systems: The Peplum as Biopolitical Genre
Conclusion: Biopolitical Fantasy
Works Cited



Publié par
Date de parution 15 octobre 2016
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780253022585
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 2 Mo

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Bloomington Indianapolis
This book is a publication of
Indiana University Press
Office of Scholarly Publishing
Herman B Wells Library 350
1320 East 10th Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
2016 by Robert A. Rushing
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition.
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Rushing, Robert A., author.
Title: Descended from Hercules : biopolitics and the muscled male body on screen / Robert A. Rushing.
Description: Bloomington : Indiana University Press, [2016] | Series: New directions in national cinemas | Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016015832 (print) | LCCN 2016027406 (ebook) | ISBN 9780253022509 (pbk. : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780253022462 (cloth : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780253022585 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Masculinity in motion pictures. | Human body in motion pictures. | Peplum films-History and criticism.
Classification: LCC PN1995.9.M34 R87 2016 (print) | LCC PN1995.9.M34 (ebook) | DDC 791.43/65211-dc23
LC record available at
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Note on Film Titles and Foreign-Language Citations
Introduction: A Peplum Genealogy
1 Nos Morituri : Time in the Peplum
2 Pre/Post: Sexuality in the Peplum
3 Skin Flicks: The Haptic Peplum
4 Immune Systems: The Peplum as Biopolitical Genre
Conclusion: Biopolitical Fantasy
Works Cited
T HANKS FIRST AND foremost to Lilya and Sasha, for everything.
In 2007, Michael Rothberg asked me to give a lecture for the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory at the University of Illinois and even let me continue when he learned that it was about campy movies starring bodybuilders. That lecture received great feedback from colleagues, both those who have since gone elsewhere (Jed Esty, Andrea Goulet, Matti Bunzl) and those who are still at the University of Illinois (Yasemin Yildiz, Pat Gill), and eventually became an article in Camera Obscura , where it received further excellent feedback from their editorial staff and outside readers. Around the same time, I gave a talk on 300 and peplum memory in Paris, thanks to my colleague and friend Carola Hahnel-Mesnard, and that talk, too, eventually became an article. That year was the year of the peplum for me, and I assumed that would be the end of it. I was mistaken.
Over the next several years, a number of talks (thanks to Pierpaolo Antonello and Robert Gordon at St. John s College, Cambridge, and to Todd McGowan and Hilary Neroni at the University of Vermont) kept me coming back to the peplum, and conferences at the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory in Illinois brought me into contact with new areas of inquiry that would prove crucial for this project (biopolitics, haptic film criticism), as well as some of the major thinkers in those areas (Roberto Esposito, Jennifer Barker). To Lauren Goodlad, director of the Unit for Criticism in those years, many thanks, as well as to those who helped organize and facilitate those conferences, especially my fellow Italianists Manuel Rota and Nora Stoppino (who have also both given me extensive feedback and suggestions), and members of the Unit for Media and Cinema Studies, particularly Julie Turnock, Anna Stenport, and Lilya Kaganovsky.
Equal acknowledgment must go to another unit at Illinois that has had an enduring influence on me, the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities. Much of my first book was written during my first term as an IPRH faculty fellow, and much of this book was written during my second. The IPRH s director, Dianne Harris, provided fantastic feedback on my chapter on the haptic, as did the other fellows in the seminar (Fiona Ng , T. J. Tallie, Andy Gaedtke, Craig Koslofsky, Corey Flack, and Aaron Carico come particularly to mind); the IPRH in concert with the Department of Gender and Women s Studies also organized a series of amazing lectures on the topic Body/Bodies, which was invaluable for the material in this book.
Illinois continues to provide meaningful research support (long may it last!) as an institution: the Research Board, Scholar s Travel Funds, and International Programs and Studies all provided funding for the research trips associated with this project that took me to archives in Bologna and Turin. The staff at the Cineteca di Bologna was unfailingly helpful (along with my colleague Andrea Ricci), as was the crew at the Bibliomediateca Mario Gromo and the Museo Nazionale del Cinema of Turin (Stella Dagna, Marco Grifo, and Roberta Basano in particular) in exploring the collection of silent-era Maciste films, images, and documents. Similarly, Peter Bagrov at Gosfilmofond in Moscow went above and beyond the call of duty both in providing a copy of a rare Maciste film and in finding and providing the associated documents. The American Association for Italian Studies conference in Zurich (2014) provided an opportunity to meet with Maciste enthusiasts and experts; many thanks to Ivo Blom, Francesco Pittasio, Giaime Alonge (who shared with me his delightful family, a great dinner, and a superb article on 300 that I had not yet seen), and most especially Jackie Reich, who has been a great friend and colleague (and fellow grappa drinker, along with her husband, Michael). Ivo, Jackie, Julie, and others were also generous in showing me the ropes at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, where Ivo s selection of Italian strongman films made abroad made a notable contribution to this book s study of the transnational dimension of the peplum.
A number of reading groups at the University of Illinois also read portions of the book-thanks to Julie Turnock, again, and Rini Mehta for their helpful feedback on slow and stopped time in the peplum, and to Michael Rothberg (again) and Gabriel Solis for their thoughts on the peplum s biopolitical dimensions. Anonymous readers and the staff at Cinema Journal gave amazing suggestions, as did Amanda Klein and Barton Palmer, editors of Multiplicities: Cycles, Sequels, Remakes, and Reboots in Film and Television , who helped me think through how to give an overview of peplum history. The staff at Indiana University Press, especially Raina Polivka, has been stellar, and I would like to particularly thank David Gerstner for his extremely insightful suggestions on the manuscript, several of which were rich enough to warrant possible future articles in themselves.
Equally influential in more informal ways are the members of a fantastic circle of friends and colleagues who have tolerated my peplum obsession with amusement and good cheer (helped, no doubt, by an occasional cocktail): Michael Rothberg and Yasemin Yildiz, Jim Hansen and Ren e Trilling, Nancy Castro and Gillen Wood, Brett Kaplan, Justine Murison, Dara Goldman, Carola and Philippe Mesnard, Maggie Flinn and Patrick Bray, and many more. In many ways, the most invisible but constant contributions to my thinking about the peplum have been made by students over the years: Ezra Claverie, Elysse Longiotti, Corey Flack, Federica di Blasio, Peter Tarjanyi, Patrick Brown, Heather Gode, Dora Valkanova, and many others.
Gratitude and love to my family for their love and support.
Finally, I extend grateful recognition to Cinema Journal for permission to reprint portions of chapter 3 , Skin Flicks, which originally appeared in Cinema Journal 56.1 (2016).
Note on Film Titles and Foreign-Language Citations
P EPLUM FILMS MADE in Italy during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1980s often had quite different titles in the United States; referring to these films is further complicated by the fact that some were released with multiple English titles at different times. The 1961 Mario Bava film Ercole al centro della terra , for example, has been released with the fairly literal translation Hercules in the Center of the Earth , the slightly altered With Hercules to the Center of the Earth , and the radically different Hercules vs. the Vampires , but it is most widely known today under the title Hercules in the Haunted World . For Italian films from midcentury and the 1980s, I have opted to refer to them by their most popular current English-language title, giving the original title in Italian after the first appearance. Italian films from the silent period, however, are referred to by their original Italian title, with the English-language title given also after the first appearance. I generally refer to the television series Spartacus (2010-2013) as Spartacus: Blood and Sand (this is technically the title only of the first season) to avoid confusion with Stanley Kubrick s 1960 Spartacus .
Much of the criticism on the peplum is in Italian or French, and I cite theoretical texts in Italian, French, and German. Rather than giving cumbersome double quotations for foreign-language texts, I have translated citations into English, occasionally giving a term or a phrase f

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