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KRONOS Vol. I, Issue 2

Epic Postscript

In contrast to the outpouring of Japanese Monster movies in the years immediately following World War 11, American film-making was crowned by the "Epic Age" whose major constituent was the Biblical Blockbuster. it was not until the box-office triumph of the war, violence, crime, and disaster movies - beginning in the late sixties - that Religious Spectaculars capitulated and virtually disappeared from the repertoire of American cinema.[1] Here is an interesting psychological phenomenon indeed, for while American movies have always been well represented by the horror, monster, science-fiction, war, crime, violence, and disaster genre, it was the Religio-heroic theme of the post-War years which captured (until now) the largest audiences and made the most money.[2] The movie theater became a quasi-temple as Americans immersed themselves in a vicarious religion of cinematic spiritual fantasy.

[* It would appear that Americans resorted to the classic principle of epic conversion in order to sublimate the psychological effects of the War years; film became the perfect medium. See "Cosmology and Psychology," KRONOS 1, No. I (Spring, 1975), the section "The Fountain of Forgetfulness."]

Between 1949 and 1965, a veritable spate of Epics appeared on the American theater screen, possibly peaking in 1959 with the unparalleled Academy Award and monetary success of Ben-Hur.[3] By 1963, however, reality caught up with Americans. The brutal assassination of their President, followed by other acts of violence, general societal unrest, and deepening martial commitments in Southeast Asia eventually conspired to break the redemptive trance and swept Americans beyond the pale of religious cinematic escapism. The enormous weight of global responsibility, initially placed upon American shoulders following the end of world hostilities, also failed to decrease thereby contributing an additional cumulative psychological toll.

Our society still quivers today under the pressures of that global responsibility first assumed so long ago and we are quite removed from returning to that land of make-believe with its "cast of thousands."

Here now is a fairly representative sampling of those epics and religious films which gained particular American prominence. They are arranged in nearly exact chronological order. [4]

The Diary of Ann Frank
The Nun's Story
The Big Fisherman
Solomon and Sheba
King of Kings
El Cid
Constantine and the Cross
Joseph and His Brethren
Sodom and Gomorrah
Esther and the King
The Cardinal
The Fall of the Roman Empire
The Greatest Story Ever Told
The Bible
A Man for All Seasons

To the above list of movies, one could also add Julius Caesar, Ulysses, War and Peace, Macbeth, and Hamlet, all of which appeared between 1953 and 1964. This group, along with the previously cited Helen of Troy, constitutes a significant compendium of the literary work of Shakespeare, Homer, and Tolstoi, translated to the film media.

The possible psychological importance of these three authors in wartime or in a war-filled atmosphere has already been mentioned in footnote #11 of the preceding article.


[1] In 1973, Paramount Pictures released the sensitive motion picture Brother Sun, Sister Moon - a story of St. Francis of Assisi. Its death was almost instantaneous. It could be argued that the movie was a poor one which was the reason for its failure. Having been one of the rare few who saw the film, this writer can honestly say that it was not the quality of the movie but rather its anachronistic content which was most likely responsible for its quick demise. Personally, I found it to be well-done and satisfying and can remember a time when it would have packed the houses.

[2] One has merely to check the all-time "box-office champs" in Variety with their dates and monetary figures to verify the truth of this statement.

[3] Ben-Hur received 11 Academy Awards - the most ever for a single film - and, at the time, was one of the top three money-makers ever. The other two were Gone with the Wind and The Ten Commandments. Figures may be checked in Variety along with the dates.

[4] The present listing is based again upon information obtained from Variety. Medieval epics have not been included though many, because of their religious theme, qualify for inclusion on this list; e.g., Knights of the Round Table.

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