TCA Tour: Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Although the new Starz series, “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” may involve a lot of guys and gals running around and committing all sorts of swordplay, you should in no way take the fact that it’s executive produced by Robert G. Tapert to indicate that it will in any way resemble earlier Tapert productions like, say, “Hercules” or “Xena.” I mean, heck, if the warrior princess herself doesn’t see any similarities, then anything you think you’ve spotted is strictly a case of looking too hard to find something that isn’t there.

“It’s totally different to me,” said Lucy Lawless, who plays Lucretia on the show. “Completely different, tonally. The fighting, the technology, everything has changed so much. I don’t recognize the fights at all. The way they do them is foreign to me.”

At the very least, there’s one element inherent to Lawless’s new gig that, for better or worse, her former series did not possess: lots and lots of sex. Despite the incredibly graphic nature of the intercourse, Stephen K. DeKnight – creator of “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” – does not seem to be overly concerned about how audiences will react.

“Well, who doesn’t like sex?” he asks, quite rhetorically. “I mean, seriously, I think we’re all sexual beings, and back in the Roman times, it was a completely different idea about sex. It was much more open and free, and it was pre-Christian constraints. So we wanted to explore all that, quite frankly. It was very common to have sex with your slaves. It was extremely common. So we wanted to explore that, too. And part and parcel is the sensuality of the human experience, and we certainly didn’t want to shy away from that. Is it graphic? I personally don’t think it’s that graphic, but that’s me. I think it’s beautifully shot. There are some very steamy things. You know, it’s not pornographic in any way, and the sex scenes almost always come from a place of character. There’s always something going on. It’s not just ‘cue the funky music,’ and they start having sex. It’s not that. Somebody is always angling. It’s always about power. It’s always about love. It’s always about loss. Every sex scene has a purpose. It’s not just sex for sex’s sake.”

DeKnight described the series’ two distinct sides – one sexual, one violent – as going together like chocolate and peanut butter, and while he may have been kidding a bit with his Reese’s-inspired comparison, there’s a certain logic to his position. “It’s a violent time,” he said of the show’s era. “Much like their views on sex, the Roman views at the time on violence was you did not shy away from blood. Blood and death, it was part of being Roman. You embraced it. You liked to watch it. And also, just the sex and violence is part of the show, but if you’ve seen the first four or five, the plot lines become incredibly intricate. We really play with the idea that everybody wants something, everybody is after something, and everybody is against everybody else. Everyone is maneuvering, and it becomes very complicated and messy, and out of that comes blood…and often sex.”

Well, fair enough, then.

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“Inglourious Basterds” DVD launch: A less deadly Operation Kino kicks some Nazi ass

So, while I was procrastinating conducting in-depth research for this post, covering a promotional screening for the rather glorious “Inglourious Basterds,” I found myself going over numerous reviews and think pieces. One piece for a very respectable and staid looking website started out normally enough but, while praising “Pulp Fiction” and other older films in the Quentin Tarantino catalogue, it quickly became unusually vicious. Tarantino is a filmmaker who has a special gift for generating a certain degree of critical anger, the cinephile hubbub kicked up by critic and film historian Jonathan Rosenbaum over the film’s non-portrayal of the Holocaust being one prominent example, but this was different.

As I noted the attention this particular review seemed to be paying to the ancestry of the cast, crew, and characters, I realized that the hate was not over anything so conventional as concerns that “Basterds” might be trivializing the Holocaust or World War II. I was reading a “white nationalist” web site. Yes, even more than some overly sensitive liberals, Nazis hate “Inglourious Basterds.” Considering it’s a movie in which a bunch of Jews, a part Cherokee good ol’ boy lieutenant, an African-French projectionist, a traitorous movie star, and a few odd others defeat the Third Reich in a painful and fiery manner, displeasing Nazis is kind of the whole idea.

IB Cast LR

Certainly, no one was feeling conciliatory towards facists or racists of any stripe as a good portion of the “Basterds” cast and crew turned up at the last of L.A.’s revival houses, the legendary New Beverly Cinema, to celebrate the DVD/Blu-Ray release of the the award-winning, genre-blending war flick. Indeed, as neighbors from the heavily Hasidic West Hollywood-adjacent neighborhood ignored the commotion, a few of us less observant entertainment scribes got the chance to talk to a select group of not-quite superstar basterds, including players in two of the more acclaimed sitcoms of all time, a personable musician and Tarantino-buddy turned actor, and a passionate producer who is not about to let any conservative climate deniers take away his Oscar…but that’s all ahead.

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