Screenwriter David Scarpa, the man behind Robert Redford’s underappreciated The Last Castle, the atrocious remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Ridley Scott’s latest — the well-reviewed All the Money in the World, is using fake news in his effort to win the job of writing Hollywood’s latest version of Cleopatra.
“What was really interesting was there have been so many narratives of Cleopatra that have all been framed through the eyes of men,” the woke screenwriter proclaimed in a recent interview. “The entire history of that period is framed through the eyes of men, specifically Roman men. And the idea was we’re gonna approach it through her point of view … we’re going to unskew them.”
This is utter nonsense.
As of now, there have been two bigscreen versions focused on Cleopatra: Cecil B. DeMille’s 1934 epic with Claudette Colbert in the starring role. Most famous, though, is writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s seemingly cursed 1963 epic, starring Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, Richard Burton as Mark Antony, and Rex Harrison as Julius Cesar. And I say cursed because cost overruns nearly pushed 20th Century-Fox into bankruptcy. What started out as a $2 million production ended up costing $32 million — then, the most expensive movie ever made.
Nevertheless, both of these bigscreen version are not only very good, both are told from Cleopatra’s “point of view.” She is the star, our protagonist, and the audience sees everything through Cleopatra’s eyes. This is especially true for the 1963 version, which is nowhere near as sexualized as DeMille’s pre-code entry. Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra is a powerful women, a savvy political player on the world stage, and every bit as consequential as the men.
Moreover, Stacy Schiff (a woman) won the freakin’ Pulitzer Prize for her superb 2010 biography Cleopatra: A Life, expressly written, as she explains in the opening pages, not with feminism in mind, but rather the truth — a deep dive into history that goes beyond the Hollywood versions and the fact that history was “written by her enemies.”
Screenwriter Scarpa is also promising not to make a “big bloated 3-hour movie, we’re making the tight, dirty, fast 2-hour movie, that was very sort of visceral.”
This all sounds like the perfect recipe to make yet another movie, like pretty much every other movie made over the last 20 years — with a focus on political correctness, lectures, and style, as opposed to a compelling story and unforgettable characters.
Moviegoing should offer the promise of a memorable experience, not the promise of a mansplain that pretends that there is something faulty with what came before (or that he is the first to do it). When you account for inflation, 1963’s Cleopatra is still ranked as one of the biggest successes of all time (#42) with a total haul of $600 million. Moreover, the movie is so timeless that it remains a catalog item on home video, a title that eats up valuable shelf space at many retail outlets. This ongoing popularity eventually put Cleopatra in the black.
But if the guy who turned The Day the Earth Stood Still into The Global Warming Movie that Stood Still, thinks his pitch is going to win him the Cleopatra gig, that tells you just how far gone the movie industry is these days.