For over twenty years, Maria Wyke’s research has focused on the representation of the Greco-Roman past on film during which time Antiquity on Film has become established as a sub-discipline of classical studies.
Her project demonstrates that fascination with ancient Rome has been one of the most distinctive features of cinema since its emergence in 1896. Hundreds of silent films survive (from epics to cartoons), alongside screenplays, publicity, reviews and other ephemera scattered in archives around the world. This project reveals how silent cinema provided a crucial pathway for ancient Rome to enter modernity and how ancient Rome provided silent cinema with a platform on which it could build much of its claim to cultural value. It considers: how films about ancient Rome (aesthetically experimental and affective, ideologically complex and technologically innovative) are situated within silent cinema; what interrelations the films have with other representations of the ancient world in painting, sculpture, dance, theatre and opera between 1896 and 1928; what contribution the ancient world made to early cinema; how the ancient world changed on entry into cinema (gaining embodiment, movement, colour and music); what contemporary interests cinema’s Roman antiquity served (playing out in extremis issues of national identity, political systems, religion, class, race, gender and sexuality); and how this cinematic vision of ancient Rome and its reception in various European and American contexts established a canon for subsequent cinematic representations.
The project has involved collaboration in its early stages with Pantelis Michelakis (University of Bristol) and substantial archival investigations in Los Angeles, Washington, Paris, Bologna, Turin, Rome and London supported by several British Academy / Leverhulme Trust Small Research Grant Awards. Alongside various articles and an edited collection already published, it will result in a book for the University of Michigan Press developed from lectures given at Ann Arbor in 2015 in the Thomas Spencer Jerome series.