Political Assassinations, Dead Chickens, Pop and Popcorn

One movie poster proclaimed, “No grander Caesar…No greater cast!” It was the first filming of Julius Caesar in color. It was released in 1971 in the US. It might have been ’72 before I saw it but see it I did at the Northwoods Park Movie Theater in Jacksonville, North Carolina. It was walking distance from my house, a long walk, but walking distance, nonetheless.

It had some big stars in it — Charlton Heston, Jason Robards, R John Gielgud, Richard Chamberlain and was filmed in England and Spain. A spectacle, it was supposed to be.

I had begun reading Shakespeare at the age of 9. I can remember reading The Taming of the Shrew and cackling out loud. My parents encouraged this. It was easier to “get” Shakespeare when I was 9 than all those years later in British literature. I’m sure we read Julius Caesar if not in that class, then in my Latin class. I have little to no memory of reading it other than being bored with it.

But at 12, I wanted to see it. My friends thought I was nuts. Nobody wanted to go. So, 50 cents firmly in hand, plus enough for a coke and popcorn, off I went on a Saturday afternoon.

I might have been the only person in the theater for the matinee show. I remember sitting pretty far back. I don’t like to be too close to the screen. It’s too intense for my nervous system and for this movie I was grateful I had sat so far in the back – popcorn and pop in hand.

I remember almost nothing of the movie except two scenes — one where a chicken is killed to read the augury and the other was when Caesar was stabbed on the steps of the Senate.

This would have been my first view of graphic violence.

I shut my eyes and peered through my fingers. I was horrified.

So much blood. From the chicken. From Caesar.

Usually, I watch film credits. A movie isn’t over until it’s over. Not this time. I was out of there and into the hot, bright Carolina sun as quickly as my long, gangly legs could take me. The film disturbed me enough that I still remember the experience, if not the movie itself, 50 years later.

Reading the reviews now, evidently, it was awful. Roger Ebert gave it one star.

I don’t know what I had been expecting but Julius Caesar wasn’t it. Perhaps something more like Cleopatra. I really don’t know. I did like period films. I also saw Barry Lyndon and Kidnapped (Dickens) at that theater about the same time.

I was just stunned.

I don’t know what rating was on the film, but they let me in. Of course, I looked older than 12, but not 18, so it couldn’t have been an R. Hmmmm.  Wikipedia says it was rated G. Some authoritative source, I can’t find it now, blathers on about how the movie has almost no violence or gore. I’m shocked. I think that may be wrong. I’m wondering if they saw the same movie I did.

The point of this is (well I think it is) that I’m amazed at how inured we’ve become to violence and gore. Network television is far more graphic than this film is. It had a G-rating at a time when ANYTHING at all pushed a film from PG to R.

So, it’s no wonder the world is on fire and burning fast. We don’t see the real horror in what’s happening. We’re just sitting around in sweatpants and t-shirts viewing it all as if it is something on television. Eating popcorn and drinking pop.

Jeez, I hope we get up and dress for battle soon. There’s not a lot of time.

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