Not everything on a screen is terrible, and this old HBO Odyssey came my way from 1997, which is great. Must have missed it at the time, same period as the well-received Ted Danson Gulliver which I did see. I also noticed something interesting about it, by which readers may feel free to be stunned…
No-one will be embarrassed by this, not 100% faithful but far from being some Harryhausen thing, sticking to Homer (/Virgil) for feel and 90% of plot. It has a true Greek flavour, doesn’t bowdlerise adult bits, wonderful scenery too; director got an Emmy. (Obviously there was some policy at the time about putting the ‘class’ into ‘fantasy classics’, prestige TV etc.)Unexpectedly and happily, female characters get attention and nice casting. Isabella Rossellini (Athena) and Greta Scacchi (Penelope) do their usual good jobs. Bernadette Peters is a suitably sassy Circe. Vanessa Williams as the nymph Calypso and the always-impressive Geraldine Chaplin as Eurycleia were particular standouts, but the crown goes to the astonishing Irene Papas who lends Odysseus’ mother Anticlea some serious tragic weight.
Besides, I was impressed with Armand Assante’s Odysseus, himself. He manages to make human sense of the role whilst giving it heroic stature.
And that brings me to the something interesting.Below we have Assante as Odysseus, photographed straight off the TV. Below that on the right, we have a carving dated about around 400 BCE (two and a half thousand years ago that is), depicting — Odysseus.
That is good casting. :)
Perhaps I should one day do a contrastingly bitchy post on the mangling of Greek myth in, say, Xena… don’t know if it’s worth it. I’m sometimes still startled sweating from slumber, with the image of the great snake-tailed founder of Athens, Cecrops, transformed again before my hypnopompic eye into a hunky bronze age flying Dutchman (“tall, dark and cursed for eternity…”) who yells Oprah Winfrey platitudes about love whilst being swilled down a cheap CGI plughole… if you have no idea what this paragraph means, as I hope, then thank your gods.
English translations abound for those wanting to investigate the Odyssey in greater detail, with Lattimore’s a great choice, and Ian McKellen’s reading of Fagles not bad either on a long journey or winter’s night. Take no English meanings for granted though, as all the translations roll over the words for “mind”, “soul” etc., in such a way as to obscure the Greek beliefs set out in books by Bremmer or Onians. Though academic those guys give the game away completely as far as concerns Greek understanding of energy bodies, especially Bremmer.
Next post I hope to blow minds in perhaps a slightly more useful or profound way.
Meanwhile here’s a fun scene from the Odyssey miniseries to give you an idea. Plenty more excerpts to choose from there on the right…
EDIT: Just found the complete miniseries here, how long it’ll be up I don’t know.
NB: Last week’s Glenn Morris videos opened some sectarian controversy I had no idea about, to do with his lineage succession, so I took them down. There has been disappointment on that, and I can hardly keep Glenn’s universally worthwhile words all to myself, so after a think and a couple of adjustments I’ll repost in the near future. Chill until then, if you would.