Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Sebastiane": gay cinema set in ancient Roman Empire, actually seems decadent today

Here’s a curious little (87 min) film from Derek Jarman and Paul Humfress, dating back to 1976, from Kino.
It is called “Sebastiane”.  And it’s not the name of a cantankerous apartment cat. No, Sebastianus (Lenoardo Treviglio) is a Roman soldier in 300 AD, exiled to a remote arid post for practicing Christianity. 

The men, isolated situationally from women, turn to one another.  When Sebastian rejects an advance, he is persecuted to the point of a crucifixion scene (with bow and arrow) at the end of the film.

The film would sound like a downer today, but in 1976 it was viewed as daring. And the speech is actually in Latin.

Life in the film is grimy and gratuitously intimate (an issue always debated in the military), and not glitzy as in those 1950s Fox Cinemascope spectacles about Roman life. (I remember crying at the end of "The Robe" in 1953, again about persecution.)  The film, however, is shot in full wide screen, almost as if to mock the spectacle genre.

The film opens with a bizarre costume party sequence, and contains bizarre scenes of a soldier shaving his own body with a sword before he does likewise to Sebastian.  This is rather uncommon in film (although remember a scene like that in “Deliverance”).

Is the film as decadent as Bob Gucionne's sprawling "Caligula" (1979), which I do remember seeing Dallas?

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