May. 18th, 2010

glvalentine: (nerd alert)
Last week I stumbled on what is possibly the best historical doc ever on the Discovery Channel:

Cleopatra, Portrait of a Killer. (To be pronounced "KILLAH!" with Gloria Swanson eyes.)

On the right, Arsinoe. On the left, a KILLAH.

Their premise is that Cleopatra, because she hinted around at various Romans until her brother/husband and her half-sister got bumped off and left her sitting pretty on the throne, is a stone-cold killer. Also they have an extra five minutes to fill, so we're going to reconstruct some bones we found in Arsinoe's tomb and decide where she came from! (Not interesting enough for its own show, I guess, but apparently a nice way to bring home the fact that Arsinoe was dispatched by a KILLAH.)

Here's the problem with that: they must think we have never heard of a royal family before. Killing each other is what royal families more or less exist to do. (Last one standing gets the throne, you guys!) So, the fact that Cleopatra exerted some influence to rid herself of rivals to the throne is business as usual, and doing everything you can to keep yourself in power is not only business as usual, but history sort of vilifies you if you can't manage it, so you might as well really go for it and become Oxnard the Wrathful or whatever instead of Plinkerton the Waffling.

(Also, if we're talking about someone who is not afraid to fight for the throne, the ghost of Henry VIII heard this TV show title and looked up, superoffended.)

On the other hand, "Cleopatra: Portrait of Moderate Political Acumen" doesn't have the same ring to it, I guess.

But long as we're still competing for incestuous, murderous royal families, there's another amber-filtered desert-dwelling monarchy that makes Cleopatra's friends look like an episode of Blackadder. Just saying.

On the plus side, this had the best history-documentary extras EVER. They were really going for it, especially Cleopatra and Arsinoe, who did more intense-head-turns-to-the-camera than any other history documentary has ever attempted.

I think I've talked about this before, but I REALLY love extras. Extras in big movies, extras in small movies, accidental extras in crowd scenes, extras who look right at the camera, extras who are falling asleep, extras who outdance the leads, extras who are into it above and beyond the call of duty and gesticulate wildly in the background having a peas-and-carrots fight. But perhaps no extras are closer to my heart than the extras in historical documentaries, who usually look a little confused as to why they're doing whatever they're doing, but gamely push forward into a castle siege or something, just like they were told.

These extras came to win, though. They threw shade at each other and had silent freakouts and threw jewelry all over the place! I actually enjoy this Cleopatra in a completely non-facetious way, and watched the entire hour because I loved how much fun she was clearly having. You make it happen, Cleopatra!

Below, a clip from the show for your enjoyment. (She was a KILLAH!)


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Genevieve Valentine

September 2010

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