My Tastes Include Both Twinkies AND Ho-Hos
There are several seminal events in everyone's life which are permanently burned into our psyches and whose details remain as clear today as when we first experienced them. Some are happy moments, some sad, others bittersweet. Many of them are "firsts" - first car, first love, first house. One of my landmark moments probably seems very mundane - the purchase of my first DVD player. It came bundled with five movies, none of which I cared to see, including "Lost in Space" (a terrible, terrible film) and "City of Angels" (booooring). But the real reason I closed the deal is that one of my favorite flicks of all time had just been released - "Spartacus."
I bought the player at Best Buy, brought it home, and hooked it up to my 500 pound 32-inch Sony television and my stereo system to fully enjoy the experience. I carefully unwrapped the disc and fired it up, barely containing my excitement. Finally, I had "Spartacus" AND a DVD player! My oldest child was about six years old at the time and came in to ask me what I was doing. When I told her that I was watching "Spartacus" she excitedly asked me if she could watch it with me. It warmed my heart to be sharing such a fine film with the next generation. After about ten minutes, however, she asked me where the spiders were. Spiders? "Aren't we watching Spider Kiss? Where are the spiders?" When I explained to her that gladiators were waaaaay better than spiders, she ditched me. (Years later, when I received "Planet of the Apes" for Christmas, her younger sister, also about six at the time, asked to join me for the viewing. I enthusiastically agreed and told her how this is one of her daddy's favorite movies, how it's a classic, yada yada. She sat patiently through the crash of the spacecraft into the lake and the wandering of the astronauts through the desert. But after about ten minutes, she got up and said "I'm going to my room to play. Call me when the monkeys show up." Another dream crushed by a six year old girl).
The movie on DVD was better than on VHS or even television because it had been fully restored and the sound had been remastered. Also, the controversial (and missing from VHS) "Snails and oysters" scene, in which Lawrence Olivier's Crassus puts the moves on Tony Curtis's Antoninus while in the bath, was back in the movie. When the studio was preparing to release the DVD, they wanted to include that scene, but did not have the original print, as it had been destroyed in a fire years ago. So they notified film collectors of their need for this missing scene, and fortunately one had a copy, but there was no audio, only video. The studio contacted Tony Curtis and asked him to re-dub the scene, which he did. But Olivier was long-since dead, so they got Anthony Hopkins to record the dialogue.
Toward the end of the movie, as the victorious Crassus reviews the defeated slave army, he informs them that he is going to crucify the whole lot of them all along the Apian Way from Mount Vesuvius to Rome. But, he offers, he will spare their lives if they will simply hand over their leader, Sparatcus. One by one his men stand up and declare "I'm Sparatcus!" Burned by the knowledge that his own men would never display such loyalty for him, he stares icily into Spartacus's eyes and rides on. Classic filmmaking. But, just for kicks, I hit the "Alternate Language" button on the remote control and heard a bunch of high-pitched Roman slaves squealing "Je suis Spartacus! Je suis! Je suis!" with the emphasis on the third syllable, making it even funnier. It was also hilarious because we all know that if Spartacus's crew had indeed been Frenchmen, they would have shouted "Voici Spartacus juste là!!" (Here's Spartacus right here!). Then they would have joined forces with the Romans and helped them fight against their fellow slaves. Thankfully the Roman Empire was entirely devoid of Frenchmen.
I am reminded of that first DVD player and that first DVD by the passing this week of Jean Simmons, who played Varinia. She was Spartacus's companion, his human side, his inspiration for escaping the gladiatorial school and the reason he tried to defeat Rome and end slavery. The closing scene, in which Varinia stops at the foot of Spartacus's cross to speak to her dying husband is another classic, which elicits a tear from anybody not made of stone. She holds up their son and tells him "This is your son. He's free, Spartacus! Free! He's free. He'll remember you, Spartacus. Because I'll tell him. I'll tell him who his father was and what he dreamed of!"
So, it is to you, Jean Simmons (and Varinia), that I raise my glass. Rest in Peace.