Muscles, six-pack abs, skin, and sweat fill the screen in the tawdry and tantalizing peplum films associated with epic Italian cinema of the 1950s and 1960s.Using techniques like slow motion and stopped time, these films instill the hero’s vitality with timeless admiration and immerse the hero’s body in a world that is lavishly eroticized but without sexual desire. These"sword and sandal" films represent a century-long cinematic biopolitical intervention that offers the spectator an imagined form of the male body—one free of illness, degeneracy, and the burdens of poverty—that defends goodness with brute strength and perseverance, and serves as a model of ideal citizenry.Robert A. Rushing traces these epic heroes from Maciste in Cabiria in the early silent era to contemporary transnational figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian, and to films such as Zach Snyder’s 300.Rushing explores how the very tactile modes of representation cement the genre’s ideological grip on the viewer.
A Note on Film Titles and Foreign Language Citations
Introduction: Descended from Hercules: A Peplum Genealogy
1. Nos Morituri: Time in the Peplum
2. Pre/Post: Sexuality in the Peplum
3. Skin Flicks: The Haptic Peplum
4. Immune Systems: The Peplum as Biopolitical Genre
Conclusion: Biopolitical Fantasy
A pleasure to read, cover to cover. This book is smartly conceived, and written with elegant and persuasive prose.
David A. Gerstner
author of Queer Pollen: White Seduction, Black Male Homosexuality, and the Cinematic
Despite the broad swath of the cultural terrain covered, the book presents a meaningful analysis of the peplum genre’s longitudinal engagement with nationalist ideologies.
"One of the most unappreciated and oft-mocked genres of the 1960s, the Italian sword-and-sandal films are generally given the short shrift by critics, historians, and film fans alike. Therefore, anytime an entire book is devoted to the films of Hercules and his godlike brethren it is cause for celebration. [... Rushing] presents a fascinating historical overview of the genre."