Judith's vampish virtue and its double market appeal

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

Author(s)

  • Judith Ruth Buchanan

Department/unit(s)

Publication details

Title of host publicationThe Ancient World in Silent Cinema
DatePublished - Aug 2013
Pages205-228
Number of pages24
PublisherCambridge University Press
Place of PublicationCambridge
EditorsPantelis Mickelakis, Maria Wyke
Original languageEnglish
ISBN (Print)9781107016101

Abstract

The conspicuous paradoxes inherent in the story of the apocryphal Judith (murderous sexuality mixed with ardent piety), its sensational character (defenceless widow slays drunken general) and symbolic appeal (woman as seductress, warrior, avenger, revolutionary, patriot, politician, priest) have made of it one to which writers and artists of all media have been repeatedly drawn across the centuries. Its symbolically freighted character render it a story that can be invited to mean quite decisively different things to different interpretive communities. Consequently, its narrative and visually suggestive elements have provided rich pickings as its compelling central character has been repeatedly reconfigured to provide an interpretive filter through which successive generations and interest groups might reflect on female virtue, sexuality, violence, piety and the citizen’s obligations to the state in time of need.
Even in the context of the figure’s ongoing popularity across the centuries, however, the years 1896-1919 witnessed a peculiarly heightened burst of interest in the story. This reinvigorated and intensified attention found expression in novels, plays, poems, paintings, editions, opera and in three potent silent films (Italian, French and American). This chapter sets the three films against the background of other contemporary engagements with this culturally expressive and politically revealing character. By holding in a tense truce, as she so eloquently does, competing, even antagonistic, cinematic traditions, Judith also proves an illuminating filter through which to examine the imperatives of the film industry of the period. I use the artistic, poetic and theatrical legacies that directly or indirectly inform the films to paint a broader picture of the uses to which her story was put in artistic interpretations across media.

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