My late friend Lawrie Knight’s stories usually check out.

His first film job was on CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA, an epic mess. “We shipped sand to Egypt!” he said, full of wonderment. “During wartime!”

Lawrie was shipped there too, manning a radio from a tent to try to coordinate the battle scenes. “We killed so many people!” he chortled. Years later, he met a man in a London street who greeted him as an old friend, revealed a missing ear, and asked “When are we going to make another film? I’ve still got one ear!”

Lawrie claimed, as I recall, that the local extras ate the sandals they were issued with to play Roman or Egyptian soldiers. Soft leather was indeed eaten on long sea voyages when the food ran out, so it can be done. But Marjorie Deans’ lovely making-of book, Meeting at the Sphinx, has a different version: according to her, the soldiers’ shields were made from papier mache, and it was these that ended up being devoured, three hundred of them. A more substantial meal for each poorly-paid extra. Tasty, too: Dean supplies the detail that the shields were varnished with a kind of fish-paste which made them mouth-wateringly delicious.

Deans’ story has more convincing detail, and was told nearer the time…

It’s possible that both stories are true, and only natural modesty prevented the background artists from consuming their entire wardrobe, denuding themselves. It’s not certain that Deans was on location, but she may have been closer to the action than Lawrie, in his tent, so her story may be more accurate. Or Lawrie may have muddled the story a bit in the ensuing decades. Or I may be misquoting him — maybe his story was about the shields, and he said something else about sandals in another context. It was a while ago.

At any rate, I feel that we can be sure that somebody ate something they shouldn’t have on the location shoot for this film.

3 Responses to “Cleoplatters”

  1. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    The last movie I saw in the big screen before the Pandemic shut down was IL TRADITORE by Marco Bellochio at the Spectrum theater in Albany. When the virus hit, I was too busy staying alive and keeping clean and at one point I told myself, “Don’t get too attached. A lot of the things you liked Pre-Covid aren’t gonna survive” and that there’ll be time for mourning down the line.

    So I am numb to the idea of theatrical distribution dying. It’s awful, tragic, and obviously through no fault of their own people will lose jobs and livelihoods, but it’s something I long reconciled myself to. I think movie exhibition will become like opera or museum thing or archival things, assuming of course the opera and museums survive (which isn’t likely either).

  2. Sadly, can’t read KTLA in Europe.

    For cinemas to reopen we need enough people to vaccinate, and too many anti-vaxxers are spoiling the fun for the rest of us.

    Wishing I lived somewhere warm where outdoor shows were practical.

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