Roman Around the Redford

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At the Redford Theatre’s showing of the 1960 epic Spartacus on April 2, 2010, the Roman Empire spilled off of the screen into the lobbies, auditorium, and sidewalks of this westside Detroit movie palace.

The Spartacus-related promotion came courtesy of the Midwest Vexillation of Legion XXIV, which, according to a handout, “was established in 2001 as a reenactment unit to display Roman and other military dress, battle tactics and history, Roman daily life and culture at fairs, schools, museums, and other public functions.”

The handout also noted, “The dress, weapons, and other equipment of the Vexillation as part of Legion XXIV are as authentic and historically accurate as reasonably possible and have been assembled and/or obtained at our members’ own expense.”

In the lobby, visitors gathered curiously around the display of the group, trying on helmets and shields, helping them more realistically feel the life and times of the characters in Spartacus.

On this pleasantly warm evening of Good Friday, the reenactment group also participated in the regular activities of the Redford, including stage introductions, the 50/50 raffle at intermission, and “security duty”.

It was the latest in a series of movie promotions at the Redford that this season have included a conga line through the auditorium and concession lobby at the February 19-20 showings of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical Flying Down to Rio. At the screening of the western Rio Bravo on March 26-27, there were several spirited imitations of John Wayne by audience members on the stage.

The appearance by the reenactment group helped enhance another satisfying evening at the Redford. Spartacus was a powerfully emotional experience. I particularly enjoyed the dramatic musical score by Alex North, which included a poignant theme that was played during tender scenes between Kirk Douglas and Jean Simmons, who died earlier this year. The movie served as a fitting memorial tribute to Simmons’ beauty, skill, and style.

Spartacus was part of an informal series of movies from about 50 years ago that the Redford has presented this January-May 2010 season. They’ve included Some Like It Hot (1959), Rio Bravo (1959), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and West Side Story (1961).

We’ve enjoyed the friendly beauty of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, along with the directorial skill of Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, Robert Wise, Blake Edwards and Stanley Kubrick. All on the brink of the 60′s, building on the technical advancements of the 1950s (including widescreen, color processing and camerawork).

After Spartacus, I lingered in the lobby, holding onto the warm, compelling experience of this great film. As people filed out of the theater, I heard someone remark, “You could see something like this on television, but it just wouldn’t be the same.” Well said.

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Copyright © 2010 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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