"Samuel Bronston’s Latest Epic": Spectacle, heterogeneity and nation in the critical reception of El Cid (1961)

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Although El Cid is now regarded by many as a classic, the New York Times was heavily critical of the film on its initial release in the US. This essay examines the contexts that shaped the film's reception in the early 1960s, and demonstrates that, although the New York Times was often explicitly critical of the spectacle associated with historical epics such as El Cid, its film critics were actually more concerned with the ways in which these films threatened cultural distinctions between popular and legitimate culture. Furthermore, it demonstrates that, although the New York Times was critical of historical epics during the late 1940s and the 1950s, it became far more hostile in the early 1960s, when El Cid was released, a period in which Hollywood was facing competition from film-makers working overseas such as Dino De Laurentiis and Samuel Bronston. The essay will therefore illustrate that, while the stated objection of the New York Times critics was to the spectacle of these historical epics, the vitriol that these films received from these critics was due to the way in which they not only threatened distinctions between high and low culture but also between Hollywood and European national cinemas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)300-315
Number of pages16
JournalComparative American Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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