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English 112 (English Composition II)
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Oedipus the Wreck

Filming Oedipus Tyrannos

Christopher Plummer as O and Orson Welles as Tiresias (1967)Consider how you would film this play--or how Hollywood might. Given today's special effects, the hanging and the blinding could be staged directly and would not have to be simply reported by a horrified messenger. How much of Oedipus' life would you tell? Would you flashback to the birth, the exchange at Mount Cithaeron, any of his life at Corinth, his visit to Delphi, the fight where three roads meet, his confrontation with the Sphinx, accepting the throne of Thebes, his life with Jocasta, the plague, the investigation?

Flashbacks: Becky Dorsett (Northern Virginia Community College, 1998) offers these suggestions for filming the play: "I would film the play exactly as it takes place except I wouldn't have the chorus of elders chiming in between acts. I think I would also show a little bit of family's history (Laius's homosexuality) to leave the audience wondering if this family intentionally violates taboos of society, if it's caused by the Gods, or if it's just coincidence. I would flash back to his birth and abandonment and adoption, maybe skip his childhood with Polybus and Merope. At each discovery of how Oedipus history is coming true, I would flash back to that act and build each scene to his final humiliation."

Film the offstage action: Fargo (1998) stipulated that the offstage action could be filmed, too: "I would film Oedipus exactly as written--with the exceptions of including film of the offstage actions, such as the blinding and the death of Jocasta."

From Corinth to Thebes: Laura Whitehead (1998) suggested filming the story thus: "I would start the film with Oedipus’ life in Corinth, shortly before he hears the prophecy at Delphi. The film would show Oedipus’ flight from Corinth, including the events where three roads meet. I would continue until he is crowned king of Thebes, and then skip ten years until the plague develops. From there I would leave everything the same, flashing back in scenes that discuss events such as Oedipus’ birth."

Best Pick! Special effects and plain language: Mike Weaver (Northern Virginia CC, 1998), like Fargo above, saw a vivid story to be told: "I would make this a mini-series made for TV. like they did with North and South. I would show everything from start to finish, except I would change the Chorus form telling poetry to using common language. This would make a great movie. I would also show the special effects of the stabbing of the eyes."

Heeyeon Kim Picks Mike Weaver's Answer as Best on the Page:  Fall, 2003: Tasked with choosing the best answer on the page for an assignment in her ENG 112 class, student Heeyeon Kim selected the answer above, adding her own ideas, such as--

  • Yes, "change the language to more modernized dialogue instead of the Chorus' form of telling poetry"

  • Each episode has its own importance and the mini-series format would take advantage of that.

  • "The special effects using computer graphics can make the film more realistic."

  • I would love to see the scene where the Sphinx ravenously devoured all those brave and foolhardy souls who gave her wrong answers and where Oedipus gained power to destroy the  Sphinx.

  • Especially, the plague, [Jocasta's] hanging, and [Oedipus's] blinding scenes will be more realistic when viewed through film.

Modernizing the Story: RUsober69 (1998) suggested some ideas that could be used to remove the supernatural element from the play: Suppose Oedipus was right about Creon and Tiresias conspiring to seize power.  Creon could offer to go to the oracle and come back with whatever statement would suit his design; if Tiresias worked with him, they could arrange the messenger's message and the shepherd's.  Each could pique O's curiosity by telling their tales reluctantly.  A modern telling of the story could take the gods out of the picture, but play on the religiosity of the townspeople and the convenient coincidence of O's scarred feet.  Maybe the survivor of the attack where the three roads met actually confides in Creon or Tiresias or one of their people?  All of this conspiring would mean that Oedipus wasn't really the son of Laius and Jocasta, though convincing him he was--step by step--would lead to the revelation that Jocasta had ordered her baby son killed, and she would still end up killing herself or being killed by her hot-headed husband when he thought she had abandoned him as a baby.

Oedipus as Star Amid a Chorus of Reporters: Ali Goddon of England (2000) wrote his group's plan for staging and asked for other staging ideas.  What are yours?:  "In May [2000], my friends and I have decided to put on Oedipus Rex. I will play Oedipus and help direct it. We have a few great ideas but any more would be gratefully received. We are not changing the text, but we are setting it in 1970's/1980's Hollywood and are going for a Brechtian theme. The chorus will be a group of news reporters and Oedipus is a big star.

"We're putting it on a proscenium arch stage with an opening of roughly 25 feet (not including the wings) by about 15/20 foot deep. There is a main set of steps centre stage going down from the stage onto the floor and either side of that two ramps which are curved inwards towards the steps."  "We have a highly skilled set construction team. We have a smoke machine, a gauss but alas, no co2 machine."

Opening Credits Over Abandoned Baby: Steve Holt (1999) suggested these scenes: "I would start the film during the opening credits with Oedipus being disposed of at birth. There wouldn't be any actual talking maybe whispers as we follow the baby who cries every now and then but is quickly shushed out of the city and into the countryside. it is very early morning just dawning and the scene grows lighter as cuts of sandaled feet walking and the back of the shepherd are interwoven and the man progresses up mount Cithaeron.

"Jump to the plague. See general horror in background, but focus is the procession led by a group of priests singing to Oedipus' castle. Follow the play pretty much verbatim, doing a lot of dubbed over flash backs as characters describe past events. The climax would be Oedipus' discovery of Jocasta and him blinding himself. we would never actually see the face of the official and all the chorus's lines would be cut during the description, he would tell it hurriedly and there would be all sorts off awesome shots of Oedipus's face all distorted with pain as he broke down the door to the bedroom and drove the pins into his eyes. I hate gratuitous gore and I'm not sure how I would handle that, but I can figure that out later.

"I'd have a killer soundtrack and do it a lot like the new Romeo and Juliet."

Independent Filmmaker Dennis Neal Vaughn (1999) wrote his plan for filming Oedipus the King:

I am currently in development of a contemporary independent film based on Oedipus set in modern day Chicago with filming to begin the summer of 2000.

The concepts that are within Oedipus are still very vital elements to our society today. The previous film versions alienate today's audiences by telling it only as an ancient text. By updating the material and allowing the audience to connect with the work in a form in which they can relate to will show how this material is still vital to their lives now. It is the only way to bring the story forward into modern times and into the next millennium and to a mass audience.

In today's society and technology with sperm banks, egg donor clinics, and verbose moral standards at all levels of modern society such an incident and life of Oedipus is not all that unlikely.

The writings and teachings of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and Freud show strongly the relevance of the Oedipus story to a contemporary society and modern psyche.

Cocteau's numerous versions of the play in the fist half of this century are also a compelling testament to the importance of bringing Oedipus to film.

The film will be shot with the newest technology, a digital camera, most likely Sony's VX 1000. The entire tale will be told but in an unexpected manner beginning the film with Jocasta's death and Oedipus blinding himself. By starting at the end, which everyone knows already, the audience will be engaged to discover where the film can possibly go from there and learn all the levels of this story and of Oedipus' life. The film treatment and concept has been registered with the Writer's Guild of America.

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