Milton on Film

Milton on Film

Eric C. Brown $70.00

April 2015 | cloth | ISBN: 978-0-8207-0476-0

Contains 35 Illustrations

Book Information:

In January 2012, shooting was set to begin in Sydney, Australia, on the Hollywood-backed production of Milton’s Paradise Lost, with Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper cast as Satan. Yet just two weeks before the start of production, Legendary Pictures delayed the project, reportedly due to budgetary concerns, and soon the company had suspended the film indefinitely. Milton scholar Eric C. Brown, who was then serving as a script consultant for the studio, sees his experience with that project as part of a long and perplexing story of Milton on film. Indeed, as Brown details in this comprehensive study, Milton’s place in the popular imagination — and his extensive influence upon the cinema, in particular — has been both pervasive and persistent. 

As this latest venture demonstrates, the history of Milton on film has been full of ambitious visions and dazzling failures. From the earliest proto-cinematic inventions, Milton has represented the quintessential subject for increasingly spectacular visual entertainment: mechanical pantomimes and spectacles in the eighteenth century; panoramas, dioramas, musical extravaganzas, and magic lantern shows in the nineteenth century. Milton has also figured centrally in the development of the cinema over the past century, from the silent era and its turn to a technological sublime to the contemporary age of sprawling digital cinematography and Hollywood blockbusters.

Milton on Film examines the two competing narratives that have tended to describe Milton’s relationship to the cinema since its beginnings. In the first, Milton’s imagination defines the very limits of cinematic representation, as the extraordinary ineffability of a work like Paradise Lost could only be realized in a filmic medium. In the second, though, there is something too serious or obscure in Milton’s epic to translate into any popular medium, especially film.

Interestingly, the volume also includes the earliest image of Paradise Lost on film, and nearly 150 other films are considered in a Miltonic context. Examples range from the mainstream to the marginal, literary period pieces to schlock horror, westerns, space odysseys, and film noir. As Brown asserts, Paradise Lost may well be the greatest film never made, but Milton continues to shape and define the contours of the cinema in unexpected and, occasionally, quite glorious ways. 

Author Information:

Eric C. Brown is professor of English at the University of Maine at Farmington. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard University, where he was also a postdoctoral fellow in Renaissance studies, and at the Université du Maine in Le Mans, France. He spent a year as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Bergen, Norway and has published extensively on such figures as Shakespeare, Milton, Spenser, Sidney, Donne, and Marlowe. He is editor of Insect Poetics, an interdisciplinary collection that theorizes insects in a variety of texts and contexts, and coeditor of Shakespeare in Performance.

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