Scorsese on Bowie as Pilate

Excerpt from interview with Martin Scorsese, from Dylan Jones, David Bowie: A Life

I’m sitting in my director’s chair and there are some chairs behind me and suddenly I feel a tap on my shoulder and I turn around and there I was face-to-face with the ancient world, a being from the ancient world. I suddenly looked into the face of history. His face was right up close to mine and he was smiling and his hair was done as Pontius Pilate, he was in his toga and his eyes, of course, one was one color and the other another color. It was the most shocking, beautiful thing I had seen. This was the ancient world and it has come alive! He was an alien in the best sense of the word! That’s my fondest memory of him. I was stunned; I couldn’t speak … David? Yes! Let me see the toga. It was fantastic. That’s why I wanted him to stay a little still during the shoot because he became that world. He didn’t have to show his authority by moving, he could just glare and speak, you see.


How to wear the toga—Quintilian, Institutes of the Orator, 11.3.137-150

137 With regard to dress, there is no special garb peculiar to the orator, but his dress comes more under the public eye than that of other men. It should, therefore, be distinguished and manly, as, indeed, it ought to be with all men of position. For  p319 excessive care with regard to the cut of the toga,121 the style of the shoes, or the arrangement of the hair, is just as reprehensible as excessive carelessness. There are also details of dress which are altered to some extent by successive changes in fashion. The ancients, for example, wore no folds, and their successors wore them very short. 138 Consequently it follows that in view of the fact that their arms were, like those of the Greeks, covered by the garment, they must have employed a different form of gesture in the exordium from that which is now in use. However, I am speaking of our own day. The speaker who has not the right to wear the broad stripe,122 will wear his girdle in such a way that the front edges of the tunic fall a little below his knees, while the edges in rear reach to the middle of his hams. For only women draw them lower and only centurions higher. 139 If we wear the purple stripe, it requires but little care to see that it falls becomingly; negligence in this respect sometimes excites criticism. Among those who wear the broad stripe, it is the fashion to let it hang somewhat lower than in garments that are retained by the girdle. The toga itself should, in my opinion, be round, and cut to fit, otherwise there are a number of ways in which it may be unshapely. Its front edge should by preference reach to the middle of the shin, while the back should be higher in proportion as the girdle is higher  p321 behind than in front. 140 The fold is most becoming, if it fall to a point a little above the lower edge of the tunic, and should certainly never fall below it. The other fold which passes obliquely like a belt under the right shoulder and over the left, should neither be too tight nor too loose. The portion of the toga which is last to be arranged should fall rather low, since it will sit better thus and be kept in its place. A portion of the tunic also should be drawn back in order that it may not fall over the arm when we are pleading, and the fold should be thrown over the shoulder, while it will not be unbecoming if the edge be turned back. 141 On the other hand, we should not cover the shoulder and the whole of the throat, otherwise our dress will be unduly narrowed and will lose the impressive effect produced by breadth at the chest. The left arm should only be raised so far as to form a right angle at the elbow, while the edge of the toga should fall in equal lengths on either side. 142 The hand should not be overloaded with rings, which should under no circumstances encroach upon the middle joint of the finger. The most becoming attitude for the hand is produced by raising the thumb and slightly curving the fingers, only it is occupied with holding manuscript. But we should not go out of our way to carry the latter, for it suggests an acknowledgment that we do not trust our memory, and is a hindrance to a number of gestures. 143 The ancients used to let the toga fall to the heels, as the Greeks are in the habit of doing with the cloak: Plotius and Nigidius123both recommend this in the books which they wrote about gesture as practised in their own day. I am consequently all the more  p323 surprised at the view expressed by so learned a man as Plinius Secundus, especially since it occurs in a book which carries minute research almost to excess:124 for he asserts that Cicero was in the habit of wearing his toga in such a fashion to conceal his varicose veins, despite the fact that this fashion is to be seen in the statues of persons who lived after Cicero’s day.c 144 As regards the short cloak, bandages used to protect the legs, mufflers and coverings for the ears, nothing short of ill-health can excuse their use.

But such attention to our dress is only possible at the beginning of a speech, since, as the pleading develops, in fact, almost from the beginning of the statement of facts, the fold will slip down from the shoulder quite naturally and as it were of its own accord, while when we come to arguments and commonplaces, it will be found convenient to throw back the toga from the left shoulder, and even to throw down the fold if it should stick. 145 The left hand may be employed to pluck the toga from the throat and the upper portion of the chest, for by now the whole body will be hot. And just as at this point the voice becomes more vehement and more varied in its utterance, so the clothing begins to assume something of a combative pose. 146 Consequently, although to wrap the toga round the left hand or to pull it about us as a girdle would be almost a symptom of madness, while to throw back the fold from its bottom over the right shoulder would be a foppish and effeminate gesture, and there are yet worse effects than these, there is, at any rate, no reason why we should not place the looser portions of the fold under the left arm, since  p325 it gives an air of vigour and freedom not ill-suited to the warmth and energy of our action. 147 When, however, our speech draws near its close, more especially if fortune shows herself kind, practically everything is becoming; we may stream with sweat, show signs of fatigue, and let our dress fall in careless disorder and the toga slip loose from us on every side. 148 This fact makes me all the more surprised that Pliny should think it worth while to enjoin the orator to dry his brow with a handkerchief in such a way as not to disorder the hair, although a little later he most properly, and with a certain gravity and sternness of language, forbids us to rearrange it. For my own part, I feel that the dishevelled locks make an additional appeal to the emotions, and that neglect of such precautions creates a pleasing impression. 149 On the other hand, if the toga falls down at the beginning of our speech, or when we have only proceeded but a little way, the failure to replace it is a sign of indifference, or sloth, or sheer ignorance of the way in which clothes should be worn.

About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Bible, Drama, Music, Pontius Pilate, Rome, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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