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HOLLYWOOD DREAM MERCHANTS: Persian Props From Oliver Stone's Alexander Movie For Sale




If you have ever wondered where all the 100 millions $ spent on Oliver Stone's Alexander Movie ( shot in Morocco and Thailand amid the War in Iraq ) went into, the answer is not difficult to find: It was in the Costumes and Sets!


©Prop Store of London


If the movie on the Ancient Macedonian Conqueror who vanquished the mighty Persian Empire some two Thousand years ago was far from being a critically acclaimed film or box office hit , it nevertheless can be considered as one of the most accurate physical depictions of the Ancient Persian and Macedonian Civilizations as far as the Sets ( CGI or not ), Make Up, Props and Costumes are concerned.  True Oliver Stone's movie cannot be ranked as a masterpiece in the lines of Cecile B. DeMilles  Ten Commandments or William Wyler's magnificent Ben Hur  each depicting with great detail two other great civilizations of the Ancient World : The Egypt of the Pharaohs and the Roman Empire.  The plot is badly constructed and Colin Farrel is totally miscast in my opinion and hardly manages to outshine the excellent Richard Burton in the same role decades Earlier in Robert Rossen's 1956 film although even in that case the film was not a Box Office hit at the time of its release. Maybe Oliver Stone and Farrel are not the only one's to blame. Making an Epic is never an easy picnic by no standards. Most so-called Sword and Sandals films that were very popular in the 1950's and 1960's were successful when they would focus the Big Historical Picture around that of intimate stories of characters that  the public could identify with. Larger than Life characters like Alexander or Julius Caesar contribute to the movie as references in Time but never as the major characters. This is also true for most epics set in different Ages. King Vidor's War and Peace or David Lean's Dr. Zjivago being immediate examples I can think of. In that Ridley Scott's Gladiator is most probably the best recent film that truly reinvented the film genre in a visually stunning and entertaining way. Stone better known for his mind challenging political and social films such as the excellent Wall Street and JFK would have better succeeded if he had shot his film as a TV series in the lines of the superb HBO series ROME. 



Original Storyboards for Sale ©Warner Bros


One can, at least credit Stone for his stamina and determination to fulfill his childhood dream of riding with Alexander's troops and following his campaigns from the deserts of Persia to those of the Hindus. One can only hope that one day someone can depict the same story from the point of view of the Persians, very much like Clint Eastwood today with Letters from Iwo Jima.  After all in the Empire of Dreams Only imagination is King.



Greek and Persian Props co-exist in the Hellenistic World of
Alexander the Great such as in the legendary doomed
Library of Alexandria ©Warner Bros


The most fascinating thing for movie buffs ( like me ) is that Hollywood and particularly Epic Films thrive on public consciousness and visual obsessions. Film History is filled with examples of key scenes and Props that respond to the growing desire of being "Part of the Big Picture". Whatever became to Charlton Heston's Chariot in Ben Hur ? Kirk Douglas's Sandals in Spartacus ? Shohreh Aghdashloo's Veil in The Nativity Story ? Moses' magic rod in the Ten Commandments that could part the Red Sea or turn into a ruthless snake thanks to Hollywood's Special Effects Department ? Ingrid Bergman's Unica Key (*)  in Notorious ? What did Vanessa Redgrave truly feel  when holding the imitated Omar Khayyam's jewel encrusted Sangorski & Sutcliffe copy of the Rubayyat's in Kayvan Mashayekh's Keeper ? Same thing for actor Raz Degan in the costume of Persian King Darius III,  Colin Farrel in those of Alexander and the cast of hundreds which were duplicated thanks to digital wizardry during the key battle scene of Guagamela ?



Sets, make up and Costumes such as The Court and Army of Darius III,
Shah of Persia,  in Oliver Stone's Alexander were subject to meticulous
historical research ©Warner Bros

We all know it is make belief and yet I am sure most readers would certainly stop in Front of any Planet Hollywood entrance just to watch the Props exposed for the latest movie promotion. We can thank or curse such merchandizing prophets as Spielberg or Lucas for thriving on public imagination thanks to the Indian Jones or Star Wars Theme Parks but I personally have always admired this capacity of the movie making industry in perpetuating its own legend. Film museums ( See Below) have fortunately gathered many such items that are considered as part of Hollywood's historical and artistic heritage. Much however does go on sale and often in the case of Epic films due to the large quantity of material like rubber swords and helmets, plastic shields, fake wigs and beards that become useless after the film is over. You can often find many of these items at a fairly reasonable price on ebay or on specialized sale the Prop Store of London.  


SWORD AND SANDALS MOVIE: Oliver Stone's Alexander
revisited a favorite film genre popular in the 1950's and
60's Hollywood. ©Alexander ©Warner Bros


I have often wondered not without some frustration what happened to the splendid costumes, memorabilia and exact size replica's of the Persian Fleet of Darius and Xerxes that were showcased during the Celebrations of the 2500th years of the Persian Monarchy that were held by the Shah of Iran in Persepolis back in October 1971. Well at least they were  immortalized on film thanks to Shahrokh Golestan's cinematographic talent and narrated by the legendary Orson Welles ... 


Lost Props but Immortal Film: Flames of Persia narrated by Orson Welles,
Persepolis 1971 ©Shahrokh Golestan


Any movie buff and I am no exception  would certainly concur with the great film critic François Truffaut and his mentor Alfred Hitchcock or the equally inimitable Orson Welles that in the Realm of Dreams like for films some things are sacred !





Authors Notes:

(*)"The Fate of the Unica Key" : Ingrid Bergman, during AFI's Lifetime Award ceremony for Hitchcock, handed the Unica key to the director as a token of love and respect. In Notorious the key played a major role in the movie's conclusion.


Recommended Reading: Persia ? Ancient Persia's Virtual Absence in Hollywood


Recommended Viewing : DVD (Directors Cut ) of Oliver Stone's Alexander: See Official website

Recommended Seeing: The Hollywood Entertainment Museum




About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant



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