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Two Popes with the name Julius

Rex Harrison suitable pious as Julius Ii (right) & Charlton Heston wooden as Michaelangelo (left) in a Hollywood extravaganza / m759.net

Rex Harrison suitable pious as Julius II (right) & Charlton Heston wooden as Michaelangelo (left) in a Hollywood extravaganza / m759.net

In this case I cannot do my usual playing with papal names and invented adjectives; some of my faithful followers might like to read about ‘Julian Popes’, as in ‘Innocent Popes’, but ‘Julian’ refers to anything connected with the Emperor Julian, who was, if not the anti-Christ, at least anti-Christian, which is why he was called ‘Julian the Apostate’. There is a splendid biography in the typical Gore Vidal style about Emperor Julian, very well worth reading. You can get it easily and cheaply on Amazon.

Julius II came from one of those distinguished Roman families – the Della Rovere; he was born in 1443 and was Pope from 1513 to 1513. He devoted most of these papal years to re-establishing the Pope’s sovereignty within the ancient territory of the Vatican. He also found time to try to remove any foreign domination from Italy herself, though the Vatican is of course a city/state within Italy. Julius II took part in the restoration of the Papal States through what was called ‘The League of Cambrai’. He was less successful in ‘The Holy League’ (Spain, England and Italy), moving in wae-like manner without intelligence, against French King Louis XII.

As a liberal patron of the arts, however, he did very well, exploying the architect and artist Bramante for a re-design of St. Peter’s. Work began in 1506, and by then Julius had commissioned work from Raphael and Michaelangelo no less. He died still full of hope for a super-powerful Vatican, in 1513. (more…)

Further thoughts on Thomas Becket, martyr and saint

O'Toole & Burton (right) as the King and Thomas Becket in the famous movie / mrfalk.18.wordpress.com

O’Toole & Burton (right) as the King and Thomas Becket in the famous movie / mrfalk.18.wordpress.com

Thomas Becket, or Thomas à Becket as he was called by my teacher of History, was not a Saxon. He was a son of a wealthy Norman merchant (born 1118), and as Norman as his friend and king, Henry II. Thomas read Canon Law at the University of Bologna, where his teachers found him a first-class student, digesting books when he was not drinking or whoring. It may have been his ability to keep up glass by glass with the young Henry Plantagenet that cemented (he thought) his friendship, and caused Henry to make Thomas his Chancellor, the holder of the royal seal, and high on the list of very powerful men in England, an island he had chosen to make his home. (more…)

That’s Hollywood!

During the 1980s and 90s of the last century a giant crop of young, or very young male actors began appearing in major films made in Hollywood, or on location by Hollywood. They were the replacements for the suddenly elderly chaps (Tracy, Peck, Granger, Ferrer, Gable, Stewart, MacRea etc.) some of whom had been making movies in the late 1930s; for example John Wayne, who played a character called ‘John Wayne’ in more than a hundred pictures until his death of cancer. Sometimes half a dozen of these youngsters appeared together in very small parts in films like Dead Poets’ Society, White Squall, The Outsiders or School Ties.

By the year 2015 two or three had become super-stars, getting millions of dollars in films with their name above the title because they are so bankable. Some have vanished into obscurity, mainly because they never managed to change from ‘leading young man’ to ‘middle-age attraction’. One (Swayze) died absurdly young; another is more or less permanently in a wheelchair (Fox). The passing of Time has of course been the leading factor in their lives. Their attractive youth is frozen for ever on Video/DVD/Blueray, but now many are fat-cheeked, heavy-bellied, balding fifty-somethings. Hollywood has, as it always has, passed most of them by.

Here is a sometimes surprising list: (more…)

By | 2015-08-24T17:37:00+00:00 August 11th, 2015|History of the Cinema|1 Comment

The dry martini cocktail

The green olive properly speared / noilly prat.com

The green olive properly speared / noilly prat.com

The history of this cocktail is not without incident. It is a potentially lethal mixture of a raw spirit – gin – with a distillation of the vine, and you were always taught never to combine the two in one glass. The invention was American, perhaps taking place during the years of prohibition and after, again perhaps in New York City, where the Three Martini Lunch soon became fashionable, though it never really disturbed the good American tradition of hard work and commercial success. Manhattan spies tell me it first appeared in either the Algonquin hotel, or the St. Regis, both ultra fashionable with what used to be termed ‘The Upper Class’ US citizen, usually male.

There are many receipts for the making of this explosive sip. Ben Schott says it is Dry Vermouth one third, two-thirds Dry Gin, shaken, garnished and served on or off the rocks. Professional barmen will disagree with the words in italics. ‘Ginger’ Taylor, for half his life chief barman at the Connaught Hotel in Carlos Place, W.I. Had a different method: Half fill your cocktail shaker with fresh ice cubes; pour gently over the ice either Gordon’s or Beefeater’s best gin while you count four seconds out loud: then pour Dry Vermouth just as gently, also counting four seconds. Close the coctelera and shake vigorously as if you are playing the marracas; pour into a special martini-glass (see illustration) and add an unstoned green olive speared with a wood toothpick (or you may own your own pure silver implement). The ice cubes must be prevented from entering the glass by a special filter in the top of the shaker. Sip slowly and do not smoke while sipping, as the tobacco spoils the unique taste.

Shaker with detachable, filtered top / stepoffthecliff.com

Shaker with detachable, filtered top / stepoffthecliff.com

On the market there are many shapes and sizes of Martini glasses. Edith Sitwell had her own glass at her ladies only club in London. According to Gore Vidal, the glass was a small goldfish bowl, which meant that poetess and eccentric Edith would have to be helped a little later into her dining chair to enjoy her ‘Red Luncheon’ – lobster, strawberries and a bottle of red Burgundy.

Some restaurants cheat by employing those horrid bowl-like glasses into which champagne should never be poured. This wine must be served in tall, thin tulip glasses, or those wonderful bubbles escape and the taste is lost. As I was saying, some eating houses cannot be bothered with proper martini glasses. If so, you should withdraw your custom.

Should you feel a bit like James Bond, you will prefer the Vodka Martini, also shaken not stirred, and made with Smirnov vodka. In fact Smirnov is not Russian at all, it is made in America, to a recipe by a Russian. The cocktail is made in exactly the same way, though some like a Maraschino cherry in the glass instead of a green olive. On the subject of olives, do not use one stuffed with anchovy, for obvious reasons or taste and good manners.

One last word: actually they were the last words spoken by Humphrey Bogart the film actor, who was born into an upper-upper-class American family, and spent his working life playing growling bum gangsters. It is said on good authority that when ‘Bogey’ was dying, he whispered, “I knew I should not have changed from whisky to dry martinis”.

Further thoughts on Edward I of England

Artist's impression of King Edward / genial.net

Artist’s impression of King Edward / genial.net

On the afternoon of 7th July, 1307, the Plantagenet king of England Edward I died on his way north with a huge army. His intention had been, again, to smash the irritating and disobedient Scots. After all, he was known by his politer subjects as ‘Hammer of the Scots’. He had certainly hammered the Welsh, after many bloody battles, leading to the building of dozens of superior castles on the borders with England, and surrounding Gwynedd and most of North Wales.

He collapsed and died as his servants tried to lift him out of a bed to eat something, but had been ill for many months, and was too weak even to hault himself out of bed. Later he tried and failed to get on his faithful old warhorse, much to the latter’s astonishment. But Edward, once tall, immensely strong, with dark blond locks and a fearsome temper (Plantagenet) – was now a shattered wreck. He was sixty-eight, and his courtiers could hardly recognise the great man and monarch he had been. (more…)

The real Sir William Wallace

Statue of William Wallace in Aberdeen, Scotland / en.wikipedia.org

Statue of William Wallace in Aberdeen, Scotland / en.wikipedia.org

Some years ago the anglophobe film star and director Gibson made a Hollywood-backed movie called Braveheart. This tasteful work of art purports to be the story of a Scot called Wallace who led his (kilted) warriors to victory against a dastardly English king and won a major battle at Stirling in the cause of independence for Scotland from domineering, untrustworthy England. The film is so full of historical errors as to make it extremely funny, and therefore worth watching on your video machine at least once a year.

The real William Wallace was born around 1270. His was a knightly family, not a collection of crofters. Still young, he began the impossible task of gathering the Picts and Scots together – not the clans, they came later. Most northern Scots spoke Gaelic and nothing else, except some relics of their Norse ancestry. All lowland Scots spoke what went for English in the 13th century, a heady mixture of French and Saxon tongues. One thing bound these fighters together, their joint hatred of the English, and of each other. William Wallace, who was born a knight, did indeed manage this tricky task, and the English were trounced at the battle of Stirling in 1297 when William was only twenty-seven. (more…)

What was ‘The March on Rome’?

Mussolini thinking / people.opposingviews.com

Mussolini thinking / people.opposingviews.com

(a) The end of Rome as an empire.

(b) An asssault by angry unelected popes.

(c) An attempt to seize power by the fascists of Mussolini.

Those of our readers who choose letter ‘c’ are right. Musso planned to occupy public buildings in towns in northern and central Italy, after which there would be ‘a march on Rome’ by at least three columns of his squadristi or Blackshirts. He was certainly aware that in 1919 Fiume had been successfully occupied with the use of armed force by Gabriele D’Annunzio and his men. He did not see why he should not follow this example. (more…)

By | 2015-05-10T16:47:26+00:00 May 10th, 2015|History of the Cinema, Italian History|0 Comments

A Swedish royal dynasty (1523 – 1818)

Garbo as Queen Christina with two male friends / ixozino.htw.pl

Garbo as Queen Christina with two male friends / ixozino.htw.pl

The Vasa dynasty provided monarchs for Sweden, with only two exceptions, from the beginning of the sixteenth century to just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars (q.v.). The Vasa were only minor royalty, but gained the throne with Gustav I. He it was who smashed the Danish-dominated Kalmar Union, and led Sweden through the Reformation.

Three of Gustav’s sons followed him as King – Erik XIV, John III and following deposition of John’s son Sigismund III Vasa – Charles IX. Charles’ son Gustav II Adolf became a famous soldier and statesman whose daughter Christina abdicated in 1654 in favour of her cousin Charles X Gustav. Christina was played by Greta Garbo in a Hollywood film made about the queen.

Charles son, another Charles (XI) managed to introduce absolute monarchy in the French style of that epoch, but the Swedes were having none of it, abolishing absolutism after the death of Charles XI’s childless son, who was yet another Charles (XII). This Charles’ sister Ulrika in turn abdicated, and thus produced a breach in the line witrh the accession of her husband Frederick I. His successor Adolf Frederick descended from Charles XI’s sister, but his son Gustav III had a good deal less of the Vasa blood in him. The Vasa Dynasty ended with Charles XIII, who weakly died without heirs of any kind.

The VASA Dynasty

1523 – 60 Gustav I

1560 – 69 Erik XIV

1569 – 92 John III

1592 – 1604 Sigismund

1604 – 11 Charles IX

1611 – 32 Gustav II Adolf

1632 – 54 Christina

1654 – 60 Charles X

1660 – 97 Charles XI

1697 – 1718 Charles XII

1718 – 20 Ulrika Eleanora

1720 – 51 Frederick

1551 – 71 Adolf Frederick

1771 – 92 Gustav III

1792 – 1809 Gustav IV Adolf

1809 – 1818 Charles XIII

The royal house of Sweden then became Frenchified, when the country invited Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, one of Bonaparte’s marshals to become King Charles XIV John. The present monarchs of Sweden belong to this dynasty, and those of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Belgium all descend from the marshal’s son Oscar I and his queen, Désirée Clary.

What was the ‘Wild West’?

William Bonney / the bluegrassspecial-com

William Bonney / the bluegrassspecial-com

It was a term used, mainly by Americans, to describe frontier society in the second half of the nineteenth century. Before the eighteen fifties the huge area between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains, endless plains with little rainfall, flat, ravaged by hot (or freezing) winds, had been considered as unfit for white occupation. Its not very attractive nickname was ‘The Great American Desert’, summoning images of rattlesnakes, hostile ‘Indians’ and herds of buffalo. (more…)

By | 2014-10-12T19:40:55+00:00 October 12th, 2014|History of the Cinema, US History|1 Comment

The Occupation of the Rhur

The 10 million mark note / pjmedia.com

The 10 million mark note / pjmedia.com

The valley of the Rhur, which would become famous enough for a major film to be made of the bombing of its dams during the Second War, was the heart of Germany’s coal, iron and steel production. The Treay of Versailles that ended the First or Great War had ordered a defeated Germany to fork out for the War, and tremendous reparations had to be paid. But how? And with what? The country was ruined by the War, and most of her machinery was destroyed or lay idle. A huge chunk of her male generation were dead, and untrained old men or boys could not run the factories or the mines. Germany therefore defaulted on her reparation payment, which should not have come as a surprise.

   In January 1923 French and Belgian troops occupied the Rhur therefore, with failure of payment as an unsteady excuse. Both Britain and the United States protested, but M. Poincaré, the French Prime Minister, said that the problem was not that the Germans could not pay but that they did not want to. The two allies would therefore stay in the Rhur until she did pay, and exploit the industrial riches there too. (more…)

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