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The Inquisition

Popular conception of question time in the Spanish Inquisition / newsbiscuit.com

Popular conception of question time in the Spanish Inquisition / newsbiscuit.com

This was a Catholic tribunal founded on a temporary basis in France and Germany. Its purpose was to seek out heresy, prosecute and punish it. In the thirteenth and later centuries how you decided to worship God in Europe was not optional. Heretics were severely punished, often capitally, by burning alive. The latter is probably the most painful way to die, but the Church believed that only by burning could the non-conformist devil in a person be driven out and destroyed.

   The country of Spain, and later its empire, is chiefly associated by historical novelists with the Inquisition, also known as the ‘Holy Office’ or Santo Oficio. A medieval inquisition was set up in the kingdom of Aragon, with headquarters in Tarragona, but this was superceded in the late fifteenth century by the newly invented Castilian or Spanish Inquisition, founded by a papal bull by Sixtus VI in 1478. The branch was devoted first and foremost to investigating how converted Jews and Muslims were behaving now that they were Christian. The Spanish Jews and Muslims of Castilla had been forced to embrace Christianity in the stern form of Catholic Faith in 1492 and 1502 respectively. (more…)

Brief stars in the firmament

/ oocities.org

/ oocities.org

There might have been others, and we will look for them, but the shortest period as a ‘star’ in Hollywood I can discover so far was Roger Herren’s. This promising young man was fourth in the Titles under Raquel Welch, John Huston, and Rex Reed (who was not an actor anyway) in a movie called Myra Breckenridge shot under the direction of an Englishman called Michael Sarne, who also wrote the screenplay. He made an adaptation from the original satirical novel by Gore Vidal, who was having one of his periodic goes at Hollywood. The film disappeared beneath a welter of terrible reviews, including dozens which pronounced it as ‘the worst film ever made’. Gore Vidal called it ‘a bad joke’, but then he could because he wrote the novel – not the screenplay. This was the task of the director, Michael or Mike Sarne, chosen one assumes because of the success of a recording he made called ‘ComeOutside’ – a best seller.

   Young Mr Herren had been to acting school and done well, and was chosen perhaps because of his athletic image, because one of the repulsive scenes in this movie is one depicting Raquel Welch anally raping Mr Herren, who is naked, with an ‘implement’ while he is tied to a gym box. Poor Roger starred in this travesty and then disappeared, presumably for ever from the silver screen. He was therefore a star at the premiere, after which me might as well have rushed off to wear monkey makeup in one of those innumerable re-makes of Planet of the Apes. (more…)

By | 2014-08-07T12:12:53+00:00 August 7th, 2014|History of the Cinema, US History|0 Comments

The Forty-Seven Ronin

Seppuku for the forty-seven / modernimage.com

Seppuku for the forty-seven / modernimage.com

At the beginning of the eighteenth century an incident took place in Japan that rapidly occupied the front pages of world (and worldly) newspapers. Indeed, the happening provided a powerful symbol of self-sacrifice and un-flinching loyalty during generations, even supplying the title of a major Hollywood film; this was Ronin, (1998)I believe the last movie directed by the aged but still brilliant John Frankenheimer. A re-telling of the incident in Japan is spoken during a key scene in the film by the French actor Michael Lonsdale, seated beside a fully equipped model of the castle and surroundings in Japan. (more…)

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

/ paperdroids.com

/ paperdroids.com

Perversely enough, it was one of the great film comedies that contained a set piece showing with alarming exactitude what happened in Chicago in 1929. The film is called Some like it hot, written by H.A.L. Diamond and Billy Wilder and directed by the latter. This movie is probably one of the most explosively funny pieces of art ever made, but the Massacre of St. Valentine’s Day was not funny at all.

   On the 14 February 1929 the law against drinking alcohol in the United States was in its ninth year. The gangsters and their political associates had been making fortunes out of Prohibition, and making enemies between themselves. The fourteenth of February was a cold damp day, any old Thursday except perhaps for the romantically inclined. There was a dark, long brick garage in Clark Street, Chicago; the place was used for repairing and hiding trucks owned by one of the big-time gangsters of the city, one Moran, known as Bugsy. The trucks were used in an extensive liquor-running organisation managed by Bugsy.

   That morning almost his entire gang were standing about smoking, waiting for the arrival of their boss, who was late. They were to drive heavily laden lorries to Detroit in a big operation. Once in Detroit they would unload the booze, and drive on to the border with Canada where thousands of gallons of illegal hooch would be awaiting collection. That was the plan anyway. By ten a.m. seven men were nervously waiting for Moran. One of them was Wienshank, a civil servant wanting to join the gang; another was Heyer, a qualified accountant and dead shot; Clark was there, who acted as Moran’s bodyguard and confidant – he was his brother-in-law too; Frank and Peter Gusenberg, paid killers, were hanging around joking; with them was Doctor Schwimmer, friend of Moran’s since childhood and the gang’s medical man. May, a motor mechanic, took advantage of the wait to adjust the transmission on one of the lorries. Suddenly the open doors of the garage were blocked by a large black car: doors opened and stayed open and four men with Thompson sub-machine guns out of sight inside long raincoats walked quickly inside. Two were dressed as policemen, a sight which relieved most of the seven astonished gangsters waiting for their chief. Chicago policemen had the reputation of being as bad or even worse than the crooks. Everything would be all right. (more…)

By | 2014-05-27T08:54:33+00:00 May 27th, 2014|History of the Cinema, US History|0 Comments

The ancient game of football

In the first twenty minutes or so of a foolish movie called First Knight, cinemagoers were treated to the Hollywood spectacle of a young and beautiful Lady of the Manor playing football with the burly hoi-polloi of her village. The scene was set in the twelfth century. It would not occur to the American writers and the director of this film that no 12th century castle-dweller would get within smelling distance of the peasantry, let alone play football with them.

The game itself, however, is another thing. I am not sure why the name ‘soccer’ was imposed on football, and I am sure I will be told – but a distinction had to be made when American Football, a variety of rugby, became popular in the United States. English-style football was replaced by soccer. (more…)

War in Vietnam

It is now an independent socialist/communist state bordered to the east by the South China Sea, and to the west by Laos and Cambodia. Dominated by China for many centuries, it was ‘visited’ by the Portuguese in 1535. By the 17th century visits had also been made by Dutch, French and English traders accompanied by missionaries.

In 1802 the north and south were combined as The Vietnamese Empire, which in turn was conquered by French forces towards the end of the century. The French Indo-Chinese Union with Cambodia and Laos was formed in 1887.

Inevitably, during the Second World War the country was invaded successfully by the Japanese, and there followed an occupation during which a certain amount of industrialization took place, but agriculture remained the basic staple by which the people of Vietnam were fed. (more…)

Some of the historical mistakes in ‘Braveheart’ (1995)

Mel Gibson leading the clans

Mel Gibson leading the clans

I have been asked by a tolerable number of ‘fans’ if I could list the historical errors made by Mr Gibson in his odd film Braveheart. This is a Hollywood film supposedly made as a biopic of William Wallace, who met a nasty end after challenging the English. He was certainly a patriot and Mel got that part right. I had to watch the whole dreary spectacle of crass mistakes again, but I put on a braveface and summoned a braveheart, and here are some of things I spotted: (more…)

By | 2013-10-03T16:35:52+00:00 October 3rd, 2013|History of the Cinema, World History|1 Comment

The Barbary Coast, and Wars

It is difficult to find any time since the Byzantine Empire when the North African coast from Morocco to Libya was not infamous for piracy. The worst period was the beginning of the sixteenth century to the end of the eighteenth. The Berbers, who may or may not have originally populated the Canary Islands, were piratical by nature and good navigators in the treacherous Atlantic and unpredictable Mediterranean.

Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania (Libya) take their name from the infamous pirate Barbarossa. Even the English adjective barbaric has its roots in berber, bereber or Barbarossa. (more…)

The Visconti

One of the historic Italian families, lords of Milan and Lombardy from the second half of the thirteenth century. The Visconti family was without any doubt the most powerful in northern Italy.

Very early names in the family were Ottone, who was Archbishop of Milan, and Giovanni (died 1354) who was also Archbishop and brought Genoa and Bologna within his jurisdiction. From 1395 they were hereditary Dukes of Milan, and one of the clan – Gian Galeazzo – was at one stage able to threaten the whole of the Italian peninsula. He succeeded his father, another Galeazzo, along with his uncle Bernabó, whom he killed in 1385 in order to rule alone. (more…)

By | 2014-04-01T13:36:06+00:00 September 20th, 2013|British History, History of the Cinema, Italian History|0 Comments
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