Burning the Philadelphia

Today, in 1804, Stephen Decatur led a small band in a ketch to destroy a warship.  Horatio Nelson is said to have called it “the most bold and daring act of the age.”

Well, I can’t verify Nelson having said that, but if he did then he was blockading Toulon at the time.

What we can verify is that the USS Philadelphia wasn’t really captured in the first place, it got stuck on a coral reef and it’s captain surrendered.  It’s Captain, William Bainbridge, is repeatedly quoted as having been a large man, six foot tall and heavily built, who also surrendered to the French.

Commodore Preble (the US didn’t have admirals at the time, the word seemed too aristocratic) said that it would have been more honorable if the crew had vowed to die fighting.  He concluded that courage might have saved them.

Well, Stephen Decatur was the kind of man who would die fighting.

Supposedly, a film is under way about the Tripolitan War, to be directed by Ridley Scott.  Will it be about Decatur?  Or about Eaton?  Will it feature the burning of the Philadelphia?

There are so many great scenes in that war that play in my head like a film.  Personally, if I were making it though, I wouldn’t chose Scott.  I’d chose an American director, and one who likes to read screenplays.

I loved Gladiator and other films by Scott, but they were very stylised.  I think Decatur would benefit more from a literalist, like Speilburg (or Hitchcock if it had to be a Brit).

So, what did Decatur do at the Philadelphia?  Well, that’s another story.

Anyway, I think Bruce Willis should play Eaton, or maybe Vin Diesel.  They have that same kind of attitude, without being too large to be believable.

For Decatur?  We need casting.  Russel Crowe is far too old, so are most of the stars out there.

And for the music?  “Stuck in the mud” would work for the capture.  “The Roof is on fire” for the destruction.  If you want an old timer, Tina Turner’s music might work.

Pedro de Soza

451 years ago today, Pedro de Soza was secretly murdered by the inquisition in Antwerp.

The official method of execution for “heresy” of being a male Anabaptist was being burt to death.  However, the people of Antwerp didn’t like it when the foreign government killed innocent people. Many protestants, free thinkers and tolerant Catholics could revolt at the sight.  

This solidarity didn’t make heretics more safe.  Yes, burning by fire brought out a big light, and attracted attention.  So, the accused were often drowned in secret.

Some so-called Anabaptists were probably really Calvinists, but Calvinists were meant to be protected by treaty.  Anabaptists were considered a dangerous cult of communists and polygamists, although there is no evidence that Pedro or any of the other Anabaptists in Antwerp were engaged in either activity.

Pedro first heard about the Anabaptists in Spain.  There, he met a few Dutch workers who told him about the new religion.  So, Pedro went to Antwerp to practice it freely.

As Spain was the colonial power, some thought Pedro was a spy.  The local Anabaptists were very reluctant to accept Pedro as one of their own.  Eventually though, Pedro showed his sincerity.  Pedro was accepted, and he was baptised as an adult.  And this re-baptism was the heresy that Pedro and others like him were killed for.

A year after Pedro was drowned, the Anabaptist leader was tortured.  He was offered a full pardon if he gave up names of other Anabaptists. but Joos Verbeck refused to give up any of his fellow religionists.  He proved, among other things, that the pain of torture is not as strong as the power of sincere faith and true friendship.  And Joos was burnt at the stake.

But his story doesn’t end there.  When they tied Joos up for the first public execution since the treaty of Cateau Cambrésis, he didn’t go down screaming with terror.  Joos refused to “recant” of his so-called heresy.  Instead, he sang hymns and recited scripture.  His performance was so moving that the executioner trembled and almost failed to kill him.  But, you got 30 stivers for executing a heretic in those days, and the only reason anyone would be an executioner was because they needed the money.  So, like Pedro before, his leader was killed.

In 1991, I first came to Brussels.  There, I attended the International Baptist Church.  Like the Anabaptists before them, the International Baptists also believed in baptism of adults at the age of 18 and did not believe in the baptism of infants.  I half-considered myself a member of their group, but as a teenager, I could not be baptised.  When I became 18 I didn’t go through with the ritual. And so, even if the Inquisition were in place, they probably wouldn’t have drowned me (although they may have tortured me to find out who the other International Baptists were.)

Well, the International Baptists weren’t communists or polygamists, at least not the ones I met.   They seemed strongly against both things, even against churches that hadn’t practiced either for 100 years. 

The punishment for being baptised one too many times was being pushed under water yet again.  And the punishment for those who condemned the “heretics” on paper is that they are condemned by history.

Who should play the current president?

Let’s get this straight, Denzel Washington looks nothing like Barrack Obama. Ok, he may look more like Obama than Drew Barrymore does, but the resemblance is limited.

But once their mouths start moving, Obama and Washington resemble each other almost perfectly.

Remember Philadelphia? The way Washington spewed a lot of hot air, but got you thinking that you agreed with whatever he was saying? Even though you didn’t know what he was saying?

I mean, come on, they wanted a young partner to take over the firm when they retired. Tom Hanks’ character was going to die of Aids, so he’d probably die before the old jerks would retire. Sure, his employers weren’t the nicest guys, but what was he really suing them for?

And just to prove that Hank’s character was wrong to sue, the filmmaker shows him on his death bed with all these supportive people around him.

Yeah, the story was weird, and the average viewer had no idea what was going on, but you liked the people anyway.

And I have no idea what Obama stands for, but I like him anyway. Don’t ask me why, I just think he’s a great guy. A family man, a diplomat, and a smile that would disarm a soup tyrant. And boy, can he talk.

But yeah, just like Malcolm X, he doesn’t seem to do that much else. He talks, but nothing seems to happen as a result. Maybe he’s just unlucky.

Take for example his key line in his talk to the Chinese leadership: “We want to sell you lots of stuff.” Great line. But does it really help get us out of the recession?

Many actors can sit around doing nothing, and babble on and go nowhere with it. Many actors have oodles of charisma, and are so adorable you could just knit them a sweater.

However, no other living actor can come close to Obama’s ability to talk. Washington is the current master of the monologue, a forceful speaker who every screenwriter dreams of hearing his lines read by.

So yeah, if I was commissioned to make a film about Barrack Obama, the first actor I’d try to get was Denzel Washington. Nobody else in Hollywood could do the job half as well.

– Vasco de Sousa

Does Freedom of Speech only apply to US citizens?

If I understand Yahoo news correctly, a British teenager has been banned from going to the US.  His crime?  He doesn’t like the American president. (more here)

Well, I’m an American citizen.  I’m proud of our constitution.  I don’t like hearing foreigners insulting my President.  So, what’s my view on this kid?

Continue reading Does Freedom of Speech only apply to US citizens?

Four films I wish I could see on DVD


VASCO, accompanied by a SMALL CHILD, walks up to the counter looking lost.  Two of the EMPLOYEES take a step backwards before he says a word, the third is transfixed to the television set, watching reruns of “Friends”.


Excuse me, do you have Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.

One of the employees rolls her eyes.


Pee what?

Continue reading Four films I wish I could see on DVD

How is character related to plot?

Character and plot are two different words.  So why do so many self-proclaimed experts say that “character is plot”?  (Are they just copying F. Scott Fitzgerald? Or do they have a point?)

The extreme film where character “is” plot is The Muppets Christmas Carol.  (this post contains spoilers.)

Continue reading How is character related to plot?

Are you a street artist on the Internet Superhighway?

Remember that “professional” photographer who took a polaroid of you on the beach without asking? Then he had the nerve to ask you for five bucks (when the dollar was the international currency)?

Well, today he’s been replaced by the MySpace musician who has emailed you a link to his song. You listen to it, and find a little box asking for a five pound donation.

Personally, I’d rather drop a coin at some guy playing live music in the subway, or drawing a charicature of me in Paris.

I’m sure the tax man disagrees. It’s much easier to freeze a Youtube filmmaker’s PayPal account than it is to follow around some fire breather with an open guitar case. But really, most of these artists don’t make enough to pay taxes, do they?

Unfortunately, graffiti is still around (and terrible graffiti at that). We still see panhandlers and con artists (online and off). But whatever happened to the big city “honest beggar”? Where is the street artist now?

Am I a dinosaur here? Has the Internet destroyed the street artist?