How do you measure the quality of a “classic” film?

Last year, I was doing a comparison of the films on the WJEC French curriculum. There were four films on the A-level curriculum, La Raffle (the Round Up), (A very Long Engagement), La Classe, and Le Havre.  Which of those four would I recommend?

Well, for learning French, La Raffle had a huge weakness.  In the edition distributed in the UK, it was impossible to turn off the subtitles.  So, considering level of language, ability to toggle subtitles, and other factors, I thought that Le Havre was probably most suitable for the purpose of learning French at A-level. Continue reading How do you measure the quality of a “classic” film?

Columbus Day

Columbus day has long been 👏🏿👏🏻👏🏼celebrated👏👏🏾👏🏽 in the 🇺🇸 United States, 🇪🇸 Spain and throughout Latin America.🇳🇮🇲🇽🇭🇳🇬🇹🇩🇴🇪🇨🇸🇻🇩🇲🇨🇼🇦🇷🇸🇷🇻🇨🇱🇨🇵🇷🇺🇾🇻🇪🇻🇮🇹🇹

🇨🇦Canada celebrates Discovery Day, which is the same in principal. 🇧🇷

🇮🇹🇯🇲🇧🇲🇧🇧

While Columbus Day was not made “official” until President Roosevelt made a proclamation in the late 1930s, its history goes back centuries.

Although the Renaissance and the age of Exploration were well underway before Columbus set sail, historians proclaim the year 1492 to be the end of the middle ages and the start of modern times.  His voyage symbolically took Europe out of isolation and brought forth a new, global age. Continue reading Columbus Day

Beaumarchais and the first writers’ strike

You may have heard of Beaumarchais. He was a watchmaker, publisher of Voltaire’s works, gun runner for the rebels in the American Revolution, but most notably a playwright of works such as The Barber of Seville (which Mozart adapted into an opera.)

In Beaumarchais’s time, writers were not well paid. The theatres of Paris held a kind of monopoly, or cartel.  They colluded together to keep writers fees down.

The Barber of Seville was one of the hits of 1775, and continued bringing in audiences after that.  But, despite the money that the theatres got from Beaumarchais’s popular play, his remuneration wasn’t very high.

So, in 1777, Beaumarchais led the other French writers in a strike. If they didn’t get paid more for their successful plays, they wouldn’t write at all.

This led to a scarcity of plays, and forced theatre owners into negotiations.

Theatre owners now paid royalties, instead of just a flat fee for plays.

The use of Flashback in Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace (dir. Michael Apted, written by Steven Knight) seems to be the first major film to depict the life and activism of Wilfred Wilberforce. I was reluctant to write any review because I’m not sure of the historical accuracy of Wilberforce’s life. However, from a creative point of view, I find the use of flashback interesting.

Many biopics, from made for tv movies to big budget blockbusters, use flashback as a creative device. At one extreme you have The Iron Lady, where almost every other scene is the elderly Thatcher remembering her rise and fall. Then there’s the TV movie like Coco Chanel, where flashbacks are used intermittently to show a character still in her prime remembering how she got where she was while preparing a show.

The classic, however is a film like Gandhi (Dir: David Attenborough, writer: John Briley, 1982), where we start at the death of the main character, then tell the story in sequence, introducing the protagonist just before that fateful first decision is made. But, all these devices open a story toward the end of the story, not in the middle. Continue reading The use of Flashback in Amazing Grace

It takes more than 100 days

stone cylinder tower
Top of Wellington Monument, Pen Dinas, Penparcau

2 years ago, I witnessed the re-enactment of the battle of Waterloo.  Thousands of talented volunteers from around the world walked through the footsteps of Napoleon, Wellington, and Blücher, and their allies and armies.

Although we didn’t have the best seats on the field, it was wonderful that so many dedicated re-enactors, or living historians, brought history to life for us.  If you missed it, you should have been there. Continue reading It takes more than 100 days

The papers were wrong! Clinton is the loser!

In a letter to the British press, an American Federalist was sure of victory over Madison’s “Democrats.”

“De Witt Clinton will be president; Mr Monroe will go out; his successor is not named.”

He continued that “our secretary of treasury is going down as fast as possible. His budget will, no doubt, be the laughing stock of all foreign nations, as well as this.”

Continue reading The papers were wrong! Clinton is the loser!

The re-election of James Madison

WB Strickland's image of the USS United States capturing the HMS Macedonian
Did the October 25 capture of the HMS Macedonian by the USS United States help Madison win re-election in November 1812?

At times, it looked as if the election of 1812 would be a close one.  At any rate, its outcome was more important than remembered. Even as late as July 3 1813, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser in Australian was speculating on who the winner was. Their information, which came from across the sea on the 12th January of that year, supposed that they could have been wrong about a DeWitt Clinton victory, but “The electors of Vermont are said to be in favor of Mr. Clinton.” Continue reading The re-election of James Madison

French terrorists vs Spanish insurgents

At the start of 1812, insurgents were big news in the French media.

“We learn from Valencia that the small fortress that Marshall Sechet has left in his rear, blockaded by various corps of the army, have successively surrendered, and the siege of Valencia has been seriously prosecuted by General Harispe, who commands under the orders of the Marshall. The Spanish General Blake is attempting to collect a force, in order to make a second attempt to relieve the place, but the uniform terror spread by the armies of France, is sufficient to impede his design; and the insurgents have, by the last account, been driven from the right bank of Guadilaviar. The Polish division has particularly distinguished itself in the late encounters with the enemy.”

USS terror at sea
The USS terror was a mine laying ship that operated with the American Navy during the second world war.

One thing I notice in looking at old documents is the use of the word “terror” in war, as if it were a good thing. The French weren’t alone is using “terror” as an instrument. Even in the US Navy, ships carried the name “USS Terror” as late as World War II. (The Terror was a minelayer, a ship whose primary purpose was to lay sea mines in the water.)

Of course, the word terror does not necessarily mean what we today call a terrorist. But has the definition of the word insurgent changed as well? Continue reading French terrorists vs Spanish insurgents