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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

"Georges Clemenceau" by Edouard Manet

Portrait of Georges Clemenceau, painted in1879 by Edouard Manet, when the sitter would have been 38 or 39 years of age.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Filmwatch : "The Hunt" and "Petit Nicholas"

This is one of the best social dramas I have seen for a long time. Mads Mikkelsen is a teacher in a small Danish village, he is a lonely divorcee struggling for custody of his son. He is wrongly accused of sexually assaulting a child. Almost all of the village turns against him, he is arrested and fired from his post, but the case falls apart and he re-enters village life....or does he? I think this is a very current film as we, in Britain, struggle to come to terms with child abuse, this film reminds us that society can quickly spin out of control when a person pulls the right strings for their own ends.

At the other extreme I watched the French film, "Petit Nicolas"

The film is based on a series of French children's books, written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempé, that are not well known on this side of the Tunnel. Nicolas lives in a perfect world, very happy, nice parents, nice school, nice friends. A little bland, maybe, but a very good, gently humorous film.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Fiasco 2013

A very fine morning at Fiasco 2013 at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. It is the annual show of the Leeds Wargames Club.

I am not a wargamer but I do like a bit of painting, mainly mid-18th century imagination regiments. This was an opportunity to talk to some gamers and collectors.

The most interesting gaming table was by a group called Rune Lords with "Mad Max". The game is based on the film "Mad Max II : The Road Warrior". 54mm figures and scratch built vehicles, including the petrol tanker. It looked very impressive.

I spent some time watching a 10mm game of Bosworth Field, run by Kallistra with Hordes & Heroes figures on a hex table. At the end of the game both Richard III and Henry Tudor were dead, leaving the field to the young Lord Stanley - just think - we might have had a King Stanley. I had a very good chat with the organiser (name unknown, sorry) about artillery on the battlefield in 1485.

The nice chap on The Pike & Shot Society table gave me a very good pack of papers, including this:

 Together with three back copies of their journal, "Arquebusier". I shall peruse them all. They had three very good books on the uniforms and flags of the armies of Louis Quatorze which I am very tempted by, but the  cheapest was £55, so  thought maybe I should put them on my Christmas list, see if Santa will bring them.

One table I stopped at was for "History Club", a chap that was taking wargames into schools, using old Airfix figures. Keep up the good work.

As for soldier purchases, well not much really. I bought two blister packs from AW Miniatures, each containing eight Rogers Rangers and a blister pack of three pack mules from Midlam Miniatures. I was tempted by a few other items, but I resisted. I did have a very good chat with the guys from Offensive Miniatures, I do like their Spanish Napoleonic figures, maybe next time.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Vieux Brisach

I think I have found all the images for my talk on artillery fortifications. I found these two photos when I searched for pictures of Vieux Brisach.

Brisach is in Germany. It was occupied by the French for the period 1648 to 1697. The town has some strategic significance as being the only Rhine bridge crossing in the region. At sometime in the period 1663 - 1667 (depending on which book you consult) Vauban was ordered to design new fortifications for Brisach.

These photos are of the "Museum fur Stadtgeschichte Breisach" (Google Translate "City History Museum for Breisach"). To me, this looks like a Vauban gateway, classical, monumental, built to impress, it is magnificent. I cannot find anything about the gate but it would be worth a day's excursion just to see it.

I checked Google Maps for the rest of the walls. I cannot see a single trace on the satellite image.

Under the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, Louis XIV kept Strasbourg but had to give up cities on the right bank of the Rhine, including Brisach. This town became Alt-Breisach-am-Rhein in German or Vieux Brisach in French. Vauban was ordered to build a new fortified town on the left back, this became Neuf Brisach.

Neuf Brisach

Monday, 21 October 2013

Battle of Trafalgar : 21st October 1805

Lord Horatio Nelson by L F Abbott

Battle of Trafalgar by W L Wyllie

Battle of Trafalgar

Today, 21st October, is the 208th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, a pivotal point of the Napoleonic Wars.

Friday, 18 October 2013

"Storm of Steel" by Ernst Junger

I have had this book on the top shelf, unread, for years. I took it to Marrakesh and read the first half. This week I have finished the second half.

I did not enjoy this book, frankly it was a bit of a chore, but I encourage any history buff to read it. Junger enlisted very early in World War One and was on the front line in France just after Christmas 1914. The book confirmed what I have thought for some years. The average German in the street thought their cause was just and joined up in a patriotic fervour and pride. Junger believed he would miss out on one of life's great adventure if he hesitated, the same as any 1914 Tommy or poilu. I got a sense of clubiness or of camaraderie to his writing, I suspect the same for any universal soldier.

Monday, 14 October 2013

La Grande Illusion - Rififi

My local cinema, Picturehouse York, has been showing a season of World Cinema Matinées. So far, I have seen two magnificent French films. I have seen them before but not on a cinema screen, only television, so these were opportunities I could not miss.

Yesterday I saw "Rififi", Jules Dassin's film of 1955.

The story revolves around a burglary at a high class and very expensive jewellery store, Mappin & Webb's branch in Paris. Four career criminals are played by Jean Servais as the leader Le Stephanois, Carl Mohner (Jo the Swede), Robert Manuel (Ferrati) and Jules Dassin himself (Cesar le Milanese, the safe cracker). Much of the film was shot on the streets of Paris so it has a very authentic feel, very atmospheric. The robbery itself is amazing, there is no dialogue, just the sound of the four of them working at breaking into the safe. No flics in this film, just baddies and their code.

Two weeks ago I saw "La Grande Illusion", Jean Renior's film of 1938.

l to r, Jean Gabin, Gaston Modot, Pierre Fresnay, Julien Carette, Jean Dasté, Marcel Dalio

Erich von Stroheim

Whilst flying a recon mission in 1915, Gabin and Fresnay are shot down by Stroheim and are captured. Later they arrive at Colditz-like POW camp run by an injured Von Stroheim.

This film is one of my top five. It is one of the finest anti-war films ever made. I know I have said it before, but I shall say it again, Jean Gabin is my hero, but here Fresnay is magnificent as an upper-crust staff officer, de Bouldieu and really steals the first half. In the second half there are wonderful scenes between Gabin and Dalio. An awe-inspiring film.


Sunday, 13 October 2013

"Waterloo" by Ernest Crofts

I tripped over this picture of Old Bone on the internet. I was quite impressed, my eye was drawn to the foreground action with the repairs to the artillery piece and following the column up the road to Napoleon on a white horse against the skyline. My first thoughts were this is a very nice painting, well executed, late 19th century French painting, a bit of late hero worship. Then I was surprised to find the artist was Ernest Crofts, an Englishman who painted during the Edwardian period when most Brits were painting Wellington.

This second painting is one I admire. It is by Jean Louis Meissonier, titled "1814 Campaign in France" and was painted in 1864. It shows Napoleon Bonaparte on the march during the spring of 1814, when he was seriously outnumbered by Alliance troops, possibly on the same horse or is he always painted riding a white horse? During this campaign, the young Napoleon shone through and he gave the Allies several bloody noses, but numbers told in the end.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Hell Is A City - Little Dorrit

Stanley Baker as DCI Martineau

John Crawford as Starling, the villain

I watched this film yesterday afternoon and I really enjoyed it. Made in 1959, directed by Val Guest, I believe it is Hammer Films only venture into film noir. Filmed in Manchester, Oldham and on the moors above Marsden when there was still plenty of cotton and coal. In particular, Manchester is still black, this is before the clean air acts, before the buildings were cleaned of the accumulated soot and grime, before the glass and steel buildings of the 1960's.

The film is a little dated, for example, there is no swearing, but the story is good and the acting is fantastic. On my Lovefilm rating, I have given it 4 out of 5.

From Monday to Thursday, I rewatched the BBC 2008 production of Little Dorrit, a four disc box set so one disc per day. Loved it, just loved it.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

U3A talk - Fort Louvois

I have volunteered to do at talk for our local U3A branch Military History group on artillery fortifications in 1700. I have been trawling the web for pictures and I came upon a Facebook page for Fort Louvois.

My thanks to the Fort Louvois Facebook page for these great photos, there are many more on the site.

Fort Louvois is also known as Fort Chapus. It was stated by Francois Ferry in 1691 and completed under Vauban's hand in 1694. It was part of the defences of the La Rochelle / Rochfort area. Renovated in 1875. It saw action in April 1945 when FFI troops liberated the area and the fort came under artillery fire from Germans in Chateau d'Oleron.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Remembering Patrice Chereau (1944 - 2013)

It was reported yesterday that Patrice Chereau had died. A director, writer and actor who worked mainly in the theatre, he was not well known on this side of La Manche.

I pinched this photo from the Internet, thanks to PurePeople.

I remember him in one of my favourite films, Last of the Mohicans, when he played Major-General the Marquis of Montcalm.

Patrice Chereau as Montcalm with Maurice Roeves as Colonel Monro

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Holiday reading - "Burton & Swinburne....Spring Heeled Jack" & "The Somme"

"Burton & Swinburne in the Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack" by Mark Hodder.

I don't read novels, there is so much history I want to read, but holiday reading is the exception. I have been reading a few blog articles about Victorian Science Fiction. This roused my curiosity so I thought I would try one - this book above - I am very pleased I did. I thoroughly enjoyed  it, the plot, the twists, the characters, the ideas. I thought it was terrific.

My partner also read it, she liked the story but found the style of writing to be "clunky". I don't know what she means but she reads tens of novels to my one or two per year. Different tastes I suppose.

After the novel, I moved back to my home ground of history. I have a number of books on the top shelf that I had every intention of reading when I bought them - this is one of them. Another success. As a French history enthusiast, I have not read anything about The Somme. I have seen the occasional BBC documentary. This is a good, short introduction, I learnt much, now I'm thinking maybe I should go and have a few walks in the area. Good.

So - a good holiday with a couple of good books.