*That* accidental children’s holocaust outfit by Zara

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is just one reason why the study of history is important to every business. If you don’t understand why a blue and white striped pyjama top with a yellow star sewn on is massively inappropriate + offensive to a large cross-section of your customers, you are a liability to your company.
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3 Films That Shamelessly Rip Off Classic Literature

A couple of years ago, a guy called Christopher Booker came up with a theory that there are only seven (7) basic stories in existence. You’ve probably heard of it. According to Chrissy B, all the tales you know are based on these seven (7). No more, no less. Enterprising geniuses have since whittled this number down. But that generally means removing parallel points ’til all you have left is the theory of one story, wherein all you can say is that *plot happens*, which isn’t really all that genius.

However! If, like me, you enjoy watching films, you may have noticed that some of them seem oddly familiar. First, there’s this:

Pulp Fiction is Arthurian Legend

OK, I can sort-of see what’s going on here. Tarantino likes to borrow heavily from other genres. That said, it’s usually Hong Kong cinema and Westerns, right? There are a whole bunch of other things going on which rather undermine this theory. I’m pretty sure Arthurian legend doesn’t include sex dungeons or shoving family heirlooms into bodily orifices. But it’s true, it has been a while since I last read any, and the last adaptation I saw was Merlin, which, as a BBC show, probably wouldn’t depict that stuff anyway. On the other hand, this does actually lay on the religious side of things, which Merlin avoided completely, so what the hell, we’ll give it a pass. If nothing else, this does give a reason for the contrived way Vincent Vega ends up on a date with Mia Wallace.

O Brother Where Art Thou is Homer’s Odyssey

This one is no secret. The Coen brothers made plenty of allusions to their literary inspiration across the length and breath of this film. Everything from the hero’s name ‘Ulysses’ (the Roman version of ‘Odysseus’) to their adventures on the road. They are waylaid by sirens, assaulted by a one-eyed ‘cyclops’ and eventually have to see off a suitor who has been hanging round the hero’s wife.

Ulysses is supposed to be a smart guy, but in this scene, as throughout the movie, his biggest obstacle is water. Early on in the film he passes up the chance to get baptised, and is pursued by a policeman who is described as ‘the devil’. In this scene, three very wet sirens seduce and drug them. In the penultimate scene, he is caught in a flash flood. He survives by clinging to the remains of his old life, in the same manner as an Odyssean shipwreck.

Star Wars is the Downfall of the Roman Republic

Science fiction has been massively influenced by classical literature. Take, for example Star Trek, with its Romulans, Vulcans and James *Tiberius* Kirk. But, perhaps a better example is Star Wars, which borrows from both Roman history – not to mention the ‘immaculate conception’ of Anakin Skywalker.

What’s that? You want examples? Well alllllllrighty then! Darth Vader is Julius Caesar. Both men were generals, who were a little overconfident in their abilities. Sure, both of them dabbled in politics, but they made their names in conflict situations. Furthermore, when they want to build their power, they do it through alliances. Even after passing his Jedi trials, Anakin is still hanging out with Obi Wan, and when he goes over to the dark side, it is to play an important role in a governing partnership with Darth Sidious (Always two, there are!).

Luke Skywalker is Caesar’s rumoured son Brutus blended with Caesar’s adopted son Octavian. Brutus and Caesar ended up on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but their fortunes were very much intertwined. Brutus was one of Caesar’s killers, whereas Darth Vader had a late change of heart, and gave his life to save his son. It is unknown whether Brutus actually knew or believed the rumours about his parentage, but HBO covers the subject pretty well. Sure, it’s no “I am your father.” But nothing is. And if Luke is Brutus, then Padmé Amidala represents Servilia, who was Caesar’s long-term on-the-sly shag buddy and paramour, as well as Brutus’ mother.

Han Solo is Mark Anthony. In the expanded universe, Han starts out as a beggar and pickpocket who subsequently joins the Imperial navy. Likewise, Mark Anthony was a plebian, who ran with street gangs as a teen, and ended up in the Roman army.Either way, after Caesar’s death he joined up with Octavian and one other dude to form a new government. Han also marries princess Leia, who is the daughter of Anakin Skywalker and the Sister of Luke Skywalker. Octavian’s sister Octavia Minor was the fourth of Mark Anthony’s five wives. And, yep, even that incest thing is paralleled.

Modern stories borrow heavily from history and classic literature, just as Shakespeare borrowed from Ovid. But it’s down to the individuals to decide whether those storylines are cleverly re-worked, or just lazily rehashed. If you have any other ideas, please let me know in the comments section.

Road-tripping movie locations in north Wiltshire

A path outside Castle Combe
A path outside Castle Combe

There are filming locations across the UK and, on Thursday, I set out to see some of the ones that were closest to me. I chose Luckington, Castle Combe and Lacock for various reasons. I had never been to Castle Combe before, but had heard big things about it. It is supposed to be the ‘prettiest village in England’, and it is nice. Luckington and Lacock I have been to, but I also had a film fanatic with me, who I thought might appreciate them.

Luckington Court
Luckington Court, which was used as a location for the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice

Important checklist:

  • Directions – you have to know where you are going. At any point you may have to turn off a 60mph road with no signposts and no warning. Directions will spare the drivers’ nerves.
  • DVDs – Watch the films first so that you’ll recognise places and can say the appropriate catchphrases at the right times.
  • Research – Find out if the locations are actually visitable, how different they look IRL, and whether any other cool stuff happened in the same place. Luckington Court is a private house, and we totally missed the fact that the original ‘M’ is buried in the church graveyard.
The Wolfman also shot here
Castle Combe has removed all of its overhead telephone lines, but presumably the film companies have to sand the roads to obscure the double yellow lines.
Stardust House
We were pretty sure this was the Castle Combe house used in Stardust.

I can see where the ‘prettiest village in England’ thing comes from. It is a very idyllic place, and quite hard to get to at that. As such, it does a good job of representing everything wholesome and English. In films like ‘the Wolfman’ it is a place to protect, whereas in ‘Stardust’ it is a place to escape.  A young person like Tristan Thorne might appreciate the rolling countryside, but would feel stifled by the sheer lack of things to do.

Aspect of Castle Combe
We didn’t have a lot of time to look round Castle Combe, because we were trying to fit in all three locations. Not that it’s a particularly big place.

The last place we went to was Lacock. Over the last month or so I have been volunteering at Lacock Abbey on the National Trust’s ’50 Things to do Before You’re 11 3/4′ project. As a result, I bang on about the place quite a lot, post pictures of all the cats there (there are loads!) and generally get very enthusiastic about it. There have been a lot of films shot at Lacock Abbey, most recently the upcoming Wolf Hall movie.

Lacock Cloisters
The cloisters at Lacock Abbey. Not pictured; the sodding great cauldron used for Snape’s classroom, which physically cannot be moved.

After finishing this tour, I went to a party where I met a conservator whose job includes liaison with the film industry around the use of National Trust properties. In an age of greenscreen, it is a good thing that the film industry is willing to incur the hassle of filming in these historic locations. I, for one, appreciate their dedication.

#LightsOut and why we try to remember

A couple of months ago I wrote this blog, about whether it is appropriate to deliberately forget history. I thought that, in the wake of this week’s 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, it might be appropriate to look at why we conduct such massive memorials, and whether we still need them.

The first thing to address, particularly in the case of WWI, is that we do not do this for those who fought, and died. The last veterans of the conflict have since passed on, and the whole thing is nearly beyond living memory. The dead cannot hear us, and the living would probably rather forget about that time altogether. I have heard at least two veterans over the last week say that it is probably about time we stopped these grandiose memorials, and, against the backdrop of conflict in Syria, Iraq, Gaza and the Ukraine (among others), this doesn’t necessarily seem appropriate. In my earlier blog I implied that ‘the war to end wars’ was a huge misnomer, and that still rings true with tragic irony.

But if we’re not doing this for those who died, then who is it for? Almost every family has lost people in conflict, but in the developed world those wounds are now healing over. All of the ceremonies and memorials that I have seen, from the ice soldiers slowly melting in central Birmingham, to the fields of ceramic poppies outside the Tower of London, to the vigil service that I attended in a local parish church, all seemed to be particularly haunting affairs. The people behind these things worked hard to create a deeply affecting ritual.

Lights Out itself was the centrepiece for this ritual. The idea, conceived by the Royal British Legion referred to the words of the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, who said: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” The RBL asked that, between 10pm and 11pm on 4 August, people turned off all their electric lights, and left a single candle burning. To their credit, most places, including the local pub where I went for my vigil, joined in. I heard about a service at Bath Abbey where the final song was “A long, long way to Tipperary”, but the men of the choir filed out of the Abbey during the song, and their part grew quieter and quieter. The congregation left in silence, in ones and twos.

These memorials allowed people to express their creative side, in ways that we would never try with a funeral for fear of appearing crass, or over-dramatic. We haven’t gone in for ostentatious mourning since the end of the Victorian era, so maybe public ceremonies are a way to channel that side of our spirit. Even so, I don’t think that we conduct public memorials simply to provide an outlet.

One thing that has struck me, is that these ceremonies are all about the past. If they were about remembering so that we do not repeat the same mistakes, then there would be at least some focus on the future. A pledge, perhaps, that we would all work together to prevent such barbarism from ever occurring again. But there isn’t.

The two World Wars are the last time that conscription was used in the UK. The ugly realities of war were common knowledge to almost every household. For those veterans who are still alive, they would probably rather not remember. They had many comrades who died in battle, but most have also had quite a few friends who have died since.

I think that, whatever the memorials started out as, they have become a way for people who were not there to get a sense of what it might have been like. It will not be a complete picture; I’m sure there were moments of laughter in the trenches; times when the traditional picture of war broke down. But those of us who were not there want to understand how it felt for those who were. Rituals such as Lights Out give us that opportunity.