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  • Twelve Best History Montages October 13, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback

    baldwin iv
    By history montage we refer to short length runs of images and film available on youtube often with attractive music in the background. They are typically put together by amateurs and their productions standards and their production values can be a little shaky. However, often late in the evening or when he wants his daughters to take a break from Peppa (sodding) Pig then Beach puts these on. There follow his twelve favourites. Tedious male interest in battles, genetic interest in Britain and neighbours, royalist leanings, and a melodramatic streak have all determined the rather narrow sample. Beach loves history montages: any others please let us know and we’ll list them, drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    1) Polish Cavarly in the September War: Why should a video on Poland’s officer class being butchered on horseback be so inspiring? Always a sense watching this that we are seeing the last medieval army (containing much of the best of that epoch) as it prepares to go to war, simulatenously let us never forget, with the two most evil powers of modernity (‘the modern world in arms’ as Evelyn Waugh had it), the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It also enjoys a bit of myth busting: the ‘ineffective’ Polish cavalry were actually remarkably effective in the west. Love the bad but sincere English too.

    2) Baldwin IV: If you want to put together a history montage then getting the right music is important and this like (1) chooses the atmospheric  Now We Are Free. The clips all come from a very poor movie – what were they thinking when they cast Osama bin Laden as Saladin?!? – but the scenes are run together perfectly here and Baldwin IV, leper king of Jerusalem, is played to perfection by Edward Norton, the delicacy, the effectiveness, the decline…. The army that you see riding out to meet Saladin is the army of Jerusalem in its last years. Within a decade most of those men would be dead, enslaved or scattered.

    3) Budapest 1956: Hopeless uprisings probably make for good history montages. All those faces of men and women who will be dead by the end of the week… The music is a bit jazzy for this blogger, but credit to Jean-Paul Mefret for raging against the machine while many French intellectuals were taken roubles for compliance to international communism or, worse still, doing it for free.

    4) The Easter Rising: This particular uprising was beyond hopeless. Fewer than a hundred men were gathered in the Post Office in central Dublin and they were fighting an Empire: futility was practically the only point the rebels could make. Yet the mouse roared. A combination of British stupidity, martrydom (‘Semen est sanguis Christianorum’) and the quixiotic Irish character did the rest: within five years southern Ireland would have its freedom.  One of the most moving and best-taste historical memorials that Beach has ever seen is the modest statue of Cuchulainn in the PO in O’ Connell Street, the ravens of death perching, waiting anxiously on his shoulder.

    5) The Big Push, 1915?: Another hopeless affair. The final clip from the British comedy series Blackadder works because it is so horrendously unfunny. British privates and NCOs line up in the trench waiting for the big attack and suddenly realize that there is no way out and that they are going to be running at German machine guns. The ending was a stroke of genius, the perfect full stop for a series – comic or otherwise – on the first world war.

    6) Optimates: Not a montage but a powerful clip from the HBO series Rome. Cato (in black), the best cast of all the characters, speaks against Caesar in the Senate with vim and with fury: God, he is good. It is very rarely in history productions that you really feel you are there: usually you are embarrassed by the depiction of Churchill or Queen Victoria or some other leading light. Here you can luxuriate in your director’s seat beside the optimates, and look out, too, for Cicero glancing anxiously around.  What a shame no one was really listening…

    7) If War Should Come: The absolutely superb Public Service Broadcasting (watch everything that they have ever made) offers a series of clips from Britain in 1939 before the invasion of Poland. Listen out for the Chamberlain line at the end and, of course, the dancing children.  When Beach watches this he always wonders: how many made it through? Given Britain’s extraordinary luck – that the country has ridden for a few centuries now – far far more than the Polish cavalrymen in (1)

    8) Dunkirk: Another example of Britain riding out its luck… Actually the last fifteen minutes of a good BBC production about the Dunkirk evacuation: really a budget conscious version of Pacific and Band of Brothers for those English-speakers on the wrong side of the Atlantic. The collage at the end of this clip is though in the montage category and is particularly effective with Churchill rabitting on in the background.

    9) English Royalists in the Civil War: A special interest this of Beach. A very basic video to just the right music, showing the men who rallied to Charles II when radicals and fanatics in Parliament decided to rip up the ancient order, tearing down the works of time.  And on the other side just for the sake of balance (sigh) the brilliant World Turned Upside Down sung by a brilliant Dick Gaughan and a surreally strange version  with a punk sidetrack (wait for it) and with speeded up battle scenes. Carry on Cromwell?

    10) Elizabeth II: To continue the royal theme, this one is Beach’s daughter’s favorite. The first time she watched it she looked at her father with horrified eyes and said: ‘will the Queen die?’

    11) Bonny Prince Charlie: Another series of clips from a bad film, where the montage maker probably had more talent than the original director: the new version is very smooth with outstanding images. The choice of scenes, including that blood-freezing moment with the red coats on horseback, works. Look out for the boat at the end and the eyes at the raising of the standard, how long they had waited and how long they would wait?

    12) Maximilian and Charlotte: And to round off two other victims of modernity the Emperor and Empress of Mexico

    31 Oct 2013: Willgoose of Public Service Broadcasting writes in ‘Maybe some of British Sea Power’s more historical offerings? Their Storyville BBC4 soundtrack for ‘From the Sea to the Land Beyond‘ (or ‘From the Land to the Sea Beyond’, I always get confused) was a fine offering and many of their tracks are inspired by historical events…’ Thanks!