Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘History’

Illustrations for the Apocalypse

April 18, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Books, History 1 Comment →


In the 8th century, in a monastery in the mountains of northern Spain, 700 years after the Book of Revelations was written, a monk named Beatus set down to illustrate a collection of writings he had compiled about this most vivid and apocalyptic of the New Testament books. Throughout the next few centuries his depictions of multi-headed beasts, decapitated sinners, and trumpet blowing angels, would be copied over and over again in various versions of the manuscript.




Read about the Beatus of Facundus at the Public Domain Review.

The Castle of Citizen Kane

April 10, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Movies, Places 3 Comments →

facadeSan Simeon photos by Juan

After a recent conference in Vegas, our friend Juan took a road trip to San Simeon, California to see the Hearst Castle. The hilltop palace was built by William Randolph Hearst, the American newspaper magnate who was the model for Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. (More recently it was the location of a Lady Gaga music video.)

Hearst was not amused, and did everything in his power to suppress the film. He tried to stop the studio from screening it. Failing that, he forbade all his newspapers from mentioning Citizen Kane, and ordered them to smear Orson Welles.

Citizen Kane did decently at the box-office and got some Oscar nominations, but it should have been Huge. Much of what we take for granted in cinema today was invented by Welles and his collaborators, notably cinematographer Gregg Toland. Orson Welles was 25 when he made that movie, and it was his first (though he was already a stage and radio sensation, having caused a panic with his War of the Worlds broadcast). He cited sheer ignorance as the source of his nerve—”There is no confidence to equal it. It’s only when you know something about a profession that you are timid or careful.”

Ironically, Hearst is largely remembered today as the inspiration for Citizen Kane, one of the greatest, most influential films in history.

Kane reflects on his life. Reflects, get it? Citizen Kane screenshots from Movie Images.

But Welles’s career was badly wounded by the Hearst propaganda, and for the rest of his life he would have trouble getting movies made. Charles Foster Kane was a man who had gotten everything he wanted, and then lost it all—the same could be said of Orson Welles.

roman pool 2
The Roman pool at Hearst Castle, not to be confused with the outdoor pool.

“The castle is a bit sad now that it is devoid of glamorous people,” Juan reports. “The most frequent guest was supposed to have been Clark Gable, who visited 42 times.”

dining hall

“The longer you stayed, the farther away you sat from Randolph Hearst, who was always seated at the middle. P.G. Wodehouse had to leave when he found himself at the end of the long table one night.”


Compare the actual dining room with the one in the film. The movie version is practically minimalist.

tennis court

“The conceit of the guy was not in building a castle but in building it on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere and giving it the comforts of a modern home. Indoor plumbing, lighted tennis court (first in California), heated swimming pools. Imagine the infrastructure of water, sewage, electricity that had to be built. Highway 1 had not been constructed yet so the castle was extremely isolated and difficult to get to.”

The library of the man who invented yellow journalism.

“In the late 1930s, Hearst owed $127M and had to downsize a lot. The family wanted to donate San Simeon to UCLA but the cost of maintenance was too much to bear (and there was no endowment for upkeep).”

The ornate ceiling. Hearst bought a lot of art from impoverished European nobility to furnish his castle.

“Paul Getty wanted to buy it and break up the art collection; the family refused. So it ended up with California government. I guess they had to do it as part of the estate settlement.”

Does that window give you the urge to confess?


“Randolph supposedly left control of his company to Marion Davies (his mistress, who was friends with Herman Mankiewicz, who wrote the screenplay of Citizen Kane after he’d been barred from the castle for drunkenness), but she handed it back to the family.”


“I doubt that we will ever see something of this scale built ever again.” (Don’t count out the nouveaux riches just yet.)

The connection between William Randolph Hearst and Philippine history: During the Cuban revolution, Hearst and his newspapers inflamed public opinion against Spain, and this was one of the factors that led to the Spanish-American War. Which ended with the Philippines becoming a possession of the United States—a precursor of Vietnam and Iraq.

Citizen Kane was our godfather.

How to make illuminated manuscripts

April 09, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History No Comments →

Marquette Bible
Franco-Flemish, about 1270
Tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment
Leaf: 18 1/2 x 12 1/8 in.
MS. LUDWIG I 8, VOL. 2, FOL. 126

The Making of A Medieval Book at the Getty Museum.

Having discovered Anne the calligrapher, we have put her to work on various manuscripts, including Jane Austen, Edith Wharton and Isak Dinesen excerpts.

Next: Illuminated manuscripts!

We’ve always wanted to produce hand-made books (but NOT anthropomorphic bibliopegy), and now we have a collaborator. Yes, mass production is much cheaper and less troublesome, but making books by hand is a craft. The cost of the finished book is beside the point: the pleasure is in the “trouble” taken.

Besides, efficient utilitarian factory production has not saved the print market. We might even argue that reducing book production to a simple machine process has diminished the value of the book as an object.

Granted, we just enjoy making a fuss over the things we love.

Note: We have no intention of reliving medieval times. No indoor plumbing, terrible sanitation, rampant disease, low life expectancy, bad food. For the dramas of the medieval kings, we have Shakespeare. Always been fascinated by the Plantagenets.

from Good Tickle Brain, a wonderful Shakespeare webcomic, via io9

Download the Illuminated Morte d’Arthur by Alfred Lord Tennyson at the Public Domain Review.

A chastity belt for the brain

March 31, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Clothing, History, Places, Shopping No Comments →


Noel’s latest find from the Legazpi Sunday Market: “One-of-a-kind Cleopatra-inspired Gargantilla. Pieces of Spanish brass, turquoise, mosaic sapphire,” a.k.a. a choker. The stones give it a medieval look, but the circlet makes it science-fiction. It’s beautiful. The artist’s name is Uan, and we’re going to drop by the market next weekend to find out more.

gargantilla detail

The keyhole pendant brings to mind a chastity belt, except that you wear it around your neck. Aha, a chastity belt for the head. To keep people from thinking about sex. Of course, wearing it guarantees that you will think of nothing else.

The Legazpi Sunday Market is open Sundays from 0730 to 1400 at the corner of Rufino and Legazpi Streets in Legazpi Village, Makati near Greenbelt.

Every movie we see #22: 300 Rise of An Empire is 102 minutes of slow-motion blood spatter

March 07, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Antiquities, History, Movies No Comments →

When last we saw Leonidas and his brave Spartans at Thermopylae, they looked like this. (Is that Michael Fassbender on Leonidas’s right?)


Two hundred ninety-nine lay dead, one returned to Sparta to report their mission accomplished (It was a suicide mission, Spartans wanted a glorious death). We rejoin them shortly after the events at the Hot Gates, with Leonidas’s Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey, who specializes in warrior queens) leading the Spartans into battle against the Persians. She tells us why Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) has it in for the Greeks: apparently the Athenian leader Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) personally killed Xerxes’s father, King Darius. Xerxes used to be human so we get to see Rodrigo looking like himself at first—but then Darius’s naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green) fans his hatred of the Greeks. She kills everyone who might talk sense into Xerxes, and then makes him undergo a ritual that turns him into this.


Aaaaaaaaaaaa his eyebrows are trying to kill us! Help, he’s going to audition for the Village People in 480 BC!

Then the Persians attack the Greek city-states with a huuuge fleet. Themistocles tries to mount a proper defence, but Athens has just invented democracy and everyone gets an opinion, so he and his men are on their own. Themistocles is played by Sullivan Stapleton, who is not a bad actor but lacks the heroic heft for this stuff—he makes Gerald Butler look like Daniel Day-Lewis.

His small fleet has to battle the huuuge navy led by Artemisia, who divides her time between slaughtering men and changing her goth-metal costumes. Why isn’t Eva Green in more movies? Here she plays a ferocious warrior who wields two swords at the same time, and she doesn’t even need them because she can castrate men with a look.


The movie is Rated R-16 because every ten seconds someone gets hacked with a sword, then his blood spurts in slow motion for another ten seconds. The screenplay for this movie must be three pages long, most of it Lena Headey’s voice-over. 102 minutes of men disemboweling, beheading and vivisecting each other, and you know what was cut from this R-16 version? A sex scene. Because Eva Green’s breasts are more dangerous than men impaling each other with swords. Just say no to heterosex.

300: Rise of An Empire must be an advertisement for the color red. After three minutes of carnage we had the overwhelming urge to eat the bagnet dinuguan at Wooden Spoon (We went afterwards and they were full, as usual). Speaking of food, if you go to Hossein’s Persian Kebab, don’t even mention 300 or its sequel to Mr. Hossein because he gets furious. However, if you are doing a history report on the Achaemenid Empire and the Greek Alliance, better talk to Mr. Hossein because if you get your information from 300: Rise of An Empire, you will flunk the class and deserve it.

Watch: If you want to see rippling musculature. And live actors made to look like visual effects.

Reading year 2014: A History of the World in 100 Objects is a crash course in civilization

March 06, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Antiquities, Art, Books, History No Comments →


If you’re into history, archaeology, and art, this book is an absolute delight. If you know nothing about the history of the human race, this book will save you from ignorance.

British Museum director Neil MacGregor has chosen 100 artifacts from different periods in history to create revealing snapshots of how people lived in those times.

standard of ur
The Standard of Ur, a wooden box inlaid with mosaic, dates back to 2600 BC. Archaeologists thought it was a standard, a sign carried into battle on top of a pole. They still don’t know exactly what it’s for, but most likely it’s a box to keep precious objects in. The mosaic carved in shell, red stone and lapis could be the first comic strip, portraying life in the ancient city of Ur in Sumer in Mesopotamia. You see the king ruling his subjects, and leading them in wartime. Note the chariots: as early as 2600 BC, artists had figured out how to render movement graphically.

holy thorn reliquary
This reliquary made in Paris in 1350 or so is made of solid gold and encrusted with sapphires, crystals, rubies and pearls. Look closely: there are angels blowing their trumpets and people rising from their coffins and raising their hands. It’s a scene from the Last Judgement. The reliquary contains a single thorn purportedly from the Crown of Thorns that was placed on Jesus’s head. In the Medieval Ages there was a booming trade in holy relics: saints’ fingers, skulls, bits of bone.

throne of weapons
From Mozambique in 2001: A throne built from decommissioned weapons from various wars, monument to all who suffered in the civil war in Mozambique. (Is it possible that they got the inspiration from the Iron Throne in George R.R. Martin’s epic?)

A History of the World in 100 Objects is available at National Bookstores, Php1195.

Listen to the AHOW podcast.