1949 — Cecil B DeMille’s “Samson and Delilah” is released

Cecil B DeMille’s “Samson and Delilah” was the second film version of the tale, and the first to be in colour and sound. The marquee stars were Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature in the title roles, along with George Sanders as the Saran, Angela Lansbury as Semadar.

The film would go on to become the highest grossing film of 1950, and win two Academy Awards (for Costume Design and Art Direction). A portion of the film’s sets and production would later be recreated in Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard”, with De Mille playing a character based on himself.

Referenced in:
Tombstone Blues — Bob Dylan

1802 — Thomas Paine returns to America from Paris

Tom Paine was a fiery pamphleteer whose works were among the foremost of those preaching revolution in the American colonies in the 1770s. After the revolution, he traveled to France in 1781, where he was intended to serve diplomatic and fund raising roles. However, the French, who were at that time at war with Britain, called him a British citizen rather than an American, and threw him in prison in 1793.

He was released after the end of the Terror, but he never regained his prominence or public support. His later writings attacked sacred cows: the church and President Washington. This, along with nasty rumours about his personal life, led to a homecoming less welcoming than might be expected for a hero of the revolution.

Referenced in:
Pretty Pink Rose — Adrian Belew

1971 — Winona Ryder is born

Born Winona Laura Horowitz, the actress now known as Winona Ryder is best known for her appearances in such films as “Heathers”, “Alien Ressurrection”, “Reality Bites” and “Girl, Interrupted”, among many others.

She is also well known for dating Johnny Deep in the early Nineties (he had a tattoo reading “Winona Forever” on his arm; after they broke up, it was modified to read “Wino Forever”), and for getting arrested for shoplifting in 2001.

Referenced in:
The Chanukah Song (Part II) — Adam Sandler

1880 — Ned Kelly is sentenced to death

Despite his long list of charges, Ned Kelly was convicted of only one capital crime: the murder of Constable Lonigan at Stringybark Creek, two years and two days earlier. However, a single conviction for murder still carried the death penalty, and Judge Redmond Barry wasted no time in pronouncing it, ending with the traditional “…and may God have mercy upon your soul.”

Kelly would have none of that, and his response was chilling: “I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there when I go.” Kelly was hung on November 11, 1880. Redmond Barry died of a sudden illness on November 23, 1880. It is not known whether the two saw each other afterwards as Kelly had promised.

Referenced in:
Our Sunshine — Paul Kelly

4004 BCE — God creates Adam

Diary of God, Day Six:

So tired today. Spent the whole day working on one thing, man. My plan is that he’s like an animal, only intelligent, like me. So because he’s not an animal, I figure he doesn’t need a mate. I mean, I don’t have one and I’m intelligent. Anyway, it went according to plan: I woke him up, told him that he was basically in charge whenever I’m not around, and called it a day.

Think I’ll take tomorrow off.

Referenced in:
Dear God — XTC

Graphic novel review: “Fell, volume 1: Feral City” by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith

This is the stuff.

A lonely detective, disgraced in some way that’s never revealed, sentenced to working homicide in a part of town that’s just about fallen off the world. Snowtown, the environment of Fell, is like the worst parts of Seventies New York crime films turned up to eleven. It’s a fallen place, and worse, it’s still falling, with no bottom in sight.

Richard Fell is perhaps the only sane person in the city, struggling to get justice in a city that has no particular use for it. He’s not actually a terribly likable figure, in himself – he’s an arrogant smartass with a self-righteous streak a mile wide – but he’s the best that Snowtown has, and better, perhaps, than it deserves.

Ellis’ wit has rarely been sharper, and his writing is crisp and intelligent. It’s also minimalist – Ellis is quite happy to let the art do the talking. And the moody, expressionistic art of Ben Templesmith does just that. Trapped in an intentionally claustrophobic nine panel grid, the characters might want to leave their dirty town, but know that they never will. It’s always dark in Snowtown – daytime is rarely brighter than twilight, and most of the time, it appears to be 3AM on an overcast night. The dark watercolours of his panels leak humidity into the room, and you can almost smell the reeking piles of garbage that haven’t been collected from Snowtown’s alleys in weeks (if not months).

There are eight individual stories in this, linked by a small throughline as we learn about Fell and his supporting cast, but each of the stories is effectively a done in one. You could read any of them singly without needing any other background. The only disappointment in the book is on the cover: those teasing words ‘volume one’. Alas, it’s now been nearly a decade, and volume two is nowhere in sight.

Forget it, Loke. It’s Snowtown.

1440 — Gilles de Rais is executed for his crimes

Gilles de Rais first came to prominence as a wealthy nobleman who was one of Jeann D’Arc’s greatest allies, fighting alongside her in battle and helping her politically. But after her burning at the stake, he seems to have lost his way. He spent much of his fortune on self-indulgence and dissipation, and his early high moral standing was slowly but surely tarnished. In particular, he became interested in occultism and did not conceal his contempt for the Church – and that was an enemy he could ill-afford to make.

In 1440, he was arrested and charged with many crimes, including the murder of numerous children belonging to his subjects. De Rais confessed to many of the charges, and witnesses gave lurid testimony. He was hanged above a fire, although his corpse was cut down for burial before it was consumed in the flames.

Gilles de Rais’s trial and execution have been the subject of considerable speculation over the years. His guilt and the veracity of his confession have both been questioned, particularly in light of the fact that there was little evidence other than testimony that is similarly questionable, and the fact that his prosecutors were the Church (of which he was a known critic) and the nobleman who stood to inherit de Rais’ property. Event today, whether as a serial killer or a victim of the Church, he remains a puzzling enigma.

Referenced in:
Gilles de Rais — Brodequin
Into the Crypt of Rays — Celtic Frost
Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder — Cradle of Filth
Morbid Glory (Gilles de Rais 1404-1440) — Ancient Rites

1854 — The Battle of Balaclava

Beginning about a year into the Crimean War (1853-6), the Battle of Balaclava is perhaps the best known engagement of the war. Its outcome was indecisive; it did not end the siege of Sevastopol, but neither were the Allied losses so great as to constitute a major defeat.

But in its very unimportance, it became something else. An inspiration and a beacon of courage and chivalry. For this one bloody day of fighting saw the famous charge of the Light Brigade, immortalised in poetry by Kipling and Tennyson. As such, its effect on British morale helped that nation and its allies hang on until victory was achieved. (Ironically, the legendary charge was an error resulting from a misinterpreted order.)

Referenced in:
Broken Heroes — Saxon
The Trooper — Iron Maiden