History of the World According to the Movies: Part 33 – Cavalier European Empires

Image

The Scarlet Empress from 1934. Sure it does detail the story of young Catherine the Great quite accurately to the point she had many lovers as well as a husband who wouldn’t have sex with her. However, Catherine the Great didn’t just sleep her way to the top nor did she get by just on her looks as depicted in this film. Nor was she a naive princess trapped in a frightening castle in Moscow but a palace in Saint Petersburg that she’d feel more at home. Also, she didn’t look anything like Marlene Dietrich (since she had lost her looks, youth, and even her health by that point) though she was German. Nevertheless, this film less of a historical biopic and more of an excuse for Josef von Sternberg to make a film with scary S&M scenes because the Hays Code wouldn’t allow that.

While most movies of the Cavalier Era in Europe are set in Great Britain and France, they weren’t the only countries in which things were happening. It was also an age of European Empires in which three European entities were scrambling to take over places on their own continent (like splitting Poland three ways). These countries are Russia, Austria, and Prussia who at one time were homes of a few of the most famous enlightened absolute monarchs of all time. You have Russia, which was involved in a power struggle after the death of Ivan the Terrible (with a short rule of Boris Godunov), the rise of the Romanov Czars, an undertaking of modernization under Peter the Great (who was willing to cut guys’ beards off), as well as the rule of Catherine the Great. You have Austria, home of the Hapsburg royal family that had produced Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Joseph II as well as Mozart and one of the most infamous female serial killers of all time. Then you have Prussia a new country in Europe home to one of the most formidable militaries in Europe as with its best monarch being a Pan-European and anti-statist King Frederick the Great (but you wouldn’t know it from the films made by his embarrassing fans, the Nazis who make him out as some kind of proto-Hitler). Nevertheless, movies about this era in these countries tend to get a lot of stuff wrong, which I shall show you.

Czarist Russia:

During the troubled year of 1612, Polish troops were thrown back from Moscow. (They held the city for two years only to be expelled by Kuzma Minin and Dmitrty Pozharsky.)

Eighteenth century Russia’s capital was Moscow which was a primitive place as shown by the monstrosity décor of the palace. (Actually, the capital in eighteenth century Russia was St. Petersburg and would remain so until the Russian Revolution. Also, the Winter Palace was built in the classical style of architecture.)

Catherine the Great was a gorgeous vixen who relied on her beauty and wiles to win influence and become Empress of Russia. (Catherine the Great looked nothing like Marlene Dietrich and didn’t sleep her way to the top either even though she did have lovers but this could be explained by the fact she was married to a total idiot who wouldn’t sleep with her and was under tremendous pressure to produce an heir, at least in her early years. In other words, her initial reason for taking lovers was to save her own ass. But many of these guys filled other roles in her life besides boy toys and lasted for quite some time {or power but many of her lovers did help Russia and remained loyal to her at least as her subjects}. Three of them fathered her children; one helped her develop rapport with key military regiments which would help stage a coup that made her empress. Another served as a political confidante. However, Catherine the Great wasn’t an attractive woman and she made her way to the top not by her looks and sexuality, but by her brains, courage, character and magnificence {since she lost her looks, youth, and health by the time she became Empress. Still, it was her brains that impressed the likes of men such as King Frederick the Great of Prussia and she was pen pals with Voltaire.)

Catherine the Great was a girly girl who aspired to be a toe-dancer. (She was a tomboy with an avid personality and love of deep thoughts who at fourteen said, “I am a philosopher,” and wrote a long treatise to prove it. Also, she was large, boisterous, and slightly walleyed. Not to mention, she really liked to read as a way to escape her misery from court life during her marriage developing her political skills to counteract with the vicious intrigues threatening to ensnare her.)

Empress Elizabeth was a tyrannical bitch as well as frumpy and old. (She wasn’t a nice lady but she was able to seize her throne in a military coup in 1641. Yet, she was considered very attractive and tall despite her malice, spite, vengefulness, vanity, and a deep and pervasive fearfulness. However, this woman was one of Catherine the Great’s role models as well as principal mentor who taught her everything that she needed to know about being the Empress of Russia. Like Catherine, she also had many lovers.)

Empress Elizabeth’s reign was filled with mass fetish torture. (Her reign was quite merciful despite being kind of tyrannical bitch. Seems Sternberg has a thing for S&M torture and probably used young Catherine the Great as an excuse.)

Count Alexei Razumovsky was a moody pretty boy with wild hair and eye makeup who fell in love with the future Catherine the Great at first sight. (He was actually Empress Elizabeth’s lover {or secret husband} and looked more like you’d imagine a typical Republican Congressman {interestingly the guy who played this man in The Scarlet Empress was future Republican Congressman John Lodge}, especially after a long lunch. Well, maybe Empress Elizabeth liked him for his personality.)

Grigori Orlov killed Czar Peter III. (His brother Alexei is the most likely suspect {you could also said he was the original “Scarface” since it was his nickname}. Also, she plotted her takeover with lots of supporters and the coup to overthrow Peter III was planned months in advance.)

Nikolai Ilyich was Catherine the Great’s chancellor in 1763. (It was actually Nikita Ivanovich Panin.)

Alexei Chernoff was a fiance to one of Catherine the Great’s ladies in waiting as well as her lover in 1763 who slept his way to be commander of the palace guard. (Her lover at the time was Grigori Orlov. Chernoff is fictional.)

Catherine the Great exiled people to the Crimea in the 1760s. (She didn’t have Crimea annexed until 1783. However, she did exile people to Siberia.)

Catherine the Great ordered her husband’s murder. (There’s no evidence she ordered her husband Peter III’s assassination, though she may have been complicit. Yet, she did order Ivan VI’s yet he was trying to stage a coup against her and was mentally unstable anyway due to his solitary confinement since he was a baby {but he would’ve been a bad Czar anyway, even as a figurehead}.)

It was through discovering her own sexuality in which Catherine the Great became a political sophisticate. (No, she was already a very intelligent political sophisticate before she lost her virginity and it wasn’t to some random guardsman.)

Catherine the Great had one son by 1763. (She had given birth to three by this time while only her two sons by then {her daughter died at two}. She may have had a daughter by Orlov who may have married a guy named Klinger but historians aren’t so sure. Then again, her son by Orlov was never publicly acknowledged until after her death {though everyone knew already}.)

Grigory Orlov had a mustache. (His portrait depicts him clean shaven.)

Catherine the Great didn’t care for the peasants and serfs. (She tried to institute some reforms for the serfs and peasants but whatever she did wasn’t going to make them happy or win favor with the nobles who supported her. Also, she owed her throne to the support of the nobility so doing anything to benefit the serfs wasn’t going to help her.)

Elizaveta Alexeievna (a. k. a. Princess Tarakanoff or Princess Cockroach) was a real princess as well as a threat to Catherine the Great. (She claimed to be an illegitimate daughter of Empress Elizabeth but we’re not sure where she really came from or that she was anything other than a pretender. Yet, at one time she did travel Western Europe and was a mistress to an Austrian count. She was also known by other names.)

Alexei Orlov betrayed Catherine the Great for Princess Tarakanoff. (He never betrayed Catherine and it’s actually said that he actually seduced and lured the pretender, arrested her, and brought her to Russia where she was imprisoned until her death from tuberculosis. Still, it’s said Empress Catherine the Great had to deal with about 26 pretenders to the throne.)

Catherine the Great had blond hair. (She had dark hair but in movies, she’s depicted as blond.)

Catherine the Great and Peter III had an initially happy marriage. (If this was the case, Catherine would never have to take lovers. Her marriage to then Grand Duke Peter was actually doomed from the start more or less because she was still a virgin by her tenth wedding anniversary. Also, they loathed each other and their 17 year marriage was never consummated.)

Catherine the Great first met her husband shortly before she married him. (She first met him when she was ten years old and instantly detested him though she married him six years later after arriving in Russia the year before.)

Catherine the Great was reluctant to overthrow her husband. (She was all for it for she had nothing but contempt for him since had been humiliated and exploited by him for years and he became increasingly hostile to her. Also, he threatened to expel her to a convent after Empress Elizabeth died, which made Catherine all the more fearful of him. Still, her life as Peter III’s wife was perhaps one of the darkest episodes of her life.)

Catherine the Great overthrew her husband by having him killed. (She actually had him arrested and forced him to abdicate. It’s highly unlikely she had ordered him killed, but she was certainly the mastermind in overthrowing him along with the nobility, Orthodox Church, and the military who’ve all been alienated by his policies. Besides, she staged bloodless coup when he was out of town at the time.)

Peter III was highly abusive or downright insane. (He actually was more of an Germanophile willing to end a war against his idol Frederick the Great without consulting anyone as well as highly immature and had crazy manchild tendencies {as far as Catherine’s memoirs were concerned}. Nevertheless, he had no common sense a whole different kind of idiocy. Still, he was a complete asshole nevertheless and had no affinity for Russian culture.)

Catherine the Great was faithful to her husband until the very end. (She had been faithful to him during the first ten years but she had taken three lovers in the last seven years mostly out of necessity. Yet, it’s present in The Rise of Catherine the Great.)

Hapsburg Austria-Hungary:

Antonio Salieri was Mozart’s sworn enemy who was jealous of his talent and had him poisoned. (Actually though Salieri wasn’t the kind of composer Mozart was, he was considered a fantastic composer sort of like Evegeni Malkin to Sidney Crosby in the classical music world. Also, Mozart probably died from a long term illness, not poison and was probably not buried in a mass grave at least at first. As with Mozart and Salieri’s relationship, well, they were friends and collaborators as well as respected each other for their talents and attended each other’s performances {Salieri even attended Mozart’s funeral and gave his son free music lessons}. The perception of the two as rivals was created to show the competing musical giants of Germany and Italy who were the most dominant classical music nations of the nineteenth century {and maybe Russian writer Alexander Pushkin}. Actually Amadeus gets a lot of things wrong on Mozart’s life such as his relationship with his mother-in-law, who commissioned the Requiem Mass and who finished it, and how he was buried.)

Antonio Salieri tried to sabotage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s career. (Salieri did not such thing and actually respected Mozart as a musician and a composer. They may have been competing for jobs but they also encouraged each other. Their rival was mostly professional. Mozart even wrote that Salieri even enjoyed of The Magic Flute and this opera was his choice to be performed in Vienna when could’ve easily selected his own music.)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a arrogant and eccentric filthy-minded manchild. (Yes, he was known for crass scatological humor and pranks as well as would’ve given the fluffiest wig to write the score of South Park: the Musical in the 18th century. However, he was probably as much of a manchild as you’d expect any guy in his twenties {who only told his toilet jokes around close friends and family}. Still, he was a serious composer who knew how to behave himself in public since he had been performing from a very young age. He was also a loving and faithful husband to Constanze as well as there for her when she suffered from a near-fatal illness. Also, he wasn’t an alcoholic by 18th century standards. Still, Amadeus does get right how annoying he was since Joseph Haydn once saw him making 100 enemies at a single party.)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was in court service throughout the 1780s. (He wasn’t offered an official position in Vienna until 1787.)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart collapsed at the premiere of The Magic Flute. (He had been sick for some time but no, he didn’t collapse because he conducted several performances afterward until he was unable to get out of bed.)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was buried in a pauper’s grave. (Yes, he died in debt but by the time of his death, he was making 10,000 florins a year putting him in the top 5% of the population in Vienna. Also, his operas were huge successes. Of course, this myth results from a mistranslation since the German words for “communal” and “common” were similar. Still, he was buried in a common grave, which is more to say “not a fancy one” as middle class people of his day. Nevertheless, it was quite common for many people in the 18th century to be buried in plots they didn’t own {especially middle class people in Vienna like Mozart}, from which they were eventually dug up to make space for others. This explains why Mozart’s remains were never found. So he wasn’t buried in a ditch, more like he was put in a regular grave, dug up ten years later, and moved but the guys doing the moving forgot where they put them. Uh, maybe it would’ve been better off if he was buried in a ditch.)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was buried in torrential rain. (He was buried in fair weather.)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his wife Constanze had a troubled marriage. (Sure Mozart wasn’t the best husband and had an annoying personality. However, he and Constanze had a happy marriage with two sons who survived into adulthood {though their folks weren’t initially thrilled of the match}. Yet, their courtship didn’t go smoothly nor was it love at first sight when they met at least on his part {he was 21 and she was 15}. Interestingly, Mozart was initially in love with her sister Aloysia who rejected him and married another man. Still, Constanze was actually a trained musician from a musical family who played a role in her husband’s career and financially savvy enough to make herself financially secure or even well-off after Mozart’s death.)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Constanze had only one son. (They actually had six kids but only two sons survived infancy.)

As an adult, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart begged his dad for money and was unable to impress him. (Actually Leopold Mozart bragged about his son in letters on how much money his son was making so he wasn’t an under appreciated artist who suffered all his life. Cracked.com says he was more like a Michael Bolton of the 1700s who was a popular artist with some huge hits but not seen as a huge deal.)

Antonio Salieri commissioned the Requiem Mass as well as dressed up as Mozart’s dead father to freak him out and helped Mozart finish it. (Actually it was Count Walsegg-Stuppach who commissioned the Requiem Mass because he wanted to commemorate his dead wife and secretly wanted to claim the music as his own {though we’re not sure Mozart knew his identity}. And it was Franz Xaver Süssmayr who helped Mozart finished it.)

Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro were flops. (Contrary to what Amadeus says, they were both sensational hits audiences just couldn’t get enough of. In fact, Emperor Joseph II had to restrict encores for The Marriage of Figaro just after its first three performances.)

Antonio Salieri was a celibate bachelor all his life. (He had a wife and eight kids as well as at least one mistress. So he probably didn’t make a pact with God to give his chastity.)

Constanze Mozart left for a spa with her son once her husband became seriously ill. (Despite suffering from poor health herself and having two young children, Constanze would never have left her sick husband for a spa. She and her sister were actually with Mozart on his deathbed the whole time. However, she didn’t go to his funeral since she was said to be too grief-stricken to attend.)

Constanze Mozart didn’t have a love of music. (She was a trained musician from a musical family like Mozart himself. Also, one of Mozart’s letters say that she actually loved his music and wanted him to write some of it down. Still, she fell in love with him through his music, not his fart jokes.)

Vienna high society was familiar with Johann Sebastian Bach’s music during the 1780s. (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart did know about Bach since he was friends with the composer’s son. However, no one else in Vienna or anywhere would’ve known about Bach’s music until Felix Mendelssohn rediscovered him which was 40 years after Mozart’s death. Heck, Bach wasn’t known as a composer during his lifetime, just simple church organist who was very good at his job. Not to mention, composing came with his job as it was.)

Catarina Cavalieri slept with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in order to get the lead singing role in the premiere of the The Abduction from the Seraglio. (Mozart did give her the part of the lead in The Abduction from the Seraglio in July of 1782 but she didn’t have to seduce him to get the role since he had written the previous year to his dad that he “never had relations of that sort with any woman.” Also, he had a girlfriend at the time who he’d later marry {and remain faithful to for the rest of his life, especially in a period when promiscuity was open and more widely accepted}. Still, it’s more likely Cavalieri actually slept with Salieri to get the role if she had to at all {though it’s more likely she got the part because she was just a good opera singer though she was Salieri’s student}. This is because she was generally known to be Salieri’s mistress who was with him as his date during the premiere of The Magic Flute {and Mozart wrote of picking them up on the way to the performance}.)

Antonio Salieri used his influence to prevent Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart from getting a job to teach the Princess of Württemberg. (Mozart did apply for the position but Salieri got the gig instead mostly because of his reputation as a singing teacher. However, there were other Italian composers in Emperor Joseph II’s court scheming to prevent Mozart from advancing his career because he was their competition. Still, Salieri’s music was more in a tradition of German composers at that time.)

Mozart wrote most of his compositions in the first draft. (He revised his music like most composers did. This was a 19th century theory.)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was right handed. (He was left handed.)

Countess Elizabeth Bathory was innocent of any murders she allegedly committed and was really a kind and loving mother and ruler who was in the wrong place at the wrong time as well as a victim of the malicious slanders of greedy noblemen. (This woman was nicknamed “The Blood Countess” and was the most prolific female serial killer in history. She’s believed to be responsible for torturing hundreds of young women to death {about 650 to be exact}, though there was only enough evidence to convict 80 of them {still putting many of her male counterparts to shame}. Over 300 witnesses testified that young women would regularly enter her castle and only their corpses would come out, which was backed up by physical evidence and the presence of horribly, mutilated dead, dying, and imprisoned girls found at her arrest. As for being a ruler, she didn’t have any land, power, or direct power after her husband died since her son had inherited the family’s estate while their oldest daughter acted as regent while he was a minor. Thus, Bathory was technically powerless and this was the reason why the Hapsburg Empire waited about a decade between the crimes being first reported and launching an investigation. Still, her family’s influence kept her from being put on trial and they put her on house arrest for the rest of her life {her accomplices were}.)

Countess Elizabeth Bathory was spied on by monks. (She was a member of the Lutheran church and her crimes were reported there. Saying that she was a victim by some Catholic Church conspiracy is completely bogus. Still, the Bathorys weren’t on good terms with the Hapsburgs, though they were a powerful family.)

Countess Elizabeth Bathory killed several young women in order to stay young and beautiful while she was in power. (For God’s sake, she wasn’t in power at the time. Also, killing people in order to remain young and beautiful is a lame motive. Nevertheless, she’s said to have suffered from some mental illness as well as been exposed to incredible violence which her family condoned. Her husband might’ve taught her new torture methods or may not have known anything about her crimes since they were done in his absence {though he wasn’t a nice guy either}.)

Countess Elizabeth Bathory had an affair with Caravaggio. (She didn’t.)

Countess Elizabeth Bathory Bathory bathed in blood. (Bathing in blood isn’t easily achievable since it clots within 5 to 8 minutes. No witness accounts of Bathory bloodbaths exist.)

Baron von Munchausen had a mustache and/or beard. (He was a real person though he sometimes stretched the truth but his portrait doesn’t reveal any facial hair on him though. Nevertheless, 18th century gentlemen were usually clean shaven, Baron von Munchausen included.)

Prussia:

Prussian officers wore mustaches in the 18th century. (Only Hussar light cavalry officers did at the time. Facial hair had fallen out of fashion for gentlemen from the late 17th century to the early 19th century.)

Frederick the Great wasn’t above using conscription to supply his armies once he ran out of men. (Most rulers used conscription at this time. It wasn’t unusual among most European nations at the time.)

Frederick the Great said, “L’audace, l’audace. Toujours l’audace!” (Historians mostly attribute this quote to French Revolutionary Danton.)

Frederick the Great was a proto-Hitler. (Really? Uh, someone must’ve seen too many Nazi propaganda films {where Frederick the Great would most likely appear in film wise}. However, when it comes to famous figures, he’s probably has one of the most embarrassing fandoms ever {Nazis and German imperialists that love to invoke his name in order to justify their ruthless realpolitik}. Sure he was ruthless absolutist monarch of a militarist kingdom, but to consider him a proto-Hitler is absolutely absurd. In fact, he would’ve personally loathed Nazis. He was devout Francophile {and disdained German culture, nationalism, and tradition} who imposed religious toleration and social welfare policies for veterans. He helped weed out many of the archaic and unjust practices that oppressed his people. He was very interested in the arts, sciences and philosophy. And even when he invaded certain entities, it was mostly for resources and he knew when to quit. Also, he might’ve been gay since he didn’t show any interest in women despite being married {there were gay rumors about him during his own lifetime}.)

Frederick the Great spoke German. (He most often spoke French because he was a Francophile and abhorred German culture.)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s