Monday, August 17, 2015

War in the Clouds Filmed by Edwin Weigle (1915)

When Italy entered World War I in 1915 the Alps became a scene of heavy fighting. On the spot was Edwin F. Weigle, cameraman for the Chicago Tribune and one of the first cinematographers to film this new type of mountain warfare. The films that he brought back to the United States were edited into his succesful movie The German Side of the War, described in our latest book American Cinematographers in the Great War

Weigle filming warfare in the Alps. Official photograph in the collection of the Austrian State Archives

A remarkable picture of Weigle filming the First World War recently was discovered by the authors in the online archives of the Austrian State Archives. The picture was taken in June 1915 when Weigle was present in the opening rounds of the war between the Austrian and Italian army. Weigle traveled to the Trentino where he shot most of his scenes, and he also visited the area around Lake Garda. He had a close call when standing in a trench with four Austrian officers an Italian shell bursted nearby. Weigle's film demonstrated how the beautiful Alpine mountain landscape was rearranged and devastated by modern warfare. The scenes made quite an impression when his film was exhibited in the United States in August 1915. Here are some lines with Weigle's personal comments, taken from the theater program of his film The German Side of the War:

Edwin Weigle leaving Chicago. Scene from The German Side of the War (1915)

Embedded by the Austrian Military Press Office

The scene showing Captain Steiner taking off with his plane was found at the Library of Congress. Additional research for our latest book has shown that Weigle was accompanied by Captain Gschliesser - perhaps one of the officers in the picture above - of the Austrian military press office. They were at Lavarone, Folgara and the Ortler area. Gschliesser also censored Weigle's footage. When Weigle left Vienna, the Austrians supplied him with additional war scenes from their film archives. Despite all courtesies Weigle clearly was an "embedded" film correspondent.

Austrian anti-aircraft artillery, photographed by Weigle

Captain Steiner taking off for his ill-fated flight above the Alps

Finally, here is Weigle's own personal story on his experiences in the Alps with the Austrians, copied from the Chicago Tribune of August 5, 1915:

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