Film poster The German Curse in Russia (USA, 1918)
When Thompson reached Petrograd in February 1917 the city was the scene of riots and demonstrations against the Tsarist regime. He was on the spot with his film camera when the Petrograd regiments joined the strikers and a provisional government was formed. Thompson also covered the release of prisoners and the defense of the Winter Palace against the Bolsheviks. In the summer of 1917 he was present at the front to film the collapse of the Russian army.
The title of Thompson's film is a good summary of its contents. According to him, the peace that Russia signed when the Bolsheviks took over was no fault of her own, but the result of German political intrigues and propaganda. How he conveyed this message in his film is described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War.
Thompson (left) at the Russian front, June 1917. Copied from his picture book The Crime of the Twentieth Century (1918)
After a first run at the Strand Theater in New York The German Curse in Russia was released by Pathé in the USA in January 1918 as a five-reel production. We located parts of Thompson's movie in the Axelbank Collection which was used for the 1937 documentary From Tsar to Lenin. From 1920, Herman Axelbank assembled an impressive film collection on Russia, gathered from various sources. These included footage shot by several Russian cameramen. Surviving bills of sale show Axelbank also bought film sometime in the 1920s from the Jawitz Motion Picture Library in New York City, a stock film company. Although Pathé controlled distribution rights of Thompson's movie Jawitz somehow had secured Thompson's original footage, showing the events in Petrograd and Moscow during the Russian Revolution. Through Jawitz Axelbank bought Thompson's film (or parts of it) which was used by Axelbank in his edit for the sound documentary From Tsar to Lenin.
"Women's Battalions of Death"By comparing Thompson's photographs taken in Russia, as well as publicity pictures from his movie, we could do a reconstruction of scenes that were originally shot for The German Curse in Russia. Of special interest are shots showing the all-female combat units which were formed by the Provisional Government in 1917 in a last-ditch effort to inspire the Russians to continue the war against Germany. These Women's Battalions were filmed extensively by Thompson. Axelbank's films have a scene showing its commander Maria Bochkareva and British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, inspecting these young female soldiers. The scene has a full match with Thompson's pictures and was no doubt filmed by Thompson.
Maria Bochkareva and British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, inspecting the Women's Battalion. Scene from Thompson's film The German Curse in Russia (1918)
Axelbank probably culled many additional scenes from Thompson's film such as sequences showing the burial of the victims of the February Revolution, the demonstrations on May 1, 1917 by the Bolsheviks and the rise of the Kronstadt sailors against the Tsar. Although we have no way of knowing for sure, the World War I battle footage from Axelbank's collection has a remarkable similarity with photographs taken by Thompson on the Dvinsk front in June 1917. These could also very well have been from his film The German Curse in Russia.
Here is a link to photographs from Thompson's book The Crime of the Twentieth Century (1918) on the Russian Revolution.
And now, after almost 100 years, we present you a rough reconstruction of The German Curse in Russia - how it may have looked, based on Thompson's still pictures and film scenes that were used by Herman Axelbank. Enjoy!