Wednesday, June 20, 2018

World War I Films in Color

In 2014, the same team that collaborated on the renowned World War II series Apocalypse produced a similar documentary series on the Great War. As with the previous production, the new series has some remarkable colored footage including scenes from Wilbur H. Durborough's film On the Firing Line with the Germans (1915).

Durborough and General von Schlieffen in East Prussia, June 1915

Online Release On the Firing Line with the Germans (USA, 1915)

As described in a previous weblog, Durborough's film has been restored by the Library of Congress and the movie was uploaded on the internet in November 2016. After almost one hundred years an original World War I film is back on the screen. To coincide with this online release the authors prepared an extended story on the making of Durborough's remarkable war film. Based on our previous book American Cinematographers in the Great War, we added new information that was found in early 2016 in the German archives as well as in the American and Dutch newspapers.

We recently prepared a new, extended story on Durborough's photographic work during World War I. You can read this Durborough Film Annotation (2nd edition) here.

If you are interested to see Durborough in color here is a scene from Apocalypse World War I, episode 2, showing his film work at the Eastern Front in 1915.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

American War Correspondents at the Front

The National Archives in Washington, D.C. once again revealed an interesting collection on World War I. An excellent series of pictures showing American war correspondents at the front was found recently by the authors.

Adrian C. Duff  (U.S. Signal Corps) with his movie camera camera, together with American reporters. St. Nazaire, France, 2 July 1918. From the National Archives in Washington, D.C. 

Photographic Files at the National Archives

The photographs are from Record Group 165 "Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs". This group is part of the files of the Historical Branch, War Plans Division, War Department General Staff, and was assembled by the Committee on Public Information (CPI), America's propaganda agency during the First World War.

In these pictures are some correspondents that we mentioned in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War. Most of the journalists were newspaper reporters, such as Herbert Corey who was in Germany at the beginning of 1915 and after the American entry into World War I went to France. We also found a wonderful series of photographs showing Irvin S. Cobb who covered the Great War for the Saturday Evening Post. Cobb wrote a book about his experiences, published in 1915, titled Paths Of Glory. After a second visit to France with the American Expeditionary Force he succesfully publicized the achievements of the unit known as the "Harlem Hellfighters". One of the pictures that we found shows Cobb with General Doyen (U.S. Marine Corps) in France.

Cameraman Albert K. Dawson

As far as cameramen are concerned, we found two pictures in these files, showing Albert K. Dawson who accompanied the German and the Austrian army during the First World War for the American Correspondent Film Company. The picture showing him before his tent during the siege of Przemyśl in May 1915 is without a doubt the best image reproduction we have ever seen. There is another photograph showing Dawson in a German military car when he visited Belgium in January 1915.

Albert K. Dawson (right) in military car at Antwerp, January 1915. Third from left: Josef Schumacher of the Zentralstelle für Auslandsdienst (ZfA). Photo (c) Brown & Dawson. From the collection of the National Archives. Download link to original high res photograph here. 

This picture is also in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War, and the reproduction has Dawson's personal handwritten comments on his trip through Belgium. The high res scanned image from the collection of the National Archives for the first time reveals the identity of the man in the middle: Josef Schumacher, who was in charge of pictorial publicity for the Zentralstelle für Auslandsdienst, Germany's foreign propaganda agency during World War I. This once again confirms the story we have described in more detail in our previous publications about the use of Dawson's pictures by the Germans for propaganda purposes.

Finally the picture file at the National Archives also shows cameraman Adrian C. Duff who was a news photographer and joined the U.S. Signal Corps in 1917. Duff made national headlines in 1912 when he got in a plane with aviator Frank T. Coffyn and for the first time in history photographed New York City from above.

There is more on Duff and his World War I pictures in this previous weblog. 

We uploaded this collection to our photo channel on Flickr, and you are free to download these photographs here.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Watching American World War I Newsreels

Watch silent movies with new musical scores by renowned silent film accompanist Ben Model. Some of these are from DVD releases (uploaded with permission) and some are rare one-of-a-kind 16mm prints of lost films in Ben Model's collection.

American troops on parade in Paris, 4 July 1918

Parade 4th of July in Paris

To give you a feeling what it must have been like to watch a newsreel during World War I here is Ben Model's presentation of a 1918 newsreel showing U.S. troop on parade in Paris on the Fourth of July.

The original footage comes from a contemporary British Gaumont newsreel which was issued for home use after the Great War on 16 mm format around 1948. American troops as well as Red Cross nurses are seen parading along the Champs Elysee and the Place de la Concorde. The film segment ends with footage of President Poincare and General Foch. The musical score is by Ben Model © 2012.

You can watch all of Ben Model's silent film presentations on his YouTube channel here.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Ernest Schoedsack - Cameraman with the U.S. Signal Corps (1918)

Ernest B. Schoedsack (1919) when he was making movies in Poland 

Best remembered as co-director of the 1933 classic King Kong, Ernest B. Schoedsack was a pioneering documentary film maker who was one of the first cameramen to take his movie camera into the Thai jungle and covered the nomadic tribes of Iran. His name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame testifies to his extraordinary skills as a film director, producer and cinematographer.

Adventure Story

Schoedsack's life and career has all the makings of an adventure story. Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on June 8, 1893, Schoedsack ran away from home at the age of twelve and headed for California. By the time he was seventeen he was working as a cameraman for the Mack Sennett studio. During World War I Schoedsack shot numerous comedies for Mack Sennett, and he also was listed as cinematographer for the Mabel Normand Film Company. When in 1917 America declared war on Germany, Schoedsack enlisted in the Photographic Division of the Signal Corps and was sent to France.

Most of Schoedsack's biographies only have a few words on his film work during the First World War. Apart from Kevin Brownlow's excellent research - he interviewed Schoedsack on his World War I experiences - not much is known about this extraordinary episode in his film career. As is shown in his World War I Registration Card, Schoedsack was very much interested in the military. From 1915 he was a non-commissioned officer for the National Coast Guard in California. Initially he expected to be sent to the U.S. Coast Guard but there simply wasn't any call for anti-aircraft. When he learned about the new Signal Corps Photographic Division, which was set up to cover the Great War, Schoedsack soon applied for a position. After a brief stint as an instructor at the Columbia School of Military Cinematography Schoedsack was sent to France.

Sailing for France

The shipping records of the American Expeditionary Force show Schoedsack sailed on the SS Covington from Hoboken, New Jersey, on June 15, 1918. He was listed as a private soldier, assigned to the U.S. Signal Corps Photographic Division. Schoedsack at first was assigned to the Signal Corps photographic laboratory near Paris. Shortly before his death, Schoedsack recalled his experiences in an interview with Kevin Brownlow:

"We finally reached Paris, and were taken off to Vincennes. The Signal Corps occupied the Pathé chateau, and they had a laboratory and cutting rooms on the fourth floor of the Pathé factory. The other floors were being used as a gas mask factory. The gentleman in command was a very nice old bloke. He had been an optometrist up in Oakland. He was a reservist in the National Guard, and they had to give him a job someplace. So, optometrist pertaining to lenses, lenses to photography - voila! The only officer remotely connected to the picture business was Al Kaufman. The other three executive officers were characters they had no use for anywhere else. The general idea was to stay in Paris and have fun."

Schoedsack was now getting impatient - he wanted to get to the front and film the Great War:

"I complained a lot, and agitated a lot, and finally they said, 'You want to go the front? All right, you can go to the front. A cameraman (Harris Thorpe) pulled out of the combat area and I got my chance. I wanted a light camera. Oh, no. They gave me this damn great Bell and Howell and this great trunk. It weighed a hundred pounds. They needed the light cameras, the Debries, down in Paris, I guess, where all the action was. I had no directive, no passes, no nothing. They didn't even give me a gas mask or a helmet, although I did get a .45 and some ammunition. I got a truck down the combat zone, but an MP stopped me because I had no gas mask or helmet. There were some fresh graves by the side of the road, and one of them had a gas mask and a helmet. The helmet was bashed in on one side, and I remember the name inside was Kelly. Anyway, that got me into the combat zone. There was hardly any activity in the daytime. All the barraging and banging around was at night. Photographically, there was very little you could do."

Cameraman with the 77th Division, A.E.F.

In his interview with Kevin Brownlow Schoedsack did not mention when he was sent to the front but thanks to research by Harry B. Kidd we are now able to reconstruct parts of his film work during World War I and identify some of the movie scenes that he shot while he was in France. On August 25, 1918, Schoedsack's picture was taken in the destroyed village of Mareuil-en-Dôle. This was in the Aisne region, near Château-Thierry. The picture shows Schoedsack cranking a Bell & Howell movie camera among the ruins of a church. The captions mentions he was a private soldier with the Photo Unit of the 77th Division of the American Expeditonary Force (A.E.F.).

Ernest B. Schoedsack at the front in France, during the afttermath of the battle at Château-Thierry with the 77th Division, A.E.F. Indentification by Harry B. Kidd. Link to Harry's original post on Flickr

Bahman Maghsoudlou in his book on the making of Schoedsack's film Grass (1925) mentions that on his arrival in France Schoedsack was placed at the head of the Photographic Unit of the 77th Division. This would have made him a Lieutenant 2nd Class, commanding a team of still and movie photographers. Schoedsack indeed stayed with the 77th Division until the end of the First World War, and he must have recorded many film scenes for this American Division that are now in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., notably "Occupation of the Baccarat Sector" (111-H-1300), "Oise-Aisne Operations" (111-H-1358) and "Meuse-Argonne Offensive" (111-H-1417). But the contemporary records do not produce any evidence that Schoedsack was commissioned as a photographic officer. For example on October 23, 1918, Schoedsack went into a plane and filmed the German lines above the Argonne frontline sector that had just been captured from the enemy. Thanks to research by Harry B. Kidd, the production records have been retrieved. These documents show Schoedsack was a private soldier when recording these scenes just a couple of weeks before the end of World War I.

After the Great War

Schoedsack was discharged from the American Expeditionary Force in February 1919, but he did not immediately go back to the United States. After the Armistice he joined the American Red Cross and worked on behalf of Polish war relief, helping thousand of Poles escape the Russian occupied territories. Schoedsack at this time also met his lifelong friend and fellow film maker, Merian C. Cooper who, like Schoedsack, was a fervent anti-Bolshevik and also an aspiring film director. Together they filmed the war between Poland and Russia. Shortly afterwards, Schoedsack also covered the war between Greece and Turkey for the American newsreels.

Ernest Schoedsack, filming a Polish wedding dance, 1920. From the collection of the Library of Congress

During World War II Schoedsack served in the Air Force. While testing equipment in a tank at Edwards Air Force Base, a shell exploded nearby and his head hit the bottom of the tank turret, detaching the eye retina. Subsequent operations couldn't repair the damage and Schoedsack was virtually blind for the last 35 years of his life.

Ernest Beaumont Schoedsack died on December 23, 1979. He was buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

With special thanks to Harry Kidd for his research and input on this weblog

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Susan Moeller's "Shooting War" (1989)

Susan Moeller's Shooting War (1989) still ranks as one of the most interesting and comprehensive studies on the history of American war photography.

The best war photography, Moeller demonstrates, bares the essence of war by distilling the chaos of combat into indelible visual icons, like the flag-raising on Iwo Jima or the naked, napalmed young Vietnamese girl. When Teddy Roosevelt led his troops up the San Juan hills, most Americans still believed in war as a glorious adventure, and photographers dutifully memorialized that romantic conceit. Seventy years later, horrific images from Vietnam helped convince millions that war was little more than organized murder.

Pictorial Censorship in World War I

Shooting War is full of first-hand accounts by the finest photographers who risked their lives in pursuit of the elusive "truths" of war. And although the book mainly deals with still photographers it did provide us with a lot of useful background information when we started our research on the American film cameramen of the First World War.

As described by Moeller, in contrast to the anything-goes attitude of the Spanish-American War, World War I saw the establishment of military censorship of information emanating from the battle zone. Where picture captions sent from Cuba in 1898 mentioned specific locations and dates, captions during the Great War invariably settled for such generalities as "Our Heroes at the Front." Subject matter was censored as well. Photographs depicting the dead, the dying, or the wounded were suppressed, purportedly in deference to the feelings of those back home and, more probably, for fear of sparking antiwar sentiments.

Here are some scenes from an interview with Susan Moeller which was broadcasted by C-SPAN when her book was first published.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Counterattack with a Camera at Cantigny (May 1918)

On May 28, 1918, Signal Corps cameraman Edward R. Trabold went over the top with the 1st Division of the American Expeditionary Force, taking combat pictures of American soldiers in action at Cantigny. The battle of Cantigny is best remembered now as the first major American offensive of World War I.

Photographic unit of the 6th Division, A.E.F, 1919. Trabold with his Graflex camera is in the middle. Photograph from the National Archives, courtesy Harry B. Kidd 

Trabold's personal story Counterattacking with a Camera on his experiences at Cantigny was published in 1919. He was by all accounts the first official U.S. Signal Corps photographer to take combat pictures of American soldiers during a major offensive in the First World War. Unfortunately, Trabold had to give his pictures to the Signal Corps. When he published his personal account he could not show any of the photographs that he had made during the attack, but reports indicate these pictures were of tanks and the men of the 1st Infantry Division storming Cantigny. The prints probably are still at the National Archives in Washington, D.C, and definitely merit additional research.

The Cameraman: Edward R. Trabold

During this assignment Trabold was accompanied by his commanding officer, Captain Paul Miller, who had been sent to Europe by the Signal Corps in May 1917 to report on the possibilities of setting up a photographic laboratory in France. Trabold himself is another interesting figure. Born in North Addams, Massachussets, in 1883, he started his first studio in 1906 with an old 4 x 5 Graflex camera as his principal piece of photography. Joined in the enterprise by his brother Peter, who had been teaching art, he specialized in producing photograph buttons, a novelty at the time, bearing pictures of loved ones and public figures. Trabold later became a newspaper photographer, working in Montana, and enlisted in the Signal Corps in 1917. After the war, Trabold became a newsreel cameraman for Pathé News, working in Omaha, Nebraska, where he had set up a new photographic studio. In the 1950s, Trabold was also active producing films for television.

Trabold in Signal Corps photographic laboratory near Paris, April 1918. Picture from the collection of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. 

First Combat Photographer

Shortly before his death in December 1955, Trabold corresponded with the Signal Corps on his photographic work during World War I. He was quite anxious to know if he was in fact the first cameraman to have taken combat pictures of the American Expeditionary Force at Cantigny. The Signal Corps after careful consideration replied that he probably was. Trabold appears to have taken both still and moving pictures when he was in France. The attack on Cantigny he only covered with a still camera. In his account Trabold mentioned no movie cameras were allowed because these would draw enemy fire. It still was a very dangerous job. Trabold was wounded by machine-gun fire and escaped from death by shells that were falling all around. At the end of the day he arrived at a medical station where his wounds were treated.

"The Big Red One"

Colonel Robert R. McCormick in World War I 

On an interesting side note, Colonel Robert R. McCormick , editor of the Chicago Tribune, was an officer with the 1st "The Big Red One" Division during the attack at Cantigny. McCormick was instrumental in innovating his newspaper, and he worked closely with cinematographers Edwin Weigle and Donald Thompson on a number of contemporary World War I films that were released by the Chicago Tribune. You will find more on his work in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War. 

Here is an audio link with a speech by McCormick, commemorating the historical significance of the American attack at Cantigny. 

After his harrowing experiences at Cantigny, Edward Trabold was promoted to Sergeant 1st Class and transferred to the 6th Division, A.E.F. He was in the field as an official photographer from March 1918 until May 1919 when he was discharged from the Signal Corps.

Here is a download link to Trabold's story Counterattacking with a Camera which was published in the Photographic Journal of America in September 1919. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Lost and Found: The German Naval High Command (1916)

In an earlier weblog we mentioned our discovery of films shot by American cinematographer Nelson E. Edwards in June 1916, showing the German Naval High Command shortly after the Battle of Jutland. We recently came across similar footage taken by Edwards in the CBS Collection at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Edwards and German naval officer, June 1916. Courtesy Wiegman family

Edwards's film work in wartime Germany has been described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War. He ranked among the first, pioneering newsreel cameramen in American film history. From 1914 Edwards filmed for Hearst International News Service and covered the Mexican Revolution. In 1916 he filmed the Turkish and the German side of the World War. He was also chief cameraman for Fox Newsreel during the year of its birth in 1919, and thereafter a longtime stringer for Paramount News.

In 2016, we found four scenes taken by Edwards, featuring Admiral von Hipper and his staff, as well as Admiral Scheer visiting his flag ship Friedrich der Grosse. The footage is on 35 mm and the original negatives are from the Grinberg Collection. As it turns out, CBS also used the Grinberg Collection while assembling film for their World War I TV series in 1964. After the series was edited CBS in a magnificent gesture turned its unused footage over to the National Archives - a real boon for researchers. And that's how Edwards' World War I films ended up in the National Archives.

Films Found at the National Archives

The scenes that we located at the National Archives are on a reel with stock newsreels excerpts (CBS-WW1-75) that were not used by CBS for the TV series. These show Admiral von Hipper and his staff, as well as a close up of Admiral Scheer. The intertitle mentions Hearst International News Pictorial, the film company Edwards worked for. Similar scenes shot by Edwards were used by CBS in the World War I TV series. Episode 7 on the Battle of Jutland in the CBS series has a scene showing Admiral Scheer boarding his flag ship, as well as a shot showing Scheer and his staff, posing for Edwards' movie camera.

We have uploaded the outtakes found at the National Archives, as well as the scenes from the CBS TV series that were used, on our YouTube channel.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

America's First Official War Newsreel (1918)

On July 1, 1918 America's first official war newsreel was launched. Distributed in the United States by Pathé, the Official War Review contained scenes from wartime Europe, shot by military cameramen of the U.S. Signal Corps and other Allied countries.

Film poster Official War Review (USA, 1918)

The Official War Review was produced by the Committee on Public Information (CPI), America's propaganda agency. As described in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War, the newsreel had a difficult start. The CPI intended to offer the newsreel to all film companies on equal conditions and the same price. This hardly suited the competitive American film industry which wanted to show exclusive pictures. Pathé finally was contracted to distribute the best of what the CPI could offer to show a weekly official newsreel on the American soldiers fighting in France.

Copies from Pordenone Silent Film Festival

By modern standards America's first official war newsreel lacks the fast moving images we are used to watch today. The shots are mostly static and there is little real battlefront footage. But for the American audience back in 1918 this was their weekly update on what happened at the front in Europe. The Pordenone Silent Film Festival in 2015 showed six newsreels from this series, which are from the National Archives in Washington, D.C. These films were originally shown in the American theaters between September 1918 and January 1919. An interesting issue is Official War Review No. 9 which has a scene showing the enormous German long range guns that were put into action to shell Paris during the Spring Offensive of 1918. The intertitle asserts the American forces turned the tide of battle and saved Paris.

Apart from the American contribution to the Great War the newsreel offers views of other European armies, such as the Italian Alpine soldiers and the British Expeditionary Force in France. In addition the Official War Review shows some interesting scenes from Siberia where the Americans had joined an international expeditionary force to fight against Germany.

Original film from this World War I newsreel is hard to find, so we have uploaded all six issues to our YouTube channel to give you an idea how the Great War was screened in 1918-1919 in America.


Friday, May 4, 2018

Filming the German Attack on Novo Georgievsk (1915)

While preparing a TV presentation on Wilbur H. Durborough's World War I film On the Firing Line with the Germans for C-SPAN's "Reel America" we came across an interesting newspaper story by American war correspondent Walter Niebuhr. In this report Niebuhr described how he and Durborough witnessed the German attack on the Russian forts of Novo Georgievsk at the Eastern Front.

Walter Niebuhr (1890-1946). Copied from Motion Picture News, 16 August 1919

Producing America's First Propaganda Films

Walter Niebuhr featured before in a previous weblog. He started his career in journalism for the Illinois Courier Herald and in 1915 Niebuhr was invited by the Chicago Tribune and the Western Newspaper Union to cover the Great War from the German side. As described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War, Niebuhr was of special assistance to Durborough and his camera operator Ries while they were shooting film with the German army. Niebuhr spoke German fluently and often accompanied them, translating conversations with the Germans and helping them find their way through the country. When America entered the First World War, Niebuhr became Associate Director of the C.P.I. Film Division. He was responsible for producing the first official American propaganda films, such as Pershing's Crusaders (1918).

In August 1915, Niebuhr, Durborough and Ries left Warsaw that had just been conquered by the Germans in order to cover the siege of the Russian forts around Novo Georgievsk. The German army led by General Hans von Beseler approached Novo Georgievsk with 80,000 men including part of the powerful siege train used to capture Antwerp in 1914. The forts were surrounded on August 10 and the bombardment began a few days later. After a heavy battering the Germans attacked three of the forts and captured two of them. The Russians were forced to the inner defenses north of the river Vistula. With no prospects of being relieved and with their inner defenses vulnerable to bombardment the Russians surrendered at the dawn of August 20, 1915.

Durborough (left) and Niebuhr (right) watching German soldiers storming the forts of Novo Georgievsk. Scene from On the Firing Line with the Germans (USA, 1915)

Turning Point in World War I History

The fall of Novo Georgievsk was a humiliating defeat for the Russian army that had to retreat east. Poland from then on would be under German rule. The capture of these Russian forts was an important turning point in World War I and the American correspondents were on the spot to film this historic event. Here are segments from Niebuhr's report that was published in the Fort Wayne Sentinel on September 30, 1915:

Movie Scene On the Firing Line with the Germans (USA, 1915)

On the Firing Line with the Germans has a scene showing both Durborough and Niebuhr watching a German infantry attack near Novo Georgievsk. Troops are charging across an open field while in the background shells are exploding. Niebuhr can be seen in this scene to the right of Durborough. We were able to recognize Walter Niebuhr because of the white cap on his head. Niebuhr appeared in several scenes of Durborough's war film, and most of the time he was wearing this peculiar cap. These shots close to the German firing line must have been taken by Durborough's camera operator Ries and have a full match with the newspaper report that was written by Niebuhr.

For more information here is a link to an updated article on Durborough and the making of his World War I feature film. 

Here is this scene showing the attack on the forts of Novo Georgievsk with comments by authors Cooper Graham and Jim Castellan.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Close Up: The Columbia School of Military Photography (1918)

America's first school of Military Photography started during World War I at Columbia University in New York. From January 1918, still photographers and motion picture cameramen were trained for the U.S. Signal Corps that had been assigned to record America's involvement in the First World War.

Military cameramen at Columbia University (1918)

Photo Collection

We recently came across an interesting photo collection on the activities at Columbia University where the campus had been transformed into a military training ground for photographers and cinematographers. These pictures were taken in 1918 by the U.S. Government for documentary and publicity purposes and are now at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The photographs show how American cameramen were trained for the U.S. Army and provide us with an excellent coverage of all the buildings and facilities at the military school during the First World War.

We have posted before on the Columbia school of military photography during World War I in two previous weblogs:

Carl Gregory and the U.S. School of Military Cinematography

Arthur Sintzenich and the U.S. School of Military Cinematography

The pictures on the U.S. School of Military Photography at Columbia University are available for download here, including some outstanding pictures that were found by Harry Kidd.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Associated Press Covers the Great War

As described in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War, the experiences of cameramen and reporters during World War I were closely intertwined. Some US photographers wrote about their wartime experiences. Sometimes the cinematographers also worked for newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune or the Hearst newspapers. Cameramen and reporters were in the same bed togeher, sharing the same hardships and dangers.

American reporters at the Adlon Hotel, June 1915. Third from the right: AP correspondent S.M. Bouton. From American Cinematographers in the Great War

American cameramen and writers reporting on the Great War shared one major experience. Although as Americans they were neutral between 1914 and 1917, all reporters had to fight against a harsh and rigorous censorship both from the British and the German authorities.

"All Europe is Now in Arms"

Among these American journalists the Associated Press presents an interesting case story. "Great Britain and Germany went to war tonight," wrote the AP's Robert Collins on August 1, 1914 from London, noting that "all Europe is now in arms." The Associated Press had covered wars before, but not since the Napoleonic Wars a century earlier had so many armies battled over so great an extent.

This was the Great War, called "the European War" or "the World War" by contemporaries. Ten million combatants would die before it ended with Germany's defeat on November 11, 1918.

Here is a video on how the Associated Press reported on World War I.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

World War I Film Lecture: "War on Three Fronts" (USA, 1916)

Researching World War I film can be a giant jigsaw puzzle. There is plenty of original footage but film scenes frequently have been edited and are now out of place. Also, when used for stock purposes or a TV documentary, the intertitles usually were cut, which makes it difficult to identify the cameraman and the original production company.

Frank Kleinschmidt getting ready for a motion picture flight above Belgrade with the Austrian airforce, 1915.  Picture courtesy Ruth Sarrett

Movie Lecture War on Three Fronts (USA, 1916)

One way to reconstruct a silent World War I movie is to consult the lecture that was used while the film was being shown on the screen. Frank E. Kleinschmidt's War on Three Fronts (USA, 1916) presents us with an interesting example. During our research for our book American Cinematographers in the Great War we were able to locate and identify many scenes from this extraordinary film because of the lecture that Kleinschmidt had deposited at the Library of Congress for copyright purposes. This lecture is dated October 23, 1916, and Kleinschmidt used it to present his war film while touring the film theaters on the West Coast. The lecture describes the original version of his war film, showing his experiences with the Austro-Hungarian army on the Eastern Front while covering the offensive in Russian Poland, as well as the attack on Belgrade, naval operations in the Adriatic Sea and fighting in the Alps against the Italian army.

Armored train at the Isonzo front, 1915. Publicity picture from Kleinschmidt's film when it was released by the Selznick Corporation in 1917. Courtesy National Archives

Two reels of the movie were donated in the 1980s to the UCLA Film Archives by film preservationist David Shepard. This footage is also described by Kevin Brownlow in his classic book The War, the West and the Wilderness. The opening title refers to the original Part 4 of War on Three Fronts. A comparison between this footage and the film lecture shows there were different movie versions. While on the lecture circuit, Kleinschmidt presented about 9,000 feet of film. When the Selznick Corporation distributed the movie nationwide in 1917 it was shortened and 3,000 feet were cut out. The UCLA print has no intertitles mentioning the Selznick Corporation, so this indicates this is a pre-1917 version of War on Three Fronts although not identical to the one that was used by Kleinschmidt to accompany the lecture.

Sound Re-release

Research by the authors in the Allen Collection and at the Library of Congress has produced additional footage from Kleinschmidt’s war picture. This consists of a batch of film segments that runs for about 35 minutes, sadly missing any credits, but surprisingly enough it has a sound track. The nitrate stock found in the film archives in Culpeper, Virginia, was dated 1932. The footage comes from a film called War Debts, which was produced by Kleinschmidt as a sound re-release of his original war film. The movie is narrated by Wilfred Lucas, a Canadian-born American stage actor who found success in film as an actor, director, and screenwriter.

By using the film lecture we could identify the different film versions of War on Three Fronts which also makes it possible to do a well-deserved reconstruction of this historic and fascinating World War I film.

You are free to read and download the 1916 film lecture of War on Three Fronts here. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Boy from Indiana - Albert K. Dawson

The Knox County Public Library recently digitized its historical newspaper collection. As a result, the authors found some fascinating new stories on World War I cinematographer Albert K. Dawson from Vincennes, who was nicknamed "The Boy from Indiana", including a report on how he invented a German grandmother while covering the war in Europe with his movie camera.

Albert K. Dawson, photograph from the family collection, taken around 1903. Left: Dawson's first picture book The Old Post on historical Vincennes. 

Born in Vincennes, Indiana, Albert K. Dawson (1885-1967) was one of the most enterprising cameramen of the First World War. Shortly after the outbreak of the Great War he went to Europe and filmed with the German army on the Western Front. In the summer of 1915 he joined the Austro-Hungarian forces during the attack on Russian Poland. He later covered the Bulgarian army in the Balkans. Dawson's movies were released in the United States by the American Correspondent Film Company.

Family History

The local press clippings that we found shed new light on Dawson's family background. As described in more detail in our book Shooting the Great War: Albert Dawson and the American Correspondent Film Company (2013), Dawson's life was heavily influenced by his father Thomas who shared his son's interest in traveling. Thomas was a Civil War veteran who had been involved in 16 battles including Sherman's march through Georgia. Thomas passed away unexpectedly in 1912, when his son Albert was on a cruise in the Caribbean for the Hamburg-America Line. At the time Albert was working as a ship's photographer for this German company. Here is a download link to an obituary of Albert's father, as well as his mother Lida who passed away in 1923.

Rose Schultheis-Dawson, photographed by her brother Albert for the cover of The Country Gentleman (April 1917). Courtesy Ben Walter

Albert also was very much fond of his sister, Rose. Like her older brother, Rose had a strong interest in history and literature, and later in her life she published on the history of her hometown Vincennes. Here is a newspaper story on Rose's marriage to Leo Schultheis in June 1915, at about the same time when Albert was filming the First World War on the Eastern Front. In addition, this story in the Knox County Public Library archives reveals how Rose, together with her husband and her mother, went to Terre Haute, Indiana, to see Albert on film in September 1915, when his war movie The Battle and Fall of Przemyśl was first shown on screen. They must have been impressed to see him on film, reporting at the front on the war in far away Europe.

Albert (right) and his younger brother Charlie, dressed as Civil War soldiers, around 1890. Source:

Graves of Albert Dawson's father, mother and sister. Vincennes, Indiana

First Photographic Work

Apart from inside family information the newspaper articles contain stories on Albert's local career as a photographer. The earliest references date from 1905 when he published a picture book on the history of Vincennes - The Old Post. This newspaper article has more on Dawson's photo book. Also in the same year 1905, Albert published this advertisement in the local papers, offering his services as a photographer for the upcoming Thanksgiving. The press reports indicate Albert freelanced as a press photographer for the Vincennes newspapers throughout 1906, as is shown in this newspaper story on a criminal investigation by the local police. In 1907 he left Vincennes and started working for the photographic agency of Underwood & Underwood in New York City.

The Dawson family on New Year's Day, 1902. From left to right: Charles, Lida, Albert, Thomas and Rose. Courtesy family collection, Lida Joice and Rose Ann Walter

Return to Vincennes, 1916

When Dawson came back to the USA in the spring of 1916, having covered the European War on several fronts and military campaigns, his hometown Vincennes had not forgotten about him. On the contrary, by then he had become well-known as a result of his appearances in several war movies that were shown in the United States. His latest film The Fighting Germans had just been released by the Mutual Film Company in May 1916 and it was also shown in the Princess Theater in Vincennes, Indiana, with numerous ads running in the local newspapers, announcing this war film that had been shot by their "local boy" Albert K. Dawson.

Advertisement Vincennes Commercial, 27 May 1916

In the summer of 1916, after having been abroad for two years, Dawson returned to Vincennes. He lectured on his experiences as a war photographer for the local Rotary - here is a press article - but the most interesting report comes from the Vincennes Western Sun on a lecture that he gave at Lincoln High School on July 28, 1916. The Sun had arranged an exclusive interview with Dawson and ran a remarkable story that day on his work as a film correspondent during World War I. In this interview Dawson proved himself right when predicting most of the upcoming battles of the Great War. Although he did not think the Central Powers would lose the war Dawson did expect a continuing stalemate on the Western Front, which would especially benefit the Germans. His admiration for the German talent of organization shines through in this article, but Dawson did emphasize he was first and foremost pro-American.

Dawson appears to have spoken German fluently, and while staying in Germany often was asked if he was a German-American. "At first he answered no, but seeing how he disappointed his new friends he finally invented a German grandmother by the name of Schmidt. She did him more good than any passport", Dawson said.

Here is a download link to the complete interview by the Vincennes Western Sun.

Brian Spangle recently also wrote this article for the Sun-Commercial on Vincennes' local hero, Albert K. Dawson. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Ship Building in World War I (USA, 1918)

In February 1918, the U.S. Signal Corps produced two remarkable films on the ship building industry in the United States. The footage was taken on the West Coast by Lieutenant Wilbur H. Durborough who had shot film with the German army in 1915. We recently found parts of his film in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Wilbur H. Durborough (1913). Authors collection

On the Firing Line with the Germans (USA, 1915)

Durborough's film work during World War I has been described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War. In 1915 Durborough had gone to Europe and filmed with the German army on the Eastern Front. His film On the Firing Line with the Germans has been restored in 2015 by the Library of Congress, based on our film research.

We recently prepared a new, extended story on Durborough's photographic work during World War I. You can read this Durborough Film Annotation (2nd edition) here.

The production file at the National Archives shows Durborough made two separate movies: Building Our Wooden Ships (814 feet) and Industrious Seattle (695 feet). These short documentary films were shot in the state of Washington around the same time when he filmed a staged attack on Fort Lewis. As mentioned in a previous weblog, this film on Fort Lewis has also been retrieved by the authors in the National Archives.

Our Bridge of Ships (USA, 1918)

Unlike Durborough's film showing the staged attack on Fort Lewis not much of his original report on the shipping industry has survived. When the U.S. Signal Corps used his footage in the 1930s for the Historical Film Series on World War I most of his film didn't make it to the final cut. However, the record does show that some of his footage was used in 1918 by the Commitee on Public Information - America's wartime propaganda agency - for the film Our Bridge of Ships, notably scenes showing the launching of the Ypres at Seattle and one of the first Victory ships - General Pershing - at the shipyard of Olympia, Washington.

The Signal Corps file fortunately still has Durborough's original list of titles for these films. His report strongly emphasized the huge scale of America's war effort in this line of work. As an example, for the opening scene of his film on the American shipping industry he filmed a large saw mill, mentioning it would turn out more than 6,000 feet of lumber a year. Steel contracts also reportedly were booming business, totalling more than 62 million dollars. Such impressive figures clearly were used by Durborough to promote the American war industry.

Here is a download link to the complete production file of Durborough's film.

We have uploaded the final edit from the 1930s of this Signal Corps film on our YouTube channel.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Motion Pictures in Military Training during World War I

The military use of motion pictures during World War I was mostly restricted to two purposes: instructing soldiers and historical documentation. Films were also used for publicity purposes but the military command did not give this idea much thought. This situation was the same in all belligerent countries, including the United States.

French military cinematographer, circa 1917. From the National Archives, The Hague (Holland) 

An interesting example how films were used by the U.S. Army for military training comes from U.S. Signal Corps footage that was uploaded by the National Archives in January 2015 on the Internet. The footage was edited into the "Historical Series" which was compliled by the U.S. Signal Corps in 1936.

New Camera Techniques

This World War I film shows in detail the nomenclature, assembly and disassembly, and operation of a Lewis machine gun. Reel 2 shows infantry troops at Camp Meade, Maryland, lined up in various battle formations. The first reel is particularly interesting because it shows how the U.S. Signal Corps used new camera techniques such as 'stop motion capture' to demonstrate the use of the Lewis machine gun.

The military training film by the U.S. Signal Corps can be watched here.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Creel Committee - Films in World War I

When the United States entered World War I in 1917 films became an important tool for official propaganda purposes. The organization behind these operations was the Commitee on Public Information (CPI) or the "Creel Commitee". Named after its chairman journalist George E. Creel, the CPI launched a massive publicity campaign to get America behind the Great War.

Advertisement Under Four Flags produced by the CPI. From Moving Picture World, 11 January 1919

"The World's Greatest Adventure in Advertising"

Creel was a firm believer in the power of the media and he called his publicity campaign "The World's Greatest Adventure in Advertising". Although films were a relatively new medium at the time the CPI did not neglect the movies. America's participation in the Great War was widely shown on screen. Using official footage shot by military cameramen of the U.S. Signal Corps the CPI produced three feature documentary films, as well as numerous shorts and a newsreel, The Official War Review. Film stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks were also mobilized by the CPI to urge people to buy War Bonds and enlist for the American Army.

More information on Creel's film program can be read in a chapter of our book American Cinematographers in the Great War.

Here is a short clip uploaded to our YouTube channel on these films by the Commitee on Public Information.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Ariel Varges Appointed with the Order of the British Empire

For his photographic work during World War I American cameraman Ariel Varges (1890-1972) was appointed an honorary member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. We recently found the official letter signed by King George V in Varges' personal collection which was put up for sale on the Internet.

Ariel Varges (1918). On the frontside Varges wrote "Sincerely yours, Ariel Varges, New York American staff"

Varges featured before in this weblog. He ranked among the most prominent, pioneering film cameramen of World War I. As described in our book on the American cinematographers of the Great War, Varges worked for William Randolph Hearst and he came to Europe in December 1914. By using his close contacts with Sir Thomas Lipton, Varges got on a ship for the Serbian front and filmed the war in the Balkans. From 1916, Varges became an official cinematographer for the British Army and filmed in Greece and Mesopotamia.

Signed Photograph

The letter by King George is dated November 4, 1919. Varges apparently received this honorary appointment when he was in Paris one year later, because there is an accompanying letter dated June 26, 1920 in his personal collection, which was signed by the British Ambassador in France. The collection also has a signed photograph of Varges. The backside of this picture is dated October 1, 1918. On the frontside of the picture one of the newspapers he worked for is mentioned, the New York American.

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire was established by King George V in June 1917 for services to the British Empire, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations and public service outside the Civil Service. In December 1918 the Order was split into two divisions: a Civil Division for civilian recipients and a Military Division to the Order for awards to be conferred on commissioned officers and warrant officers for distinguished service in action. Because of his photographic work during World War I Varges was awarded with a Military Division Order of the British Empire.

His personal collection can be seen on this website of an online auction.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Reporting from the Front - Robert S. Dunn

Among the American journalists reporting on World War I Robert S. Dunn deserves a special note of interest. Born in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1877, Dunn was an explorer and naval officer whose interests carried him into many corners of the world. After his graduation from Harvard in 1898, he travelled the Yukon Trail to the Klondike and became a journalist upon his return.

Robert S. Dunn (1903) 

In 1908 Dunn led the first climbing party that reached the top of Mt. Wrangell, Alaska. As a war correspondent he covered the Russo-Japanese War, the attack by the US Marines on Veracruz and General Pershing's expedition into Mexico against Pancho Villa. During World War I he was a correspondent for the New York Post. Dunn described his war experiences in his book Five Fronts - On the Firing Lines with English, French, Austrian, German and Russian Troops (1915).

Official Film Report

As mentioned in a previous weblog, the German government in January 1915 produced a film on the living conditions in occupied Belgium. American cameraman Albert K. Dawson and Austrian newsreel photographer Hans Theyer were assigned to accompany Dunn and a group of fellow American reporters, including Jack Reed, to make an official film. The film project was set up to show the world that the Belgian people were treated decently, thus trying to disprove the stories on atrocities committed by German soldiers in Belgium. Scenes from this movie were found by the authors while researching our book American Cinematographers in the Great War. You can read more on this historic film in our latest book.

German frontline in the Argonne forest, photographed by Albert Dawson, January 1915

Albert Dawson (right), with a fellow American correspondent in Brussels, January/February 1915

Cameramen under Fire

Like Reed, Dunn mentioned the film coverage of their 1915 trench trip in his book Five Fronts. Here is how he described Dawson's and Theyer's frantic return from the frontline after they had just filmed a terrifying French artillery barrage near Comines:

Comines lies just across the old French frontier, in Belgium. We had luncheon with our generous corps' staff, in some residence all dark with ambrequins and terra cotta plaques. It was the usual officers' mess - the long table lined with mystifying uniforms, bantering one another but carefully gracious to you; boiled meats to eat, yet more of the wine of the country than beer. And that our hosts were all-Bavarian was plain from the captain on my right, who had been to Oxford, and was willing enough to admit in argument the social and economic dangers of a military hierarchy. Consider that, from a  hide-bound German soldier, on the edge of battle! 
Three o'clock found us threading the narrow streets of Houthem, the divisional headquarters, and a stage nearer the inferno of the trenches. Already any windows left in the village were rattling to the detonations of shrapnel; their sudden spawning white plumes over the long rise west of the town made the woods on its crest seem alive. The place itself was shelled nearly every afternoon. A few more house size holes in its walls and roof, and the brick church de l'Assomption would be no more. We climbed the belfry, but only to see a shattered Norman church, with a rooster weathervane and a wrecked village rise from the crest of woods. Between and beyond these, the German cross-fire over the invisible French trenches yonder appeared to meet, in white spurts like two streams of cloud sped from separate air currents and waxing furious, brought out a hundering answer from the French batteries further north.  
On the ground again by the divisional station, two soldiers came down the road from that quarter carrying an elegant new coffin on their shoulders. And behind them tooted the motor-car that had taken our official cinema men [Dawson and Theyer] to the artillery up there. Exactly what had happened, the counter insinuations in the pair's stories only fogged. A shrapnel shell — or a grenade — had exploded in the air or hit the ground ten up to a hundred yards away. Somebody had dropped his [movie] machine and run, but some one else had skipped out first, while No. 2 had fled only because No. 1 wouldn't stand his ground while he had shouted to him, thought he had, et cetera. One boasted of a splash of mud hurled against his back, which was quite clean, both where he could and couldn't see it. They agreed only in their breathless resolve to hustle back to Comines, with the twenty feet of film that the first peep of sun in a week had vouchsafed them. 

In 1918 Dunn was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Navy, and served as an intelligence officer in London and in Constantinople. During his later years, he concentrated on horticulture and on writing in his home in Katonah, New York. He wrote two published novels, Youngest World and Horizon Fever and one book of verse. Dunn's autobiography was published in 1956 after his death.

Robert Dunn's book On Five Fronts (1915) can be read and downloaded here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Anti-German Film Propaganda (USA, 1917-1918)

In the online collection of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. the authors recently came across a fascinating film entitled "Anti-German Propaganda" that was produced by the American government in 1917-1918.

Warning: Graphic Contents!

First a warning to anyone who would like to see this footage: the film has very graphic contents showing dead soldiers and children. It is a strong example of World War I atrocity propaganda in which the Germans are shown as the ultimate bad guys.

A.E. Wallace with the German army. Copied from the Boston American, 29 August 1915

The American film studios during World War I produced many propaganda movies and a lot of these films are by modern standards absolutely outrageous. This film is something completely different. It isn't drama - the movie is compiled from documentary footage and still photographs. The pictures were clearly distributed to arouse antipathy toward the German war effort. Pictures show dead Germans in trenches, the Kaiser inspecting troops, dead women and children piled in a field, German troops retreating, captured Germans in a stockade, and French families inspecting their rubbled homes. Films show German troops in close-order drill, doing excercises and engaged in infantry and cavalry maneuvers, French refugees trudging along a road and Allied prisoners being guarded by German troops.

Newsreel Footage Identified

The technical quality of these pictures is outstanding. We also recognized the scenes showing the German troops in close-order drill. These were shot by American newsreel cameraman Ansel E. Wallace who went to Germany in December 1914 for the Hearst-Selig News Pictorial. This footage was taken in Frankfurt am Main. We found it in the Allen Collection at the Library of Congress but could not publish it because of copyright issues. This footage from the National Archives however is in the public domain and can be watched without any restrictions. Ironically, the Wallace footage of troops on the drill field at Frankfurt am Main was shot in 1915, two years before the United States got into the war.  And it was made at the order of William Randolph Hearst, who was then pro-German, and with the direct blessing of the German Foreign Office -- another demonstration of how a film shot can often be exploited for almost any propaganda purpose.

You can read more on Wallace's film work during World War I in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War (2014).

We have uploaded this anti-German propaganda film on our YouTube channel.


Thursday, February 22, 2018

"Our American Boys in the European War" (USA, 1916)

Long before the United States entered the First World War, American films capitalized on the notion of an active involvement of their country in the Great War. One of the best examples is Our American Boys in the European War, a four-reel film released by the Triangle Film Corporation in the summer of 1916.

Film poster of Our American Boys in the European War (USA, 1916) 

This documentary film pictures the American Field Service, an organization of volunteers driving ambulances behind the French frontlines, as well as the American pilots that joined the Lafayette Escadrille on the French side of the war. Long considered a lost movie, the film has been partially retrieved. Two reels of a revamped version were found recently in the film collection of the Library of Congress. This version was released in the United States in 1917 as Our Friend France and has some additional scenes.

The American Field Service

For a country that was strictly speaking neutral at the time when this film was first shown, it is somewhat surprising that this movie was released. But one should not forget that when the German army closed in on Paris in 1914, many members of the American colony rallied to the French cause. Its two prime movers, former U.S. ambassador to France Robert Bacon and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, persuaded the French government to provide facilities for taking care of wounded French soldiers at the American Hospital at Neuilly-sur-Seine, a little suburb northwest of Paris. The next step was to set up operations for an American ambulance service, which came into effect around June 1915.

Somehow in 1916 the American Field Service managed to close a deal with the Triangle Film Corporation and with the assistance of the French authorities Our American Boys in the European War was produced. According to Ed and Libby Klekowksi in their excellent book Eyewitnesses to the Great War, the film was shot in the vicinity of Pont-à-Mousson, in the Lorraine, which was a relatively quiet frontline sector. Although the Triangle Film Corporation in some press releases claimed the company had sent its own cameramen to Europe this is highly unlikely. Most of the footage was probably made by official cinematographers of the French army, and some scenes were spliced in that were also used in other American films, notably Donald C. Thompson's War As It Really Is (USA, 1916).

Preparedness Movement

Our American Boys in the European War premiered in July 1916 at the Hotel Majestic in New York City. Special benefit shows for the American Field Service were arranged that summer for members of the East Coast high society at fashionable seaside resorts. The film not only was an important fund raiser for the American Field Service. It soon also became a significant propaganda instrument for the preparedness movement in America. Although the enemy was not mentioned in the speeches that accompanied the presentation of this film, it is clear the movie was used for pro-French publicity, as well as promoting a stronger national defense in the United States. As an example, the trade paper Moving Picture World reported the film was shown in September 1916 at the Plattsburg military training grounds in New York under the auspices of the 9th Regiment.

Scene from Our American Boys in the European War (USA, 1916) 

When in 1917 America entered World War I the Triangle film was shown again and soon a new version was edited, which included additional shots such as a scene showing the French General Rageneau conferring the Cross of the Legion of Honor upon A. Piatt Andrew, organizer of the American Field Service. This revamped film also has an appropriate introduction by General Joffre, commemorating French-American friendship dating back to the American Declaration of Independence. This footage must be a compilation of at least three different film versions, because there are at least three different styles of intertitles.  A number of shots in the first film (about the first 20 minutes) are also scattered through the John E. Allen Collection at the Library of Congress.

Here is a copy of this 1917 version of Our American Boys in the European War, which can also be found on the website of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs (AFS Archives.)