Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Chicago Tribune's "With the Russians at the Front" (1915)

On June 25, the First Division Museum in Wheaton, Illinois, presented about two reels of the Chicago Tribune's World War I film With the Russians at the Front, which was originally released in America in August 1915.  The remaining footage runs for about 23 minutes and although some scenes are out of place the film presentation is very interesting. Here is the video on YouTube.

Donald C. Thompson

The footage of this American World War I film comes from the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The movie was shot by Donald C. Thompson who accompanied Robert McCormick, editor and owner of the Chicago Tribune, during his trip to Russia and the eastern front. The presentation was introduced by film historian David Mould who has done previous research on Thompson. In his lecture Mould mentions McCormick's "tortured relationship" with Thompson, described by Mould as a "drunk" and a "rogue".  After his arrival back in the United States McCormick sued Thompson because he never handed back his motion picture equipment to the Chicago Tribune.

Here is a picture of Thompson, taken shortly before his departure to Russia:

The video presentation on YouTube is interesting for several reasons. To accompany the original film McCormick's film lecture notes are used. David Mould also gives some useful background information on the way the Chicago Tribune got into the film business and how some scenes were reconstructed for the camera by Thompson. The film has also been described in our latest book on the American cinematographers of World War I.

David Mould mentioned in his speech that Weigle's film The German Side of the War (1915) has been lost. As described in our previous publications, the Library of Congress has several hundred feet of this Chicago Tribune film, and we also found additional footage in the Allen Collection. In addition, the authors have located footage of Thompson's movie With the Russians at the Front at the Library of Congress. So, perhaps we will be able to show these two World War I films again after one hundred years.

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