Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lost & Found: "The German Curse in Russia" (USA, 1918)

Among the World War I films considered "lost" there is one movie we would particularly like to find and see again: Donald C. Thompson's The German Curse in Russia. Distributed by Pathé in January 1918, the film documents Thompson's extraordinary adventures during the Russian Revolution. Although no footage has been found so far, Thompson has left us with a remarkable collection of still photographs.

Russian volunteers for the front, photographed by Donald C. Thompson

Filming the Russian Revolution

As described in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War, Thompson reached Petrograd in February 1917 on an assignment for Leslie's Weekly. Just one month later the Petrograd regiments rebelled and the Tsar was replaced by a Provisional Government under the leadership of Kerensky. Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks agitated for peace, bread and land. Thompson's camera not only captured the leading politicians, including Lenin and Trotsky. He also filmed the demonstrations in the streets of Petrograd and in July 1917 he went to the front to cover the summer offensive against the German army. With chaos increasing in the country he left Russia in September 1917, shortly before the Communist regime took over.

Thompson (left) with Russian soldiers at the Dvinsk frontline 

Thompson's film The German Curse in Russia is of great historical value. Contemporary footage of the Russian Revolution is extremely rare and Thompson was by all accounts the only American cinematographer to witness these events. The opening title of his movie gives a distinct impression of its message: "Since March 1917, the world believes that Russia forsook her allies, but records from my diary and camera will show that Russia's anarchy was not willed by her people, but was caused by vile German intrigue working in the unthinking masses." How this message was conveyed into pictures has been described in our latest book

Advertisement for Thompson's film The German Curse in Russia, copied from the Oakland Tribune, 11 May 1918

Despite the loss of his films many of Thompson's still pictures taken during the Russian Revolution have been preserved. A selection of 201 photographs was published in his book The Crime of the Twentieth Century in 1918. For those of you who would like to see more here is a link to a weblog on Thompson's remarkable picture book.


In February 2017, the authors found footage from Thompson's film The German Curse in Russia.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.