Friday, August 26, 2016

World War I Centennial Premiere: "America's Answer" (USA, 1918)

The most succesful official war film released by the American government during World War I, America's Answer (1918), now is an odd relic from the past. Watching this movie after almost one hundred years feels strange. As Kevin Brownlow noted in his book The War, the West and the Wilderness: "Amused by the titles, intrigued by the antiquity of the equipment, a modern audience can sense none of the manipulative power that the film once had."

Edward Hatrick (left) on the Western Front near Sommedieue, France, April 1918. Photo from the U.S. Signal Corps Collection, National Archives

America's Answer was released in November 1918 by the Commitee on Public Information (CPI), America's wartime propaganda agency. The movie was distributed by the World Film Corporation in 34 cities and grossed over $135,000. The footage was shot by military cameramen of the U.S. Signal Corps.

Opening scene America's Answer (1918)

First Showing in Paris

An intriguing story about America's Answer has never been told before: the movie was first shown in France, not in the U.S.A. It was first exhibited at the Gaumont Palace in Paris on June 26, 1918, to a a special audience including Field Marshal Joffre as well as the British and American ambassador. The man who was very much instrumental in producing this movie also hasn't been mentioned before: Edward B. Hatrick, head of Hearst's I.N.S. photo and newsreel service. In April 1918, the CPI sent Hatrick to France to report on the motion picture coverage of the war by the U.S. Signal Corps. His film work in France has been described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War.

While working on this assignment Hatrick also supervised principal photography for America's Answer.

Here is Hatrick's own story about making this movie, as published in the trade paper Moving Picture World of August 17, 1918 and in the Washington News, September 1918.

Footage from America's Answer is hard to find on the Internet. The Imperial War Museum has four reels of a British version online, and although a good copy it isn't the complete movie as shown on the screen in 1918. The authors found an original print in the files of the National Archives in College Park, MD, and we uploaded all nine reels of this historic movie on America's involvement in World War I.

After almost one hundred years the film is now in the public domain and available to all on the Internet.


Monday, August 15, 2016

The Cameramen of the k.u.k. Kriegspressequartier

As far as pictorial publicity is concerned, compared to other belligerents the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy during World War I was remarkably well advanced. As early as July 28, 1914, a military press office was set up - the k.u.k. Kriegspressequartier - which even admitted women to the front as official war artists.

As described in our latest book, American cinematographers Albert Dawson, Frank Kleinschmidt and Edwin Weigle wouldn't have been able to make their war films without the assistance of this press office. As embedded camera reporters they accompanied the Austro-Hungarian army on the eastern front, in the Balkans and at the Isonzo front where from 1915 the Italian army tried to break through the Alpine mountain passes.

Franz Pachleitner and his photographic outfit, 1914. From the World War I collection of the Austrian National Archives

To commemorate the Great War the Austrian TV network ORF2 in September 2014 broadcasted a documentary on the k.u.k. Kriegspressequartier, featuring the work by two Austrian cameramen, Alexander Exax and Franz Pachleitner. Exax's pictures were discovered by photo historian Anton Holzer in the archives of the Austrian National Archives. Exax was just 18 when he joined the army and the youngest war photographer at the press office at that time. In his diary he described his experiences in Galicia, Serbia and on the Isonzo front. The Austrian TV documentary shows how his pictures were identified at the Austrian National Archives which still has over 33.000 photographs produced by the military press office.

Setting up movie camera, April 1915. Picture taken by American war correspondent Frank Kleinschmidt with the Austro-Hungarian forces. Courtesy Austrian State Archives

Kaiser, Krieg und Kamera

Franz Pachleitner from 1914 pioneered in aerial photography. At the outbreak of war he was assigned to Fliegerkompanie Nr. 10 at Graz-Thalerhof Airport. Most of his pictures were taken at the eastern front in Galicia and the Carpathian mountains. In 1916 Pachleitner taught aerial photography at the military academy in Vienna and from 1917 he covered the war against the Italian army. Despite strict censorship he smuggled most of his war pictures back to Austria, which were kept in the family archives. Shortly before his death he had his war memoirs Kaiser, Krieg und Kamera written down by his granddaughter, Carina Klemmer. Pachleitner's war pictures have been uploaded on the Internet by the Austrian National Archives and can be viewed here. His book can be ordered here.

Here is a video showing the work by these official cameramen from the Austro-Hungarian military press office of World War I, edited from the ORF2 documentary.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Edwin Weigle's Experiences on the Belgian Battlefields

In September 1914, Edwin F. Weigle - staff photographer of the Chicago Tribune - went to Belgium to film the invasion of this country by the German Army. Weigle was the Tribune's star cameraman who had just before the outbreak of the Great War filmed the U.S. Marines attack on Vera Cruz, Mexico.

Left: Belgian machine gun squad, photographed by Weigle. Right: Weigle's war film On Belgian Battlefields, advertised in the Chicago Tribune,  14 November 1914

Weigle's war films have been described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War. He wrote a personal account on his film work in Europe, My Experiences on the Belgian Battlefields, that was published in late 1914 shortly after Weigle had returned to the United States. In this book Weigle related how he managed to get access to the firing line in Belgium, filmed the German siege of Antwerp in October 1914 and survived the artillery attack on Antwerp in an underground basement together with some fellow American war correspondents.

Edwin Weigle, filming in the ruined city of Aerschot, Belgium

On Belgian Battlefields (USA, 1914)

Weigle's account relates an exciting story. It also provides an interesting case story on how neutral correspondents back in 1914 at the start of World War I covered the military conflict with their movie camera. Weigle's film was released in America in November 1914 under the title On Belgian Battlefields. It opened at the elegant Studebaker Theatre in Chicago and was a huge success. The movie was released when public sentiments in the United States on Belgium's fate were running high. The country had been brutally overrun by the Germans, and there was a lot of sympathy for the suffering of the Belgian people. Weigle's film as well as his personal story also is of special interest because of the 'authentic touch'. Although Weigle worked for a pro-German newspaper and didn't mention any atrocities committed by the German Army in Belgium, his book does provide us with a rare opportunity to witness the Great War as seen through the lens of an American film correspondent.

Weigle's 60 page book on his experiences in Belgium is hard to locate nowadays. But we found an original 1914 edition and uploaded the book on this weblog.

To read and download Weigle's book My Experiences on the Belgian Battlefields  (1914) click this link.