Monday, September 26, 2016

Ariel Varges and his Moy & Bastie Movie Camera (1916)

From 1916 newsreel cameraman Ariel Varges was attached to the British army. He filmed the operations of the Expeditionary Force at Salonika (Thessaloniki), Greece, and later covered the war in the Middle East and Mesopotamia. Varges previously featured in a chapter on the American cameramen with the Entente in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War.

Ariel Varges in the trenches at Salonika, 1916

'Simple - Efficient - Reliable'

Because of his work with the British during World War I the Imperial War Museum has a remarkable collection of pictures taken by Varges. Of special interest are two photographs, showing Varges with his motion picture camera at the frontline. Varges cranked a Moy & Bastie, a model that was first used in 1909 and became very popular in the film industry. In fact, the first regular "Hollywood" film was shot with a Moy & Bastie. Described in their catalogue as 'Simple - Efficient - Reliable', the Moy & Bastie was a professional hand crank 35 mm motion picture camera in the English 'upright style'. The box was constructed from mahogany and had two internal 400 foot film magazines. Focusing was achieved by viewing the image through the film via a tube from the rear. The camera utilized a unique film transport featuring the 'drunken screw' movement to achieve film pull-down. The Moy & Bastie camera was well known for its impressive chain driven movement and brass gear wheels.

Varges must have followed army regulations when he used this movie camera because the Moy & Bastie was the official model for cinematographers who were attached to the British army. Malins and McDowell used the same type of camera when they shot The Battle of the Somme (1916).

Captain Varges (right) with assistant in forward trenches at the front in Mesopotamia, 1917 

Apart from the information on the type of camera, the two pictures are also interesting because the photographs show the dangers of filming at the firing line. To protect himself Varges used an armour plate that was set up in front of his camera.

Varges featured before in this weblog. Here is a link to an earlier story.

Also, here is a YouTube video, explaining how the movie camera was operated.

Post Note, January 27, 2017:

Battle of the Somme Movie Camera on Display

A Moy & Bastie film camera which is thought to have been used to shoot the famous Battle of the Somme film from 1916 was on display last year at the Imperial War Museum. The camera is in the collection of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum at the University of Exeter but was loaned to the Imperial War Museum for their exhibition Real to Reel: A Century of War MoviesThe camera is signed inside one of the magazines by the great wartime cameraman J.B McDowell, who filmed some of the combat sequences that make up the film.

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