Monday, November 7, 2016

Fritz Arno Wagner and the Great War

Credited as cinematographer for Nosferatu and Westfront 1918, Fritz Arno Wagner hardly needs an introduction. During the 1920s, Wagner was among Germany's most in-demand directors of photography and played a key role in the expressionist movement, working with some of his country's finest directors, including Murnau and Lang. His life and work during the First World War however has remained somewhat underexposed.

Fritz Arno Wagner, 1915, copied from Leslie's Weekly

Filming the Mexican Revolution

Interested in cinematography from an early age, Wagner became a newsreel cameraman in 1913 and was stationed in New York for Pathé Weekly where he reported on the Mexican Revolution. This became his first taste of real warfare. In March 1914, Pathé had contracted Wagner to bring back to the United States pictures of Victoriano Huerta and his army. Huerta paraded his army in front of Wagner's camera. "He censored the films, had me cut out all the parts favourable to the Federals and then ordered the 'Salon Rojo' to show them as advertising for the troops", Wagner later reported for the trade paper Moving Picture World.

Scene from Nosferatu (1922), filmed by Wagner

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Wagner returned to Germany to enlist for the army while still reportedly filming war scenes. Wagner was mentioned in the publicity by the American Correspondent Film Company as one of their film reporters working at the German front, together with Albert K. Dawson, Edward Lyell Fox and Charles d'Emery. As our research has shown, Dawson and Fox were indeed on the payroll of this film company. But we found no record on Wagner in the files of the German Foreign Office or the German Foreign Propaganda Agency, the Zentralstelle für Auslandsdienst. Apparently, his name was thrown in for publicity purposes anyway.

Trade article mentioning Wagner (left) working for the American Correspondent Film Company

Wagner had a short but painful episode during the First World War when he volunteered for his country's elite cavalry corps, the German Husars. After ten weeks he met with an accident in which his arm was so severely injured that he had to be discharged.

An interesting report written by Wagner for the American magazine Leslie's Weekly on his experiences in the German cavalry can be read here.

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