Friday, July 14, 2017

New Film Found Showing Sir Roger Casement (1915)

Sir Roger Casement featured before in an earlier weblog in which we described how the only known extant footage of this controversial Irish freedom fighter was filmed. Casement appeared before the movie camera in April 1915 when he was trying to enlist the Germans’ support in a general rising against England and the raising of an Irish Brigade. We recently found an extended scene from this unique historic footage in a contemporary newsreel.

Advertisement for Hearst International Film Pictorial, New York American, 4 August 1916, the day after Casement was executed

Casement was filmed by Albert K. Dawson, an American cinematographer who was in Berlin at the time. With the assistance of American correspondent Franz Hugo Krebs, Casement was persuaded to pose for a film and photo shoot in the hotel where he was staying. The full story can be read in an article by authors Cooper C. Graham and Ron van Dopperen for the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Televisionthat appeared in 2016.

Extended Film Scene

In a compiled newsreel that was uploaded by Periscope Films we recently found a new scene that was taken by Dawson during this film and photo shoot. In these shots Casement can be seen smoking a cigarette while talking to the American reporters. This sequence was originally released in the American theaters in Pathé News, No. 45 on June 3, 1916, two months before Casement was executed by the British because of his involvement in the Easter Rising. (Source: Motography, 17 June 1916, page 1411)

The newsreel compilation from the Periscope Film collection can be viewed here. 

We have uploaded Dawson's film from this collection on our YouTube channel.


Monday, July 10, 2017

The Films of Pioneer Kansas Photographer Donald C. Thompson

On March 13, media historian David Mould lectured on World War I cameraman Donald C. Thompson. His presentation Images of World  War I - The Films of Pioneer Kansas Photographer Donald C. Thompson was part of a series of presentations by Kansas University on the centennial of the First World War.

Lecture at Kansas University

David H. Mould, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Media Arts and Studies at Ohio University. Thompson has been one of his favorite research subjects ever since Mould did his master thesis on the news films of World War I in the 1980s. In this lecture at Kansas University David Mould tells about Thompson's approach to news coverage, how he projected his self-promoted image of the "photographer/adventurer", gained access to the frontlines and staged some of his war scenes. To give the audience a proper sense what it was like to watch a war film in those days David shows a selection of scenes from Thompson's movies, accompanied with contemporary music.

Opening scene from Thompson's film War As It Really Is  (USA, 1916)

These scenes are very interesting. To start with David Mould presents clips from Thompson's film With the Russians at The Front which was shot on an assignment for the Chicago Tribune in 1915. Mould has some fascinating inside information on the making of this movie, based on letters by Robert R. McCormick, the Chicago Tribune co-editor who accompanied Thompson during this trip. Next he shows parts of Thompson's film Somewhere in France (1915) and a good copy of Thompson's subsequent movie which was produced with the French army in 1916: War As It Really Is. 

The German Curse in Russia (USA, 1918)

David Mould recently edited Thompson's letters to his wife which were written during his stay in Russia while he was covering the Russian Revolution and the war against Germany on the Eastern Front. Shortly before his presentation at Kansas University David contacted us on our discovery of footage from Thompson's film The German Curse in Russia (USA, 1918). We had made a reconstruction of this remarkable film by Thompson, based on films in the Axelbank Collection, which was also in David's presentation.

For more information here is a link to David Mould's recent article "Images of War" in the Journal of Russian-American Studies (May 2017) 

A recent interview with David Mould on this subject was also published in this newsletter of the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies (Fall 2017).

We have uploaded David Mould's presentation on Thompson on our YouTube channel. Thank you, David, for sharing your latest research with us!


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Lost & Found - The Collapse of the 35th A.E.F. Division (1918)

On September 26, 1918, the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F) was sent into the abyss that was called the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The battle cost 26, 277 lives, making it the largest and bloodiest operation of World War I for the Americans. Among the casualties were many soldiers of the 35th Division, a unit that virtually collapsed under the strain of modern warfare. Footage showing the aftermath of this terrible battle was found recently by the authors in the archives of the Imperial War Museum.

Major General Peter E. Traub learning a few points about moving picture camera from Lt. Edwin F. Weigle. U.S. Signal Corps photograph taken by Weigle's camera operator Pvt. Thomas J. Calligan, 18 October 1918, Sommedieu, France

When zero hour came the American infantrymen discovered that General Pershing had sent them into terrain that was only a few removes from hell. Inside the Argonne Forest ravines, hillocks and meandering streams added to the obstacles created by the trees and dense underbrush that reduced visibility to 20 feet. Throughout the valley, the Germans had added every imaginable man-made defense. General Hunter Liggett, who commanded I Corps on the American left, soon realized the place was ‘a natural fortress, beside which the Wildnerness in which Grant and Lee fought was a park.’

The Lost Battalion (USA, 1919)

Film poster The Lost Battalion (1919)

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive provided film history with a suitable backdrop for The Lost Battalion (USA, 1919), a movie based on the actual experiences of soldiers from the 77th Division who had found themselves completely cut off and surrounded by German forces. While all of this was happening nearby their comrades of the 35th Division were at risk of being completely annihilated. After only 5 days of fighting the 35th Division rapidly became combat ineffective. One reason for the 35th Division's poor performance was inadequate training. But the division's greatest failure lay in grave lapses in its leadership as a result of mistrust between the unit's Regular Army and National Guard officers.

Collapse at the Meuse-Argonne

Author Robert H. Ferrell in his book Collapse at the Meuse-Argonne (2004) places the blame squarely on divisional commander Major General Peter E. Traub who sowed confusion within the unit by relieving all infantry brigade and regimental commanders and replacing them with Regular Army officers only days before combat started. As a result, when the attack was launched the chain of command ceased to function and the 35th Division suffered over 7,000 casualties.

Shortly after the division was pulled out of the line on October 1, 1918, the soldiers were transported to a quiet sector near Verdun where they could rest and recuperate. On October 18, cameramen Edwin F. Weigle and Thomas J. Calligan filmed General Traub on an inspection tour of his men. We could identify the cameramen because of a still photograph which has their names and shows how General Traub posed before their movie camera. As mentioned in a previous post, Weigle was the photographic officer of the 35th Division and an experienced war photographer who had previously covered the Great War for the Chicago Tribune. Weigle and Calligan on that same day also filmed men of  'C' Battery, 130th Field Artillery of the 35th Division, carrying ammunition in a wood near Sommedieue, as well as the sole surviving officers of the 1st Battalion, 138th Infantry Regiment. As an interesting side line, Battery D of the 129th Field Artillery Regiment of the 35th Division at this time was commanded by Captain Harry S. Truman, the future President of the U.S.A.

Opening scenes from our video clip

The smiling faces of General Traub and these surving officers, as recorded by Weigle and Calligan, do not reveal the true tragedy that had taken place only three weeks before. But the scenes remain an important source on the history of the 35th Division and the American Expeditionary Force during World War I.

For more information on the cameramen of the 35th A.E.F. Division in France check out this previous weblog.

We found the footage in a compilation film at the Imperial War Museum. The movie was produced by the U.S. Signal Corps in 1919, showing U.S. forces and French airmen on the Western Front (catalogue number IWM 501-3). Here is a clip from this film reel: