Monday, September 25, 2017

An American Newsreel Cameraman with the Serbian Army (1915)

The Serbian Film Archives (Jugoslavenska Kinoteka) recently shared with us new information on American cameraman Ariel Varges. As a result, we were able to identify a number of newsreels that were shot by Varges in 1915 when he accompanied the Serbian army during World War I.

Ariel Varges in the trenches. Copied from Editor & Publisher, 27 October 1917

Ariel Varges (1890-1972) was one of the first pioneering newsreel cameramen in American film history. From 1914, he filmed for the Hearst-Selig News Pictorial and he remained a globe trotting war photographer throughout his career. As described in more detail in our book on the American cinematographers of the Great War, Varges came to Europe in December 1914. By using his close contacts with Sir Thomas Lipton, he got on a ship for the Serbian front and filmed the war in the Balkans.

First Foreign Movie Cameraman in Serbia

Varges was by all accounts the first foreign cameraman to film the Great War in Serbia. Upon reaching Belgrade he filed his first report for the Hearst-Selig News Pictorial No. 34 which was shown in the American theaters on April 29, 1915. This newsreel has scenes showing Sir Thomas Lipton with Serbian Red Cross officials, as well as the first pictures shown in the U.S. of Crown Prince Alexander, king regent of Serbia. In the collection of the Jugoslavenska Kinoteka is footage shot by Varges that was released in the United States between July-September 1915. These films are a most valuable addition to the newsreel footage by Varges that we had found earlier on at the Library of Congress in the John E. Allen Collection.

Scene from Hearst-Selig News Pictorial No. 34, filmed by Ariel Varges. Copied from Motography, May 8, 1915

The first newsreel report by Varges from Serbia that we could identify in the collection of the Jugoslavenska Kinoteka was Hearst-Selig News Pictorial No. 54 (1915) which has a remarkable close up of Major Vojislav Tankosić, one of the founders of the Black Hand group which was instrumental in recruiting Gavrilo Princip, the man who killed Austrian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo, thus propelling Europe into the First World War. The intertitle for this specific scene credits Tankosić for causing World War I which is somewhat exaggerated but the scene is of great historic interest. Our book American Cinematographers in the Great War has more information on how Varges managed to interest this high ranking Serbian officer to pose in front of his movie camera.

Photograph from A. E. Wallace's scrapbook. On the back is marked "Danube Trench", no. 8.  It is clearly a photograph taken in conjunction with Hearst Selig News Pictorial no. 71, September 25, 1915, which was shot by Varges with the Serbian army. Wallace was a colleague of Varges and shot film in wartime Germany. Courtesy Cooper C. Graham

Infantry Engagement

Varges' newsreels taken with the Serbs contain scenes taken in Nish, where the Serbian Army had set up temporary headquarters. In addition, Varges filmed military operations at the Serbian fortress of Semandria, a staged infantry engagement near Belgrade and wounded soldiers arriving on a transport at the American hospital in Belgrade. Altogether we were able to identify four U.S. newsreels that have Serbian war scenes taken by Varges, based on reviews in the trade paper Moving Picture World.

Varges' newsreels were posted online by the Jugoslavenska Kinoteka on the website of the European Film Gateway. We are most thankful to Aleksandar Erdeljanović, Head of the Film Archives, for sharing links to these clips with us. We have added references to the original American newsreels, as well as quotes from the reviews in the movie trade press, to compile this video on Varges' newsreels of the Serbian army during World War I.  All rights to the original footage are held by the Jugoslavenska Kinoteka.


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