Wednesday, December 13, 2017

War Reporters on the Eastern Front (1915)

In June 1915, Dutch journalist Marcus van Blankenstein left Berlin and visited the Eastern Front. A correspondent for the Nieuwe Rotterdamse Courant, Van Blankenstein witnessed the destruction in Eastern Prussia as a result of the invasion of the Russian army. The report that he filed on this trench trip is also interesting for film history because in this story he mentions an American cinematographer and the way he worked while filming the war.

War reporters at the Eastern Front. Durborough is at the wheel of the car.  Photo courtesy William G. Chrystal

Although he doesn't mention any name, by checking the details on Van Blankenstein's trip it is clear that the cinematographer was Wilbur H. Durborough, the flamboyant American reporter who accompanied the German army together with his camera operator Irving Guy Ries. Durborough has been mentioned before several times in this weblog, as well as in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War.

Durborough's first trip through East Prussia, copied from the Wichita Beacon, 9 August 1915

"Band of brothers"

At the moment described by Van Blankenstein Ries evidently was at another place and Durborough himself cranked the movie camera. According to this Dutch reporter, Durborough staged some of his film scenes, such as a group of Russian prisoners of war who were asked by him to perform a colorful folkore dance. "With all pleasure I would make a band of brothers out of them and join them into battle!", Durborough exclaimed after he had seen their performance. Van Blankenstein clearly didn't approve of his journalistic methods. "It is so typical for these American business men. To these people this whole war apparently is nothing more than a chance to make a big movie drama out of it. A spectacle that they can watch and enjoy from a professional point of view."

Van Blankenstein's original press report can be read here. 

For more information on Durborough's photographic work during World War I here is a link to an extended edition on the making of his film On the Firing Line with the Germans (USA, 1915) 

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