Friday, September 28, 2018

World War I Through the Lens of the Cameraman (GB, 2018)

Crowd funded by World War I and film history fans alike, Beaumont-Hamel was released online on June 30, 2018. The film has a unique approach to the Great War. The Battle of the Somme is seen here through the lens of the official cinematographer, Geoffrey Malins, who on July 1, 1916, covered the bloodiest battle in British military history.

Co-directed by a film maker (Ross Barnwell) and a World War I historian (Andy Robertshaw, co-author of Ghosts on the Somme), this short film places historical accuracy at the centrepiece of the drama. Highly recommended!

For an interview with producer Andy Robertshaw on Malins' film work on the Somme check out this video


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Capturing the Great War from Above (France, 1918)

In the collection of the Imperial War Museum the authors recently found a remarkable film by photographic officer Captain Edwin H. Cooper, showing his preparations for a staged battle between the American ace Eddie Rickenbacker and a captured German plane. During the making of this movie Cooper's plane crashed but he survived miraculously.

Lieutenant Edwin H. Cooper, getting ready for a motion picture flight. Aviation School, Issoudon, 12 December 1917. Signal Corps picture, courtesy Harry B. Kidd

Distinguished Service Cross for Extraordinary Bravery 

Edwin H. Cooper (1881-1948) featured before in this weblog. He was the photographic officer with the 26th "Yankee" Division and in 1917 Cooper was one of the first official cameramen to land in France with the American Expeditionary Force. In a previous weblog we described how Cooper risked his life while filming the American attack on Château-Thierry. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his extraordinary bravery during this offensive. Cooper also appears in a recent documentary that we produced - Mobilizing Movies! - on the U.S. Signal Corps cameramen of the First World War.

In his memoirs Cooper explained how he got interested in aerial photography. When he landed at St. Nazaire in October 1917 one of the first things he noticed was a huge observation balloon above the harbor. He immediately decided he wanted to experience the thrill of covering the war from above: "We passed over a very beautiful little chateau which reminded me of a toy house in a well kept Christmas yard. The coast of Brittany is very rocky, jutting out into the water, which was a most wonderful blue. This was the most beautiful ride I ever had. On reaching St. Nazaire we circled over the town, the pilot maneuvering so we could approach the pile of automobiles by making a long glide and at the proper time for me to crank the motion picture camera. I made a mistake by putting my hand up broadside to grasp the crank. The wind pressure was so great that it snapped my hand back, hitting me in the face, and I had to offer my hand knife-wise against the wind, and even at that the cranking was very difficult."

Capturing the American Aces

In December 1917 Cooper went to Issoudon, the training camp for American aviators. There he met most of the American aces, such as Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Meissner and President Roosevelt's son, Quentin. Many of these men he would encounter again at the 94th Aero-Squadron near Toul. Cooper pictured the training period for the aviators, starting with the roulier class. This was a plane with the propellers clipped to keep the machine from rising from the ground. From there he followed the training of the aviators from one field to another and finally to the acrobatic field. Each day he was in the air and by then he had decided he wanted to join the Air Service.

Major Raoul Lufbery at the 94th Aero-Squadron, photographed by Lt. Edwin Cooper on April 18, 1918. Signal Corps photograph courtesy Harry B. Kidd

Cooper also photographed Lafayette Escadrille ace, Major Raoul Lufbery, shortly before his death:

"I shall always remember the luncheon I had with Major Lufbery on the Friday
before he was killed. He never talked aviation or his exploits, but that day he
mentioned the fact, referring to a boy that had gone down in flames, that if he was
ever in flames he would jump. That afternoon I photographed him in front of his
plane. The following Sunday afternoon they received word at the field that there
was a Boche plane coming toward Toul. The flight on duty started up and they
had hardly reached a good height when the Boche plane was seen over Toul.

It fell down out of control and everyone thought it had been hit by the artillery.
It narrowly escaped hitting a building, but righted and started to zoom up. A
lieutenant told me, who was standing on the balcony of the Comedie Hotel in Toul,
that it was so low he could have hit it with an orange. The flight did not see the
Boche, but Lufbery went up after him alone. He was on the German's trail chasing
him hard toward Germany, when presently a puff of smoke was seen in Lufbery's
plane. The plane stalled. He climbed out and jumped, evidently trying to reach
the river running under it, but instead landed on a picket fence near the home of a
French peasant. When Major Huffer went after his body the French people had
moved it to the mairie and completely covered it with wild flowers. They brought
down the German just as he reached the lines and found there had been a gunner
lying down in the fusilage who had fired the bullet. Several days later, I made
the picture of Lufbery' s funeral."

Fearless Aerial Photographer

Picture from Eddie Rickenbacker to his friend Captain Cooper

Lieutenant Cooper was by all accounts a fearless aerial photographer. Because of his audacity he was admitted as a charter member of the Gimper Club at 94th Aero-Squadron. To join this exclusive club one had to do a stunt or be a true ace. There is a picture of these club members, taken in the summer of 1918, including Lt. Cooper together with his friend Eddie Rickenbacker. Judging from a report in the trade press, Cooper must have qualified for the Gimper Club not because he had shot down German planes but as a result of his remarkable stunts: "To get a proper focus, he would climb out of his seat in an airplane, slid out to the tail of the machine, and there complete his work. His weight had caused the tail to dip, and the pilot had to loop the loop several times to save their lives", the Bulletin of Photography reported in October 1918.

Lost footage found at Critical Past and the Imperial War Museum

The opening movie scenes that we found are from the Imperial War Museum and were taken on October 18, 1918 when Cooper had just been promoted to Captain. You see him fitting his Debrie motion picture camera to a gun position inside the cockpit of a Liberty plane. Cooper went up in a two-seater together with Jimmy Meissner that day. Rickenbacker in his book Fighting the Flying Circus (1919) described how their plane crashed a couple of miles outside of the aerodrome. "We hurried over, expecting to find the occupants badly injured, as the Liberty appeared to be a total wreck. But out stepped Jimmy and Captain Cooper, neither of them the worse for their experience. And to complete our surprise, the camera, although covered with the débris of the machine, was quite unhurt!"

The wrecked Liberty plane, showing Cooper's movie camera attached to the observer's seat. Photographer: Sgt. Gideon Eikleberry, Signal Corps cameraman, 26th Division, A.E.F. Location: Rembercourt, Meurthe et Moselle, France. Date: October 18, 1918. Courtesy Harry B. Kidd

Undaunted by the crash Cooper three days later again cranked his movie camera while filming a staged battle between Rickenbacker inside a Spad and a captured German plane. This time his flight had a safe landing. Cooper's film of this duel in the sky has been found in the stock collection of Critical Past. The original footage must have looked quite spectacular. In order to make the dogfight look realistic the planes shot special tracer bullets. At the end of the film when the German plane went down landing flares that had been fitted under the wings were set on fire. According to Rickenbacker, the German plane even had a dummy pilot installed that was thrown out of the aircraft as the plane dived down. Rickenbacker mentioned the fighting looked so real a French artillery unit opened fire, mistaking the German plane for a real enemy aircraft. Cooper's historic footage also has a close-up of pilot Jimmy Meissner in the front seat of his plane.

We have edited these scenes from the Imperial War Museum and Critical Past on our YouTube channel. Enjoy!


Friday, September 21, 2018

Filming General John J. Pershing (USA, 1919)

On September 9, 1919, a group of Signal Corps cameramen was assigned to take pictures of General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I. While posing for this film and photo opportunity Pershing showed his typical sense of humor.

General Pershing poses for U.S. Signal Corps cameramen. New York City, September 9, 1919. Signal Corps Collection, National Archives, Washington, D.C. Record number 111-SC-62677. Link to high res image

Victory Parade down Fifth Avenue

There was a reason why Pershing had to deal with all these cameramen. The next day he was going to lead a victory parade down New York City’s Fifth Avenue. Vast crowds would cheer as 25,000 U.S. soldiers who had served in the A.E.F.'s 1st Division marched from 107th Street to Washington Square, wearing trench helmets and their full combat gear.

To prepare for this publicity drive it was decided that the U.S. Army needed to have a new set of still pictures and film close up shots of America's war hero who had recently been promoted to General of the Armies of the United States, the highest rank possible for any member of the U.S. armed forces. For this special film and photo opportunity Pershing agreed to pose on top of the roof of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. For photographers General Pershing may have been a perfect model because of his striking looks and impressive appearance. But people who knew him better were aware of the fact that he never felt quite comfortable in front of a camera. The General evidently wanted to finish the shoot as soon as possible. As Sergeant R.E. Warner took this picture above Pershing said to Lieutenant Sutton, who was grinding his movie camera:

"Do they let you waste all that film on me, Lieutenant?"

This Signal Corps film from the National Archives has scenes showing Pershing leading the 1st "Big Red One" Division down Fifth Avenue the following day on September 10, 1919.

Additional scenes showing the Victory Parade in New York City have been found by co-author Cooper C. Graham at the Library of Congress. Here are his notes on these scenes, which were used for his presentation World War I in Motion in June 2017. 


Monday, September 17, 2018

World War I Home Movies (USA, 1928)

In the film collection at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. the authors recently found one of the earliest American home movies on World War I. Partly based on original footage shot by military cameramen of the U.S. Signal Corps this film series belonged to the War Department but was released on 16 mm. format in 1928 by the Empire Safety Film Co., Inc., located on Seventh Avenue in New York City, for the series "12 Film Monuments.”

Advertisement for the Empire Safety Film World War I series (1928)

Series of Shorts

The title of this film series refers to twelve important events during World War I for the United States. Each episode was put on a 100 feet reel and was printed on safety stock. The customer could buy a separate reel for $4,50,- The list of this World War I series of shorts is as follows: “Cantigny", "St. Mihiel", "Leviathan”, “Argonne Forest”, “Château-Thierry”, “Zeppelin's Last Raid Over London”, "Exploits of German Submarines" ( four episodes),  "Landing at Brest" and "Russia in the World War."

The footage that we found at the National Archives contains part of the original series: "Château-Thierry",  "Exploits of German Submarines" (some but not all episodes) and ""Zeppelin's Last Raid." The quality of these pictures is extraordinary and the footage is beautifully tinted.

We uploaded the episodes on Château-Thierry - the A.E.F's first major engagement at the Western Front - and the Zeppelin attack on London on our YouTube channel.

In this previous weblog we also posted on American World War I home movies.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Captured on Film by U.S. Cameramen - The Romanov Murder Scene (1918)

In December 1918, a photographic team of the U.S. Signal Corps led by Captain Howard Kingsmore arrived in Yekaterinburg, Russia, where they filmed inside the house where Tsar Nicholas II and his family was brutally murdered. Against all odds, we recently found Kingsmore's personal story on this photographic assignment, as well as part of these historic films.

Captain Kingsmore (second from right) and his photographic team, Vladivostok, January 1919. Behind the movie camera is Pvt. Philip Tannura. Right: Badge of the Signal Corps Photo Unit American Expeditionary Force Siberia, from the personal collection of still photographer Sgt. John G. Hemmer

The execution of the last Russian Tsar and his family hardly needs an introduction. After the Bolsheviks had taken over power the Romanov family was moved to a so-called 'House of Special Purpose' in Yekaterinburg. The Imperial family was kept in strict isolation within the walls of a sinister heavily guarded building that was surrounded by a palisade. The Bolsheviks initially wanted to put the Tsar on trial, but in the summer of 1918 anti-Communist forces were at the gates of Yekaterinburg, and the Reds feared their captives would fall into enemy hands. As a result, death to the Romanovs was declared. Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei were shot, bayoneted and clubbed to death on the night of 16-17 July 1918. Their bodies were disposed of in a most gruesome manner.

The Cameramen

Howard P. Kingsmore was the photographic officer of a U.S. Signal Corps camera team that recorded the operations of the American Expeditionary Army in Siberia. Born in 1886, Kingsmore started his photographic work for the Philadelphia Inquirer, covering the burial of President McKinley, the coal strikes of 1901-1902 and the 50th anniversary of the Civil War battle of Gettysburg. Around 1907 Kingsmore became chief photographer for the Philadelphia Evening Ledger. For this newspaper he covered the civil war in Mexico, as well as the Punitive Expedition by General Pershing into that country in 1916. When the United States entered World War I he applied for a commission in the U.S. Signal Corps as a photographic officer. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in September 1917, appears to have made mostly training pictures while he was in America and in Augustus 1918 was promoted to Captain, when a photographic section was set up for the Siberian Expedition. After the First World War Kingsmore became a cameraman for Fox News.

Cpt. Howard P. Kingsmore (second from left) among some well-known American World War I cameramen. To his right is Major Bert Underwood, formerly of the photographic company of Underwood & Underwood. Second from the right is 1st Lt. Edward N. Jackson, photographic officer of the  27th Division, who filmed at the Peace Treaty Conference in Versailles. On the right of this picture we have Wilbur H. Durborough, who made movies with the German army in 1915. Signal Corps photograph from the collection of the National Archives. Courtesy Harry B. Kidd

Howard P. Kingsmore, 1917

Interview with Kevin Brownlow

Judging from the production file of the films that were made by Kingsmore and his camera team, they filmed across Siberia between November 1918 and February 1919, covering various operations by the Expeditionary Force that was trying to push the Red Army out of Russia. We have described this Signal Corps footage from Russia in more detail in a previous weblog. Five men were selected for this  photographic team, including two movie camera operators. One of Kingsmore's men, Philip Tannura, was interviewed by Kevin Brownlow for his book The War, the West and the Wilderness. Tannura was among Kingsmore's cinematographers and in the interview with Brownlow Tannura mentioned how he accompanied Kingsmore while they visited the place where the Tsar and his family were executed. "We couldn't find out whether they had actually been killed or not", Tannura said. "We photographed all the rooms."

Kingsmore said he boarded a Red Cross freight train in Vladivostok in November 1918. The trip across Siberia took about nine weeks. The accommodation on the train was of a most primitive nature. The American cameramen traveled in box cars that were originally built for cattle. Arriving in Yekaterinburg, the cameramen found the city controlled by Czech forces. These had taken Yekaterinburg shortly after the Tsar and his family were murdered. Kingsmore was told the Romanovs were subjected to many indignities by the Communist soldiers who guarded them. It should be noted here that at the moment when Kingsmore and Tannura arrived in Yekaterinburg an official investigation was still being carried out on the mysterious disappearance of the Imperial family. As far as the Kremlin was concerned, they had simply vanished into thin air and the Communists denied any allegation they had killed the Romanovs.

Signal Corps cameraman John G. Hemmer in a sidecar with local driver, Siberia, 1919. After the war Hemmer became a staff photographer for the New York News

Photographic Evidence of the Romanov Execution

Kingsmore's and Tannura's pictures indicate this was a fabricated lie. One of their still photographs shows the cellar where the Romanovs were executed. Bullets were dug out of the wall by the Bolsheviks to destroy evidence of the crime, but the holes still remained and were clearly visible. Their pictures also demonstrate how the Tsar's children had to sleep on the floor, as well as the search by the investigating commitee for further proofs of the execution. Kingsmore also appears to have talked with eye witnesses. One told him the Romanovs were on their knees begging for mercy while they were executed in the basement of the house.

Czech headquarters at Yekaterinburg, December 1918. Signal Corps picture probably taken by  Kingsmore or Tannura

Part of the footage that was shot at Yekaterinburg has been retrieved and identified by the authors in the film collection of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. (record number 111-H-1161). These scenes were probably taken by Tannura and show an exterior of the Czech military headquarters, the house the Romanovs lived in, as well as shots of the Czarina's room and the room that was occupied by the Tsar's daughters. We edited these historic scenes into a short clip that has been posted on our YouTube channel.

Here is also a download link to a contemporary newspaper story from the Grand Forks Herald (June 1919) on Kingsmore's experiences in Siberia.


Thursday, September 6, 2018

The World War I Past of Academy Award Winner Alexander Edouart

A winner of ten Academy Awards and for many years a recognized innovator in special movie effects, Alexander F. Edouart worked on approximately 350 films, including Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, the last one being Rosemary's Baby. His photographic work with the U.S. Signal Corps during the First World War merits our special attention.

2nd Lt. Maurice F. Graham, 50th Aero Squadron, and Pvt. Alexander F. Edouart (left), Photo Unit, 78th Division. Photographer: Pvt. A.A. Furst, U.S. Signal Corps. Location: Menans farm near Chatel-Chéhéry, Ardennes, France. Date: October 14, 1918. NARA Ref. #: 111-SC-27131. Courtesy Harry B. Kidd

Top Hollywood Special Effects Technician

Edouart was for many decades one of Hollywood's top special effects technicians. Though of French descent, he was born in Northern California in 1894, the son of a portrait photographer. He joined the film industry early on, working for a subsidiary of Paramount, Realart, as an assistant cameraman from about 1915. At Paramount in the 1920s, Edouart developed a rear-projection technique which became the crowning achievement of his career. To improve this technique, Edouart developed a triple-head process projector, which improved and sharpened the background image. Remaining as head of Paramount's special effects department until his retirement in the late '60s, Edouart won Academy Awards for I Wanted Wings (1941) and Reap the Wild Wind (1942), the latter film lensed in Technicolor.

General view of Grand Pre from a distance showing some of the most hotly contested battlefields. Pvt. Alex. F. Edouart in foreground, moving picture cameraman. Location: Between Chevrières and Grand Pré, Ardennes, France. October 19, 1918. NARA Ref#: 111-SC-27138. Courtesy Harry B. Kidd

Edouart's early experiences in the film business during the First World War are shrouded in ambiguity because of conflicting reports. According to some references, when the United States entered World War I, Edouart enlisted in the Signal Corps which was assigned to arrange for the pictorial coverage of the Great War. Due to a bureaucratic tangle, he was at first not sent to France but attended the Signal Corps' cinematographers course at Columbia University. It was said he was so gifted with his craft that the university administrators invited him to stay on board as an instructor after he graduated.

Capturing the Great War in France

Edouart may indeed have attented the military school of cinematography at Columbia University in 1918, but he is definitely not listed as an instructor in the official document on this photographic school. There is no reference to Edouart in the list that mentions all staff members of this school. He did go the France later on in 1918 to capture the Great War with his camera, but the reports on his photographic activities with the Signal Corps are muddled. According to a number of sources, Edouart played a major role in the U.S. Signal Corps photographic work during World War I, to such an extent that he even rose to become chief of the photo section of the 78th Division of the American Expeditionary Force.

Edouart filming in the Sahara desert, circa 1920

Again, there is some truth in these stories because Edouart was with the 78th Division of the American Expeditionary Force while serving in France. But the U.S. Signal Corps records at the National Archives do not mention a commission for him as a photographic officer with this American division. As a matter of fact, research by Harry B. Kidd clearly identifies Edouart as a private soldier attached to the 78th Division. We have his picture taken on the Western Front only a couple of weeks before the Armistice, on October 14 and 19, 1918, at Chatel-Chéhéry in the French Ardennes. His rank then was a private, definitely not a lieutenant in charge of a U.S. photographic team for an American Division. In this picture Edouart apparently is working with a still camera, but we do know that he also shot film at the close of World War I. His personal papers which are now at the Hoover Institution Archives refer to motion pictures taken by him at the end of the First World War for the American Red Cross in Normandy and Brittany. This interesting collection shows that he was promoted to Sergeant 1st Class at the close of the Great War and the documents definitely merit further research.

Filming with the American Red Cross

Shortly after World War I Edouart left the Signal Corps and became a cinematographer for the American Red Cross, filming relief work in Greece, Albania, the Balkans and the African Sahara. Details about his work with the Red Cross are sketchy but it appears that he was in Montenegro in the summer of 1919, filming refugees in the Balkans at a time when he had been commissioned into the American Red Cross as a Major. He also worked for the Red Cross together with Merl LaVoy, the famous American war photographer who had been with the French army in 1916 and had shot his film Heroic France on the battlefields of the Somme and Verdun. In 1920, LaVoy and Edouart were working together in Algeria, taking pictures for the American Red Cross; here is a link to a collection of photographs that were shot by LaVoy at this time.

Also, here is a download link to a contemporary newspaper story on the Red Cross film work shortly after World War I, which also mentions Major Edouart and Merl LaVoy.

Alexander Edouart retired from the movie industry in 1967. Despite numerous surgeries to save his sight, he became totally blind during the last years of his life and died on March 17, 1980. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

With special thanks to Harry Kidd for his research and input on this weblog

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Sailing for France - Cameraman Victor Fleming

The collection of the National Archives recently revealed two World War I pictures of a cameraman who would become one of the most famous movie directors in Hollywood history: Victor Fleming. Academy Award-winning director Victor Fleming helmed many successful films, most notably 1939's Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.

Lt. Victor Fleming (right) with movie camera on board SS George Washington, December 1918. Picture from the Signal Corps collection in the National Archives. Link to high res image

When America entered World War I Fleming, like most men of his age, was drafted. Though he would have preferred to stay in the film industry, making movies for Douglas Fairbanks, Fleming joined the U.S. Signal Corps Photographic Division and was commissioned as a Lieutenant. He made training films, but most of his pictures seem to have been taken  for a comprehensive pictorial history of the U.S. in the Great War. Fleming was President Wilson's chief cameraman on his first visit to France.

Signal Corps Pictures

The Signal Corps photographs that we found were taken in December 1918 when Fleming was on board the SS George Washington to capture President Wilson's visit to Europe. We see him rolling film behind his Bell & Howell movie camera, together with two other American officers. Another shot has a wonderful close up of Fleming in his uniform.

Lieutenant Victor Fleming, U.S. Signal Corps, December 1918. Link to high res image

We mentioned Fleming briefly in a previous weblog on his work as an instructor at the American School of Military Cinematography that was set up at Columbia University in 1918.

This issue of the Columbia News Record (March 2016) has more on Fleming's work at the School of Military Cinematography.