American Cinematographers in the Great War, 1914-1918

American Cinematographers in the Great War, 1914-1918

American Cinematographers in the Great War, 1914-1918

American Cinematographers in the Great War, 1914-1918

Synopsis

At the start of hostilities in World War I, when the United States was still neutral, American newsreel companies and newspapers sent a new kind of journalist, the film correspondent, to Europe to record the Great War. These pioneering cameramen, accustomed to carrying the Kodaks and Graflexes of still photography, had to lug cumbersome equipment into the trenches. Facing dangerous conditions on the front, they also risked summary execution as supposed spies while navigating military red tape, censorship, and the business interests of the film and newspaper companies they represented. Based on extensive research in European and American archives, American Cinematographers in the Great War, 1914-1918 follows the adventures of these cameramen as they managed to document and film the atrocities around them in spite of enormous difficulties.

Excerpt

This book is a book on film. However, it starts as primarily a newspaper story. There are several reasons. in 1914 newsreels were still very young. While some major studios such as Pathé and Universal were already in the newsreel business, newspapers were entering into an intense period of competition and were seeking new ways to improve profits. It was a cutthroat war between vigorous and expanding entities, imitating what was happening among nations overseas. So there was a rush to send the journalists to the war. As the appeal of newsreels became ever more apparent to the newspapers, there was also a great need for cinematographers, who in many cases had been press photographers until very recently. It is a credit to them how quickly they adapted to lugging and working with 150 pounds of cumbersome film equipment after having worked for years with a Kodak or Graflex.

Since many of them were newspaper people, it was very difficult in many cases to distinguish much difference between the journalists and the cameramen, although there may have been a type of caste system giving deference to the writers. Once overseas they suffered the same problems and shared the same successes. They were in bed together, literally. in October 1914 in Antwerp as it was being shelled by the Germans, Edwin F. Weigle, cinematographer for the Chicago Tribune, Donald C. Thompson, photographer for the New York World, Arthur Ruhl of Colliers and Edward Eyre Hunt, who wrote War Bread, were cowering under the same roof at 74 rue du Péage. Later Horace Green wrote about the same shelling, and James H. Hare, another famous war photographer, photographed the battered facade of the building, American flag still flying, for Leslie’s Weekly. It was a new kind of war, and the journalists and photographers were in it together.

There was another aspect about the newspapers’ evolving relationship with the cinematographers. At least since the Civil War, the Americans had learned that having an accredited war correspondent at the scene of battles was a terrific way to sell newspapers. Perhaps the epitome of the war correspondent in America was Richard Harding Davis, whose dispatches from Cuba during the Spanish-American War had electrified the public and sold millions of newspapers for Hearst, Scribners and the New York World. Everyone wanted to emulate Davis so most newspapers called their reporters in Germany correspondents, and most at least simulated possessing expert knowledge of the country, military matters and so on, as well as having special . . .

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