Troop Ships for the Philippines (1898)
This short film from Edison documents the rising tide of patriotism associated with the Spanish-American War, the first war to be “covered” by motion pictures in the USA. Here we get a chance to see soldiers from the nineteenth century as they set off for a conflict far from home.
We see a long troop ship sail past the screen from left to right, packed with young men who are cheering and waving in our direction. The camera appears to be on another ship, and it gently bobs up and down with the wake of the passing military boat. It also pans slowly to keep up with the passing ship and allow us a longer view of its occupants. The men are too far away to distinguish features, but appear as silhouettes against the bright background. At one point, some American flags, apparently being waved by onlookers, obscure our view of the ship slightly. At the very end of this ship, we can read that it is the S.S. Australia. There is an edit, and we are facing anew angle. Another ship sails by, this time from left-to-right, at a much greater distance so we can see the entire ship on screen at once, though we really can’t make out anyone on deck. It is flanked by two tugboats, and after a second edit, we see the tugboats from behind, following the ship as it heads out to sea.
War was good business for Edison and other early filmmakers, and gave the movies something to capture the American audience’s imaginations at a time when the movies were beginning to seem less novel. History remembers the Spanish-American war as a product of yellow journalism and the jingoism associated with the Hearst and Pulitzer newspapers, but the new media of cinema jumped eagerly on the same bandwagon. This movie is a kind of “parade” in honor of the troops, always a good way to build up patriotic sentiment. It’s also interesting to me that this movie and the “Return of Lifeboat” were both shot by Frederick Belchynden, who I’m starting to think of as the “nautical” cinematographer at Edison. Maybe William Heise had a fear of the water! This movie was shot in San Francisco, however, so he may have rather been their West Coast stringer.
Director: James H. White
Camera: Frederick Blechynden
Run time: 2 Min, 40 secs