Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Battle of the Somme

Best Picture 1916

And now we come to the big award, the one that describes what the most “important” movie was of the year. In my not-terribly-humble opinion, of course. Here we see what movie really stands out 100 years after its release as the one to see by future generations. As with all these awards, I’m not necessarily saying “this is what would have won if there had been an Academy Awards ceremony in 1916,” I’m saying what it looks like from the current context. In that sense, these awards are more for the future than the past. In my first year, I chose “Cabiria,” the epic spectacle of Giovanni Pastrone (who also won Best Director). Last year, it was “The Cheat,” a story of betrayal and sexual dominance contrasted with racial intolerance, directed by this year’s Best Director, Cecil B. DeMille.

This year, the nominations range from the well-known to the obscure. Probably the best known movie of 1916 (and a likely winner then, despite its lack of box office profitability), is D.W. Griffith’s immense spectacle “Intolerance.” This movie has a lot in common with “Cabiria,” particularly in the massive sets used to re-create ancient Babylon. Also well known in its day was “Hell’s Hinges,” the apocalyptic Western starring this year’s Best Actor, William S. Hart. Hart & co. burned down an entire Western town to make this grand story of revenge come to life. Far more obscure, and even unreleased in its own day, we also have “The Curse of Quon Gwon,” by Marion E. Wong, who took home an award for Best Supporting Actress. While it has some technical flaws, this independent movie gives a unique look at Asian American immigrant life from the perspective of the immigrants themselves. The first British production on the list is “East Is East,” a consideration of the class system and the importance of knowing yourself which garnered several nominations, but no actual awards in other categories. Perhaps the whole could be better than its parts, as the movie is entertaining and enjoyable. “A Life for a Life,” directed by past Best Director Evgeni Bauer, won its star, Vera Kholodnaia, the Best Actress award. It depicts a tragedy on a grand scale as a woman marries for convenience, despite being in love with another man. Cecil B. DeMille took home this year’s Best Director award for his work on “Joan the Woman” as well as having directed the Best Picture of 1915. Can he secure both slots with this depiction of the life of the French saint and nationalist? The one contribution from Germany is the serialHomunculus” which comes to us in incomplete form today, but is still viewable as a reasonably complete narrative. This was one of the first movies of the period that I ever saw, and its story of a man created by science who discovers he cannot love or be loved has stayed with more for more than a decade. Actor William Gillette brought “Sherlock Holmes” to the screen for the first time, with the authorization of Arthur Conan Doyle, after a successful stage run in the role. This movie was lost for many years, but its influence on later portrayals of the great detective cannot be denied. One of the runaway hits of the UK this year was the documentary “The Battle of the Somme,” which won an easy category as Best Documentary since that was the only one I saw this year. But, it is such a powerful and influential depiction of such an important historical event that I had to include it for consideration as Best Picture as well. One more William S. Hart movie made the list, even though “Return of Draw Egan” didn’t win in any other categories, and had few nominations. Still, it is another example of how this early film star pioneered the tropes that would become familiar in Westerns for a century, as the bad man turns good for the love of a woman and cleans up a town of desperados.

The nominees for Best Picture of 1916 are:

  1. “Intolerance”
  2. “Hell’s Hinges”
  3. “The Curse of Quon Gwon”
  4. “East Is East”
  5. “A Life for a Life”
  6. “Joan the Woman”
  7. “Homunculus”
  8. “Sherlock Holmes”
  9. “The Battle of the Somme”
  10. “The Return of Draw Egan”

And the winner is…”The Battle of the Somme!”

Carrying the wounded off the field.

Carrying the wounded off the field.

I’m breaking Academy rules by even considering a documentary in this category, but to me the best picture is the best picture, regardless of its genre or methods. Admitting that there are other movies on the list that could be argued for, in terms of scale, directing, box office success, or critical acclaim, I really felt that for a modern audience the chance to witness World War I as it happened is too significant to be ignored. All of the movies on the above list have stayed with me since I viewed them, but “Battle of the Somme” had the strongest impact. So, for this year at least, a British documentary trumps all of Hollywood’s finest product.

Thanks to everyone for reading and liking!

Best Documentary 1916

Hello everyone, and welcome to the Century Awards! This year, as in years past, I’ll be posting a winner every hour up to approximately the time the “real” Academy announces the Best Picture for 2016, coinciding with the Century Award for Best Picture of 1916.

I said in my nominations announcement that this category was a “gimme,” since I only saw one documentary this year, but it’s so good I felt it deserved to be honored with a Century Award. Thus, I announce the not-at-all-surprising winner:

“The Battle of the Somme”

Battle of the Somme-film

This movie represents the best traditions of actuality filmmaking, adapted to a new era and one of the most important human events of its period. The Battle of the Somme was a devastating attack on French soil that claimed nearly a million lives and contributed to the attrition of the German army, although it was by no means a decisive Allied victory. British people, eager to see for themselves the struggle of their friends and relatives abroad, flocked to the movie, which also had a highly successful international release at a time when the British film industry was largely stagnant. While some scenes are obviously staged, and in general the photographers restricted to “safe” areas for filming, it is nonetheless a thrilling document of the First World War.

November 1916

This month’s Century News is a bit late, due to distractions and the US election of the present year. The biggest news of 1916 for Americans was also a Presidential election, but there was plenty of other news for the headlines of that month as well, including the end of the bloodiest battle of World War One in Europe.

Map of allied progress in the Battle of the Somme.

Map of allied progress in the Battle of the Somme.

World War One:

Douglas Haig ends the British and allied offensive in the Somme, ending the Battle of the Somme on November 18. Each side has lost about half a million soldiers, and the allies have advanced nearly six miles along a wide front, although the keys cities of Péronne and Bapaume remain in German hands.

Hospital ship HMHS Britannic, designed as the third Olympic-class ocean liner for White Star Line, sinks in the Kea Channel of the Aegean Sea after hitting a mine on November 21. 30 lives are lost. At 48,158 gross register tons, she is the largest ship lost during the war.

On November 23, Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is occupied by troops of the Central Powers.

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson

Politics:

In Russia, liberal politician Pavel Miliukov delivers his “Stupidity or Treason” speech to the State Duma on November 1, contributing to the downfall of the current government and drawing attention to the powerlessness of the Duma in the face of an increasingly revolutionary public.

Woodrow Wilson narrowly defeats Charles E. Hughes to retain the White House on November 7. “He kept us out of war” was used to apply to his policy regarding both Mexico and World War One (although the US had been militarily engaged with the former, and would soon be in the latter).

Republican Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first woman elected to the United States House of Representatives, also on November 7.

Prime Minister of Australia Billy Hughes is expelled from the Labor Party on November 13 over his support for conscription.

Funeral for a worker killed in Everett, Washington.

Funeral for a worker killed in Everett, Washington.

Labor:

The first 40-hour work week officially begins in the Endicott-Johnson factories of Western New York on November 1.

An armed confrontation in Everett, Washington, between local authorities and members of the Industrial Workers of the World results in seven deaths on November 5. The Everett Massacre will also lead to the prosecution of several Wobbly leaders, although the charges are dropped in 1917.

Diplomacy:

The Kingdom of Poland (1916–18) is proclaimed by a joint act of the emperors of Germany and Austria on November 5. It exists as a puppet state of the Central Powers, which now occupy much of Polish territory.

The altar in Honan Chapel.

The altar in Honan Chapel.

Architecture:

Honan Chapel, Cork, Ireland, a product of the Irish Arts and Crafts movement (1894–1925), is dedicated on November 5.

Journalism:

Radio station 2XG, located in the Highbridge section of New York City, makes the first audio broadcast of presidential election returns on the night of November 7-8. It is estimated that 7000 people listened to the broadcast.

goldwyn_picturesStudios:

Samuel Goldfish (later renamed Samuel Goldwyn) and Edgar Selwyn establish Goldwyn Pictures on November 19. The studio is later to become one of the most successful independent filmmakers and eventually forms part of MGM.

Births:

Evelyn Keyes actress (Suellen O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind” and also in “Before I Hang” with Boris Karloff), November 20.

Deaths:

Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria dies of pneumonia at the Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, aged 86, after a reign of 68 years, on November 21, and is succeeded by his grandnephew Charles I. His own son, Rudolph, had committed suicide with his mistress in 1889.

Writer Jack London dies of kidney failure at his California home aged 40 on November 22. As early as 1908, D.W. Griffith had adapted “The Call of the Wild” to film, and many other London works would be made as movies through the century to come.

October 1916

As usual, I lead off this installment of the Century News with updates from the Western Front, although there’s a good range of other news in the headlines this month.

World War I:

The Battle of Le Transloy begins on October 1. This is the last offensive attempted by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force in the Battle of the Somme.

Also on October first, the British Reserve Army initiates the Battle of the Ancre Heights to press successes in another region of the Somme.

The French initiate the First Offensive Battle of Verdun on October 20. This attack is the beginning of a German defeat in Verdun.

Ethiopian artist's rendering of the Battle of Segale

Ethiopian artist’s rendering of the Battle of Segale

Civil War:

The Battle of Segale is fought on October 27 in Ethiopia, providing a victory for the new Empress Zewditu against forces loyal to Iyasu V, her uncrowned rival.

Sports:

In the United States, the “most lopsided game in the history of college football” occurs on October 7, when Georgia Tech beats Cumberland with a score of 222 to nothing.

Politics:

Nonviolent activist Hipólito Yrigoyen is elected President of Argentina on October 12. His regime is hampered by a highly oppositional political class, which controls parliament, and he resorts to extra-constitutional means through declaring a “state of emergency” to enact measures in many provinces.

Education:

Perm State University, today one of the oldest universities in the Ural region is founded in Russia on October 14.

Health:

Margaret Sanger opens the first birth control clinic in the US on October 16, a forerunner “Planned Parenthood.” Sanger will be arrested nine days later for distributing contraceptives.

Terrorism:

Assassination of Count Karl von Stürgkh, Minister-President of Austria by Friedrich Adler. Adler was a socialist who defended his act as one of revolutionary necessity at his trial. His party, which endorses Austria’s involvement in the war, repudiates his actions.

PawnshopFilm:

The Pawnshop” starring Charlie Chaplin, released October 2.

Return of Drew Egan” starring William S. Hart, released October 15.

A Daughter of the Gods,” reputed to be the first movie with a one million dollar budget, released and allegedly the first movie with a nude scene by a major actress (Annette Kellerman), released October 17.

Died:

Henry Woodruff, who had starred in the movies “A Beckoning Flame” and “A Man and His Mate,” October 6, from Bright’s Disease.

September 1916

Our roundup of headlines from 100 years ago shows a mix of tragedy and triumph, with natural disasters, political unrest, and important movies being released in a month that marks the end of the second full year of fighting in Europe. Here are some of the things newspapers were talking about at the time.

Mark I Tanks on September 15, 1916

Mark I Tanks on September 15, 1916

World War I.

Bulgaria declares war on Romania on Sept 1, going on to take Dobruja.

Battle of Flers–Courcelette in France begins September 15 with a British advance. The battle is significant for the first use of the tank in warfare; also for the debut of the Canadian and New Zealand Divisions in the Battle of the Somme.

British pilot Leefe Robinson becomes the first to shoot down a German Zeppelin over Britain.

Collapsed Quebec Bridge, Sept 11, 1916

Collapsed Quebec Bridge, Sept 11, 1916

Disasters

A mechanical failure causes the central span of the Quebec Bridge, a cantilever-type structure, to crash into the Saint Lawrence River for the second time on September 11, killing 13 workers.

Animal Cruelty

Mary, a circus elephant, is hanged September 13 in the town of Erwin, Tennessee for killing her handler, Walter “Red” Eldridge.

Politics

Iyasu V of Ethiopia is deposed in a palace coup September 27, in favour of his aunt Zewditu.

CountFilm

Charlie Chaplin’s short “The Count” released September 4.

Release of D. W. Griffith‘s film Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Through the Ages in the United States, September 5.

Births

Douglas Kennedy (actor, in “Adventures of Don Juan” and “The Amazing Transparent Man”), Sept 14; Margaret Lockwood (actress, in “Night Train to Munich” and “The Lady Vanishes”), Sept 15; Rossano Brazzi (actor, in “South Pacific” and “Omen III”), Sept 18; Peter Finch (actor, in “Network” and “The Miniver Story“), Sept 28.

Deaths

Sydney Ayres, 37, American stage & screen actor and director, The Sting of Conscience, The Avenger, As in a Dream, multiple sclerosis.

Arthur Hoops, 45, American stage & screen actor, The Secret of Eve, Bridges Burned, Extravagance, The Eternal Question, The Scarlet Woman, heart attack.

Camille D’Arcy, 37, American actress, The Prince Chap, Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, A Daughter of the City, The White Sister, The Pacifist, infection from bathing.

August 1916

Once again it’s time to round up the major headlines of this month from 100 years ago. While the real Battle of the Somme continued to rage, audiences in Britain went to theaters to experience it on the screen. In the US, several steps were taken to conserve natural resources and even towards future decolonization, and the Cub Scouts got their start this month as well.

The 8th Australian Light Horse Regiment, at a site near Romani.

The 8th Australian Light Horse Regiment, at a site near Romani.

World War I

The Battle of Romani begins August 3 and ends August 5. British Imperial troops secure victory over a joint Ottoman-German force.

 

Diplomacy

Portugal joins the Allies, August 7.

Peru declares neutrality, August 21

The Kingdom of Romania declares war on the Central Powers August 27, entering the war on the side of the Allies.

Germany declares war on Romania, August 28.

Italy declares war on Germany, August 28.

 

Conservation

Lassen Volcanic National Park is established in California on August 9.

Migratory Bird Treaty between Canada and the United States signed, August 16.

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signs legislation creating the National Park Service on August 25.

 

Colonialism

As a step towards future autonomy, the United States passes the Philippine Autonomy Act on August 29.

 

Education

Robert Baden-Powell publishes The Wolf Cub’s Handbook in the U.K. during August of this year, establishing the basis of the junior section of the Scouting movement, the Wolf Cubs (modern-day Cub Scouts).

Battle of the Somme-film-adBattle of the Somme-filmFilm

One AM” starring Charlie Chaplin is release on August 7.

The premiere of the movie “Battle of the Somme” in London is on August 10. In the first six weeks of general release (from 20 August) 20 million people view it.

The first episode of the series “Homunculus” is released in Germany on August 18.

The movie “The Danger Girl,” starring Gloria Swanson, is released on August 25

 

Births

Van Johnson, actor (in “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo” and “Battleground”), August 25; Martha Raye, actress (in “The Big Broadcast of 1937” and “Monsieur Verdoux”), August 27.

July 1916

This is a particularly “bloody” entry in the Century News series, with the outbreak of one of the worst battles of World War One, two terrorist attacks on the United States (one domestic, one foreign), as well as shark attacks and forest fires all hitting the headlines at once. It’s a reminder that the news we see today is no worse than what our ancestors endured, but it’s also a sad reminder of how much damage hatred and intolerance has caused in every era. The movies provide a small escape for us, with the release of a comedy classic and the birth of a legend.

British Tank at the Somme, Sept 1916

British Tank at the Somme, Sept 1916

World War One

The Battle of the Somme begins with the “Battle of Albert” on July 1, in what will be the British Army’s bloodiest day with more than 19,000 killed. On July 15 another sub-battle, the “Battle of Delville Wood” claims 766 South African troops – the highest number lost by South Africa in a single engagement. The “Battle of Fromelles,” July 19-20, is another operation in which British-allied forces suffer disproportionate losses. The Somme will drag on until November, claiming over a million lives.

The Battle of Erzincan begins on July 2, with Russian forces overwhelming the Ottomans and inflicting 34,000 casualties by July 25.

Terrorism: The Preparedness Day Bombing in San Francisco on July 22 kills 10 and injures 40 at a parade organized to “prepare” Americans for intervention in World War I. Two labor leaders, Tom Mooney and Warren K. Billings are arrested, tried, and convicted, but later pardoned on the basis of false testimony against them. The true culprit remains unknown.

Sabotage: German agents blow up the Black Tom munitions depot in Jersey City, near to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on July 30, killing 7 people.

Jersey Shore Shark Attack NewsAnimal Attacks: The Jersey Shore Shark Attacks take place from July 1 to 12, resulting in four deaths and one disabling. These attacks will later inspire the book and movie “Jaws.”

Natural Disasters: A forest fire in Ontario, Canada caused by a lightning strike on July 29 kills 233 people.

Industry: Founding of Boeing July 15 as “Pacific Aero Products” in Seattle, Washington.

Food: Mass public-dining program initiated during July in major German cities to combat the effects of the Allied blockade.

Science: Publication of Einstein’s “Die Grundlage der allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie, first explication of the general theory of relativity, in Annalen der Physik.

Vagabond_(1916)Film: Release of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Vagabond,” July 10.

Births: Olivia de Haviland (actress, “Gone with the Wind” and “The Snake Pit”), July 1; and Keenan Wynn (actor, “Dr. Strangelove” and “Laserblast”), July 27.