Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Russian Empire

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.

June 1916

This is a somewhat thin month for news, apart from the Russian Front and the Arab Revolt (as if that’s not enough!), but I’ve found a few facts to give us a sense of the context of the period. We’re around the halfway point of World War One now, the US is still not involved but it will be a hot issue in the coming election. Film production continues to shift West, but there’s still plenty of work in the New York/Forth Lee area going on.

General Alexei Brusilov

General Alexei Brusilov

World War One:

The Brusilov Offensive, the height of Russian operations in the war, begins on June 4 with their breaking through Austro-Hungarian lines. There will be half a million casualties on the Russian side and at least twice that many suffered by the Central Powers, leaving the Austro-Hungarian Army effectively crippled. It may be seen as a Pyrrhic victory, however, because the Russian Empire could never mount another major attack after its losses, either.

The HMS Hampshire sinks on June 5 having hit a mine off the Orkney Islands, Scotland, with Lord Kitchener aboard.

Diplomacy: Speaking at an allied economic summit, Etienne Clementel argues that the Blockade should be the beginning of economic cooperation among Entente partners, aimed at excluding Germany from their markets after the war.

T.E. Lawrence

T.E. Lawrence

Uprisings: The Arab Revolt begins against the Ottoman Empire to create a single unified Arab state spanning from Aleppo to Aden, and is formally declared by Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca on June 10. He will be assisted by British officer Captain T.E. Lawrence, AKA “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Youth Organizations: U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signs a bill on June 15 incorporating the Boy Scouts of America.

Culture: Opening of the Cleveland Museum of Art, June 16.

Births:

Irwen Allen, producer (made “The Poseidon Adventure” and TV’s “Lost in Space”) June 12; Dorothy McGuire, actress (in “Gentleman’s Agreement” and “Friendly Persuasion”), June 14; Irene Worth, actress (known for “Orders to Kill” and “Deathtrap”) June 23.

Deaths

Actor Page Peters (who appeared with Blanche Sweet in “The Warrens of Virginia“) dies in a swimming accident June 22, in Hermosa Beach, California.

July, 1915

World War One flying ace Kurt Wintgens

World War One flying ace Kurt Wintgens

It’s been a year now since Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot, giving way to the diplomatic kerfluffle that generated the First World War. The war that would “be over by Christmas” is now lurching towards its first anniversary, and the death toll mounts in Europe and in other places. Irish Home Rule, which seemed to be on the way, is now deferred indefinitely, and the French film industry has largely been shut down as the machine shops are converted to war production and young men are drafted into service. V.I Lenin is in Switzerland, writing critically of the many Social Democrats who support the war, and Trotsky is in Paris, advocating “peace without indemnities or annexations, peace without conquerors or conquered.” Italy, partly under pressure of a formerly prominent Socialist named Mussolini, has chosen to join the war, precisely in order to achieve those things Trotsky would renounce. The USA remains neutral, although in the wake of the sinking of the Lusitania, a good deal of anti-German sentiment has spread among the population.

Here’s the news roundup for July, beginning with the war news:

South Africa is victorious in the South-West African Campaign, beating the last of the German forces in Otavi (present-day Namibia) on July 1, and accepting German surrender on July 9. South Africa would make repeated attempts to annex the former territory of German-South-West Africa, finally agreeing to demobilize in 1988.

Air War: on July 1, pilot Kurt Wintgens, of the German signal corps, becomes the first man to shoot down an enemy plane, using a machine gun mounted on his Fokker aircraft. Wintgens would go on to achieve the status of “ace.”

Russian Front: on July 22nd, Russian forces begin “The Great Retreat” from Polish and ultimately western Russian territory in the face of forces of the Central Powers. Although it is a lengthy withdrawal, across hundreds of miles of territory, much fighting power, in form of men and materiel, is preserved, allowing for a significant counter attack, beginning in September.

Canada: a trolley overloaded with 157 passengers, overturns on July 7 near Queenston, Ontario, killing 15.

Disasters: The steamer Eastland capsizes while tied to a dock in the Chicago River, July 24. 844 passengers lose their lives.

US Military: On July 28, the occupation of Haiti commences to protect American economic interests in an increasingly volatile political situation. President Woodrow Wilson invokes the Monroe Doctrine and concerns about possible German infiltration as justification. The occupation will continue until 1934. 330 US Marines are sent to Port-au-Prince, and face resistance from only one Haitian soldier.

Fish Factory in Astrakhan (1908)

Fish Factory in Astrakhan

Alternate Title: Zavod rybnykh konservov v Astrakhani

I’m not quite certain whether to label this as a “Russian” or “French” movie. It was made by Pathé in the Russian Empire, and presumably distributed throughout Europe and the US. It would have served as a kind of travel movie, shown to audiences eager to see “exotic” faraway places depicted on their domestic screens. However, there’s a good chance it was shown in the Russian interior as well, where there would be many citizens for whom Astrakhan was nearly as exotic as it seemed in Paris. The movie was found in a Russian archive, where it had been restored, and Russian subtitles added, by a film student in the 1950s. One source I’ve found says it was likely shot by Aleksandr Drankov, which, if true, makes me think it’s pretty Russian, whoever he was working for.

What we actually see is a series of shots taken at an actual fish processing center on the Volga. The fish are delivered, cleaned, salted and shipped out, and we also see the workers during their lunch break. The emphasis on workers may help explain why a Soviet archive felt it was worth preserving. They actually seem pretty happy, for an oppressed working class, and frequently turn and smile to the camera (on the other hand, the presence of the film crew may have been an excuse to slack off). Nearly all the workers we see are women, except for a few men who steer the rafts that are used to deliver the fish. Most of the work is done by hand in a very inefficient and un-ergonomic manner. I have to wonder how long the backs of these workers held up to this kind of treatment. For us today, it no doubt remains an opportunity to indulge in travel to an “exotic” distance in both time and space.

Director: Unknown (see above)

Run Time: 6 Min, 30 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Evgeni Bauer – A Russian Artiste

Welcome to a couple of firsts for my blog: this is both the first time I’ve participated in a blogathon and also the first time I’ve tried to write about the career of a specific filmmaker, rather than examining their films one at a time in capsulized reviews. Perhaps even more exciting: this post falls on my blog-birthday: The Century Film Project has now been in the blogosphere for exactly 1% of a century!

Evgeni_Bauer

The Story According to Wikipedia

When I heard about the “Russia in Classic Film” blogathon being held by Movies Silently, I knew I wanted to see what I could come up with on Evgeni Bauer.* I had only just discovered him, and have since written three reviews of his films, but I knew I had found someone special. His movies are so advanced by the standards of the teens that it’s hard to believe they aren’t ten years later than the dates they show. Although he seems to have worked with more than one photographer, the use of composition and lighting is always remarkably deliberate, and one suspects that he worked very closely with his cameramen to get the effect he wanted. No surprise that he was a production designer, because the sets are always carefully and artistically planned, and he gives actors and camera space to move around within the set as well. Finally, he was one of very few directors at the time who worked in three dimensions – what happens in the foreground and background can be more important than center stage, and performers move in all directions in his movies.

A still from Yevgeni Bauer's 1917 film Za schastem with Lev Kuleshov and Tasya Borman.

A still from Yevgeni Bauer’s 1917 film Za schastem with Lev Kuleshov and Tasya Borman.

Looking Deeper: Tsarist Russian Cinema

The one book I could find in English that provided any insight into Bauer was Silent Witnesses: Russian Films, 1908-1919. It’s a fairly rare book, I had to have my library order it from a University in Orange County, CA, and it’s rather odd as well. It’s dual-language, with English on the left side and Italian on the right, and sometimes the English reads is if translated by someone with only second-language skills. It refers to itself at several points as a “catalog,” and seems to have been intended to serve as companion to some kind of film festival or showing, in spite of its immensity (600+ pages). A lot of the text is apparently made up of comments from Russian film magazines, translated for current readers, with additional comments on each film by the editors.

What I did get from this was an interesting view of the Russian film culture of the period. Judging by these magazines, there was quite a thriving film industry and film-going public in Russia at the time, one which seems to compare to the United States. Now, I have to imagine, given what I know of Russian society, that this would have been a largely urban phenomenon, and that it would have been restricted to population centers like Moscow and Petrograd, excluding much of the rural population and presumably the lower classes, who wouldn’t have money or leisure for something like movies most of the time. But, that may itself give us some insight. These journals take film very seriously: it is clearly regarded as an art form already, not just a cheap way to make money, as it often was in the US. The critics writing for these magazines had very high expectations of the literary and visual quality of the films they talked about. Presumably, Russian audiences had similarly high standards.

What I Can Say (or Guess) about Bauer’s Career

In that sense, the emergence someone like Bauer begins to make sense. D.W. Griffith had to fight tooth and nail with Biograph in the United States to try to make anything “artistic.” He took too long, spent too much; all that was wanted was lots of content produced quickly so that the distributors could buy it up by the foot and fill up the nickelodeons with eager viewers. Bauer’s bosses at Khanzhonkov probably had a different approach (though I wouldn’t be surprised if there were arguments about budgets there too). They wanted to beat the competition in terms of producing works that would impress people that could be spending their time and money on live theater, and so were more willing to innovate to get an advantage. I don’t have numbers to prove it, but I’d bet there were fewer venues for film in Russia, so less reason to try to make lots and lots of movies, since a lot of them would have nowhere to be shown. They let Bauer work in longer formats, take more time with set ups and rehearsals, and in general they wanted to see quality at least as much as, if not more than, quantity, because that’s what they could sell.

Bauer himself came from an artistic background. His father had been a famous zither player and composer, his sisters acted on stage, and he went to the Moscow School for Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. No doubt it was there that he learned about composition and lighting, and he may well have brought painting techniques with him into film. After moving through several careers, he became a set designer, and was praised for the intricacy and style of his work. By the time he started making sets for the movies in 1912, he would have been forty five or forty six years old, was married, and had worked in various communications media, including the theater, newspapers, and magazines. He made 82 movies for Drankov, Pathé, and Khanzhonkov, had the highest salary of any Russian director, and became part-owner of the latter company through ownership of shares. He worked as a director only from 1913 to 1917, when he died due to pneumonia contracted after a fall while rehearsing walking with a limp for one of his movies.

Another still from Za schastem

Another still from Za schastem

Critical Reception

Now, back to those reviews for a moment. Considering how good his movies look today, I was surprised how harsh the criticism was, especially of my favorite Bauer so far, “After Death.” That one wasn’t about the film’s quality in itself, it was because he had dared to tamper with the sacred Ivan Turgenev, changing characters names and details for the movie. He actually wrote a sort of apology, admitting that “Turgenev should be approached in a different spirit and with different habits” than most film scenarios. Again, evidence of the high standards of Russian moviegoers!

A Tragic Loss, But…

It’s hard for me not to speculate about what would have happened if he had survived into the Soviet period. Many of his actors continued in the Soviet silent period, and certainly good movies continued to be made, but I wonder about the politics of some of his films. He got his start in the business building sets for “The Tercentenary of the Rule of the House of Romanov,” not a subject the Bolsheviks would be likely to approve, though I note that its two directors continued working through the twenties. The portrayal of the proletarian in “Twilight of a Woman’s Soul” would also have been potentially embarrassing, certainly by the time of Stalin’s ascendency, but it’s possible that, had he lived, we’d have gotten a lot more great work from Evgeni Bauer.

Of his movies, 26 supposedly remain, but for an American with limited resources, it’s hard to even see a dozen of them. The Wikipedia page for Bauer has links to watch seven of them, and I’d recommend them wholeheartedly to any fan of silent movies.

 

 

*Of course, there are several ways of transcribing his name from Cyrillic. I’m opting for “Evgeni,” because that’s how it appears in “Mad Love: The Films of Evgeni Bauer,” the most accessible DVD collection of his work. Wikipedia prefers “Yevgeni,” and you’ll also find “Evgenii” and “Yevgenii” as well in other sources.