Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Socialism

Year in Review 1917/2017

Once again, a year of reviews and movie watching  is winding up at the Century Film Project. Although I’ll talk in a larger way about the movies when I do my Century Awards in February, I’d like to reflect a bit on the year that just passed, and on the one whose centenary is now nearly over.

At the beginning of the year, I stated that there was “no one big name” that dominated the movies in 1917. I would now have to disagree. The one big/little name that seems to have really taken over this year is Mary Pickford. I haven’t even managed to watch all of the important movies she released this year (might get a couple more in before the Century Awards – we’ll have to see), but the three “little” ones I watched were huge: “The Little American,” “Little Princess,” and “Poor Little Rich Girl” were big audience-pleasers and box office successes. She also released “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” and “Romance of the Redwoods” this year. She also became even more confident in terms of taking on producing responsibilities, telling directors where to go, and running her “brand” as a business. 1917 really seems to be her year, so far as I can see. Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin remain major forces in the industry as well (as well as being friends to Little Mary), but she seems to be the most noticeable breakout of the year.

From a global social-political perspective, this has been an earth-shaking year, which may explain why audiences wanted the reassuring fantasies Pickford was offering, wherein simple child’s morality is upheld and everything turns out OK if you believe and try hard. The United States was finally drawn into war (although they haven’t done much fighting yet). The war itself has been especially brutal this year, with masses of men dying on the French front and ongoing actions in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Meanwhile the Revolutions in Russia have finally knocked that combatant out of the war, and have placed a whole new kind of government into power: one dominated by radical Communists. The world’s largest country by landmass is officially in upheaval and no one knows what to expect.

This kind of social unrest wasn’t limited to Russia, nor to just one side. Germany was now facing anti-war protests and jailing some of its protesters. The “Civil Peace” that had been established between the working class parties and the Monarchy was now broken, as the Independent Socialists (USPD) broke with the Majority Socialists (SPD) and began to demand reform or revolution on a mass scale. Soldiers for France staged mutinies against the officers’ orders that they throw themselves at German machine-guns again and again. Even quiet England saw the rise of a pro-socialist, anti-war party (small, by comparison), and elites throughout Europe watched events in Russia with trepidation, wondering which other nations might fall to the cry of revolution.

2017, meanwhile, has been another year in which “other interests” (aka my real life) have interfered somewhat with blogging and with century-watching. I suspect that will continue, but compared to some blogs, I still have pretty regular content. Each new year brings a new crop of centenaries to celebrate, and 1918 will be another big one. Growth in views and new followers has continued, but slowed, and it seems like there are more frequent “likers” than there were in previous years. It’s nice to know someone appreciates it! Thank you all for reading, and I look forward to what another year will bring us!

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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

May 1916

As the First World War in Europe has progressed, I’ve kept apace of the battlefield and diplomatic news via these monthly Century News updates. This month, I’d like to turn a bit toward a focus on the home front and how populations were responding to the ongoing hardships of the War. In Germany, the Allied Blockade had long meant that vital supplies were cut off. In October of 1915, a series of “butter riots” exploded in Berlin and other major cities, as poor citizens became convinced that farmers were hoarding and over-pricing their wares. By May of 1916, food demonstrations were common events.


Karl Liebknecht

Politics: On May 1, International Workers Day, Karl Liebknecht, the only German Socialist Member of Parliament to have voted against extending War Bonds in December, 1914, gives a memorable speech at a large anti-war demonstration. Liebknecht is subsequently arrested and jailed.

Protests: Australian newspapers report on May 15th about a supposed food riot of over 1000 people, mostly women, in Berlin. While this number sounds inflated, it is notable that there had been riots of this size in the previous year and it is possible that the May Day protests have been conflated with a food riot.

Government: The German Bundesrat creates the Kriegsernährungsamt (KEA) or War Food Office on May 22nd to control food distribution and pricing. Responding to demands from urban citizens to guarantee adequate food supplies reach the cities, this office will be reorganized as “a food dictatorship” by General Paul von Hindenburg and represents the increasing centralization of the country under his joint control with General Erich Ludendorff.

By Bone, Muirhead (artist), The War Office  from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain

By Bone, Muirhead (artist), The War Office. From the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain

Propaganda: Sir Muirhead Bone is recruited in May to become the first official British War Artist. He will be sent to France in time to cover the Battle of the Somme in 150 drawings.

Interventions: The United States invades the Dominican Republic on May 16. This follows efforts to protect the US embassy and legation after a coup by former Secretary of War Desiderio Arias and escalation of the situation by Rear Admiral William B. Caperton, Commander of Naval Forces in the Caribbean.

Diplomacy: On May 16, Britain and France secretly conclude the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which proposed division of the Ottoman Empire into smaller nation-states in the Middle East and is seen as the source of much conflict there to this day.

Warfare: The Battle of Jutland, the only major naval battle of World War I, begins on May 31 when the German Navy attempts a raid intending to draw out a portion of the British North Seas fleet and destroy it. Unfortunately for them, the British have decoded the plan and respond by sending a large-scale force to destroy the German High Seas Fleet.

Floorwalker_(poster)Films: Release of “The Floorwalker” on May 15, Charlie Chaplin’s first film since leaving Essanay for Mutual and his first new movie of the year.

Births: Glenn Ford (actor, in “Gilda” and “The Big Heat”), born May 1; Adriana Caselotti (singer, voice of Snow White in Disney’s “Snow White”), born May 16.

September 1915

The Battle of Loos

The Battle of Loos

The news in September continues to focus on the War in Europe, although we have a few other notable events there and elsewhere to talk about.

War News:

Battle of Loos: British forces begin an attack on the French city of Loos, September 25. New Army units are put into the battle, and the British use poison gas for the first time in this attack. Although it ultimately succeeds in October, the cost is high and the British are unable to press the attack. Losses on this first day of attack come because of failure to cut barbed wire prior to the advance and failure to bombard machine gun emplacements with clear views of the open fields across which British units advanced.

Air war: A Zeppelin raid destroys a London building on September 8, demonstrating the ability of Germany to bring the war home, even across the English Channel.

Serbian Army Private Radoje Lutovac shoots down an enemy plane on September 30, being the first in history to destroy an aircraft with surface-to-air fire

War Machines: The first prototype military tank is tested by the British on September 6.

Other News:

Politics: Dissident socialists gather in Switzerland to hold the Zimmerwald Conference, from September 5 to 8. Among the participants and authors of the “Zimmerwald Manifesto” is V.I Lenin, future leader of the USSR. The conferees affirmed the continuation of class struggle and the repudiation of the “civil peace” of reformist social democrats, with War itself declared to be an outgrowth of imperialism and colonialism in the interests of the ruling classes.

Toys: The first Raggedy Ann doll is patented on September 7. The doll will later become the star of a popular series of children’s books by Johnny Gruelle, an opponent of vaccination, and later become a symbol of the anti-vaccination movement.

Transportation: The Pennsylvania Railroad begins electrified commuter rail service on September 11 between Paoli and Philadelphia, using overhead AC trolley wires for power.

Film: A nitrate fire on September 11 at Famous Players in New York destroys several completed but unreleased silent films which are later remade. When film stock was made of nitrate, such fires were common and extremely difficult to handle – nitrate continues to burn when fully immersed in water. The use of nitrate has resulted in the loss of many films from the silent era.

Born: Jack Buetel, Sept 5, actor whose films would include “The Outlaw” and “Best of the Badmen;” Edmond O’Brien, Sept 10, actor appearing in “Seven Days in May” and “DOA;” and Douglas Kennedy, Sept 14, actor who was in “Invaders from Mars” and the “Steve Donovan, Western Marshall” TV series.

April 1915

In April 1915, Jack Johnson lost his heavyweight title after holding it for more than six years.

In April 1915, Jack Johnson lost his heavyweight title after holding it for more than six years.

As the spring rains fall on the Northern Hemisphere, the First World War continues to rage in Europe, while Revolution drags on in Mexico and the baseball season starts in the United States. For more specifics, look below for a roundup of news items in the headlines for April 1915.

World War I: On April 22nd the Second Battle of Ypres begins. It will continue for more than a month as both sides try to establish control over the Belgian town of Ypres, and will claim more than 100,000 casualties on both sides. It marks the first large-scale use of poison gas by the Germans. On April 25, the Gallipoli campaign is initiated with landings at Anzac and Cape Helles by British, Australian, New Zealand, and French troops. This campaign against the Ottoman Empire continues through January, 1916, and claims almost half a million casualties.

Sports: On April 5th boxer Jack Johnson is defeated by “Great White Hope” Jess Willard at Havana, Cuba. Jackson has held the title of heavyweight champion since 1908, the first African American to do so.

Labor: In Vienna, from April 12 to 13th, representatives of socialist parties of Germany, Austria, and Hungary meet for the Vienna Socialist Conference, as an extension of the Second International. Among the representatives is Friedrich Ebert, future Social Democratic President of Germany. Although its resolutions are critical of the war, the Conference calls for a peace that “would not humiliate any of the peoples” and the parties represented continued to support their governments, contributing to the eventual dissolution of the International over the issue of support for war bonds.

Human Rights Violations: On April 24, the deportation of Armenian notables from Istanbul begins, marking the beginning of what will become the Armenian Genocide in Turkey. Turkey continues today to deny the use of the word “genocide” as an accurate description for actions which caused the deaths of 1 and a half million Armenians.

Diplomacy: Italy signs the Treaty of London, secretly agreeing to join the First World War on the Allied side, although they remain formally a part of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary. This was technically a defensive alliance, and the Italian government reasoned that the Central Powers had begun the war by attacking, thus freeing Italy from obligations to fight on their side.

Movies:The Tramp,” starring Charlie Chaplin, released April 11. This will be the most profitable Chaplin film to date, to be outdone later in the year by “Burlesque on Carmen.”

Born: Harry Morgan (later known for roles in the television shows “Dragnet” and “MASH“), April 10; and Anthony Quinn (who was in “La Strada” by Fellini and “Zorba the Greek”), on April 21.