Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Spanish-American War

US Troops Landing at Daiquiri, Cuba (1898)

Another short Edison film documenting the Spanish-American War, this movie comes from a location most Americans would never see. As with “Shooting Captured Insurgents” and “Troop Ships for the Philippines,” this shows the embryonic film industry’s eagerness to participate in nationalist celebration as the country entered conflict.

US Troops Landing at DaiquiriWe see a dock from a slight angle, as if the camera is on shore and slightly off-set. Uniformed soldiers are marching down the dock towards us. Some of them carry flags. In the background, we see a large rowboat approaching the dock, full of more soldiers, and behind that a ship is moored to a larger dock, apparently intended for unloading cargo. As the men walk towards us, an officer comes into view, walking away from the camera down the dock, apparently reviewing the new arrivals.

There are a lot of movies of parades of various kinds from this period, especially from the USA. Apparently filmmakers, looking for subjects that moved rather than standing still, found them an easy sell for early exhibitors, and cheap to produce: So long as the parade was already scheduled, all you had to do was show up with a camera. To us today, watching people march past a camera gets boring pretty fast, but in cases like this it clearly connected the audience to news-worthy events that otherwise they could only read about, or see depicted in still images. It’s not like we don’t see images of parades on our screens today, we simply associate them with a broader multi-media experience, at least including narration. And, the audiences of 1898 would likely have had a live narrator, speaking to them about the historic significance of the event and the names of battalions and leaders, etc. The Edison catalog entry for this film claims that this image shows the first US troops to land on Cuban soil during the war, which may be mere ballyhoo, but would have piqued people’s interest at the time.

Director: William Paley

Camera: William Paley

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 40 secs

You can watch it for free: here (no music).

Note that the quality of the copy on the “Invention of the Movies” DVD is much lower than that of the Library of Congress online version linked above, however, this version plays at a higher frame rate, making the movement appear more natural.

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.

Troop Ships for the PhilippinesWe 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

Starring: Unknown

Run time: 2 Min, 40 secs

You can watch it for free: here (no music). Note: an edited version, which only shows the S.S. Australia, can be seen on Invention of the Movies.

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.

Shooting Captured Insurgents (1898)

Shooting_Captured_Insurgents_

In April of 1898, the United Stated went to war with Spain, and the face of American cinema changed forever. Suddenly, instead of showing amusing snippets of daily life or panoramas of interesting locations, the movies were showing “news,” depicting important events “as they happened,” and showing American troops in the most positive light. Even outside the US, Georges Méliès made a movie depicting the sunken USS Maine, a catalyst for the conflict. This movie claims to document the execution of prisoners in Cuba, which made me think it might be the first “Faces of Death” movie. I quickly realized, however, that it was staged (which is appropriate, actually for “Faces of Death”). The next movie on the LOC’s website, “Cuban Ambush,” is shown at exactly the same location and camera-angle, and the coincidence of the two events occurring in the same place, without so much as a repositioning of the camera, is too incredible to be believed. I suspect audiences at the time were not aware of this, even if they did see the movies at the same time; they were not used to “reading” film critically the way we do today. What I wonder about is their reaction: Shock? Digust? Cheering? Were they respectfully silent toward the fallen enemy? Or were they glad to see justice done?

Director: William Heise

Run time: 22 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.