Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Sykes-Picot Agreement

November 1917

It’s practically the end of the month, and I’m only now getting around to an installment of the Century News! Part of the reason I’ve hesitated this month is that so much happened, and it is so momentous, that it’s almost impossible to approach. The second Russian Revolution that started the Russian Civil War and ultimately created the USSR would transform history on nearly all levels. Most relevant for this blog: it would wind up having a huge impact on cinema history, leading to the rise of montage and directors like Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov. More immediately, however, it meant a sudden collapse of the thriving Russian film industry as the blockade prevented new film stock from entering the country and many of the actors and producers went into exile. One thing that this project has discovered is that pre-revolutionary Russian cinema cannot be dismissed as “backwards” or “bourgeois.” Personally, I regard Evgeni Bauer as a genius equal or perhaps even superior to Eisenstein (though there are many who would disagree). Certainly, Soviet cinema never produced an actor of the stature of Ivan Mosjoukine.

It’s hard to discuss this period also without thinking of present-day politics. The rapture over the “Fall of the Soviet Union” has largely given way to fears over a new Russian superpower and its influence on the West. I’d rather avoid making any definite statements about how this is or will play out (that’s not the topic of this blog), but maybe some insights can be gleaned by thinking about how Russian history has played out on the world stage over the course of the past century. Here are some headlines that might start that process.

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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_001

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.