Monday, August 14, 2017

War Film Reports by Ariel Varges Now Online

The British Universities Film & Video Council has launced "News on Screen", an impressive online resource for the study of newsreels and cinemagazines. As a result, we found 47 records of scenes shot by American cinematographer Ariel Varges between 1916 and 1919, which makes it possible for the first time to do a close analysis of his film work during World War I.



Left: The horrors of war - A woman moving to another village taking with her the bones of her dead son, decorated with marigolds, the native mourning flower. Balkan Front, June 1916. Photograph by Ariel Varges. Right: Varges ready for a a motion picture flight, copied from American Cinematographer, July 1938


Celebrated war photographer

Varges was one of the first newsreel cameramen in American film history. A celebrated war photographer, he worked for William Randolph Hearst and filmed with the Serbian and the British forces between 1915 and 1919. His work has been described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War. Until recently, we had only found one World War I newsreel shot by Varges in the collection of the Library of Congress. These scenes were shown in Hearst-Selig News Pictorial No. 71 and were exhibited in the American theaters on September 6, 1915.  Varges' film shows Serbian soldiers guarding the forts at Semandria.

After the fall of Belgrade in October 1915, Ariel Varges followed the Serbian army during the harsh winter march into the Balkans. He ended up in Salonika (now Thessaloniki) in the north of Greece, where the Entente forces were opening a second front against the Central Powers.

Filming the Expeditionary Army in Salonika

Varges was by all accounts the only official cameraman who covered the activities of the Expeditionary Army around Salonika, Greece, in 1916. Because of this special interest his films were used extensively by the British War Office for publicity purposes and released through the Topical Film Company. A total of 29 contemporary war scenes credited to Varges and shot in this area have now been identified, all with a release date from March 1916 for the newsreel Topical Budget that was shown in the British theaters twice a week. Based on these online records we were also able to identify 7 newsreel scenes from the film collection of the Imperial War Museum as having been taken by Varges at this frontline sector.

While Varges was filming the military build-up around Salonika the city was frequently bombed by the enemy. This was an important subject in his movie reports. Topical Budget No. 238-2, released on March 18, 1916, featured an air raid on Salonika. Here is a summary of these scenes as shot by Varges:

[SUBTITLE]: "German aircraft[s] flying from the Bulgarian lines, drop bombs on the Allies base at Salonika but are brought down by our airmen." French soldiers guarding captured German reconnaissance plane, with Greek civilians looking on. The plane is carried and pushed away.


Ariel Varges in Salonika, copied from the trade paper Moving Picture World, 1 July 1916


Varges later also covered a Zeppelin attack on the city, as well as the damage as a result of this bombardment. Actual frontline footage appears to have been rare in his film reports. Varges mostly captured transport of military supplies to the trenches, artillery engagements, scenes of Red Cross work, refugees from the Balkans finding a safe place around Salonika and prisoners of war taken from the firing line. The records show that he was fond of recording picturesque subjects. The Serbs he filmed while taking mass before going into battle. When they were withdrawn from the lines, he had them dance a victory performance in front of his movie camera.


French General Sarrail inspecting Russian troops upon their landing at Salonika, 30 July 1916. Photograph by Varges, from the collection of the Imperial War Museum


"The Armies of the Allies"

The international coalition against the Central Powers that was formed at Salonika was another important theme in Varges' film reports. For the British newsreels he filmed how British officers reorganized the Serbian army, how Russian troops arrived in the harbor to reinforce the Expeditionary Army, and how soldiers from Australia and New Zealand were fighting the Bulgars in the trenches around Salonika.

As a typical example, here is a report on the scenes for "The Armies of the Allies", a subject that he shot for Topical Budget No. 272-2, released on November 11, 1916:

[SUBTITLE]: "An interesting group of the nationalities fighting the Central Powers in the Balkans. British, French, Russian, Italian, Serbian, Indian, Cretan, Senegalese, Greek, and Anammite [sic] type of soldiers." Awkwardly posed group (in a V-shape) of soldiers posed for the camera, each a representative of the various races fighting for the Allies in the Balkans. An officer hands out cigarettes to them and they all light one another’s cigarettes. They march in a line past the camera.

Varges' movie camera sometimes also captured celebrities visiting Salonika, like in this report for Topical Budget No. 270-2, released on October 28, 1916:

[SUBTITLE]: "His Majesty the King of Greece visits a hospital ship." March past of Greek sailors. View down as King and officers come on board up steps from lighter.


General Danglis, Eleutheros Venizelos and Admiral Condouriotis arrive at Salonika on 9 October 1916, to establish a provisional Greek Nationalist Government in opposition to King Constantine. Photograph by Ariel Varges. Courtesy Imperial War Museum



Varges' final contribution on the war at the Salonika front appeared in Topical Budget No. 292-2, released on March 3, 1917, with scenes showing an artillery duel in Serbia. By then, he had joined the British forces to another theater of war: Mesopotamia (Iraq/North-East Syria). We will return to this episode in his work as a war photographer in another upcoming weblog.

The scenes shot by Varges around Salonika that we could retrieve at the Imperial War Museum have been uploaded on our YouTube channel.

Click this link for a complete list of all references to Ariel Varges and his films for the British during World War I.


                                


2 comments:

  1. The name of the organisation behind News on Screen is the British Universities Film & Video Council, though it recently renamed itself Learning on Screen. I used to manage the News on Screen database, and it's great to see you mention it.

    Luke

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Luke, it is a terrific film research resource!

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