A WWI film exhibition in Mainz, Germany

A film by Herbert Selpin
The Great War was the first conflict in which all the leading belligerent countries produced captivating pictures for documentation and propaganda purpose – a technique of “mass indoctrination”, i.e. of manipulation, which had an enormous impact also during the interwar period. Just think about the “Istituto Luce” founded in 1924 by Mussolini: it deeply influenced the interpretation of the Great War in Italy from the late 1920s. Moreover, being one of the most significant events of the Twentieth Century, the First World War remained a recurring theme in the worldwide film production up to the present, which expresses both propagandistic or nationalistic purposes and pacifist or cosmopolitan appeals. The way the Great War was - and still is - depicted in the cinematography discloses therefore not only (and not primarily) an historical accounts on it; it rather enables us to understand the varied cultural and psychological viewpoints which underlie its interpretation.

An opportunity to get an overview of different visual narratives of the Great War is offered by a movie series entitled “The Worlds of WWI in the film production” and organized on the occasion of the upcoming Centenary by the Leibniz institute of European history (IEG) of Mainz – Germany - in cooperation with the State Office for Political Education in Rheinland-Pfalz. The seven selected films aim to discuss the Great War from a global and trans-cultural perspective, focusing on the specific social and cultural reaction of the different "worlds" - from Europe to Asia, from America to Africa - involved in the conflict.

Between October 2013 and Februar 2014, on Wednesday evenings starting from tonight, the following films will be showed at the CinéMayence in the French Institute of Mainz: Shoulder Arms - USA 1918 (30.10.2012), Westfront 1918 - Germany 1930 (13.11.2012), Niemandsland - Germany 1931 (27.11.2012), Merry Christmans - France/ Norway/ Germany/ UK/ Belgium/ Romania 2005 (11.12.2012), Die Reiter von Deutsch-Ostafrika - Germany 1934 (15.01.2013), The Halfmoon Files - Germany 2007 (22.01.2013), Çanakkale 1915 – Turkey 2012 (05.02.2013). 

The full program – only in German – is available here.

Novels of the Great War: "Men in War" by Andreas Latzko

In the galaxy of the First World War literary production the anti-war novels represent a special subcategory in which also many classics may be included, starting with the masterpieces of Ernest Hemingway or Erich Maria Remarque. Yet it is interesting to note that this genre includes also novels which enjoyed an astonishing fortune during the conflict or in the post-war period, were although then quickly forgotten at the point that today they are almost unknown to the common public. Maybe one of the most interesting example is represented by Andreas Latzko’s Men in War (Menschen im Krieg), a collection of six stories set during the WWI. The book condemns the madness of the war from different point of views; it describes in a realistic way the atrocity of the front line and exasperates the cruelty of the events with an expressionistic prose, providing so still today one of the most poignant “scream that silences [all] aesthetic doubts” concerning the Great War, as Karl Kraus described the work in Die Fackel.

Andreas Latzko personifies in some way the geographical, cultural and religious melting-pot of the old Austrian Hungarian Empire at the eve of the WWI: son of a Magyar father and a Viennese mother, he grew up as a baptized Catholic of Jewish origins. At the start of the conflict, in autumn 1914, Latzko served at the Isonzo front, where he contracted malaria and suffered various nervous disorders. His experience at the “Hell on the Isonzo” reached his climax, as referred by his friend the French pacifist Romain Rolland, when the young Latzko witnessed the death of a group of soldier blown in smithereens by a grenade. This occurrence struck him deeply: although initially he seemed to be involved nor physically neither psychologically, only few days later he had a sort of psychical collapse when a rare steak was served to lunch. He started to refuse all food and was finally temporarily discharged from the army in 1916. Latzko tried to recover in Davos, where he underwent psychiatric treatment. Here he wrote his book Men in war. Refusing then in December 1917 to return in service in Northern Hungary, Andreas Latzko settled down in Switzerland where he corresponded with other exiles and pacifists such as Stefan Zweig and Romain Rolland.

The six stories collected in Menschen im Krieg first appeared anonymous between 1916 and 1917 in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and in other newspapers, were then published as a book in Zürich by Max Rascher in October 1917. Even if it was banned in Germany and Austria – where it nevertheless circulated illegally – Men in War was immediately translated in French and English. The Italian version dates back instead to the 1920s. During the last years of the conflict and in the post-war period the book enjoyed an enormous success.

Some of the stories describe the life at the front from different point of views. The first one, for example, entitled Der Abmarsch (Off to War), is set in a small Austrian village in autumn 1915 and reports the psychological breakdown and insanity of an unnamed lieutenant, who gives voice to the first criticism not only against the war and those who made it happen, from politicians to generals, but also against the insanity of the civil society, here symbolized by the women who applaud their men into battle only to support a patriotic demagogy. It is not hard to see in this pages of Latzko the same disenchanted sentiment of Wilfred Owen’s poem The Send-Off. Another sort of insanity is that of an old military commander, protagonist of the 3rd story Der Sieger (The Victor): he enjoys his safe comfort behind the front line while simple soldiers fell in the carnage he has ordered. Madness and disillusion are intersected also in Heimkehr (Homecoming), reporting the returning from the Russian front of the Hungarian soldier Johann Bogdán, disfigured and embittered during the war and abandoned by his lover. Other two stories - Heldentod (A Hero’s Death) and Feuertaufe (Baptism of Fire) – focus the lens on the trench experience as a death-space and record the last hours of simple soldiers, disclosing how each one feels and judges his death for a senseless war in a personal way. It is however Der Kamerad (The Comrade), the 4th story in the book to represent vividly the author’s own experience at the front. The chapter offers in fact a monologue of an officer hospitalized in Gorizia, where also Latzko spent some time before leaving for Davos. This alter-ego of the author describes in his insanity the psychical collapse under the atrocity endured on the Isonzo front and presents his madness as the only and most reasonable, most human reaction to the war.

Although today almost disappeared from the list of the WWI literature, this six stories collected in Latzko’s Men in war offer a choral description of the foolishness of the Great War, disassembling it as a prim in disparate - sometimes surreal, sometimes grotesque - images and demolishing so every “aesthetics” of propaganda and nationalism, to recall Kraus’ judgment. In reading this pages we feel as disarmed witness in front of the voices of the protagonists, in front of their suffering which eschew any rational or historical explanation. Madness becomes therefore the desperate response of the human being against the war, the ultimate denunciation of the reason in its abdication. And this is at the end the legacy of this work, the reason why it deserves to be revaluated and to be read and listened: Latzko and his work raise a madness-scream, which remember us how not to be driven insane by violence, death and injustice, pretending to feel good and still be reasonable are the real insanity of the Great War and of all the conflicts that we witness also today.

The First World War in music: "A Pastoral Symphony" by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams
The first thing to point out is the title: A Pastoral Symphony. Why did Ralph Vaughan Williams call in this way the “symphony” dedicated to the World War of 1914-1918? At the war’s outbreak the musician, who was 41, enlisted as a private of the Royal Army Medical Corps. The theatre of his personal war was France. We find today poor notes about his war experience immediately after his return to civilian life but we know the composition of this symphony came to an end in summer of 1921. So we can assume that immediately after his comeback Vaughan Williams worked intensively to his particular “pastoral” sound. At this point we go back to the title that seems to deceive critics and commentators of the time (and of our time as well). No word about the Great War, no direct connection with it. But the scoring of this symphony, partially revised thirty years later, is fully dedicated to the war trauma and to the inner desolation of war. We know from some writings addressed to Ursula, his future wife, that this symphony was really “wartime music – a great deal of it incubated when I used to go up night after night with the ambulance wagon at Écoivres and we went up a steep hill and there was a wonderful Corot-like landscape in the sunset”.

Vaughan Williams made the name of Corot. This is not secondary. So the link is not with “pastoral” iconography of Beethoven but rather with the French painter and his works of art. And maybe the atmosphere becomes closer to Debussy and Maurice Ravel (see also this post) than to any other typically triumphal war or battlefield sound of the time, full of trumpets and drums. As far as we know, with the Pastoral Symphony of Vaughan Williams we are in front of one of few symphonic compositions explicitly dedicated to the First World War and once again in this musical chapter of the Great War the perspective is an intimist one. But as you can guess, it does not make sense to spend other words on music, also because we are not critics. The only thing we can do now is to suggest to listen to it from Youtube or to find a recording (unless you have it already in your collection).

First World War One Day Itineraries. Suggestion no. 13: Krn - Monte Nero

View from the ascending path
Today we’d like to suggest you an itinerary in the eastern edge of the Alpine arch, namely in the Julian Alps, quite south, not far away from the Adriatic sea: an itinerary to the top of the Krn range (in Italy called “Monte Nero”, Black Mountain, due to a misunderstanding of the Slovenian name). As Italy entered the conflict, the Austrian-Hungarian Army withdrew from the old border on the left bank of the Isonzo, since it was easier to defend, and took position on a front line that run from the Rombon Mountain, across the Carso to the sea. Only few miles to the east of Caporetto, the massif of Krn that thrusts ridges in all directions and reaches the 2.245 m. was one of the highest peaks in the valley. We are therefore in the region of the battles of Isonzo River, fought between June 1915 and October-November 1917, one of the fiercest chapter of the Great War on this front. Already during the first month of the conflict the Italian Alpini conquered the summit of Krn, fortified it with trenches and caves and kept control over it till 1917 and the 12th Isonzo Battle, when they were forced to beat a retreat with the Caporetto rout. This mountains bears witness of the destructive power with which WWI affected not only human history, but also the nature: galleries, fortifications but also big mine craters created by mines explosions upset the landscape here. An excursion on the Krn Mountain discloses therefore a tragic, yet important page of the history of the Great War in the Alps.

The today itinerary climbs the southern slope of the Krn. It does not present any particular difficulty and is a little bit shorter than the others ascending path (for example the other classical itinerary, on the northern side, starting from Lapena Valley), but can be done only with optimal weather conditions. If you are trained and in good physical shape, the ascent takes about 3h00. You need the normal mountain equipment and in addition a helmet, a lamp and – don’t forget! - drinking water which is hard to find during the ascent. You should start hiking quite early in the morning, since the path is sun-drenched; otherwise you may take some additional water. Put eventually in your backpack also some food, especially if you’re not going to undertake the itinerary in the summer (the refuge on the top may be closed).
Starting point is about 1km outside the little village of Krn, where you can find a small car park. If you look up, at the top of the mountain you can nearly recognize the refuge. Start walking along the track departing from the park. After about 1 Km, on the right a path marked on the rocks climbs up through “malghe” and pastures and reaches the old mule track; follow it. When you are nearly half of the way, you we’ll cross the path ascending from Dreznica (steeper and less frequented). The trail climbs up then with many hairpin turns till the refuge Gomisckovo Zavetisce which is placed only 5 minutes under the top. If it is open, you can have a rest here and eat something. Otherwise we suggest you to reach immediately the top and take a break there. An unforgettable panorama is offered to you: the Julian Alps (with the Canin Mangart Tricorno ranges) and, far beyond, the Dolomiti, at your side, and then the Austrian peaks on the north-horizon, and then turning again, the Slovenian and Croatian border, and south the coast of Istria, the gulf of Trieste and the Adriatic sea. If this was regarded as a “forgotten front” for a long time in the historiography, you will probably understand how this interpretation was a reductive mistake: just try to connect these places with their cultures and their historical heritages, from the Romanic and the Slavic till the Austo-Hungarian and the Italian ones, try then to think about the melting pot which embodied these regions and - as a consequence - the intestine conflicts blew up with the WWI.

The nearest point at which you have to glance lies few meters away: the peak of Mountain Botagnica (also called in Italian “Monte Rosso”, Red Mountain), that you can eventually reach. You have in fact three possibilities to return back to the car. 1) You can walk down the ascending path. 2) You can walk along the marked path from the top of the Krn to the near pass between the Black and the Red Mountain, the Krnska Srbina, where you can find relicts, among others one of an old cannon. From here you walk down along a trail which leads you back near the crossing point with the path ascending from Dreznica on the previous mule track that runs to the parking area. 3) Otherwise, from the Krnska Srbina you can climb to the top of the Botagnica (about 100m of altitude gap). The path follows an old war passage with rocky ladders, it is therefore quite narrow and exposed but it is worth, since on the top you find a small plain with many remnants of the Great War. Following the marked path (on the rocks or with other signs) you walk above a small lake (you may also cross some innocuous snowfields) then reach another small pass where the descending path starts and runs to a “malga” (a small hut with pasture) and then in 15 minutes to the parking place. This last alternative is of great emotional impact, however please note that it is much longer than the other two (it takes about 3 hours to walk from the Krn summit, through the Botagnica summit, back to the parking area). This detail is very important because you have to give up in case of rain or unstable weather (and we know how unstable the weather is especially in mountain): walking on the Botagnica with bad weather conditions is very dangerous due to continuous lightning discharges. So, be careful, and choose the safest alternative in order to enjoy fully your hike.

(We thank Mr. Paolo Pellizzari of the Alpini Group of Lucinico - Gorizia for providing us detailed information on this itinerary)

EFG1914 - European Film Archives Digitise their WWI Collections. The Recent Appointment at Pordenone Silent Film Festival

The EFG1914 web site
The EFG1914 project was presented on Wednesday, 9th October in the Auditorium della Regione during the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. For those who have not stumbled upon this very interesting project, we recall what you can read in the homepage of the web site: 

EFG1914 is a digitisation project focusing on films and non-film material from and related to World War I.  It started on 15 February 2012 and runs for two years. 26 partners, among them 21 European film archives, are working towards the following  main goals: 1) To digitise 661 hours of film and ca. 5.600 film-related documents on the theme of the First World War 2) To give access to the material through the European Film Gateway and Europeana 3) To build a virtual exhibition using selected objects digitised in EFG1914. 
EFG1914 covers all the different genres and sub-genres relevant in that time: newsreels, documentaries, fiction films, propaganda films. Moreover, EFG1914 will also give access to anti-war films that were mainly produced after 1918 and which reflect the tragedies of the 1910s. This material is of special importance since only around 20% of the complete silent film production survived in the film heritage institutions. Therefore, EFG1914 set out to digitize a crucial part and a critical mass of these remaining moving image records, mostly undiscovered by the public.
EFG1914 is the follow-up project of EFG – The European Film Gateway (2008-2011). The main outcome of the EFG project is the online portal The European Film Gateway, which gives access to several hundreds of thousands photos, films, texts and other material preserved in European film archives. More information on the initial EFG project can be found here.

Here below is the text of the press release related to the event held in Pordenone this week:

Since February 2013 the European Film Gateway has been enabling access to a growing number of films from and related the First World War. The material has been digitized within the scope of the EU-funded EFG1914 project, which has been carried out by 26 partners including 21 film archives from all over Europe. A total of 661 hours of newsreels, feature films, documentaries, amateur footage and propaganda films as well as 5,600 photographs and stills, film posters and articles from historical film journals will be available on the European Film Gateway and Europeana websites in time for the centenary of the Great War in early 2014. As approximately 80% of films from this period are considered lost the material provided through
EFG1914 represents a considerable share of what has been preserved from the time.
Digitising and giving online access to the WWI-related films and documents held by the archives will make it easier for a wider audience to use them. The archives contributing to EFG1914 are located in 15 different European countries, many of which were the main powers during the First World War (eg, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Romania, Serbia etc.) or remained neutral like Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands. Thus, the films offered on the European Film Gateway show the Great War from different perspectives and different countries.
During the Pordenone Silent Film Festival the EFG1914 project partners will present the European Film Gateway as a unique and valuable search tool for moving images from 1914-1918. Colleagues from the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique, Cineteca di Bologna, Det Danske Filminstitut, Deutsches Filminstitut, EYE Film Institute, Narodní filmový archiv, and
Österreichisches Filmmmuseum will talk about their collections and highlight selected films.
The EFG1914 project continues the work carried out by the EFG project in 2008-2011, which developed the European Film Gateway. At present over 600,000 items from 24 film archives are available online at europeanfilmgateway.eu and europeana.eu.
EFG1914 was commissioned by the Association des Cinémathèques Européennes (ACE) and is co-funded by the Community Programme ICT PSP. The project started in February 2012 and will last for two years. It is coordinated by the Deutsches Filminstitut in Frankfurt.

First World War Films on The European Film Gateway: 

The Poets and the World War: Camillo Sbarbaro and an Unexpected Image of the Warfare

Camillo Sbarbaro
It's an unexpected image of war the one we find in many Italian poets who took part to the conflict. No hurry, no violence but emotions recollected far from the front. We find this in Diego Valeri or in Camillo Sbarbaro (Santa Margherita Ligure 1888 - Savona 1967). At the war outbreak in 1915 Sbarbaro volunteered in the Red Cross and in 1917 he was enlisted in the Italian Army. We have traces of his experience at the front in the places of the Veneto region (see also the poem we have chosen). During the war years he wrote one of his most recalled book, Trucioli, that was published in Firenze in 1920. Sbarbaro is one of the most interesting poets of the Italian twentieth century but perhaps he is not included into any canon. He is probably better renowned and respected worldwide for his passion for lichens. Actually he became an expert in the knowledge of these special organisms and gave his contributions in terms of studies and collection to the international community and to important museums. He was also excellent translator from Greek and French (Flaubert, Huysmans, Green, Stendhal, Zola). Among the poems he dedicated to the war time we chose the following set in Romano di Ezzelino, not far from the city of Vicenza (we will come back to this city with a similar poem by Diego Valeri). In the same period, in a village next to Romano di Ezzelino, Borso del Grappa, there's a young American writer trying his first experiments in writing. His name is John Dos Passos (One Man's Initiation and Three Soldiers can be listed in the novels of the Great War, even if they are not his masterpieces).
The short poem is a picture taken in tranquillity, but at the lines 3 and 4 there's probably the secret of such poems: the surprise (almost astonishment) of being alive after all the atrocities of war.


Slow rags of fog
and ash of olive trees.
Almost struggling to believe
you live.

And the rain is like
a sad maiden's lullaby;
for the lying body
the land, a cot.

Romano di Ezzelino, 1918


Stracci di nebbia lenti
e cenere d'ulivi.
Quasi a credere stenti
che vivi.

È la pioggia una ninna-
nanna di triste fanciulla;
al corpo che giace
la terra, una culla.

Romano di Ezzelino, 1918

(Translation by World War I Bridges)

"Finding Identities: Lancashire and the First World War". The Conference at UCLAN

Old view of Preston Cenotaph
Identities represent a crucial and yet a delicate and changeable matter in relation to World War One. If we dwell on the level of local identities the matter becomes even more delicate. Sometimes it would be better to refrain from commenting and posting about this topic because every word can turn into a slippery floor. Perhaps these are only typically Italian worries, even if we have to say that the European scenario, on this side, has many points in common. While keeping in consideration the Italian case, for example, everybody should remember one thing: although people from all the regions perished in World War One, territory-wise the Great War was fought only in the northern part of the country. This fact is somehow reverberating in the way the war is commemorated. 
Anyway such worries do not arise while thinking to the interesting conference we are presenting today, even more so we look at the Call for Papers. We just wanted to begin with a warning since a higher grade of attention is necessary while making a selection among the events filed under the tags "identity/identies". 
The conference program we share today brings us to Lancashire, the northwestern region of England. For detailed information about the conference, you find the dedicated website at this link. There you'll find updated information, conference programme and online booking details. If you require any more information you can contact the Conference Officer, Emma Woodward at this email address.

Finding Identities: Lancashire and the First World War
Date : 23 - 24 November 2013
Location : Greenbank Building, UCLan
To register your interest please contact Emma Woodward, findingidentities@uclan.ac.uk or tel 01772 894500

Conference Background and Aims

On the eve of the centenary of the First World War interest in the conflict has grown - as have debates over local identities, recruitment, the war effort, memorialisation, and the historical sources. As home to many Pals battalions, and a focus of Lord Derby's recruitment efforts, Lancashire is arguably at the heart of these matters. Moreover as the result of the successful Preston City Council bid to refurbish the town memorial, and extensive new research into rarely seen film, new and fascinating evidence of the war and its impact is now coming to light. Of interest to academic researchers, professionals in the heritage and educational sectors and the interested amateur, Finding Identities will include both keynote speakers, and opportunities to visit the Harris Museum and the newly restored Preston Cenotaph; the recently opened First World War gallery in the Museum of Lancashire and the Lancashire Infantry Museum at Fulwood Barracks.