Stephen Bottomore’s The Origins of the War Film

On Thursday 24th May, at 16.15, Stephen Bottomore defends his PhD dissertation Filming, Faking and Propaganda: The Origins of the War Film 1897-1902 at Utrecht University. The thesis deals with the challenges early filmmakers had to face when trying to represent military action at a time when warfare itself changed drastically: no more the heroic charges and clearly defined battlefields. And very soon, officials took measures to regulate and censor reporting. Stephen Bottomore discusses the Greco-Turkish War (1897), the battle of Omdurman (1898), the Spanish-American War (1898), the Philippine War (1899-1902), the Boer War (1899-1902) and the Boxer Uprising (1900). With regard to factual filmmaking, the thesis describes the ongoing professionalisation of war reporting, where one encounters adventurous amateurs, embedded journalists, freelance photographers and finally trained and experienced cameramen sent abroad by production companies. Another aspect of war-related imagery that is discussed extensively are “representations”, or fakes, ranging from rather blunt attempts to sell staged pictures as “the real thing” to emphatically stylized allegorical scenes. It is amazing to see how in such a short period new kinds of representational strategies, ways of filmmaking, and forms of exhibition emerged. Stephen Bottomore presents an extraordinary wealth of documents, this is most certainly the most thorough exploration of the subject to date.

On Friday 25th May, a workshop will be organised by the Onderzoeksinstituut voor Geschiedenis en Cultuur (OGC) and the Department of Media and Cultural Studies, Utrecht University: Controlling Early Cinema in Times of War, speakers being Stephen Bottomore (UU), Karel Dibbets (UvA), Nicholas Hiley (University of Kent, Canterbury) and Sabine Lenk (Filmmuseum Düsseldorf).

8 responses

  1. Pingback: A Girl Cinematographer at the Balkan War « The Bioscope

  2. I am now a fully-fledged PhD. The defence ceremony took place on 24th May as planned. The questions were extremely searching, and put me on the spot a couple of times, but I must have done well enough to qualify. The nice thing for me was that, as a preface to the questions, most of my ‘opponents’ made very complementary comments about the depth of research and analysis in the thesis.
    Sometime in the near future I will be turning the thesis into a book (assuming I find a publisher). I also have a vaguer plan, after that, to publish a more popular account of ‘the origins of war filming’ as an illustrated book, going all the way up to the dawn of World War 1.
    Thanks to all my fellow film historians who have helped me with this project over the years.

  3. A writer by the name of Alan Barnes has now found a whole lot more inormation about JB. He has really pursued every avenue that one could think of. Perhaps he will publish this material at a future date.

  4. Stephen, I am trying to iron out a few wrinkles in my family tree. In “The Titanic and Silent Cinema” you wrote a chapter on William H Harbeck. According to our family tree, he was my grandpa’s father’s brother (my great, great uncle). In your book you stated he was an only child. Family trees often have plenty of mistakes so I am trying to find out which is correct. What was your source? Please contact me when you have a chance. Thanks

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