Movie houses changed the world view of the war | News, Sports, Jobs

While motion picture technology was still in its infancy, the Copper Country was at the forefront of moving picture adoption. In fact, within two years of the opening of the world’s first documented movie theater, Nickelodeons began appearing in Copper Country.

On June 19, 1905, around 450 people attend the opening day of the world’s first Nickelodeon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, according to The window theater had 96 seats and charged each guest five cents. Nickelodeons (named after a combination of the ticket price and the Greek word for “Theatre”) soon spread across the country.

By 1907, about two million Americans had attended a Nickelodeon, according to the Theater Historical Society of America website. Among them were residents of the Copper Country.

Sue Collins, in the 2020 book Home Front in the American Heartland: Local Experiences and Legacies of WWI, wrote that as early as 1907 playhouses were installing film projectors throughout the Copper Country “Add to their dramatic or varied diet.”

In October 1909, the publication The Nickelodeon, Volume 2, No. 4 reported that the Grand Theater at Calumet seated 400. Programs changed three times a week and included two illustrated lieder singers and music by a four-piece orchestra.

Vol. 2, No. 1 of the same publication, printed in July 1909, reported that the Lyric Cinema for moving pictures had opened at Houghton. The Lyric was the first movie theater to advertise in local newspapers on November 10, 1909.

“A strictly moral, clean family theater for your children to enjoy an enjoyable evening.” the ad explained. “Ladies specially invited.”

As Lyric’s advert suggested, moving images had drawn criticism from members of the entertainment industry, members of the clergy and many political figures in both the US and UK.

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However, many immigrant residents of the copper country soon found new value in the controversial cinema industry, as did the heads of government of countries involved in the war in Europe.

However, political views began to change rapidly during World War I due to the actions of an English film photographer named J. Frank Brockliss.

Brockliss was in the Belgian town of Alost in October 1914 when it was attacked and captured by German forces advancing towards the North Sea. With his equipment, Brockliss set up his camera and began filming. Among the footage he captured from behind a barricade was the defensive struggle of Belgian Army contingents, including the death of a number of soldiers who were hit by shrapnel and killed when German artillery found the area of ​​the road. Brockliss was the first known cameraman to capture an actual fight on film.

As Frank J. Wetta pointed out in his article on the website World War I in Film:

“Governments quickly realized how valuable cinema could be in explaining to both soldiers and civilians the meaning and experience of war, encouraging recruitment, defining the nation’s goals and slandering the enemy. Filmmaking became part of warfare through documentaries, newsreels and film narratives produced by governments or private film companies.”

Brockliss is seldom remembered for his contribution, but his filming of the Battle of Alost paved the way for the organization of the British Topical Committee for War Films, which employed an English film photographer named Geoffrey Malins and an assistant, JB McDowell, whom I thank according to Malins, nearly escaped its place in history.

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According to, Malins is best known today for the film The Battle of the Somme, which was released to great acclaim in British cinemas in late summer 1916. The film was released to general audiences and sold no fewer than 20 million tickets which many believed to be just a propaganda film, which it was. As the website points out, the film was edited during post-production. It was later revealed that some of the “over the top” scenes have since been proven to be fakes (actually filmed before the July 1 attack began). Although the films and footage from all sides during World War I were made for propaganda purposes, they have become invaluable for their accurate chronicling of World War I combat, troop movements, as well as the destruction of towns and cities, and the war’s effects on the civilian population.

But war films also did something else that was probably not intended.

Such films provided immigrants living in the United States (including the Copper Country) with a chance to see events in their homelands for themselves.

As early as September 1914, the Daily Mining Gazette had printed letters from British Army soldiers based in the Copper Country who, like other European immigrants, were returning to their home countries on call. While printed letters like these used words to describe situations and events in areas or on battlefields, cinema allowed the viewer to see the area instead of reading it. In addition, the technology of the time did not allow for sound; Immigrants viewing the moving images did not need to understand spoken language to understand the images being viewed. In fact, many, if not most, immigrants from the Balkans didn’t need a narration to understand the war footage they watched.

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According to the 1910 federal census, there were 26 immigrants from Belgium in Houghton County. The number of French immigrants was 95. In contrast to these ethnic groups, the Menus counted 1,723 residents of German origin and 4,450 residents of English origin. War films visually exposed the men of these groups to the battles and actions involving the soldiers of their home countries. The war created a feeling of uneasiness. In 1914, the German military invaded and captured neutral Belgium as a route to invade France. When Germany violated Belgium’s neutrality, Britain declared war on Germany and allied itself with France. It was not a smooth alliance at first, as Britain and France were by no means political allies before the war.

Jennifer D. Keene, history professor and chair of the history department at Chapman University, observed in the documentary How WWI Changed America: Immigrants and World War I:

“America is a nation of immigrants in 1914 when Europe goes to war, and Woodrow Wilson recognizes that. In fact, in his speech for neutrality, Wilson urges Americans to avoid violently taking sides for fear of ethnic conflicts.”

The war in Europe has created tensions in the US that don’t appear to have become major problems in the Copper Country. In fact, the historical record provides evidence that the residents of the district were sympathetic to the immigrants concerned.

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