Saturday, October 07, 2017

Après l'incendie de Salonique, août 1917 / [After the Great Fire of Thessaloniki, August 1917]

Image not from the movie. Refugees following the destruction of the Great Fire of Thessaloniki in 1917. Public domain. Wikipedia.

FR 1917, photog: Gaston Haon, prod: Service Cinématographique de l’Armée (SCA), 35 mm, 33.3 m, 2’03” (14 fps); no titles, source: Établissement de Communication et de Production Audiovisuelle de la Défense (ECPAD), Paris.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: Grande Guerra 100
    Grand piano: John Sweeney.
    Teatro Verdi, no titles, 7 Oct 2017

Jay Weissberg (GCM 2017): "“I saw a city dying, in the triple death throes of flame, ashes and smoke.” The words belong to the otherwise unknown Captain Ibrahim Jessé-Ascher, writing in the French magazine L’Illustration, after watching Thessaloniki burn (his byline reads “Inahim,” which is surely an error). Salonica, as it was generally known then, had for centuries been a multicultural jewel under Ottoman rule, and remained so after becoming part of Greece in 1912. Though residential districts were divided by religion and ethnicity, the polyglot population (a majority of whom were Jews) was proud of its cosmopolitan reputation."

"As a major port, Thessaloniki became an important staging ground for Allied troops once Greece officially entered the War in June 1917. Then on 18 August a small kitchen fire turned into an unspeakable conflagration, reducing enormous sections of the city to cinders and leaving 79,000 people homeless. The blaze took 32 hours to control, partly because of antiquated fire-fighting equipment and narrow streets, but also because much of the water supply had been commandeered by the tens of thousands of Allied soldiers stationed there."

"Jessé-Ascher evocatively described the scene: “It was as if an invisible hand were passing the torch of divine vengeance over the city. The scourge seemed endowed with a sort of terrible intelligence, a malicious subtlety. It rose, brooded, crawled, leapt up, and upon its impact, one by one, they all collapsed – tall houses, mosques, churches, synagogues. Like black candles from some Satanic mass, the minarets tapered away, pink, or lily-white, imploring to the last, in this terrifying liturgy of the unrelenting element…. One hundred thousand poor souls, with no refuge, no means, no bread, no clothing, at the same time cursing – with the total injustice of Woe – the scourge that had ruined them.”"

"Given the large presence of Allied troops, it’s not surprising that many cameramen were in Thessaloniki to record the carnage. Après l’incendie de Salonique, août 1917 was filmed by Gaston Haon, attached to the Service Cinématographique de l’Armée. After the War, it was Haon who encouraged Julien Duvivier to become a director, and the two worked together on Duvivier’s first film (a Western), Haceldama ou Le Prix du sang (1919), and again in 1929, on Maman Colibri."

"It’s impossible to know whether Après l’incendie de Salonique, août 1917 can be connected with the 100 metres of film screened on 10 September in Paris, described by Hebdo-Film as showing “the formidable fire that just destroyed half of Salonica.”
" Jay Weissberg

AA: Devastating footage of the Great Fire of Thessaloniki, a city known since the classical antiquity, today the home of Aristotle University (Aristotle was born not far from the city). Half of the Jewish population lost their homes. Lively footage of people, bleak images of ruins. Good visual quality.

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