Thomas Ince presents: Civilization

R: Reginald Barker, Thomas H. Ince, Raymond B. West. B: C. Gardner Sullivan. K:  Joseph H. August, Irvin Willat, Clyde de Vinna. Mus: Victor Schertzinger. D: Howard Hickman, Enid Markey, Lola May, Kate Bruce, J. Frank Burke, Claire Du Brey, George Fisher, Charles K. French, Herschel Mayall. P: Thomas H. Ince Corporation. USA 1915/1916

Thomas Ince‘s Civilization contained the first original full orchestral and choral film score for an American feature, composed by American-born Victor Schertzinger (his first film credit). (amc filmsite)

“Echoes of Biblical teachings were prominent in the filmmaking of Thomas H. Ince, as he recognized its resonance with audiences of his time. This was most prominently the case with Civilization (initially titled ‘He Who Returned’), which had a simple but sweep-ing purpose encapsulated by a one newspaper head-line: ‘Aims Film to Shorten Life of War—Thomas Ince Contends Great Movie Spectacle ‘Civilization’ Is Excellent Peace Argument.’ This was a time when the United States struggled to remain neutral and avoid becoming involved in the conflict that had en-gulfed Europe. Civilization was directed by a team in 1915, and released in April 1916, and even before the public saw it, Ince arranged a viewing by President Wilson and his cabinet, and sent another print to the Pope. Although advertised as a million dollar spectacle, that was closer to its box-office return of $800,000; Civilization actually cost approximately $100,000. After the opening in Los Angeles in April, lack of anticipated business prompted additional recutting and new scenes shot before the New York premiere. Not only a ‘Peace Song,’ but also a march, both composed by Victor Schertzinger, were issued as accompanying sheet music. (…)
Civilization must be considered in the context of the time in which it was made; President Wilson would run for re-election in 1916 on the slogan, ‘He kept us out of war.’ Even as Americans were dismayed at the war’s slaughter in Europe, the sinking of the British passenger liner ‘Lusitania’ in 1915, which resulted in the drowning of 100 Americans, nearly goaded the United States into participation. The event signaled the increasingly antagonistic attitude toward Germany for quickly adopting submarine warfare to blockade the Allies. Underwater vessels became a popular motion picture topic, appearing in other Ince productions, and it is crucial in Civilization  accurately depicting the German motivation, to sink surface ships carried war supplies, as well the appalling consequences in loss of life. (…) The antagonists seem Teutonic, with spiked helmets and upturned moustaches, yet the capitol building of the country is also a domed structure clearly modeled on the United States Capitol; Ince seems to be indicating that warlike actions may well spring up in America. ‘Photoplay Magazine’ added, ‘True, it all might happen to us, or to any other nation ….’ In the final sequence, the soldiers return home and reunite with their families.”
Brian Taves
Library of Congress

“The battles are large-scale and epic, but not tied to the characters in such a way as to make us really care what’s going on. Our main characters spend a lot of the movie in a beatific trance. Even when they aren’t, they are given to rather broad pantomiming, as when the King tells the Count that he will be allowed to marry his love, and the Count immediately spreads his arms wide and stares up in rapture. The effects, editing, and production design are all good quality, certainly compared to the average Thomas Ince production, but (…) it’s hard not to compare it unfavorably to D.W. Griffith’s lavish production values. In no way does it measure up, even the battle scenes are frankly weak just in comparison to the previous year’s The Birth of a Nation. While it’s realistic that there’s a lot of smoke on the battlefield, so much is used that it tends to obscure the action, and you can’t really make a good battle scene just showing one side of the fight. Apparently a success in its day, Civilization came off to me as too clumsy and blunt in its message, and not really a great example of film technique of the period.”