By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Video archived by Eric Owens, CDCR staff photographer
Office of Public and Employee Communications
Dusting off a series of undated raw film clips, Inside CDCR found the name of an Academy Award winning special effects cinematographer appearing throughout silent footage of San Quentin.
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Trying to date the film footage was tricky, but there are some clues. A name on the clapboard reads “Edouart.” A shot of the outside of the prison also shows a prominent building under construction.
“Due to the construction of the building on the forefront of the right side, I would say this is from 1917 or 1918,” said Lt. Sam Robinson, the prison’s public information officer.
The film captures the construction of the Warden’s Administration Building, which was completed in 1918 at a cost of $17,212.
The 1918 date could also be in doubt. According to San Quentin retiree Dick Nelson, the film is from a later era.
“The East Block is clearly seen and it was constructed in 1930. The armory tower (Tower 1) was constructed in 1933 and is not in the film clip thus the film was made between 1930 and 1933. Also the vehicles depicted in the film are 1920s vintage vehicles,” he wrote.
The Department has no other information on the film footage or why is was shot.
Who was Edouart?
Farciot Edouart, the son of a well-known portrait photographer, was born in 1894 in northern California. He started his film career in 1915 as a cameraman for Real Art Studios.
When the U.S. entered the first World War in 1918, Edouart put his talents to work in the U.S. Signal Corps. With his camera, he documented the devastation of the war.
He quickly rose to become the chief of the photo section of the 78th Division of the U.S. Signal Corps.
In 1921, “Powder River” was released by the Signal Corps. The silent movie was hailed as a “real action film” running at about two hours on 7,000 feet of film.
“The film shows … the whole progress of America’s participation in the war from the time when we began to send over troops until the armistice. Some of the pictures seem on their face almost impossible,” reports the Stanford Daily, Feb. 18, 1921. “The great German submarine killer, U-35, is shown actually sinking 14 vessels on the Atlantic. These pictures were taken, as were many others, from aeroplanes. Another picture which would seem an impossibility, except that this entire film was taken by the United States Army Signal Corps, and released by the army authorities themselves, is a scene in which an American aviator is shot down inside the German lines and taken prisoner, but manages before his capture to set his plane on fire and destroy it. American convoys are shown sailing across the Atlantic bearing thousands of soldiers, and these soldiers are shown in their every-day life of camp and on the march up to the very front line trenches and pitched battles, with the Red Cross first aid stations hard at work behind the lines.”
The film is also described in “The Movies are: Carl Sandburg’s Film Reviews and Essays, 1920-1928.”
“Then come official pictures of the United States Signal Corps, showing American troops at Cantigny, in the Argonne and elsewhere, stretcher men picking up the wounded – the plain, grim, terrific pageantry of war,” he writes in a review from April 4, 1924. “The words writers telling us what war is are rather weak compared with this simple straightforward movie of the thing.”
According to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, “World War I did not interrupt his career nor did Paramount remove his name from its roster. In the early period of the war he was a cinematography instructor at Columbia University and he later invented camouflage-detection equipment based on his photographic technology. … At the termination of the war, he was in charge of motion picture photography in Europe for the American Red Cross Department of Public Information.”
In 1921, he was once again making films for entertainment, working for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. The studio eventually became Paramount Pictures.
In 1938, Edouart became the first to receive an Academy Award for “transparency special effects” for the film, “Spawn of the North.” It was the first of many Academy Awards for Edouart. He won 10 and was nominated for seven more over the course of his career.
He retired in 1967. Despite numerous surgeries to save his sight, he became totally blind during the last years of his life and died in Sonoma County on March 17, 1980.
Did you know?
In 1918, San Quentin still incarcerated women. A female-only facility was still a few decades from becoming reality.
In 1918, the auditorium was completed at a cost of $12,132.
In 1918, the Warden’s Administration Building was completed at a cost of $17,212
By 1918, prisoners’ “striped” uniforms had been out of use for five years.
In 1918, James Johnston was warden. He served in the post from 1913 until 1925. Later, he became warden of the federal penitentiary at Alcatraz.