(Londres, 1851-Londres, 1922)

villiers frederic

Jean-Claude SEGUIN


Henry, Richard Levy alias "Villiers" (Londres, 17/11/1822-Clapham, 12/04/1890) épouse (Newington, 01/10/1844) Caroline Bradley (1823-). Descendance : 

  • Mary, Ann Villiers (Levy) (Londres, 07/1845-)
  • Frederic Villiers (Londres, 23/04/1851-Londres, 03/04/1922) épouse ( Hendon, 20/04/1899) Louise, Ethel Bone (Leytonstone, [1875]-Hendon, 09/1916). Descendance : 
    • Mary, Carolyne Dorothea Villiers (Londres, 17/07/1900-)
    • enfant
    • George, Frederic, Alexis Gnimani Villiers
  • Elizabeth Villiers (Londres, [1855]-)


Né à Londres, Frederic Villiers est envoyé au collège en France, puis son goût pour les arts le conduit à fréquenter plusieurs établissements:

My boyish picture-making developed into such a craze that at the age of seventeen I resolved to go in for it in earnest. I studied at the British Museum, at the art-schools of South Kensington, and at many night classes...

VILLIERS, 1920-I: 4.

En pleine Commune, il se rend à Paris afin de trouver le matériel nécessaire à la réalisation d'un panorama sur la guerre franco-prussienne. C'est en 1876, alors que que la Serbie déclare la guerre à la Turquie qu'il est engagé par la revue Graphic pour couvrir cet événement. Il engage désormais une longue carrière de correspondant, et il se retrouve sur de nombreux terrains : la bataille de Plevna (1877), la Palestine, l'Inde, l'Australasie, Hawaï, San Francisco, l'Abyssinie, la guerre sino-japonaise (1894-1895)...

villiers frederic 03

My Cart in the Balkan War (VILLIERS, 1920: 20-21)

Le cinématographe en Grèce et au Soudan (1897-1898)

C'est à l'occasion du conflit qui oppose la Grèce et la Turquie, en 1897, que Frederic Villiers va utiliser pour la première fois - au moins d'un point de vue professionnel - un appareil cinématographique. Il évoque ces prises de vues dans ses mémoires, mais également son désappointement lorsque l'un de ses amis lui décrit une vue de la guerre greco-turque :

When this little war broke out I had ingenuously thought that cinema pictures of the fighting would delight and astonish the public. The cinema camera was then in its infancy, so at considerable expense I took one to the front, as I have already mentioned. It was a laborious business in those early days to arrange the spools and change the films; and I sweated a good deal at the work, but managed to get touches of real warfare. It was a great disappointment, therefore, to discover that these films were of no value in the movie market, for when I returned to England a friend, generally of ordinary intelligence, said to me: 
"My dear Villiers, I saw some wonderful pictures of the Greek war last night."
By his description I knew they were certainly not mine. I wondered at this, because my camera was the only one to pass the Greek customs during the campaign. Then he described one of the pictures:
"Three Albanians came along a very white, dusty road toward a cottage on the right of the screen. As they neared it they opened fire; you could see the bullets strike the stucco of the building. Then one of the Turks with the butt end of his rifle smashed in the door of the cottage, entered, and brought out a lovely Athenian maid in his arms. You could see her struggling and fighting for liberty. Presently an old man, evidently the girl's father, rushed out of the house to her rescue, when the second Albanian whipped out his yataghan from his belt and cut the old gentleman's head off."
Here my friend grew enthusiastic. "There was the head," said he, "rolling in the foreground of the picture." Nothing could be more positive than that.
I did not raise my voice or smile derisively; I calmly asked him, "Have you ever seen a movie camera?"
"No," he replied.
"Well, you have to fix it on a tripod," said I, "and get everything in focus before you can take a picture. Then you have to turn the handle in a deliberate, coffee-mill sort of way, with no hurry or excitement. It's not a bit like a snapshot, press-the-button pocket kodak.
"Now just think of that scene you have so vividly described to me. Imagine the man who was coffee-milling saying, in a persuasive way, 'Now, Mr., Albanian, before you take the old gent's head off come a little nearer; yes, but a little more to the left, please. Thank you. Now, then, look as savage as you can and cut away.' Or 'You, No. 2 Albanian, make that hussy lower her chin a bit and keep her kicking as ladylike as possible.' Wru-ru-ru-ru-ru!"
A famous firm outside Paris made those films, and since then many others of a similar nature have delighted the movie "fan." Barnum and Bailey, those wonderful American showmen, correctly averred that the public liked to be fooled.

VILLIERS, 1920-II: 181-183.

Les actualités reconstituées existent déjà et font le bonheur des spectateurs friands de nouveautés.

Cette déconvenue ne va pas empêcher pourtant Frederic Villiers de reprendre son cinématographe pour une expédition au Soudan, qui, malheureusement, n'est pas plus favorable. Il rejoint l'expédition conduite par Kitchener avec sa caméra cinématographique, mais également son vélo comme il le précise dans ses mémoires. Il a l'espoir aussi que son travail au Soudan va être plus difficile à imiter :

WHEN I joined Kitchener's expedition In the Sudan to avenge the death of Gen. Charles Gordon, I took with me a cinema camera in spite of my setback with one in the Greek war. I thought that in this case I might get some of the real stuff before the fakers set to work, because it would be hard for them to vamp up the local color of the desert, dervish costumes, and so forth. I kept the matter a secret from my confreres as much as possible, for, naturally, I wanted to be the first in the field. But soon the bulk of my camera gave the secret away, and of course the other men wanted to take movies as well. Why they imagined they could get the necessary camera and spools simply by wiring to Cairo, as one would for a packet of tea, I have no idea; but, anyway, the whole thing caused no little excitement in our mess. The two who were going to upset my little plans would occasionally look at me with a kind of pity for the "beat" they were making. Presently their box arrived, and the look of triumph quickly died out of their faces when they found that instead of a camera it contained a lantern projector and quite an amusing series of films of a racy terpsichorean nature to please an Egyptian audience, I also had with me a bicycle, which my colleagues looked upon as a mad idea. However, I had been over the ground before and knew that throughout a considerable part of the desert there was a light covering of sand over a hard floor called the agaba. I could always get a spin over that and my camel could carry my "iron horse," as the natives called it, on his hump whenever I came across heavy sand.

VILLIERS, 1920-II: 259-260.

Frederic Villiers explique par le menu, les questions que soulèvent le tournage dans des conditions aussi complexes. La nécessité, bien sûr, de faire l'obscurité pour pouvoir charger l'appareil, mais aussi l'instabilité du bâteau qui le transporte, etc. :  

Toward the evening I was well enough to walk round our position and saw the enemy begin to advance outside the walls of Omdurman; but there was no attack. At sunset the expectant armies faced each other in dead silence.
It was exceedingly bright moonlight that night. I dared not load my camera in the shadow of the hut or even in the interior, the light was so powerful. Therefore I went down to the right flank gunboat and Commander Gordon allowed me to change my films in her hold.
I was there working for many hours — the films for movies were difficult to fix in a hurry in those days. When I had finished I nearly fainted from the suffocating heat and the aftermath of the sting. The late Prince Francis of Teck, who was an officer on board, dragged me up on deck and brought me some water, which soon revived me.
By this time it was dawn and I was preparing to land with my apparatus when the boat began to move. We had received orders to find the Camel Corps, which had not returned from reconnoitering, and to hurry back for the general attack. This was annoying, but Gordon told me I could erect my tripod in the aft battery, which had been put out of action the previous day; and as his boat would be close in-shore I should see everything.
I thought it was a good idea, for I had a level platform and a wonderful coign of vantage. We steamed northward for some distance, but did not find the Camel Corps, so we returned to our position. The dervishes were now streaming toward us in great force — about ten thousand spearmen just as I wanted them, in the face of the early sun and in the face of my camera.

VILLIERS, 1920-II: 264.

Finalement, Frederic Villiers réussit à mettre en place son appareil avec une certaine habileté. Hélas, l'appareil cinématographique s'ouvre et voile irrémédiablement la pellicule :

I had just commenced to grind the ''coffee pot" when our fore battery opened fire. The effect on my apparatus was instantaneous and astounding. The gunboat had arrived on the Nile in sections and had evidently been fixed up for fighting in a hurry, for with the blast of her guns the deck planks opened up and snapped together, and down went my tripod. The door of the camera flew open and my films were exposed. However, I had no time to weep over spilt milk, for the fighting had commenced. I pulled out my sketchbook, and my only comfort was that from my vantage point I saw many things I should have missed ashore and that no camera of my kind could have registered.
While the masses of dervishes hurried forward under the black standard of the Khalifa to attack our front, thousands of spearmen, led by another black flag, were marching round the Kereri Hills on our right flank, just as if the frontal attack had been arranged to screen their movement. But that screen within a half-hour was wiped out by our infantry and machine-guns. From the gun- boat It looked as if the vast plains in front of us had suddenly been snowed upon, for at least nine thousand white tunics patched the yellow sand.

VILLIERS, 1920-II: 264-265.

Après ce nouvel échec au Soudan, Frederic Villiers renonce définitivement aux prises de vues cinématographiques.

Par la suite, il va continuer de couvrir des événements et des conflits : la guerre espagnole au Maroc (1909), l'invention de Tripoli par l'armée italienne (1911), la guerre des Balkans (1912-1913),  la première guerre mondiale... Il a publié ses reportages, en particulier, dans The Illustrated London News.


VILLIERS Frederic, Villiers, His Five Decades of Adventure, (2 tomes), New York/Londres, Harpet & Brothers Publishers, 1920, 316 p et 338 p. (Disponible sur