La Marcia del Dolore / The March of Sorrow
The Funeral of Sacco and Vanzetti
THE HISTORY OF SACCO VANZETTI NEWSREEL FILM FOOTAGE
News Reels Burn Sacco-Vanzetti Demonstration Films.
Today various versions of film footage that show the funeral of Sacco and Vanzetti can be easily found on the internet. Practically all owe their origin to a single source, the silent film originally titled, "The Good Shoemaker and the Poor Fishpeddler." (It should be noted that this phrase is commonly attributed to Vanzetti and is often used to identify the two men. But it should be emphatically noted that it was never said or used by Vanzetti and that it critically mischaracterizes the two men -Sacco was a very skilled shoe worker: not a shoe maker; Vanzetti sold fish for less than 6 months of his life.)
This film was compiled in 1929/30 largely through the efforts of Gardner Jackson, one of the more influential members of the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee, although he was aided in several crucial aspects by a good friend, the noted film historian Terry Ramsay, author of the classic film history, A Million and One Nights.
On August 27, just one day before the funeral of Sacco and Vanzetti, the influential trade journal of the film industry, Moving Picture World, declared on its front cover –
The first page of the article proclaimed in a banner headline
"News Reels Unanimously Decide Against Distributing the Sacco-Vanzetti Pictures"
"…Film in vaults will be burned."
This celluloid holocaust, initiated by the US Government almost immediately after the execution of the two men and enthusiastically implemented by Hollywood, remains essentially unnoticed to this very day. It was all very effective. It not only burned film concerning demonstrations but also any film at all, concerning any aspect of the case. As a result at a time when the newsreels were approaching the height of their influence throughout the modern world, very little original footage of this internationally recognized case survives in any important film archives. The Library of Congress has less than 13 minutes of demonstration footage.
It demonstrates quite clearly how the government of the United States, nominally not involved in the case, felt its own image of itself as a shining example of a democracy, felt threatened by the images of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.
Some time after the execution of the two men, probably in 1929, through the contacts of Terry Ramsaye, who was then working for Pathe news in New York City, information about this film burning came to the attention of Garner Jackson.
Jackson then paid $1000. to some unidentified source for some still existing Sacco-Vanzetti footage that had escaped destruction.
With the footage in hand Jackson started to act:
First, in a letter of Nov 1929 Jackson confronted the powerful czar of Hollywood, Will Hays, asking him directly if the Department of Justice and the State Department had asked him to destroy all Sacco Vanzetti footage. Hays never replied to Jackson, nor is there any mention of Sacco and Vanzetti to be found in his voluminous archives of his collaboration with US government agencies in this matter. This affair is readily documented in government archives.
Second, Jackson then set about to make a film about Sacco and Vanzetti, using the footage he had bought, combining it with some funeral footage that the Sacco Vanzetti Defense Committee had commissioned, film clips of important personages, and some footage, surreptitiously taken, of the jails that Sacco and Vanzetti had been kept in.
Most of the work of compilation had to be done in labs in New York City, which was then the significant film center of the East Coast.
To avoid any obstruction and harassment by the authorities in making and screening the film, subterfuge and secrecy were often used. The film was blandly called "The Sacco Vanzetti Memorial Film, footage was kept in secure safes, a Fifth Avenue mailing address was used, prominent names were listed as sponsors.
Jackson managed to finish the film, a silent 35 film either two or three reels in length in time for the 1930 Sacco-Vanzetti Memorial Meeting. The film, under the sponsorship of The Sacco-Vanzetti National League, was shown on August 22, 1930 in New York City at Town Hall . It would also be shown in Boston the following year, 1931, at the Scenic Auditorium. These two showings were destined to be the only times that the complete film was ever to be seen by a public audience.
After the Boston showing, through a series of misadventures and misunderstanding the 35 mm film, would not be seen again for over 25 years, remaining carelessly stored in a closet
In the late 1950's, during the initial course of Francis Russell's research for his book on the Sacco Vanzetti Case, Tragedy in Dedham, the film, with the help of the remaining members of the Sacco Defense Committee, was finally recovered. Two positive copies were found, but the film had deteriorated badly and it needed lab work to restore it. Unfortunately It seems the lab that was chosen was given little sense of the importance of the film, It simply removed damaged portions of the film rather ruthlessly and rather mindlessly spliced the two films together. As a consequence the surviving film has little continuity and a fair amount of duplication in it.
The film seems to have been shown at the Community Church of Boston sometime in 1959. But shortly after this, Russell and the Sacco Vanzetti Committee had a falling out over the conclusions of his book, Tragedy in Dedham. For some reason Russell kept the film and later, together with most of his research concerning his book, turned it over to Brandeis in 1962.
The film remained at Brandeis, unnoticed and unused, until 1970, when it was rediscovered.
The Boston Public Library, which would later house the Aldino Felicani Sacco Vanzetti Collection-perhaps the single most important collection concerning the Case, collaborated with Brandeis to make a newer 35 mm negative and 16 mm prints that would be more practical. Copies of these prints are now to be found in both the Boston and Brandeis libraries and are available for public use.
The new 16 mm prints were first publically shown in 1971 at the Community Church of Boston, which has had a long history of activism in the Sacco Vanzetti Case. The first showing of March 10 had such an overflow crowd that a second showing, April 7, had to be scheduled.
In 1977 much of this footage was also released to many news sources during the media attention focused upon the Case by Massachusetts’ Governor Michael Dukakis' Sacco Vanzetti proclamation. Of course, today, some of this footage has found its way into commercial archives. It should be clearly noted that no one has the right to charge for the use of existing Sacco Vanzetti newsreel footage that uses this film as its source.
Much like the history of the film burning, the subsequent history of this film remains essentially unknown, never mentioned in any major history of film, newsreels, or documentaries. The story of "The Good Shoemaker And The Poor Fishpeddler" echoes, though in a much lesser way, the bitter struggle between the two men and the American state for their lives, their names, and even their memories.
DESCRIPTION OF SITE FOOTAGE
The footage presented on this site all comes from The Sacco-Vanzetti Defense League silent film. The footage is shown without titles or sound track, solely in an attempt to reconstruct and recover, as much as we can, a strict and accurate sequence of the actual Sacco Vanzetti funeral.
Many years late the images of The March of Sorrow – as the old Italians called it -continue to haunt the imagination and provoke discussion about the causes of their death.
Bob D'Attilio for the Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Society, August 2013