Friday, February 16, 2018

Lost World War I Film Scenes Now Online

In the early days of American film history production companies frequently deposited frame enlargements at the Library of Congress for copyright application purposes. Many of these reproductions can now be accessed online and are an important source for identifying lost films.

"Bandaging the Wounded". Film scene showing Austrian Red Cross soldiers in action at the Eastern Front. From Albert K. Dawson's World War I feature film The Battles of A Nation  (USA, 1915). Frame enlargement from the Library of Congress' Prints & Photograph Division. 

While researching our book American Cinematographers in the Great War we found a number of frame enlargements that had been deposited by the American Correspondent Film Company. The dates on the backside of the pictures, as well as the name of the production company, all pinpointed to cameraman Albert K. Dawson (1885-1967). From 1915 Dawson worked for this film company and he accompanied the German as well as the Austro-Hungarian and the Bulgarian army in wartime Europe.

Frame enlargements 

At the time of our research these frame enlargements had not been digitized by the Library of Congress, but now the pictures can be viewed online. Dawson's pictures are in a special World War I collection named "Selected copyright deposit photos of the First World War" (Lot 880). Some of these pictures are scenes from his war films  The Battle and Fall of Przemyƛl and Battles of A Nation (1915). Others are regular press photographs taken by Dawson during his trench tours along the Western and the Eastern Front.

We have uploaded Dawson's pictures from this collection on our photo channel.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Movie Posters that Sold World War I to the Americans

When the United States entered World War I a professional campaign machine was established to get the American people behind the program. Launched by America's wartime propaganda agency - the Committee on Public Information (CPI) - this publicity drive was on a scale people had never witnessed before. Posters, lobby cards and advertisements all contributed to promoting the CPI official films of the Great War.

Poster for official film presentation in Baltimore, Maryland, March 1918

Musical artillery barrage
The films produced by the CPI ranged from shorts to an official war newsreel and three feature documentary films: Pershing's Crusaders, America's Answer and Under Four Flags. All movies were boosted by a professional publicity campaign which included special screenings, direct mailings and the use of theatrical techniques to produce a stunning presentation. As an example, when in 1918 America's Answer premiered in New York City the curtains were raised and the stage revealed one hundred U.S. sailors singing the national anthem, followed by the theme "Over There!" which was accompanied by a breathtaking musical 'artillery barrage'. The audience when seeing and hearing all this was electrified. 

For more information on the official war films by the CPI check out our book American Cinematographers in the Great War (2014). Here is also a video on the American posters of World War I:

As an interesting illustration of how these official war pictures were turned into a "show" we have collected a series of film posters, lobby cards and movie advertisements which were used by the CPI throughout the United States to promote America's involvement in the Great War.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The New York Times War Pictorial (1914-1918)

During World War I leading American newspapers took advantage of a new printing process that dramatically altered their ability to reproduce images. Rotogravure printing, which produced richly detailed, high quality illustrations was used to create vivid new pictorial sections. This new technique also made it possible to produce special war pictorials on an unprecedented scale. 

Belgian machine gunner. Copied from the New York Times War Pictorial (1914)

Beginning March 29, 1914, the New York Times became one of six US newspapers to regularly publish rotogravure art sections as a separate section, mid-week and on Sundays. The Times later compiled images from these sections into a book entitled The War of the Nations: Portfolio in Rotogravure Etchings. This volume included images from the New York Times mid-week pictorials published from the start of World War I in 1914 until the signing of the Armistice in 1919.

Research source

Most of the Sunday edition pictorials have been scanned and digitized by the Library of Congress, and prove to be an important historical source. While researching our book American Cinematographers in the Great War we frequently used the New York Times War Pictorial section. Because many of the war photographers that we researched handled both a still and a movie camera their work also turned up in the war pictorials that were published in this newspaper.