Friday, August 26, 2016

World War I Centennial Premiere: "America's Answer" (USA, 1918)

The most succesful official war film released by the American government during World War I, America's Answer (1918), now is an odd relic from the past. Watching this movie after almost one hundred years feels strange. As Kevin Brownlow noted in his book The War, the West and the Wilderness: "Amused by the titles, intrigued by the antiquity of the equipment, a modern audience can sense none of the manipulative power that the film once had."

Edward Hatrick (left) on the Western Front near Sommedieue, France, April 1918. Photo from the U.S. Signal Corps Collection, National Archives

America's Answer was released in November 1918 by the Commitee on Public Information (CPI), America's wartime propaganda agency. The movie was distributed by the World Film Corporation in 34 cities and grossed over $135,000. The footage was shot by military cameramen of the U.S. Signal Corps.

Opening scene America's Answer (1918)

First Showing in Paris

An intriguing story about America's Answer has never been told before: the movie was first shown in France, not in the U.S.A. It was first exhibited at the Gaumont Palace in Paris on June 26, 1918, to a a special audience including Field Marshal Joffre as well as the British and American ambassador. The man who was very much instrumental in producing this movie also hasn't been mentioned before: Edward B. Hatrick, head of Hearst's I.N.S. photo and newsreel service. In April 1918, the CPI sent Hatrick to France to report on the motion picture coverage of the war by the U.S. Signal Corps. His film work in France has been described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War.

While working on this assignment Hatrick also supervised principal photography for America's Answer.

Here is Hatrick's own story about making this movie, as published in the trade paper Moving Picture World of August 17, 1918 and in the Washington News, September 1918.

Footage from America's Answer is hard to find on the Internet. The Imperial War Museum has four reels of a British version online, and although a good copy it isn't the complete movie as shown on the screen in 1918. The authors found an original print in the files of the National Archives in College Park, MD, and we uploaded all nine reels of this historic movie on America's involvement in World War I.

After almost one hundred years the film is now in the public domain and available to all on the Internet.



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