Thursday, October 19, 2017

The First Home Movies of World War I

On October 8, 1927, the Eastman Kodak Company presented what was announced as "the only picture record of America's part in the World War officially released for home projection." For the first time in film history, the audience could watch actual scenes from the battlefields of France in their own living room.

Advertisement for the Kodak World War I home movies. From Amateur Movie Maker, November 1927

These first home movies of the Great War were available for $150. The footage was on 16 mm, a revolutionary new format Eastman Kodak had introduced in 1923 as a less expensive amateur alternative to 35 mm film. Sixteen mm film was one of the first formats to use acetate safety film as a film base. Kodak never used nitrate film for this format because of its high flammability. In addition to making home movies, people could buy or rent films from the Kodak film library, a key selling point. Amateur film makers could buy a complete 16 mm outfit from Kodak consisting of a camera, projector, tripod, screen and splicer for $335.

America Goes Over 

The disillusionment that followed shortly after the Peace Treaty of Versailles resulted in few war films in America during the 1920s. There were some blockbusters to be sure, notably The Big Parade (1925) and Wings (1927). But these were fiction. Documentary war films for a wide audience were not considered commercially viable. This changed somewhat with the introduction of home movies in the United States. A new market was opened and footage that had been shown in the regular theaters could now be released again to interested customers such as veterans of the Great War. The Kodak series on World War I was taken from America Goes Over (1918), a production of the Committee on Public Information (CPI), America's wartime propaganda agency. Rereleased on 16 mm Kodak Cinegraph format, the customer could order the full series of five episodes or buy a single film.

We found "Flashes of Action", one of Kodak's first home films of World War I, in the Periscope Films collection and have uploaded it on our YouTube channel.

The original 1918 CPI production America Goes Over can be watched here.


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