Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Anti-German Film Propaganda (USA, 1917-1918)

In the online collection of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. the authors recently came across a fascinating film entitled "Anti-German Propaganda" that was produced by the American government in 1917-1918.

Warning: Graphic Contents!

First a warning to anyone who would like to see this footage: the film has very graphic contents showing dead soldiers and children. It is a strong example of World War I atrocity propaganda in which the Germans are shown as the ultimate bad guys.

A.E. Wallace with the German army. Copied from the Boston American, 29 August 1915

The American film studios during World War I produced many propaganda movies and a lot of these films are by modern standards absolutely outrageous. This film is something completely different. It isn't drama - the movie is compiled from documentary footage and still photographs. The pictures were clearly distributed to arouse antipathy toward the German war effort. Pictures show dead Germans in trenches, the Kaiser inspecting troops, dead women and children piled in a field, German troops retreating, captured Germans in a stockade, and French families inspecting their rubbled homes. Films show German troops in close-order drill, doing excercises and engaged in infantry and cavalry maneuvers, French refugees trudging along a road and Allied prisoners being guarded by German troops.

Newsreel Footage Identified

The technical quality of these pictures is outstanding. We also recognized the scenes showing the German troops in close-order drill. These were shot by American newsreel cameraman Ansel E. Wallace who went to Germany in December 1914 for the Hearst-Selig News Pictorial. This footage was taken in Frankfurt am Main. We found it in the Allen Collection at the Library of Congress but could not publish it because of copyright issues. This footage from the National Archives however is in the public domain and can be watched without any restrictions. Ironically, the Wallace footage of troops on the drill field at Frankfurt am Main was shot in 1915, two years before the United States got into the war.  And it was made at the order of William Randolph Hearst, who was then pro-German, and with the direct blessing of the German Foreign Office -- another demonstration of how a film shot can often be exploited for almost any propaganda purpose.

You can read more on Wallace's film work during World War I in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War (2014).

We have uploaded this anti-German propaganda film on our YouTube channel.


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