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.

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