Thursday, February 1, 2018

"Sinking of the Lusitania" (USA, 1918)

In 1918 American cartoonist Winsor McCay recreated the never-photographed sinking of the British liner RMS Lusitania. At twelve minutes it has been called the longest work of animation at the time of its release. The film is also the earliest surviving animated documentary.

Advertisement Sinking of the Lusitania, Moving Picture World, 24 August 1918

The sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine outraged McCay, but the newspapers of his employer William Randolph Hearst downplayed the event, as Hearst was opposed to the US joining World War I. McCay was required to illustrate anti-war and anti-British editorial cartoons for Hearst's papers. In 1916, McCay rebelled against his employer and began to work on this project on his own time with his own money. It took him 22 months to complete the film.

Strong Propagandist Feel

The animation combines editorial cartooning techniques with live-action-like sequences. The intertitles emphasized that the film was a "historical record" of the event. The movie has a dark mood and strong propagandist feel. It depicts the terrifying fates of the passengers, such as the drowning of children and human chains of passengers jumping to their deaths. The artwork is highly detailed, the animation fluid and naturalistic. McCay used alternating shots to simulate the feel of a newsreel, which reinforced the film's realistic look.

There are several versions of this remarkable World War I film online. The best copy we could find was uploaded in 2015 by Tina Chancey and has an improvised musical score.


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