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Cinema, spectatorship and propaganda: ‘Battle of the Somme’ (1916) and its contemporary audience

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... In the right-hand corner of the picture, one of the brown clad, helmeted men, just as he tops the parapet, instead of going over, slides back flattened out with arms extended against the wall of the trench -the first life sacrificed in the assault. It is a wonderful example of how reality -remember this is no arranged piece of play acting but a record taken in the agony of battle -transcends fiction (Reeves 1997). Alongside this 24 second 'over the top' sequence, there are a variety of other sections, discussed at length by Smither and others which may be either misleadingly attributed, put in the wrong order or show actions which appear to be, but which are not, in the heat of battle. ...
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This article takes Peter Jackson’s use of Imperial War Museum footage in They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) and its reception as a starting point for considering the dilemma for film archives over how to enable their work to reach greater audiences without compromising their own reputation or the integrity of the collections they are custodians over. The first part of the article considers some of the issues around the distinction between film restoration and digital enhancement, and some of the pitfalls inherent in a range of well-established archival practices for ‘outreach’. The second half or the essay considers the resistance of military and film historians to the understanding of film footage as evidence, taking the 1916 documentary of The Battle of the Somme as a key case study. Overall the article argues that essay films, and invitations for film-makers and visual artists to offer creative responses to collections should be backed up with a route back to the source material within the collection, and that attention should always be paid to the necessity to explain archival footage to a general audience in the many instances where such footage doesn’t ‘speak for itself’.
... Kriegsfi lme wie der britische Kassenschlager "The Battle of the Somme" von 1916 zeigten eine ambi- valente Wirkung im In-und Ausland. Zwei Millionen britische Kinobesucher sahen die Grausamkeit des Krieges und nahmen massenhaft an den Kriegsan- strengungen auf dem Kontinent teil, während der Film im neutralen Ausland als Plädoyer gegen den Krieg gesehen wurde 65 . Damit stellte sich nicht nur in Großbritannien die Frage, ob und wie die Realität des Krieges gefi lmt werden konnte. ...
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One of the often-overlooked legacies of the First World War is how the conflict established the media’s role in remembrance. In the years that have followed, media’s circulation of iconic images of national and local commemoration have enabled individuals to engage with public remembrance. This article takes a historical approach to First World War remembrance in Britain, looking at how the practices and meaning of remembrance became established, although they were never fixed but instead constantly shifting, reinvented and contested. They are also gendered, in remembrance, as in war, women, are often seen as to be playing supportive roles; yet within media texts, women have always found spaces to exert influence over who is remembered and how, as memories jostle for prominence.
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This article examines the relationship between soldiers’ contemporaneous accounts of the First World War and writers’ later representations of combatants’ experiences in novels and other types of ‘war literature’. It argues that post-war literary depictions of such experiences closely resembled soldiers’ own testimony, serving to disseminate and legitimize combatants’ earlier, private revelations of the horrific reality of modern warfare. At the time and afterwards, these accounts of the fighting co-existed with patriotic and heroic descriptions of the war. Here, I investigate the transnational transfer and reception of literary works. Through a comparison of literary treatments of the conflict in Britain and Germany, the article highlights the significance of the outcome of the First World War for its longer-term cultural legacy. The war was described in similar terms in both countries, but criticism of the war effort proved much more divisive in Germany than in the United Kingdom, affecting the ways in which military conflict was remembered and understood. © 2018
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The relation between war and cinema, propaganda and cinema is a most intriguing area, located at the intersection of media studies, history and film aesthetics. A truly tragic moment in human history, the First World War was also the first to be fought before film cameras. And while in the field, airborne reconnaissance became cinematic (Virilio), domestic propaganda occupied the screen of the newly emergent national cinemas, only to see its lucid message challenged and even subverted by the fast-evolving language of cinema. Part one of this paper looks at three non-fiction films, released in 1916:
Chapter
In most standard film histories the emergence of documentary is generally understood as an international process in the 1920s when a number of films across different national cinemas — including Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922) in America, Alberto Cavalcanti’s Rien Que les Hueres (1926) in France,Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a City (1927) in Germany, Dziga Vertov’s The Man With a Movie Camera (1929) in the Soviet Union and John Grierson’s Drifters (1929) in Britain — gave rise to a new type of film that eschewed the melodramatic antics of the fiction film in preference for social observation and authenticity in the representation of real people and locations.2 The films cited above all demonstrated, in different ways, Grierson’s notion of documentary as ‘the creative treatment of actuality’. Hence documentary came to be seen as a progressive mode of film practice characterized by aesthetic innovation and social purpose. However, as early film historian Stephen Bottomore has pointed out, the association between documentary and progressive aesthetics has led to the eclipse of an older tradition of non-fiction film in Britain and elsewhere: by ‘implying that the documentary is art or it is nothing’ the standard historiography posits ‘that no “real” documentaries were made before 1920’.3 Since the late 1970s the critical ‘rediscovery’ of early cinema has seen the emergence of a revisionist historiography that has comprehensively redrawn the historical map of film production and exhibition during the medium’s formative decades.
Chapter
The film images that we have of the Great War — the explosion of the mine at the Hawthorne redoubt, the over-the-top sequence and the haunting image of the exhausted British soldier moving through the trench towards the camera with a mortally wounded soldier on his back — are in large measure images drawn from the official war film The Battle of the Somme (1916). Since the 1960s these images have been used in television documentaries and tributes on Remembrance Day to reinforce the perception of a war of ‘lions led by donkeys’, of useless slaughter and the turning point of the century: the true dawning of modernity.
Chapter
Harry B. Parkinson’s Wonderful London is a series of short travelogue films showing ‘pictorial sidelights on the worlds greatest city’, and intended to form part of the full supporting programme in cinemas during the mid-1920s (Figure 3.1). The episode dealing with Flowers of London (Parkinson, 1924) introduces viewers to various oases of floral beauty which can be found nestling among the ‘drab little streets’ of the capital. Starting in the garden of a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) ‘Fellow’ in London Bridge, the film moves to Gladys Spalding’s flower shop in Lancaster Place, and thence to the gaudy bustle of Covent Garden and the flower girls of Piccadilly Circus. Each of these sections of the film is punctuated with tinted and toned close-ups identifying the varieties of flowers on display, and showing them in detail, filmed in the studio or growing in the gardens from whence they have been imported into the city. The floral journey west is given logic by the final location, which also brings a change of tone. ‘But there’s one monument in London under which we shall always find flowers — always, always, always!’ declares the intertitle, introducing a shot of the Cenotaph in Whitehall. A group of passers by are gathered at its foot, inspecting the floral tributes on the steps of the monument. A close-up shows the wealth of wreaths, pot plants and bouquets, all shown in situ, and a closing intertitle drives home the point, while introducing the implication that the ‘flowers of London’ may also operate as a metaphor for the city’s war dead: ‘Yes … here there will always be flowers … the most potent, the most tender, the most appealing … of all the flowers of London.’1
Chapter
The principal company to answer Kinematograph Weekly’s call for a kinema record of the war ‘told and retold with added details’ was BIF (Figure 2.1). BIF’s series of battle reconstruction films, produced between 1921 and 1931, will form the focus of this chapter, which will trace developments in the tone of the series and the ‘details’ that were added as the decade progressed. The company was founded by H. Bruce Woolfe, who had been demobilized from the army in February 1919 — precisely the moment at which the discussions about the authenticity of Hollywood war films outlined in Chapter 1 were dominating the trade papers.’ It was registered in September and within two months, the first batch of short educational entertainments was released.2 This consisted of three travelogues and two nature films which were received by Kineweekly with the comment that the company should drop the word ‘Instructional’ from its title, as it ‘implies a formidable dry-as-dustness that is entirely lacking from the pictures’.3 The name remained, but BIF stayed true to a policy of presenting actuality and educational material in an entertaining manner. The changing relationship between the ‘educational’ and the ‘entertainment’ elements within its war films is a key theme of this chapter. The films were initially released into commercial cinemas, but later they became available for hire in non-theatrical and school settings through an education department, which was set up in 1925.
Article
This article offers a cross-national analysis of the historical reception of the American war film The Battle Cry of Peace (J. Stuart Blackton and Wilfred North/Vitagraph, 1915) in the neutral countries of the Netherlands and Switzerland during World War I. Treating propaganda as a mode de lecture, the authors demonstrate how a fiction film that was originally intended as preparedness propaganda picked up very diverse and often conflicting meanings in cinema cultures outside the United States. In the eyes of its audiences, the film could have been qualified as ‘entertainment’ or ‘propaganda’, ‘fiction’ or ‘fact’ at the same time. When comparing the Dutch and Swiss reception contexts in more detail, it becomes clear that The Battle Cry of Peace was a popular film in both countries. However, the film made a different impact on its audiences on a national level. German propaganda officials in Switzerland considered the anti-German tendencies of the film highly problematic. This was hardly the case in the Netherlands. While The Battle Cry of Peace confronted Swiss audiences with their linguistic and cultural divide, here, the meaning of the film was generally tied into a unifying neutrality discourse. In both cases, however, a fact often neglected by contemporary (film) historians, cinema can be understood as an important agent in the public debate about the war outside the warring countries, as was acknowledged by individuals and institutions at the time.
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Nearly a century has passed since the assassination of Austria-Hungary's Archduke Ferdinand, yet the repercussions of the devastating global conflict that followed echo still. In this provocative book, historian Ian Beckett turns the spotlight on twelve particular events of the First World War that continue to shape the world today. Focusing on episodes both well known and scarcely remembered, Beckett tells the story of the Great War from a new perspective, stressing accident as much as strategy, the small as well as the great, the social as well as the military, and the long term as much as the short term. The Making of the First World War is global in scope. The book travels from the deliberately flooded fields of Belgium to the picture palaces of Britain's cinema, from the idealism of Wilson's Washington to the catastrophic German Lys offensive of 1918. While war is itself an agent of change, Beckett shows, the most significant developments occur not only on the battlefields or in the corridors of power, but also in hearts and minds. Nor may the decisive turning points during years of conflict be those that were thought to be so at the time. With its wide reach and unexpected conclusions, this book revises-and expands-our understanding of the legacy of the First World War.
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The First World War mangled faces, blew away limbs, and ruined nerves. Ten million dead, twenty million severe casualties, and eight million people with permanent disabilities, modern war obliterated with unsparing, mechanical efficiency. Pain and suffering were terrifying consequences of modern war, and yet this truth is not the entire story. People also rebuilt their lives, their communities, and their bodies. Rising from the ashes of war was beauty, eroticism, and the promise of utopia. This book investigates the cultures of resilience and the institutions of reconstruction in Britain, Australia, and the United States. Immersed in efforts to heal the violence and triumph over adversity, reconstruction motivated politicians, professionals, and individuals to transform themselves and their societies. Bodies were not to remain locked away in tortured memories. Instead, they became the subjects of outspoken debate, the objects of rehabilitation, and commodities of desire in global industries. Governments, physicians, beauty and body therapists, monument designers, and visual artists looked to classicism and modernism as the tools for rebuilding civilization and its citizens. What better riposte for loss of life, limb, and mind than a body reconstructed?
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As the hundredth anniversary approaches, it is timely to reflect not only upon the Great War itself and on the memorials which were erected to ensure it did not slip from national consciousness, but also to reflect upon its rich and substantial cultural legacy. This book examines the heritage of the Great War in contemporary Britain. It addresses how the war maintains a place and value within British society through the usage of phrases, references, metaphors and imagery within popular, media, heritage and political discourse. Whilst the representation of the war within historiography, literature, art, television and film has been examined by scholars seeking to understand the origins of the 'popular memory' of the conflict, these analyses have neglected how and why wider popular debate draws upon a war fought nearly a century ago to express ideas about identity, place and politics. By examining the history, usage and meanings of references to the Great War within local and national newspapers, historical societies, political publications and manifestos, the heritage sector, popular expressions, blogs and internet chat rooms, an analysis of the discourses which structure the remembrance of the war can be created. The book acknowledges the diversity within Britain as different regional and national identities draw upon the war as a means of expression. Whilst utilising the substantial field of heritage studies, this book puts forward a new methodology for assessing cultural heritage and creates an original perspective on the place of the Great War across contemporary British society.
Article
This article looks at the most likely impact on audiences generated by two of the most widely viewed films of the First World War: The Battle of the Somme (1916) and The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks (1917). Examining commentaries on the film in the UK press and analysing the shot patterns that the films used to depict troops and artillery, I argue that both films distinguished machinery as the operant agent of the War and demoted the human to a secondary position. I argue that, as Woolf and H.D. were likely to have ranked amongst the films’ viewers, this demotion of human corporeal agency below that of artillery determined the ways that both writers represented the human body in their ‘war novels’ Asphodel and Jacob's Room.
Article
While the Netherlands tried to maintain neutrality during World War I, the belligerent nations watched the country and its public opinion closely. At the same time, the French, English, and German authorities used propaganda to influence Dutch public opinion. The famous documentary film The Battle of the Somme (1916) is seen as a prime example. Its critical reception in the Netherlands has been studied before, but its challenge to the cause of neutrality has escaped close attention. Not only did Dutch ministers, mayors, film distributors, and cinema owners get involved in the marketing and regulation of war propaganda, but so did the intelligence services and propaganda departments of the warring countries. This article shows that at least three films about the battle of the Somme were shown in Dutch cinemas - French, English, and German - and that all of them were part of a struggle to secure the public's favour.
Article
Between the wars soccer was the leading national sport in Britain. But far more watched the brief depictions of ‘celluloid’ soccer on the newsreels in the cinema than ever watched football on the pitch. Newsreels were a central cultural feature, yet their broader social, historical and ideological significance has been overlooked by both sports and media historians. This study draws on an extensive body of surviving newsreel material. It begins by exploring the complex nature of the inter-war cinema audiences, their responses to sporting newsreels and the cultural competencies they brought to their watching. Examination of newsreel content reveals the changing nature and highly varied coverage of professional and amateur soccer over the period, including significant attention devoted to women's soccer even after its banning from English Football Association grounds in 1921. The day to day practices of newsreel soccer coverage provide fascinating insights into the British sporting values and identities, contained, encouraged or prevented by its representations, codes and conventions. Soccer newsreels produced by the leading companies, while largely conservative in tone, were also highly ideologically charged. Through the ways in which they addressed notions of class, gender, politics, region and identity they had a major cultural impact on broader British society.
Article
This article examines the British Film Weeks of 1924. Drawing on trade, national and local press reports, I explore how these high-profile events impacted on the British film industry’s operations at this time and on broader discussions of British national cinema raging in the public sphere. While most academic literature dismisses the ‘Weeks’ as the failed projects of an ailing industry, I argue that they served as a testing ground for a number of industrial and political initiatives that would influence the ways in which British cinema was debated and promoted later in the 1920s and beyond.
Edited by: Warren , Low . 303-304. London In 1993, Malins' memoir was republished by the Imperial War Museum with an introduction by Nicholas Hiley
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Henson to the editor
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Lankester to the editor
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Northern notes by ‘gossip
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War pictures in Leeds
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Great film pictures in Birmingham
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Marshall to the Editor
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The Somme Battle. Great film pictures in Birmingham
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