Which Battle of the Somme? War and neutrality in Dutch cinemas, 1914–1918

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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.

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... Apparently, Germans learned quickly, and the failure in neutral countries (see Dibbets andGroot 2010, Smither 2005) of bombastic military fi lms Graf Dohna und seine Möwe and Bei unseren Helden an der Somme led to an instant change of strategy: melodramas and romantic comedies, set ideally in a scenic setting and starring the internationally acclaimed German actress and war widow Henny Porten, fantastic features made by Paul Wegener, comic relief off ered by Ernst Lubitsch's comedies and detective series Joe Deebs, proved much more successful than the offi cial propaganda. German propaganda offi cers decided wisely not to screen in neutral countries fi lms with overtly propagandist message, such as propaganda cartoons John Bull (1917) or Das Säugetier (1917. ...
British film propaganda directed at neutral countries was meant to strengthen the pro-British attitude or at least weaken pro-German sentiments in the neutral countries. Directed at the wide strata of neutral societies as well as at intellectual, military and economic elites, factual films from the battle lines were believed not only to counteract German propaganda but also to overshadow hostile actions taken by British government against economic and political freedoms of the neutrals. This article is an attempt at understanding the reasons for the eventual failure of British film propaganda in the Netherlands. While mentioning various conflict areas between the countries, it focuses on cultural entanglements and cultural networks that developed, though precariously, throughout the war. The neglect of existing connections between British and Dutch filmmakers and the hesitant if not hostile attitude of War Office Cinematograph Committee towards expensive adaptations of literary works, and feature films in general, might be perceived, the article argues, as one of the core reasons, along political and economic tensions, why Britain lost the battle for Dutch cinema audiences.
... (1916), uno dei film più celebri del periodo e secondo alcuni (Chapman 2008, 40-45) il primo a essere percepito -almeno da parte britannica -come pienamente documentario e realistico, ottenendo per questo un enorme successo di pubblico. Gli autori mostrano come, anche in un territorio neutrale quale i Paesi Bassi, gli spettatori diventino bersaglio delle attività di propaganda delle nazioni belligeranti: tre diversi film sulla battaglia della Somme, realizzati da altrettante prospettive, vengono distribuiti nel Paese a partire dal 1916, con l'obiettivo di orientarne l'opinione pubblica (Dibbets, Groot 2010). Con attenzione al caso italiano, Alessandro Faccioli ha ripercorso il modo in cui le immagini delle pellicole realizzate nel corso del conflitto hanno circolato nei decenni successivi, manipolate e appiattite dal punto di vista semantico, nei numerosi documentari di montaggio. ...
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The goal of this article is to investigate the way in which the relationship between cinema and the First World War has been explored in film studies, identifying some of the research trends dominant in recent decades. For film scholars, the First World War is a turning point: not only does it coincide with the historical affirmation of a cinema based on linear narratives, but it was also instrumental in to credit the cinema as a high cultural phenomenon, as well as an effective mass media. The Great War has also catalyzed genres, production routines, institutional policies, and new structures of the industry.
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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:
On the eve of the First World War, the film industry was flourishing in Europe and the United States. A widespread and warmly appreciated spectacle in the popular classes as well as among social elites, cinema contributed powerfully to the extension of mass culture, media and information. The outstanding example of this dazzling development was perhaps the success of Pathé, which was the world’s leading film company until around 1910. In 1918, as business gradually dwindled, the hegemony of the French cinematographic industry disappeared almost entirely, to the benefit of American productions. At the same moment, cinema emerged as a separate art form − an essential part of the new times, the modern age. As Louis Delluc wrote in 1919, ‘an art was born during the war… The time will come when cinema, an entirely new art, will impose its full power.’ The aim of this chapter is to retrace cinematographic activity and its evolution during the war, describing the functioning of what is generally known as ‘propaganda’ through the cinema. We focus on the strategies and stakes established within the framework of ‘cultural mobilisation’, and offer a critical reading of certain major and recurrent themes on the screen and their relation to the audience in both news and documentaries on the war and in patriotic fictional film. We use various sources for the conditions of production and distribution, and the place of films in societies at war.
The First World War is considered by many historians to have produced the great cultural turn of the twentieth century. The boom in memory which occurred across Europe after the war is part of its impact. Dutch historians have argued that the Netherlands, as a neutral country, never fully experienced the far-reaching intellectual and cultural consequences of the war. This article questions this proposition by examining how the memory of the First World War appeared in the Netherlands. The author argues that in the interwar period the First World War was remembered publicly in a number of different ways. First, the commemoration of national mobilisation (1924) emphasised the military achievements of this period. Later, in the second half of the 1920s, a memory more oriented towards peace and internationalism dominated the public sphere. Initialized by the No More War Federation, this memory was promoted in particular by means of a Dutch armistice commemoration.
its policies by mounting a large and systematic campaign of official propaganda. Within days of the declaration of war, Asquith asked Charles Masterman (a member of the cabinet and chairman of the National Health Insurance Commission) to initiate such a campaign, and Masterman set up his largely secret organization at Wellington House - the London headquarters of the Insurance Commission. To begin with Masterman and his colleagues were exclusively concerned with neutral and allied opinion abroad, but by 1917 domestic enthusiasm for the war had begun to wane, and they turned their attention to public opinion at home as well. Indeed, in the last two years of the war, they also sought to influence public opinion in enemy countries as well. As the scale of official propaganda increased, the government twice took the
Desmet remained joint owner of Cinema Palace till 1918, but Hamburger would supply the movies
  • Jean Blom
  • Desmet