The great war and the cinema


  • Tom Burns



English Language, English



Aside from documentary films of the First World War, fiction films may be categorized as period films, cinematic aptations of classic war novels, and, much the greatest in number, fiction films made after the war. The period films are useful for their clues to public attitudes during or in the decades immediately after the conflict. For example, silent films made during the war, like D.W. Griffith’s Hearts of the World (1918), which used actual footage, were propaganda evidently intended to induce the United States to progress from economic assistance to active military participation on the side of the Allies. The story of the young man, Ben Herron, going off to war would become typical in fiction films made thereafter, since such stories have elements that a mass audience, many of whom had fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, etc. in the military, can actually identify with. As propaganda, such movies—and this would be the case with the Second World War even more—may serve an important political end, by arguably having a much greater influence on public consciousness than official government propaganda, which usually arouses more suspicion. In fact, the US government during both world wars would make a direct appeal to Hollywood producers.