Film Society to show WWI propaganda films

Charlie Chaplin prepares to pound The Kaiser with a hammer labeled “Ward Bonds” in “The Bond,” one of the movies the New Ulm Film Society will show on Tuesday. (IMDB.com)

NEW ULM — War propaganda is as old as war itself, but the creation of film let it reached the masses. The public is invited to explore the early days of film propaganda with a special presentation from the New Ulm Film Society.

The Film Society will screen a series of WWI propaganda films at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 11 at the New Ulm Public Library. The screen will kick off the Film Society’s new WWI film series to mark the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the Great War.

A century later WWI propaganda remains a valuable tool for understanding the feelings and mood of the nations during the war. It is also an effective method of examining the early history of film.

The first films were created in the late 1800s, but with single-scene stories. By the start of the war full-length films were common and popular. Since all films of the era were silent, there was no language barrier. Films were distributed between nations without a need for dubbing and minimal subtitles, but the war changed everything.

In most of Europe, film production was halted by the war as was film distribution.

In 1916, Germany banned nearly all foreign films. In order to meet demand for film, their film industry expanded. Germany was the first nation to learn the value of film propaganda and use it to support the war effort. Their propaganda films were mostly pro-German, but they also used propaganda to target audiences in the United States. Films were made to keep the U.S. neutral and spread pro-German sentiments.

Britain propaganda films aimed to do the opposite. Their films targeted neutral audiences to support the war effort on their behalf. Britain released a few full-length war films, but found propaganda film worked best as short films or newsreels.

America was late in entering the war, which allowed Hollywood to become the center of film production the industry. After the U.S. entered the war in 1917 there was a rush for war films which was supplied by Britain. All the war films produced by Britain eventually came to America. Like Britain, short films and newsreels were more popular since they were quicker to produce.

One of the films the Film Society plans to show is a 1918 propaganda film called “The Bond.” The film features a series of sketches on the different type of bonds, whether they be the bonds of friendship or marriage, but the most important bond is the Liberty Bond

The propaganda film remains famous today because it features legendary actor Charlie Chaplin. In the film Chaplin beats Kaiser Wilhelm with a “War Bonds” hammer.

The screening will feature other examples of WWI propaganda films and Film Society member will facilitate discussion on the films including historical context.

“It is an opportunity to see films that really aren’t shown anymore,” Film Society member Jack Beranek said.

These films will be the oldest movies screened by the Film Society.

The New Ulm Film Society hosts screenings in the New Ulm Library at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month. Later films in the WWI series include “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” Gallipoli” and “War Horse.”


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