They Shall Not Grow Old (Peter Jackson, 2018) and the Elephant in the Room

Lawrence Napper, King’s College London

23 October 2018


I’ve been fascinated by the idea of Peter Jackson’s new film They Shall Not Grow Old and have blogged about it a couple of times already. Initially I blogged about the controversy over the news that it is to ‘transform’ the original footage shot on the Western Front in 1916-18 for the War Office Cinematograph Committee by cameramen such as Geoffrey Malins and J. B. MacDowell. The key selling point of Jackson’s film is that it will colourise that footage, and render it in 3D to suit the taste of ‘younger’ modern audiences. Later I became fascinated by the pre-release trailers for the film and the way that Jackson characterised the original footage as it has survived within the archive as abject, ‘grainy, flickery, kind of – you know – sped up,’ in an attempt to contrast it against the startling snippets of the digitally enhanced material that the trailers showcased. I was curious about two aspects of this pre-release publicity. Firstly the claim that ‘young people’ simply won’t engage with black and white footage – something that from my own experience teaching these films, and from my contact with the IWM’s own team of archivists, I knew to be simply untrue. Secondly, I was confused at Jackson’s refusal to acknowledge that the IWM material he had worked with was not in fact in the state he described. The footage comprising the two main blockbuster films released during the war itself, The Battle of the Somme (1916) and The Battle of Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks (1917) had been subject to painstaking archival restorations in 2006 and 2013 respectively, and The Battle of the Somme restoration has been given a general release in cinemas around the country in the summer of 2016 to mark the centenary of its release, to wide acclaim.

In all of this I was conscious that without having seen the new film it was impossible to judge its qualities. I’m not a ‘purist’ and I’m not necessarily averse to a bit of colourisation if it’s done right. Anything that might turn a new generation on to an interest in the first world war, and particularly in the extraordinary footage of it that survives is surely a good thing, and I am persuaded by friends who argue that whatever Jackson does to the material, the original footage won’t be destroyed – it’ll still be safely preserved in the archive. I guess the paradox that interests me about the project is that the filmed material is fascinating because it’s authentic – it is pictures of the actual men who are there, going through that experience. But in the way that it is framed here, this authenticity is also the problem – it is old, silent, black and white – the very signs of its authenticity are what are deemed to make it ‘unappealing’ to modern audiences. In this context my quibbles about the way in which the publicity for the film rendered the previous work of the archives invisible seemed a minor point, perhaps to do with the over-enthusiasm of the marketing team trying to get the most out the potential contrast between the original material and its ‘transformation’. As I wrote then (having seen only the brief shots showcased in the trailer), those digitally enhanced, colourised images are extraordinary enough for his purpose.

Jackson could so easily have simply said ‘we have transformed the existing footage into something amazing.’ His effects are amazing – there’s no need to exaggerate the abject state of the existing footage in order to make the transformation extraordinary.

So I was open minded. In my imagination there was a possibility that this film might be all it claims to be – a series of extraordinary images which immeasurably improve the experience of the original footage, bringing it to life and colour in an immersive immediate way that is irresistible. The LFF gala performance in NFT1 in the presence of the Duke of Cambridge, with Peter Jackson to be interviewed onstage afterwards by Mark Kermode was of course sold out months ago, so I went along, all anticipation to my local cinema in Greenwich where a live simultaneous broadcast of the event was so heavily oversubscribed that a second screen was opened to accommodate the overspill.

It turns out that colourisation is the least of the problems in Jackson’s film. In fact in places it works remarkably well. Those places being when he is closest to respecting the proportions of the original shot he is using, as in the scenes featured in the trailer. A green tank lumbers over a seemingly impassable ditch. Artillery teams co-ordinate to fire the big guns, with the spring landscape blooming behind them. Men pick their way back from battle through a landscape where nature is just clinging on – the green of the grass punctuated by the bright red of the poppies. These features do make one look anew at images which were once familiar as only a symphony of grey. The famous shots of the dead from the Battle of the Somme are transformed – what before were just tattered bundles of indistinguishable grey rags, are now spattered with vermillion, bringing home not only the fact of death, but the detail of the manner of death. These images work, and are offered quite sympathetically, the colour palette does accord with the few still colour photographs which survive of the conflict. Were the poppies actually there in the original shot? It’s impossible to say – maybe Jackson’s team did a forensic inspection of the frame and identified them, or maybe they’re artistic licence, but they are there in some of the surviving still images, and they certainly feature in written accounts. Similarly the addition of ‘diegetic’ sound is extraordinarily successful and contains a hint of the kind of film this might have been. Jackson had lipreading experts look at the footage and where it is possible has reconstructed the comments made onscreen using actors. In a satisfyingly reflexive moment, one man looks into the camera and shouts ‘it’s the pictures, mate!’ reminding us that this technology is both new and extraordinary in 1916. So far so good. But there is trouble ahead, for these are not ‘the pictures’ as that Tommy would have understood them.

One of the key features of the WW1 footage, what was remarked on at the time, is always remarked on by students when they study the original films, and is highlighted by Jackson in his interviews about the project, is the faces of the men.[i] In the pre-release trailer, and in the Q&A onstage after the screening, Jackson described the faces of the ordinary soldiers ‘jumping out at you’. Evidently this is the element that appealed to him in the original footage, and the one he is most keen to ‘enhance’ in his re-rendering of that material. But it is also the case that in 1916 the ‘close up’ was by no means a standard or even an established part of the cinematic language. Jackson’s response is to digitally create them. His technique is a disaster. So much so that I was astonished. Of all the claims he made about the film, the one I was most willing to accept unquestioningly was the one about the power of the technology at his disposal. But it turns out that while it can cope with colourisation well enough, it cannot cope with the demands Jackson makes of it in regard to literally zooming in on the detail. Anyone familiar with The Battle of the Somme or its sister films will recall the powerful scenes which fill the screen with the faces of the men. In one of the most famous shots from The Somme, men shelter in a sunken road in the middle of no-man’s-land, waiting to go ‘over the top’ on the first day of the battle. A sap had been dug between the front line and this road, and the original cameraman, Geoffrey Malins crawled this to the position in order to film these men.[ii] The sequence is made up of five shots. We see the group of men first from one side, then from the other, then back again. In each shot, they are arranged in a clump to the side of the frame as they stand, crouch and lie at the side of the road, each one gazing at the astonishing technology of the camera. Some barely seem to see it. Others smile and joke and make remarks. Others are smoking, or eating biscuits or polishing bits of their kit in preparation for going over the top. Each shot of Malins’ contains perhaps 15 men, of whom about seven or eight are positioned so that their faces are clearly recognisable.

In the original frame each face must take up less than a few millimetres of the 35mm cell, but Jackson has chosen to pick each of these faces out as separate shots, blowing those few millimetres of a single face up into an image which fills the entirety of his widescreen screen. This is a technique that he uses repeatedly, harvesting other shots in the original film, where men after battle are resting and washing beside a pool for instance – they wave and smile at the cameraman, showing off their trophies and joshing with each other.

Initially Jackson offers these super-magnified close-ups in black-and-white and it becomes clear perhaps why he decided to colour the majority of his film. For under the strain of the magnification the faces buckle and distort in the most extraordinary way. The exposure values have to be manipulated beyond comfort in order to retain any detail, so that the image already looks solorised. But in addition, across every face the individual grains of the original film (some perhaps original and others digitally produced by Jackson’s much vaunted system which supposedly ‘smooths’ the image to run at sound speed without the judder produced by step-printing) – the grains swarm and mould and shift so that each man’s face looks like it’s rendered in an oil slick in a puddle of water, or perhaps out of a colony of ever-shifting termites. Far from bringing you closer to the men, you find yourself thinking ‘What’s wrong with him? He looks like he’s about to melt,’ like the horrific transformation in some body horror sci-fi. When the faces become colourised, these distortions are ameliorated slightly, but they never go away. Jackson gets a huge amount of mileage out of each of these shots, particularly from the sunken road footage at the climax of his film – each of the faces in those frames gets the full close up treatment, so that this tiny amount of footage alone is spun out into 4 or 5 minutes, sliced and diced into separate magnified close-ups that jump and buckle and convulse ghoulishly before you. The magnification doesn’t make you feel the humanity of these men more than the original footage. It makes you marvel at how thoroughly the images have been processed to shit.

Jackson’s passion for zooming in on details of the image defeats his technological wizardry in other aspects of the film too. I watched in 2D so perhaps in 3D it is less noticeable that whenever a figure in the foreground moves across the screen, the background image behind it swirls and convulses at the edges of the shape passing before it. More noticeable from the very first shot is that when people walk, often their legs blur or vanish altogether, another function of the digital programme which adds extra frames cloned from the frames either side in order supposedly to make movement ‘smoother’.

The attempts at battle footage are similarly bizarre. Malins and MacDowell were obviously unable to rush into battle with the men they filmed. Their cameras were massive wooden boxes, mounted on tripods and hand cranked. They could film less than two minutes’ worth of footage before the film had to be taken out and changed for new stock – being careful of course not to expose either reel to the light. Obviously the footage Malins was able to produce is frustratingly distant – he set the camera up to look over the parapet but with the exception of the famous shot of the explosion of the Hawthorn mine, the ‘action’ he captured looked like puffs of smoke in the distance.

A wide, steady shot, with the distant evidence of explosions occurring in a small section of the centre of the frame is certainly not what we would understand as battle footage in these days of cameras embedded in soldier’s helmets, so Jackson emulates the frantic, restless style of modern action footage by magnifying the image so that the puff of smoke fills the screen, and then digitally pans swiftly across the frame to the next explosion in an imitation of modern conventions of hand-held ‘realism’. But the effect is to force the authentic footage into a bizarre simulacrum of modern feature film-making conventions, rather than to draw out the authentic nature of what it shows. It seems pointless. The camera in 1916 simply can’t get ‘up close and personal’ in the way that Jackson seems to desire, and eventually in fact, he gives up on the attempt to make it. When the narration of the film (which is formed of a collage of veterans remembering their experiences in interviews recorded for the BBC in the 60s and 70s) starts to talk about the experience of actually going ‘over the top’ into no-mans-land, of engaging in hand to hand fighting and trench raids, the visual record abandons the whole rhetoric of authentic film footage and reverts to artists’ illustrations. These may be authentic in as much as they are contemporary – taken from publications such as The Illustrated War News and The Sketch in the style most famously associated with artists such as Fortunino Matania and R. Caton Woodville, but they are a long way from the claims of the film to ‘reach through the fog of time and pull these men into the modern world so they can regain their humanity once more.’ Far from doing that, the reversion to Illustrated War News images insist on their age, on the generic conventions of their moment, on the very distance between us and these events and representations. In a final inexplicable decision, Jackson chooses to magnify these illustrations as exaggeratedly as he has done the images, so that one spends minutes of the film inspecting and reflecting on early twentieth century halftone printing techniques – dot by dot.

There is, of course, something rather satisfying about this eventual abandonment of the film footage in They Shall Not Grow Old, because it was in exactly similar circumstances that the available technology of film failed the makers of the 1916 Battle of the Somme too. Viewers expected a climactic moment showing soldiers going ‘over the top’, and yet it was simply too dangerous to film. The War Office Cinematograph Committee substituted instead two staged shots – reconstructions which take up less than one minute’s running time but have exposed the film to accusations of ‘fakery’ ever since.[iii]

Introducing They Shall Not Grow Old to the public and the Duke of Cambridge at the London Film Festival in October 2018, the head of the BFI, Amanda Nevill, suggested that ‘the First World War is not history,’ and on the screening notes which we found on our seats in Greenwich, Peter Jackson is quoted claiming that his ‘computing power’ can ‘erase the technical limitations of 100 year old cinema’. Both of these statements seem hubristic to me. The First World War is obviously history, and no matter how great your computing power, you can’t actually make the cameras of 100 years ago enter spaces and situations they didn’t. This film proves that. And it proves too that you ignore the facts of technological history at your peril.

Such is the publicity hype around the film, and so sacred is the cow of the Great War in its centenary moment that nobody seems to have noticed how horribly distorted and ludicrous Jackson’s tarted-up images look. The reviews almost unanimously praised the images as ‘extraordinary’, so much so that I started to wonder if I’d hallucinated the melting faces and the disappearing limbs. But I’m pleased to note that others, including Pamela Hutchinson and Jonathan Romney have also drawn attention to the elephant in the room.

I haven’t even started on the ways in which the film insults and disregards both the original cameramen (none of whom are credited) and the film archive itself. Those debates are… for another time.


[i] Nicholas Reeves, “Cinema, Spectatorship and Propaganda: The Battle of the Somme (1916) and Contemporary Audiences” in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 17, no. 1 (1997) pp. 5–28; Roger Smither, “‘Watch the Picture Carefully, and See If You Can Identify Anyone’: Recognition in Factual Film of the First World War Period” in Film History 14, no. 3–4 (2002), pp. 390–404.

[ii] Alistair Fraser, Andrew Robertshaw & Steve Roberts, Ghosts on the Somme: Filming the Battle – June-July 1916 (London: Pen and Sword, 2016).

[iii] Roger Smither, “‘A Wonderful Idea of the Fighting’: The Question of Fakes in The Battle of the Somme” in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 13, no. 2 (1993), pp. 149–68.


Lawrence Napper is a Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at King’s College London. His book on The Great War in British Popular Cinema of the 1920s: Before Journey’s End was published by Palgrave in 2015. He is also the author of Silent Cinema: Before the Pictures got Small (Wallflower, 2017). His latest research is on schemes to retrain disabled ex-servicemen as cinema projectionists in 1917. Lawrence hosts the annual British Silent Film Festival Symposium at KCL every April.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

Cinemas and Soldiers, 1914-1918: Reflections upon my doctoral research during the final year of centenary commemorations for the First World War

Chris Grosvenor, University of Exeter

29 July 2018


As I write this blog post, I am in the final stages of bringing together my doctoral thesis –‘Cinema on the Front Line: A History of Military Cinema Exhibition and Soldier Spectatorship during the First World War’. I began my PhD in September 2015, although I had actually started researching the topic of my thesis for my MA dissertation the year before, so in a sense, my research has from its inception been undertaken against the background of centenary commemorations for the First World War. It has been a long, challenging, but incredibly rewarding process, combining my interests in film history, military history and war studies to produce some 100,000 words on a subject which, from my perspective, has until this point lacked a comprehensive history and analysis within the discipline of Film Studies [1].

The fact that I have undertaken this research during the centenary period has proved to be hugely significant. More than the ample amount of First World War-related academic conferences, research networks and publications prompted by the beginning of the centenary in 2014, the history of the conflict – its significance, impact and legacy – will perhaps never again be as prevalent as it has been within our contemporary political and cultural environment, certainly not within my lifetime. It is my hope, therefore, that by accident rather than design, my research can contribute something hitherto missing from, not only our own academic field and discipline, but an internationally shared cultural history and ‘memory’ of the ‘Great War’, particularly as we leave this monumental milestone of the centenary of the conflict behind us in 2018. Indeed, even a century after the close of the conflict, I hope that research such as my own showcases the wealth of stories and histories that are still waiting to be discovered in the archives of the First World War.

Image 1: Two British soldiers standing beside a projector (most likely a Pathé 1913 model) c.1916. Courtesy of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter. EXE BD 84481

So – what have you discovered then? – you’re probably asking. Fundamentally, my research outlines how cinema exhibition during the First World War did not begin and end with theatrical exhibition on the home front, but encapsulated a whole, largely forgotten, demographic of wartime spectators: British soldiers. From the domestic commercial venues where potential soldiers were targeted with cinematic recruitment propaganda in the hope that they would enlist, to the make-shift venues constructed for exhibition on the front line itself, and the appropriation of the medium within the context of soldier rehabilitation and recovery in military hospitals and convalescent camps, the cinema intersected with the average British soldier at practically every point of their military career. Painstaking research undertaken using official military documentation held by the National Archives has revealed the previously unacknowledged scope of cinemas established by different formations of the British Expeditionary Force – Armies, Corps, Divisions, Brigades – on the Western front between 1914 and 1918. Moreover, detailed information about front line exhibition practices, from film programmes to venues, equipment, finances and musical accompaniment shed further light on this unique instance of historical exhibition. Furthermore, careful examination of soldier diaries, letters and ‘trench publications’ held by institutions such as the Imperial War Museum, the Liddle Collection at the University of Leeds, and the BFI, has placed front and centre a fundamentally singular body of wartime spectatorship. Whilst cherishing the psychologically restorative powers of escapist comedies and dramas within the immediate environment of the front line – where ‘the grim realities of warfare are temporarily forgotten during the performance’ – I argue that soldiers also evolved to become intellectually discerning spectators in their own right, equipped to interpret, negotiate and ultimately deconstruct the artifice and manipulation of wartime propaganda and fictional films depicting the conflict, including major topical releases such as The Battle of the Somme (1916). [2] More generally, the diverse range of exhibition practices utilised for the entertainment of British soldiers either on the front line or at home – from films projected onto hospital war ceilings for the bed-bound wounded to shell-damaged barns or huts within close proximity to the dangers of the front line trenches – evidences the fact that cinema exhibition for soldier spectators during the conflict was rife with variety, experimentation and unprecedented spectatorial encounters with the medium at this early juncture within the 20th century.

Image 2: Postcard of Larkhill Camp, Salisbury. The top of the ‘Military Cinema’ can just be seen on the right-hand side (white building). Author’s Collection.

At its core, however, it is the soldiers themselves who have come to reside as my primary focus of research. Indeed, despite the distance in time and supposed objectivity required of the historian, it is the stories of a generation of young men fighting and even dying for their country which have had the most impact upon me during these last four years. Whilst I sit in the Imperial War Museum’s research room holding a mud-stained and partly faded diary, it is impossible not to think of the man who held it one-hundred years ago. Turning the page, I may find some comment about how the antics of Charlie Chaplin or the familiar romance of a drama momentarily removed the soldier from his immediate war-torn and psychologically oppressive surroundings for the duration of the programme. He didn’t care that the ‘cinema’ he sat in was nothing more than a barn stocked with ‘empty petrol boxes’ or ‘old pieces of wood, all sizes and thicknesses, to take the place of tip-up seats’. [3] In these instances, the power of the medium as a morale-boosting, engaging and fundamentally escapist form of entertainment highlights the influence and impact of the medium during this unprecedented and horrendous conflict. It is no wonder then, that soldiers took the medium of the cinema with them from the civilian lives to the front line; for some, it was an absolute necessity for survival.

Image 3: Postcard depicting a column of British soldiers marching past a cinema, c.1916. Author’s Collection.

Whilst the specific objects of fandom or the popularity of certain genres may have changed, the fact that soldiers paid what little money they earned to visit a military-run cinema behind the lines, even in the most extraordinary of circumstances, underlines the same fundamental attraction of the medium that continues to engage audiences today in the 21st century. This, more than anything, has been one of the most important conclusions I have personally drawn during my research over the last four years – that the cinema’s social and cultural function can, in a certain sense, serve to bridge the gap in time between audiences of yesterday and today – a poignant, albeit simple reminder that these men were real people, with real lives and families, hopes and dreams, sacrificing all for their country and their fellow men in the trenches, who found in the medium of cinema a momentary respite from their anxieties and fears. More than ever, this notion should be maintained and safeguarded as we draw to the close of the centenary in 2018, with the war having now resolutely slipped from living memory to the memory of the historical archive.


[1] For some introductory material on the subject, as well as writing on the YMCAs provision of cinematic entertainment for soldiers during the First World War, see: Kevin Brownlow, The War, the West, and the Wilderness, (London: Secker and Warburg, 1979), pp. 44-47; J. G. Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture in the British and Dominion Armies, 1914-1918 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), pp. 110-113; Emma Hanna, ‘Putting the Moral into Morale: YMCA Cinemas on the Western Front, 1914-1918’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 35, No. 4 (2015), pp. 615-630; Amanda Laugesen, ‘Forgetting their Troubles for a While: Australian Soldiers’ Experiences of Cinema during the First World War’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 35, No. 4 (2015), pp. 596-614. Of course, it is my hope that my research will offer the most comprehensive and detailed account of this historical practice.

[2] ‘Weekly Notes’, The Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, 20 September 1917, p. 75.

[3] C. G. Lilley, ‘Back of the Front! A Description of Tommy’s Cinema Shows’, The Bioscope, 7 September 1916, p. xv.


Chris Grosvenor is a final-year PhD student at the University of Exeter, UK. His thesis – ‘Cinema on the Front Line’ – examines the role of the cinema as it intersected with the lives of those who served for Britain during the First World War, shining a light on a largely unacknowledged history within the discipline of Film Studies. More broadly, his research interests include silent cinema, British film history, exhibition studies and the work of silent comedian Charlie Chaplin.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

 

Researching World War I On Film

Ron van Dopperen

21 November 2017


The centennial of the First World War has brought about a renewed public interest in this major military conflict.  When I first visited Belgium as a history student in the 1980s there were still veterans around who had been in the trenches. They were there to hear the Last Post under the Menin Gate, and I remember vividly how impressed I was by the ceremony and the sight of all these names of the soldiers who had found an anonymous grave in the Ypres Salient.

As the saying goes ‘Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away’. It is the same with the films of the Great War. Stored on highly flammable nitrate stock, the film legacy of World War I presents scholars and film fans all over the world with an amazing historical source. The footage to be sure is slowly fading away. Unless preserved on safety stock or digitized we are losing by decomposition an invaluable part of our cultural heritage. I recall the first time I went into the nitrate vaults of the Library of Congress in Culpeper, Virginia, with my esteemed fellow author Cooper Graham, looking for lost film of this war. I was feeling like a kid in a candy store. In one of the cans we found footage mentioning The German Side of the War, a movie that had been produced by the Chicago Tribune in 1915. When reeling that film on a viewer we found ourselves in underground bunkers on the Eastern Front, and that’s when we discovered the film had been misplaced. We were looking at a completely different film that was shot by Albert K. Dawson, cameraman with the Austro-Hungarian army!

Albert Dawson directing war films on eastern front 1915

My fascination with these old war films started when as a history student I first read Kevin Brownlow’s book The War, the West and the Wilderness. Kevin is one of the first historians to research World War I films. He also was fortunate enough to interview some of the cameramen who  recorded the Great War, at a time when they were still around. We dedicated our book American Cinematographers in the Great War to Kevin Brownlow because as film historians we all stand on his shoulders. These war pictures, as described by Brownlow, were a window on a different world. This was a time when cars and planes were the latest thing, when women could not vote, when it took ten days to cross the Atlantic, when trench warfare devastated a way of life that belonged to the 19th century. Despite the static shots and primitive camera technique these films and newsreels are truly mesmerizing.

The First World War was a modern war that surprised all combatants as well as the people at the home front just because it was so ‘modern’. It was also the first media war. Film propaganda was not invented by Goebbels but by Wellington House, UFA and the Committee on Public Information in America. Admittedly, wars had been filmed before 1914 but this was the first time in history when the huge publicity potential of this young medium was discovered and exploited.  As I dug deeper into my film research together with my American colleagues Cooper Graham and Jim Castellan I also got intrigued by one simple question: how did these guys do it? How did they manage lugging these cumbersome movie cameras with tripod and all to the battlefield? How did they deal with censors, military red tape and the risks of having their movie camera mistaken for the equipment of an artillery spotter? Why did they even run the risk of becoming a prime target? We were on uncharted territory basically, as most of these cameramen – like the soldiers of World War I – had slowly faded away. We interviewed relatives in the US and many of them did not even know that their Granddad had been a cameraman in World War I. But the stories that we found on their photographic work and their life are definitely worth preserving, just like their films. In some rare instances we could even match their personal story with the pictures that they made at the front. It’s a strange experience to watch a movie that was made one hundred years ago, as seen through the eyes of the cameraman you get to know so much. As a writer you feel transported back in time. For a brief moment you become the cameraman.

Just like these cameramen who had been pioneers in their trade – the first film correspondents – we had to start most of our film research from scratch. I should give proper credits here to Cooper and Jim for their outstanding work on reconstructing Wilbur H. Durborough’s  feature film, On the Firing Line with the Germans, a unique film report made during the German drive on the Eastern Front in 1915. By using the paper roll collection at the Library of Congress they managed to identify each separate scene from that movie, not including the lost scenes that were retrieved in TV documentaries and the World War I Signal Corps collection. This is another aspect of this kind of film research: how to piece all of these segments together? World War I film research is a giant jigsaw puzzle because a lot of contemporary footage has been recycled or cut into stock footage. It takes a lot of patience to get the bigger picture.

Sniper attack in Russian Poland. Scene from On The Firing Line with the Germans (USA 1915)

The last years researching World War I film have been a great ride. We have brought back on the screen Durborough’s war film which has been wonderfully restored by the Library of Congress. The premiere at the film festival of Pordenone together with Kevin Brownlow as a special guest was just great. This kind of film research never really stops, so after publishing our book we started a weblog Shooting the Great War which has the latest updates on the latest World War I films that we have found and identified. The blog has been seen now by over 100,000 people. So, we definitely have an audience out there!

Video trailer for Shooting the Great War:


Ron van Dopperen studied history at the University of Utrecht (Holland) where he wrote his Master of Arts Thesis on the American World War I documentary films. Since 2011 he publishes on World War I film, starting with a series of articles for Film History journal. He is also co-author together with Cooper C. Graham of Shooting the Great War: Albert Dawson and the American Correspondent Film Company (2013) and together with Jim Castellan and Cooper Graham of American Cinematographers in the Great War (2014) which was sponsored by the Pordenone Silent Film Festival.

Weblog: http://shootingthegreatwar.blogspot.nl


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

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