Monday, June 12, 2017

World War I in Motion: Archival Clips from the Library of Congress

On June 7, author Cooper C. Graham presented a selection of some of the finest World War I films from the nitrate vaults at the Library of Congress. Digitally preserved from rolls of 35mm nitrate film stock, much of this historical footage has never been seen in nearly 100 years and was found during the research for our book American Cinematographers in the Great War.


Cooper Graham speaks during the June 7th exhibition lecture World War I in Motion in the Whittall Pavilion. Photo courtesy Library of Congress


The Library of Congress has an extensive film collection on the Great War. There are hundreds of reels of U.S. Signal Corps film, propaganda films by the Commitee on Public Information, as well as contemporary newsreels. Last year, Cooper Graham was asked to make an inventory of the huge number of films at the Library dealing with America's entry into the World War in 1917 for a digitization project. The results are by no means complete, and much remains to be done. A former film curator at the Library of Congress, Cooper was familiar with the collections. With the centennial of World War I the time had come to share some of his World War I film discoveries.

Cooper's lecture World War I in Motion was well received by the audience. All chairs at the Whittall Pavillion of the Thomas Jefferson Building (Library of Congress) were filled, with about a third Library of Congress staff. During his talk Cooper discussed selected clips from one of the most interesting film collections at the Library of Congress: the John E. Allen Collection. This collection of ten million feet of nitrate film is one of the most important of its kind.  It contains World War I and World War II era actualities, dramatic pictures from the sound era, quite a number of unique silent films from the New York area studios and the “all-black newsreels” from the 1940s. Together, these collection holdings are of inestimable research value for historians, scholars and educators across the country.

World War I Film Collection

The World War I footage in this collection is of particular interest. While researching the American film cameramen of the First World War we were able to find many scenes shot by these cinematographers in this specific collection, notably newsreels taken by Ansel E. Wallace and Ariel L. Varges for the Hearst organization, as well as scenes shot by cameraman Albert K. Dawson for the American Correspondent Film Company, and an amazing sound rerelease of Frank E. Kleinschmidt's film War on Three Fronts (USA, 1916).

To commemorate the centennial of America's entry into the First World War the Library of Congress has opened the exhibition Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I. Much of the film that is shown at this exhibition comes from the John E. Allen Collection.

Here is a link to the online exhibition on the website of the Library of Congress.

Would you like to know more about Cooper's film research and publications? Here is a link to his personal website. 


4 comments:

  1. Wish I could attend. I am sure it must have been a very well researched lecture due to the excellent work Cooper Graham has done as Film Curator at the Library of Congress, his full knowledge of the collections and dedication the painstaking work at the vaults.

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  2. Rarely there comes any news or pictorial evidences of world war I, though world war II has been in pictures and researches so much. There are no links which you have mentioned at the end of the post.

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    1. Sorry to say the Allen Archives haven't given permission (yet) for publication online, which is a real pity.

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