British Home Front: Public Information Films of World War I DVD
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Produced in 1914-18
Main Language - Silent
Countries & Regions - British Film
A set containing 2 1/2 hours of public information films, instructional dramas and animated propaganda. Lovers of Mitchell and Kenyon will find much to take the eye, writes Graeme Hobbs.
Containing 2 1/2 hours of public information films, silent instructional dramas and animated propaganda drawn from the archives of the Imperial War Museum, this collection provides a fascinating look at the attitudes and concerns of wartime, 1914-18. And fairly ripe some of the films are too: 'Every penny saved is a good work begun / Each six pence will help to blot out the Hun' is a typical sentiment from a film promoting Savings Bonds.
Lancelot Speed's cartoons and pen and wash animation - in Britain's Effort among other films - provide impressive visualizations of the huge increase of women involved in the war effort, output of munitions (to an increasingly startled sphinx who sees a pyramid-sized pile grow to the horizon) and Britain's total war expenditure to the end of 1917, shown as gold sovereigns girdling the earth three times and more.
However, it's with the various Ministry of Information mini-dramas that the collection really comes alive. Promoting War Savings Bonds ('Every Hun Dreads Every Hun-Dred Put into National War Bonds'), the cure for potato blight, the importance of saving bones for munitions, growing your own vegetables, making dumplings without suet, helping out with part-time work on the land, eating beans ('Beans are an Energiser') and much else besides, they are a treasure trove of ideas and imagery of the time. Indeed, those interested in the Mitchell & Kenyon films will find much to take the eye here, as men, women and children take to the land to help out with digging, drainage, cabbage planting and rhubarb and blackberry picking, while naval brigade boys go door-to-door collecting scraps for pig-food.
Daily life is also to the fore in Life at Iwerne Minster in War Time (1918), in which various aspects of life in the Dorset village - people at the village pump, children dancing around the maypole, butter making, sales of lambs and heifers, children knitting socks for father, feeding time at the rabbitry, 'Keeper Hubbard' making skeps and beehives and spinning off the honeycomb, prisoners of war hauling timber, hurdle making - are shown.
Some of the films are startling still in their attitude, particularly The Leopard's Spots (1918), in which sneering German soldiers laugh after snatching and throwing a woman's baby to the ground ('Once a German, Always a German' reads the intertitle). The war ends and these same men metamorphose into beer-swilling salesman who 'penetrate our peaceful English villages with German goods to sell. They will be the same Beasts then as they are now. The Leopard cannot change his spots'. 'How Shall We Treat Them?' asks the intertitle - by bringing in the local bobby and telling them to hop it is the answer. Humphrey Jennings seems a very long way away.
The Woman's Portion is based around the plight of women at home with their husbands at the war. In it, a woman receives a letter telling her that her husband has died. Woken from an uneasy night she then sees him walk in the door. Sam Livesey (looking every bit the father of Roger) plays the corporal who, sick of the war and aching for home, manufactures a dodge with a stolen warrant of leave. His wife sets him straight - 'I'd sooner you were dead than a deserter,' she says.
All in all, it's an extremely interesting collection, though I can't see anyone now taking up the advice to bleach diseased potatoes in the smoke of flour of sulphur before drying and mincing them, even if the resulting flour does mean they can make bigger dumplings.
Graeme Hobbs on 25th July 2013
Author of 297 reviews
A compilation of WWI Public Information trailers and short films, made for David Lloyd George's late wartime coalition Government to encourage the 'Civilian Army' of Britain's Home Front to greater resolve and patriotism in the support of their men on the Western Front and onto British Victory.
His Majesty’s British subjects were asked variously to join voluntary Home Front labour organisations, to save soap and other fats, to grow their own vegetables, to save bones to aid the manufacture of munitions, to eat at the National Kitchens and to buy War Bonds and National Savings Certificates to help pay for the manufacture of wartime weapons and machinery.
More than 25 official cartoons, trailers and short films are included in this comprehensive overview of wartime home-front propaganda – many films using parodies of then famous poems, rhymes and historic figures such as John Bull and Britannia; many using famous illustrators of the time like Lancelot Speed.
Included and worthy of special mention are: The Woman's Portion (1918, 17 mins): A fictionalised propaganda drama on the need for women to accept separation from, and loss of, their husbands. The protagonist in this film would rather her husband was killed than be a deserter.
Britain's Effort (1917, 10 mins): A longform cartoon / animation including caricatures of John Bull and the Kaiser that outlines the enormity of the British Empire’s contribution to the Western Front in terms of troops, munitions production, shipbuilding and finance.
Life at Iwerne Minster in War-time (1918, 18 mins) An inspirational propaganda film showing the adaptation of a rural village community in Dorset to the requirements of the War effort. The film’s message is that 'we must all pull together and everyone must do their best, then happiness and prosperity will come to our homes'.
Every Little Helps (1918, 10 mins) - A film that illustrates the diversity of food saving, food production and part-time labour activities needed to help win the war as carried out in Ilford, Essex enjoining all to help in their own locality; 'Seek out your local Part-Time committee and find a job'.
The original silent films have been given a soundtrack constructed from period archive music.
Publisher: Cherry Red
Length: 150 mins
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Format: DVD B&W
Released: 9th September 2013
Cat No: SNB6734