The frames – which created by drawing scenes on to long strips of paper and shown to an audience by pulling them through slits in a cardboard box – were made by a young Charles Harold Wood, who went on to become a renowned film maker.
Many of the filmstrips seem to be topical ones, and the boy clearly had a strong interest in the War. The pride of the collection is a three-part work called ‘Civilisation’, which tells of an unnamed emperor who takes his country to war.
Mr Wood’s son, who has just rediscovered the filmstrips, says: ‘This is the only thing I’ve seen that show the First World War through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy.
Well, up to a point. If you look closely at the credits of the filmstrip, you see that Charles Wood was not presenting something entirely original (and that the boy acknowledged as much in his credit titles):
Thomas Ince’s film Civilisation had been made in 1916, and was a big-budget spectacle, costing nearly$1,ooo,000. It was a didactic melodrama about a king who takes his country to war. Devastation follows, and the film’s climax is the appearance of Christ, preaching against war.
Charles Wood’s first slides copy the publicity for the film:
The proud claims on that advertisement run:
Actual Sinking of an Ocean Liner.
Two Battleships Sunk by United States Navy.
$18,000 Used for Ammunition in One Battle.
40,000 People Employed.
10,000 Horses in Thrilling Cavalry Charges.
40 Aeroplanes in Great Air Battle.
Every Death-dealing Device Known to Modern War in Operation.
One Year in the Making.
Entire Cities Built and Destroyed.
An Awe-inspiring Spectacle that one minute makes your blood run cold and another thrills you with its touches of human gentleness.
The Story of the Greatest Love of the Ages —- the Love of Humanity.
(Image and transcript copied from Wikipedia.)
Had the young Charles Wood actually seen the film, or had he only seen the bombastic advertisements and made up his own version based on the publicity? Either way, we can see that this is not quite, as the Mail suggests, the war as seen through the eyes of a child, but a child’s view of the War as mediated by the cinema and its publicity.
It’s not a film that has worn well; the style is a preachy melodramatic rhetoric, but it’s worth taking a look at.
The film’s message is strongly pacifist. What I am wondering is: was this film released in Britain during the War? If so, how was its anti-war message received? I shall try to find out.