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Open Access Kilts, tanks, and aeroplanes: Scotland, cinema, and the First World War

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This article charts commercial cinema’s role in promoting the war effort in Scotland during the First World War, outlining three aspects of the relationship between cinema and the war as observed in Scottish non-fiction short films produced between 1914 and 1918. The existing practice of local topical filmmaking, made or commissioned by cinema managers, created a particular form of engagement between cinema and war that was substantially different from the national newsreels or official films. The article offers an analysis of surviving short ‘topicals’ produced and exhibited in Scotland, which combine images of local military marches with kilted soldiers and enthusiastic onlookers and were designed to lure the assembled crowds back into the cinema to see themselves onscreen. Synthesising textual analysis with a historical account of the films’ production context, the article examines the films’ reliance on the romanticised militarism of the Highland soldier and the novelty appeal of mobilisation and armament, sidelining the growing industrial unrest and anti-war activities that led to the birth of the term ‘Red Clydeside’. The article then explores how, following the British state’s embracing of film propaganda post-1916, local cinema companies such as Green’s Film Service produced films in direct support of the war effort, for example Patriotic Porkers (1918, for the Ministry of Food). Through their production and exhibition practice exhibitors mediated the international conflict to present it to local audiences as an appealing spectacle, but also mobilised cinema’s position in Scottish communities to advance ideological and practical aspects of the war effort, including recruitment, refugee support, and fundraising.
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Keywords: First World War; Local topicals; Scotland; archives; attractions; early cinema; historiography; local films; militarism; propaganda; recruitment

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: David Archibald is Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of Glasgow. His monograph The war that won’t die: the Spanish Civil War in cinema was published by Manchester University Press in 2012. He has published widely on various aspects of Scotland’s cultural and political landscape and is currently completing a monograph on a production study of The Angels’ Share (Loach, 2012). 2: Maria A. Velez-Serna is a post-doctoral researcher within the Early Cinema in Scotland research project at the University of Glasgow (AHRC AH/1020535/1). Her work on the emergence of regional film distribution, early exhibition practice, and the use of geo-databases for historical research has been presented at NECS, SCMS, Domitor, and Screen conferences. She has published on Scottish and Colombian cinema history and audiences in Post-Script and [email protected] Her chapter on showmanship practices in the 1910s was published in Performing New Media, 1890-1915 (John Libbey, 2014).

Publication date: September 1, 2014

More about this publication?
  • NECSUS is an international, double-blind peer reviewed journal of media studies connected to NECS (European Network for Cinema and Media Studies) and published by Amsterdam University Press. The journal is multidisciplinary and strives to bring together the best work in the field of media studies across the humanities and social sciences. We aim to publish research that matters and that improves the understanding of media and culture inside and outside the academic community. Each volume includes feature articles, a special thematic section, a video essay section, and a reviews section that covers books, festivals, and exhibitions. NECSUS is targeted to a broad readership of researchers, lecturers, and students, and will be offered as a biannual open access, online journal.

    The journal is published in Open Access, with the following Creative Commons copyright license: Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

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