Film During War and Time of Unrest

Film; the main purpose of film is to entertain but more often than not it informs. Since the first motion pictures were made in 1903 film has become one of the greatest tools used to send out information. During both World Wars film was constantly used as a propaganda tool from all sides involved in the war. During the Cold War, film was used as a tool to convey ideas and messages to a wider audience. During the Vietnam War film was used to tell the stories of those who couldn’t do it themselves. It was used as a means to show oppression within the United States and outside of it. Film has always had a way to get to people unlike any other medium, it could retain a message about almost anything whether that be an emotion or subject such as racism.


During times of war film has been used as a weapon to implement a status quo and to produce patriotism. There were countless propaganda films during World War One and Two, some of the best film ever created were a result of these films regardless of them being propaganda pieces or anti-war film. There were some countries that had specific production companies only meant to product propaganda films such as the US, Germany, and Russia which produced the bulk of these films.One of the first propaganda films during World War One was the Bond by Charlie Chaplin which helped to sell Liberty Bonds for the US. Russia started making these films after the October Revolution more specifically Sergei Eisenstein. Eisenstein not only made propaganda pieces he made masterpieces such as Battleship Potemkin and October. Although these films were propaganda they also served to evolve filmmaking, many people wither or not they agreed with Eisenstein’s political beliefs regarded him as a master of filmmaking.

Eisenstein and Chaplin

Sergei Eisenstein
Sergei Eisenstein
Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin

The productions of propaganda films greatly increased during World War II. One of the greatest films to have come out of this is Triumph of the Will directed by Leni Riefenstahl which was a Nazi propaganda film about the 1934 Nuremburg Rally. The film is a very eerie piece that masterfully blends cinematography and music together to create something that has influence so many other filmmakers. While there were countless American anti Axis films such as The Great Dictator, Why We Fight and Der Fuehrer’s face (which starred Donald Duck) there are some that stand all on their own and are very rarely spoken in the same context as propaganda films. The best known one is Casablanca which is arguable one of the best films ever made. There are countless other films that were made during and after WWII that expressed how they felt about the war.

After World War I and II film had changed drastically. Many different styles of filmmaking and genres of film had come out of the two World Wars. The first proxy war of the Cold War was the Korean War which was very different than the previous other wars in that it is not discuss as much as the other wars which is the main reason for there being so few films ever made about it. The best one that not only emphasizes a anti war message it also has a anti racism message which was very rare in 1951 is the Steel Helmet by Samuel Fuller. There are many films that have communist or democratic underlining and there are also many that satirize or demonizes them such as Dr. Strangloveand Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The last of the proxy wars during the Cold War was the Vietnam War.

One of the first films to satirize the Cold War.
One of the first films to satirize the Cold War.

There was a lot of political unrest during the 60s and 80s and many different movements in and out of the US. The civil rights movement was one of the most influence movements of this time. There was also the peace, environmental and feminist movement which affected many people.

The civil rights movement produced a lot of great leaders most notably Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. although Martin Luther King, Jr. was arguably the most important figure in the civil rights movement there has never been a movie about him. Spike Lee’s directed a biopic about Malcolm X that has been highly acclaimed for the portrayal of Malcolm X. Spike Lee also directed a film Called Do the Right Thing that examines racial tension between whites, blacks, Asians and Italians that solidified the whole racial tension during the 1960s and 80s. Another very important film on racism itself that hardly ever gets recognized because of its as underground status is White Dog. White Dog is a unique film that utilizes a white dog (a name given to a dog that is trained to attack only black people) to represent racism as a literal disease.


The other three major movement of the time were the peace, environmental and feminist movements. There have been plenty of films about anti-war since the beginning of film but the 60s and 80s produced the most of these films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now. Most of the feminist films are referred to as woman’s cinema because women are the filmmaker not just the actress. One of the best films to come out of this movement is Wanda which is an experimental film that emphasis all the feeling and beliefs of the movement without the film being overwhelmed by the message. The environmental movement also created a lot of unique films such as Silent Running and Soylent Green which is a film that takes place in a devastated earth that has been overpopulated and the only solution to the rising famine is Soylent Green.


Throughout the history of film, film has been used as a tool to express the makers felling about a certain subject. Most often the message of the film overshadows the film its self but other times the film shines through as a technical achievement that influences many people whether or not they agree with the overall theme of the film or not. Many of these films should not be judged merely by the people or ideas they tried to put forth but by the films technical aspect and historical significance.

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