Cinematographic reporting on the duties of the members of the court quickly developed into a specialization by domestic and foreign companies. Weeks before an event the production companies began preparing and advertising what were billed as ‘sensational’ pictures.
In the last years of the nineteenth century images of Austria-Hungary also began to ‘move’. The films from the late Danube Monarchy glorified the past. The myth and image of the Monarchy was created at the time and communicated in films. The visual clichés in the feature films of the inter-war and post-war years are notable for their ‘imperially beautified’ pictures and impressions of the ‘quiet and pleasant’ life in the Monarchy.
The National Film Headquarters (Staatliche Filmhauptstelle) became the most important producer of critical non-fiction and scientific and instructive films in the first years of the young Republic. Its repertoire also include good entertainment films promoting the small state of Austria.
The films made by the film department for the War Press Office had several functions: to support the war and the military activities and to put the treatment of prisoners of war, the ‘cultural status of the Monarchy’, the feeding of the population, the war industry, ‘the natural beauty of the Monarchy’ and the imperial household in the best possible light.
The First World War intensified the use and acceptance of new propaganda media. The war effort was encouraged at all levels. The organization of film propaganda in Austria-Hungary was the responsibility from 1914 of the film department of the War Press Office.
The protests against the ‘dreadful state of the cinema’ by teachers, parents, clergy and theatre directors obliged the industry to close ranks. In 1908 the Reich Association of Cinematograph owners was founded, and the new trade magazines (Kinematographische Rundschau, Der Komet) saw themselves as the mouthpiece of the industry, making known its interests and providing information about new trends and developments. An important concern revived in 1916 was the demand for the standardization and centralization of censorship and the establishment of an appeals procedure against prohibitions.
The call for ‘good’, ‘morally elevating’ films with an instructive rather than an entertaining and voyeuristic element became more strident around 1906 as the medium began to spread. A debate initiated by the educated middle classes about the danger of ‘trashy films’ resulted in the establishment of the cinema reform movement, which stood for ‘better’, ‘morally superior’ and instructive film-making.
Special performances with erotic films were among the great attractions of the early cinema days. These ‘gentlemen’s evenings’, as they were called, included not only ‘spicy’ films but also films about surgical interventions, diseases and physical deformities.
Although cinematography was of increasing economic importance, for a long time there were no uniform regulations concerning the conditions and content of performances. For that reason, conflicts between authorities, morally concerned audiences and cinematograph operators were inevitable.
By the end of the war at the latest, the consequences of the years of fighting had become evident to everyone. The war invalids had to be integrated into post-war society. Films also began to show the war-wounded victims, but there was still no end to the hero worship. Almost no family had come out of the war unscathed, and they wanted at least to ensure that their lost relatives were seen as heroes. One-sided war films in the interwar years were very popular as a result, and anti-war films were not well received at all.