The Austro-Hungarian film propaganda centred above all on the presentation of the imperial household and the military and economic strength. It was not just a question of outdoing the enemy but trying to match the over-representation of propaganda by allied Germany.
The war economy demanded full commitment by everyone, and the civilian population, particularly women, were involved in the ‘total war’. They took over jobs that had been previously carried out by men, and their effort on the home front had a democratizing effect that changed social expectations with regard to the state.
The military film propaganda focused on good news from the front. In addition, the mechanization and destructive efficiency were shown on film, along with the organization and discipline of the soldiers in action.
The film reporters in the First World War, on whichever side they were, had the same problems to deal with: the production of authentic war pictures was difficult if not impossible. The cameras were heavy and cumbersome, telephoto lenses almost unknown, and the film material was not very light-sensitive, so that it was difficult if not impossible to film at dusk or in the night, when a lot of the fighting took place.
After the death of Emperor Franz Joseph, the new young emperor and his wife became the focus of Austro-Hungarian film propaganda. The idea was to enhance their popularity and communicate calm, harmony and security amid all of the chaos.
In spite of the differing attitude of some regions and sectors of society, the people of the Habsburg Monarchy and the other warring nations mostly backed the decision of their rulers. The enthusiasm for war was also captured in propaganda films.
International film producers dominated early cinematography. Austrian film pioneers appeared around 1910 and were to influence the domestic cinema scene for the next two decades.
The American film historian Tom Gunning coined the phrase ‘cinema of attractions’ to describe the early film presentations. Instead of narrating, as was to be customary later, the films simply put their subjects on show.
The selection of films was based on the ‘fairground attraction’ principle. Like vaudeville, the ten or fifteen films in a cinema programme were seen as ‘numbers’, a collection of attractive short films designed to entertain the public.
The early cinema was closer to vaudeville than theatre. Variety was the driving force in the pioneer days, and films were presented with much fanfare at festivals and fairs, where the cinematographic shows were to be mainly found.