Outbreak of the war
End of the war

Serving the public – the film and cinema industry before and during the First World War

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 production policy of film-makers was guided by public demand, which, unlike the cinema reformers, wanted good and ‘light’ entertainment. The two main production companies nevertheless went in different directions. Wiener Kunstfilm favoured the filming of literary works with a view to bringing cinema up to the level of theatre and gaining access to ‘official culture’. Sascha-Filmfabrik, by contrast, saw film as an entertainment medium and specialized in grotesque and farce.

The outbreak of the First World War had a stimulating effect on the Austro-Hungarian film sector. New companies were founded (Burg-Film, Regent-Film, etc.), existing companies expanded, and the number of films rose steadily – from 42 titles in 1914 to almost 100 in 1918. The film industry experienced a boom that reached its highpoint in the mid-1920s.

During the war the preferred film themes changed. The farces and comic one-acters modelled on international examples gave way to comedies with typically Austrian subjects, stories and characters. The absurdity of the pre-war grotesque was gradually replaced by a certain realism. Towards the end of the war there was also an increase in productions focusing on magic, the macabre and the supernatural. From 1917 a series of films appeared that might be described as the forerunners of Expressionism. They included Der Brief einer Toten (A 1917), Das schwindende Herz (A 1917), Die Liebe einer Blinden (A 1917), Das andere Ich (A 1918) and Der Mandarin (A 1918). Magda Sonja, the epitome of the femme fatale of the late 1910s, became the new star of pre-Expressionist Austrian cinema.

Translation: Nick Somers


Bono, Francesco: Bemerkungen zur österreichischen Filmwirtschaft und Produktion zur Zeit des Stummfilms, in: Bono, Francesco/Caneppele, Paolo/Krenn, Günter: Elektrische Schatten. Beiträge zur österreichischen Stummfilmgeschichte, Wien 1999, 47-75

Fritz, Walter: Im Kino erlebe ich die Welt. 100 Jahre Kino und Film in Österreich, Wien 1997

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    War and art

    Many artists, intellectuals and writers welcomed the outbreak of the First World War. They saw it not as an apocalypse but as the opportunity for a change for the better. As such they joined in the patriotic fervour of the first weeks and months of the war. What motivated them not only to devote their artistic energies to the fatherland but also to take an active part in the fighting? How were anti-war sentiments articulated by artists? What other forms of relationship were there between art and warfare during and after the First World War?

  • Aspect

    On the eve of war

    The last decade of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth were a time of modernisation, mechanisation and speed. In 1910, Vienna, capital of the Habsburg empire, had 2.1 million inhabitants and had grown to become an international metropolis. New technologies changed working life and leisure. Railways increased mobility, as did the bicycle, motor vehicle and aeroplane. How did this development manifest itself and what other trends emerged in the last years before the outbreak of the First World War?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object


    All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930. It was the film of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name about the experiences of a soldier during the First World War. Remarque’s book and the film adaptation are classic anti-war statements. Alongside the patriotic, glorified heroic epics and “authentic” documentation of service for the fatherland, this was just one way in which the First World War was portrayed in literature and films – a medium that had come into being only twenty years before the outbreak of war.

  • Object

    Monitoring & control

    Everyday life in the Habsburg Monarchy was characterised by propaganda, monitoring and control, as can be seen by the many blank spaces in the daily newspapers and deletions in private correspondence and telegrams. At the same time an attempt was made in texts and audio-visual media to whip up general enthusiasm for the war. Not even the youngest inhabitants of the empire remained untouched, and the influence of the state was also felt in the schools of the Monarchy.