The Great War: A Cinematic Legacy, MoMA, New York

Opening on the 100th anniversary of the day World War I began, The Museum of Modern Art‘s The Great War: A Cinematic Legacy runs from 4 August through to 21 September, highlighting 60 feature-length films and thematic programmes that attempt to provide a comprehensive view of the war as portrayed in film.

The various films focus on prewar activities; espionage; the battlefields in the trenches, in the air, and on and beneath the sea; actualités; and the various homefronts before, during, and after the war. Familiar films, such as A Farewell to Arms (1932) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), along with several lesser-known works from as far away as New Zealand – including Chunuk Bair (1992) – reflect the universality of a war that reshaped the prevailing values of what passed for civilisation.

In August, the programme is predominately drawn from the early years, either during the war or in the succeeding decades, and includes several silent films. The program in September will concentrate mainly on later, more contemporary films up to, and including, Steven Spielberg’s War Horse (2011). The Great War is organised by Charles Silver, Curator, with Dave Kehr, Adjunct Curator, Department of Film, MoMA.

Many of the films in the series deal with the entrenched stalemate in France, including Verdun, Vision d’Histoire (Verdun, Vision of History) (1928) directed by Leon Poirier. The film, largely pacifist in nature, is based on the great 1916 battle and integrates actual footage with realistic restaged material using many actors who had been soldiers in the war.

Similarly, Les Croix de bois (Wooden Crosses) (1932), directed by Raymond Bernard, forms something of a pacifist trench-based trio with Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and G. W. Pabst’s Westfront 1918 (1930). The Oscar-winning All Quiet on the Western Front, adapted from the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, depicts the disillusionment of German youth after experiencing the realities of war.

The Great War: A Cinematic Legacy, 4 August – 21 September, MoMA, 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019. For more information visit

1. The Mysterious Lady. 1928. USA. Directed by Fred Niblo. Courtesy of MoMA.

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