Longtime readers of this blog have probably noticed that I stopped posting the “Century News” some months ago, but I felt I should say something to mark the end of World War I. This blog started in March, 2014, just a few months before the centenary of the beginning of the war, and most its existence has run through the centenaries of the various battles and events of that conflict. As I hope everyone knows, today is the hundredth anniversary of the Armistice that brought it to an end.
It was a long war, although far from the longest in history. It devastated a generation and completely remade the world in just four years. It established power relations that would define the next war and even the Cold War that followed. From the point of view of most of the participants, the toll was incredible, and the rewards seemingly minimal. It brought down most of the larger empires in Europe, and left behind new nation-states that struggled for identity. It set the stage for the rise of great totalitarian movements that seemed on the verge of controlling the world by mid-century. The biggest “winner” was probably the United States, who managed to get into a war they feared might drag on for years just in time to have a vital role at the negotiating table when the enemy suddenly surrendered. Economically, they were one of the few nations who had come out ahead as well, having sold arms and materiel to the Allies for years on credit.
From the point of view of film history, the war pretty much confirmed the trend that had already started: the United States, with its vast domestic audience, was able to take on the leading role in global production and distribution, while France, the former leader, fell into a secondary position. Russia, probably the only nation with the potential to challenge Hollywood, suffered from its pre-war occupation with making “refined” films with limited audiences, and from postwar shortages and artistic limitations decided by political ideology. For better or worse, the USA would define mainstream cinema for the next hundred years, although it wouldn’t surprise me if India takes on that role for the next century.
Happy Armistice Day to all.