The March Toward War: The <em>March of Time</em> as Document and Propaganda
Introduction The Time Empire MOT as Document Marching into War Voice of Conscience Timeline/Index
March of Time as Document
Defining the Radio Show
Form and Function: Radio
Defining the Films
Form and Function: Films
Public Opinion
Censoring Time
Quiz: Spot the Fake!
 Louis de Rochemont

Form and Function: Film

 Czechoslovakia
Above, the intertitle acts as a second narrator.
Concentration camp
Above and below, what isn't shown is as important as what is.
barbed wire
 

The March of Time newsreel uses certain methods that lead viewers toward a particular point of view. One of these is what I'll call the second narrator, or in film terms, the intertitle. In addition to the announcer, occasionally March of Time will make breaks or transitions in the script through text on a black screen. By silencing the audio narrator, and failing to show visual information the eyes can follow, the segments with narrative text attract the most attention from the audience (at least those who could read it). While audio narration might be overridden by visual information and vice versa, there's nothing to listen to or look at except the text on the screen. It is a confidential, truth-telling device; In "Prelude to Conquest," the second narrator notes, "Though its first crisis in 1938 is bravely faced singlehanded, Czechoslovakia's fate lies not in bravery, but on what the rest of Europe will do should Hitler decide to march."(1) The second narrator is an editorial in and of itself, voicing the concerns of an educated citizen.

In a similar way, March of Time highlighted sections of other texts, as it frequently did when discussing Mein Kampf, to show the plans Hitler had in store for Europe. In one episode on "War, Peace, and Propaganda," the Institute for Propaganda Analysis became the second narrator for many scenes; perhaps the March of Time handlers wanted to avoid charges of propaganda themselves for the issue.

When The March of Time didn't have footage of events that were ominous, they often made visuals appear more frightening by what they left out, instead showing men's bare feet and legs at a concentration camp (2), or a close-up of barbed wire (3). What's unseen is a mystery, and The March of Time noticeably didn't try to guess what happened in these situations, as they would when re-enacting a more sedate scene from a congressional committee meeting, for example.

 U.S. Invasion
Tnks, artillery

Another tool the newsreel used frequently was the map illustration. It was particularly useful in showing the expansion of the Nazi empire, symbolized by a swastika and darkened splotches indicating countries or territories that had been conquered. The map could also show plans for seizing control of the Mediterranean, or plans for invasion, as it did in an August 16, 1935 reel, "Army," which showed potential paths of invasion into America (4).

Although not as important or as successful as it was in the radio show, sound helped establish ominous or happy themes in the film, and occasionally clashed with visual information. In both the radio and film formats of The March of Time in the late 1930s, producers increasingly used the sound of troops marching to indicate action on the military front.

The March of Time used file footage of tanks, heavy artillery, and training exercises and demonstrations to show military action, often in ironic contrast with a preceding scene (5). The heavy artillery explosion was a favorite transition.

Fielding notes that The March of Time cut its scenes rapidly, averaging four seconds for each shot.1 Furthermore, editors used straight cuts, as is often used today in television journalism, rather than dissolves or wipes. De Rochemont did not allow moving shots such as pans.2 With no frills, the effect was documentary and observatory. The camera did not create the action; it recorded it. Fielding writes that it was standard procedure to put the camera at eye level at the height of a sitting person's eyes, making things appear from the angle of the audience "Camera positions such as this tended to dramatize the individuals who appeared in the frame, making them appear slightly larger than life when they were standing."3 The effect is powerful with images of soldiers marching, although some of that footage may have been stock or file footage filmed without knowledge of its eventual use.

The March of Time's narrator also made extensive use of "Time-speak." Adapted from Time magazine,4 "Time-speak" uses passive-voice, with sentences in which the verb comes before the subject, and other subversive sentence structures.

1 Fielding, Raymond. The March of Time, 1935-1951. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. 77.

2 Fielding, 78.

3 Fielding, 79.

4 Fielding, 83.