Here’s another early milestone from the legendary animator Winsor McCay — 1918’s “The Sinking of the Lusitania.” (I am linking below to the Under the Spreading Oak Tree Youtube channel.) At 12 minutes long, this silent propaganda film was the lengthiest of its time. It chronicled the sinking of the eponymous British civilian ocean liner three years prior that propelled America into World War I. (It is also regarded as the oldest animated film with a serious subject matter.)
McCay himself supported America’s entry in to the war. His employer, William Randolph Hearst, however, did not. So while McCay was required to produce anti-war editorial cartoons on the job, he financed and and worked on “The Sinking of the Lusitania” independently.
It is a striking film. The artistry is absolutely impressive, and you can tell that McCay worked hard to convey the horror of the event. The final image of a woman with a baby sinking below the waves is unsettling indeed.
I took a stroll through animation history last night with Eric’s Insomniac Theater — I watched Winsor McCay’s “Gertie the Dinosaur” (1914) and his unfinished sequel, “Gertie on Tour” (1921).
“Gertie the Dinosaur” is often thought of as the earliest animated film, but that’s incorrect — McCay himself had made earlier animated shorts, while the work of other creators preceded even these. “Gertie” was, however, the first cartoon to feature a dinosaur.
A version of it was actually part of McCay’s earlier vaudeville act; he “interacted” with his artistic creation on stage. The version you see here shows McCay presenting his character to some friends at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. (It was shot on location — and that made this short a little neater for me, as the museum was my favorite place to go as a boy.)
Can you imagine what McCay, a pioneering animator of his time, would think of the modern “Jurassic World” movies? Or what about today’s mind-numbing animation on “Love, Death + Robots?”