Red Cross Work on Mutilés, At Paris (1918): A SourceLab Edition


About this Edition

In 2007, Smithsonian Magazine published an article, "The Faces of War," describing the rapid development of plastic surgery at the end of World War I.  As illustration, the article included a link to this video, showing work within a Paris studio run by American sculptor Anna Coleman Ladd.  The article did not, however, describe the creation, preservation, or current location of the original film from which this digital copy was made.  Subsequently, YouTube user Gilbert Kantin re-posted the video, listing Smithsonian Magazine as his source.  By the spring of 2016, it had been watched over 87,000 times.

Contacting Smithsonian Magazine, we were able to learn that the film from which their copy was digitized is currently preserved in the Otis Historical Archives of the National Museum of Health and Medicine (in Silver Spring, MD).  The archive graciously sent us a full digital copy of their original, on hard disk.  This hard copy is now held in the University of Illinois Archives.

The digital copy we present here is a full and faithful copy of this original, without any edits.  (We have been able to confirm, as well, that the Smithsonian Magazine and YouTube copies also match this original.)

The archival citation for the original at the Otis Historical Archives is:
"Red Cross Work on Mutiles, At Paris," 1918 [Master], US Army / Allied Expeditionary Force, B&W, Silent, 16mm film, M 0010.  OHA 252: NMHM Audiovisual Collection, Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine.

To help stabilize the film's digital preservation, we have placed our digital copy of the film in the public fair-use media archive, Critical Commons.  Our presentation here is built around this copy, archived there and summoned into our edition's frame as needed.

See our Citation Guide for information on how this edition may be cited. 
Publication History

According to the archivists at the Otis Historical Archive, "Red Cross Work on Mutilés, At Paris," as the film is formally known, was made in 1918, by the Red Cross Bureau of Pictures.  This Bureau was formed in 1917 by the American Red Cross to create films that could show the organization's work and thereby help raise money for its work in Europe.  All told, between 1917 and 1921, the Bureau created more than 100 films.  According to Joseph Johnson, Director of Publicity for the Red Cross at the time, more than 6,000 audiences saw these films.

During World War I, artists and surgeons sought to create new techniques, by which they could reconstruct the faces of those maimed in the conflict.  (See our Supplemental Reading for one contemporary written testimony to this process, as well as modern scholarship about it listed in our Bibliography.)  Anna Coleman Ladd came to France in 1917 to participate in this work.  With support from the American Red Cross, she acquired a studio at 70 Rue Notre-Dame-Des-Champs in the Latin Quarter of Paris.  Ladd and her four sculptor assistants, Jane Poupelet, Robert Vlerick, Mary Louise Brent, and a woman named Blair, worked slowly and painstakingly to produce over 150  masks.  "Red Cross Work on Mutilés, At Paris" was shot in this studio at this time, and features Ladd and her assistants throughout. Ladd left Paris in December 1918.  Thereafter, Brent ran the Latin Quarter studio while other sculptors across France conducted similar work. 

The Bureau of Pictures' New York office was closed on December 30, 1921.  Over the next six months, the films were cataloged for storage.  The Bureau’s prints and negatives were then moved to American Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington, D.C.  In time, apparently for lack of proper storage space, most of the films were discarded and burned, with only a few still camera shots (some of which we present in this edition) being preserved.

A few of the films nonetheless survived, apparently more by accident than design.  "Red Cross Work on Mutilés, At Paris," is one of these rare exceptions.  Unfortunately, as in the other cases, it is not clear why this film in particular was not discarded and destroyed with the rest.

For more information about all of these topics, as well as the sources on which this Publication History is based, see our Bibliography.

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