Monday, 16th June 2008
Resource of the Week: Prelinger Archives
Resource of the Week: Prelinger Archives
By Shirl Kennedy, Senior Editor
Warning! Time sink alert!
I'm not really sure how long it would take to to view all 2,000+ films in this collection, housed at the Internet Archive, but this site is really like a bag of potato chips. You can't consume just one.
Prelinger Archives was founded in 1983 by Rick Prelinger in New York City. Over the next twenty years, it grew into a collection of over 60,000 "ephemeral" (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) films. In 2002, the film collection was acquired by the Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Prelinger Archives remains in existence, holding approximately 4,000 titles on videotape and a smaller collection of film materials acquired subsequent to the Library of Congress transaction. Its goal remains to collect, preserve, and facilitate access to films of historic significance that haven't been collected elsewhere. Included are films produced by and for many hundreds of important US corporations, nonprofit organizations, trade associations, community and interest groups, and educational institutions. Getty Images represents the collection for stock footage sale, and almost 2,000 key titles are available here. As a whole, the collection currently contains over 10% of the total production of ephemeral films between 1927 and 1987, and it may be the most complete and varied collection in existence of films from these poorly preserved genres.
Interested in learning more about "ephemeral films?" You can download a copy The Field Guide to Sponsored Films (PDF; 755 KB), written by Prelinger and published in January 2007 by the National Film Preservation Foundation.
Where to start? You could do worse than browsing the list of "Most Downloaded Items Last Week" on the righthand side of the page. Near the top of the list you'll almost always find the 1951 Cold War classic, "Duck and Cover" - "Famous Civil Defense film for children in which Bert the Turtle shows what to do in case of atomic attack." The entire "Atomic-nuclear: Civil defense" category is a fascinating look at a slice of American history. Icing on the cake -- reviews posted by users, the vast majority of whom seem to be intelligent and articulate, unlike the general viewing audience at...well, YouTube. BTW, a longer list of Most Dowloaded items is available by clicking the "More" link. Further down on the righthand side, you can browse "Most Downloaded Items Last Month," "Most Downloaded Items" (ever), and "Staff Picks." ("Duck and Cover" is present on every one of these lists.)
Another interesting way of browsing here is via the ginormous tag cloud. You're all but guaranteed to stumble onto some delightful serendipitous finds; I fished out the following half dozen jewels at random:
+ Trees to Tribunes (1937): "How newspapers are produced, beginning in the forest."
+ Who's Boss? (1950): "Husband and wife struggle to attain a balance of power in their marriage. This neorealist social guidance film was directed by Alexander Hammid."
+ 6 1/2 Magic Hours (1958): "The comfort and delight of transatlantic air travel at the beginning of the jet age."
+ Holiday from Rules? (1959): "'Lord of the Flies' from an adult's point of view, starring four willful and confused children.
+ Motivation and Reward in Learning (1948): "Uses white rats to picture trial-and-error problem solving and to demonstrate the importance of motivation and reward in the learning process."
+ Behind the Freedom Curtain (1957): "Sales film for voting machines, promoting them as engines of governmental efficiency and practical democracy."
We think that teachers and public speakers in particular will find much useful content here; everything is available under the Creative Commons Public Domain license. Which, not surprisingly, has led to a related collection, Prelinger Archive Mashups.
What happens when you make close to 2,000 ephemeral public domain films freely available on the Web? People make art and more films are born!
Here’s a sample of films created with Prelinger Archives footage and uploaded to the Internet Archive. However, Rick Prelinger suspects thousands more are uploaded on other video sites. If you have a video you created using footage from the Prelinger Archives, please let us know so we can include it here.
The archive is also keyword searchable, and most of these films are available for streaming or download in a variety of formats. You can also view a series of thumbnails for each movie if you don't want to commit to watching the entire film.
But if you're a librarian, like both of your editors, you should definitely watch this one.