70% Recycled: Archive Favourites
By Dean Puckett, Director/Producer of the Crisis of Civilization
“Call it what you will: recycled film, archival appropriation, remix, found footage… some practitioners consider it subversive and even revolutionary”
- Rick Prelinger
The Prelinger Archive 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. About 65% of the Archive’s holdings are in the public domain because their copyrights have expired, or because they were U.S. productions that were published without proper copyright notice. About 2000 such films are available to download and re use completely for free at the online Prelinger Archive,
It’s this simple. If it wasn’t for people like Rick Prelinger The Crisis of Civilization wouldn’t exist. His selfless dedication to preserving rare archive films and offering them free to the public has been an inspiration to all who have stumbled across his wonderful archive. Here are a few of the best moments from the archive for your delight and delectation…
This is a sponsored film from Swift and Company about how to accurately carve meat
Safety in Danger
This film features Guardiana, the Safety Woman, with her silver disco outfit, strange futuristic metal rod, and her vaguely obscene hand gestures… This is a classic.
These ephemeral films were generally produced to fulfill specific objectives at specific times, and most often were not considered to be of value afterwards. In retrospect, they provide unparalleled evidence of the visual appearance and ambience of their time, and function as a rich, evocative, and often entertaining documentation of the American past.
The Front Line 1965
“Some people call this a war. War or not, one thing is for sure, a daily battle is being waged in supermarkets all over this country, a battle for the customer’s dollar.”
Included in the collection are films produced by and for many hundreds of important U.S. corporations, nonprofit organizations, trade associations, community and interest groups, and educational institutions. The collection currently contains over 10% of the total production of ephemeral film made between 1927 and 1987, and is arguably the most complete and varied collection in existence of films from these poorly-preserved genres. These films trace the history of public policy, popular culture, corporate culture, commercial speech and sociopolitical discourse through much of the century.
Your Name Here -1960
This is a bizarre film from Calvin Communications, in which they satirise their own formulaic approach to industrial promotional films, showing how the idea of the “American Dream” is utilised to sell products. A real insight into the humour and tongue-in-cheek attitude lying behind a lot of the industrial films of the 50s and 60s.
Psychological Operations in Support of Internal Defense and Development Assistance Programs (Part I) (1968)
This is a military training film showing psychological operations in “Hostland,” a mythical (probably Latin American) country, designed to aid the host government in gaining the support of the population.
Rick Prelinger is not alone. The A/V Geeks Film Archive is an ephemeral film collection curated by Skip Elsheimer. His collection has grown to over 20,000 films gathered from school auctions, thrift stores, closets and dumpsters. A very small number of these are also available at Archive.org and a large number can be purchased at his website A/V Geeks (he kindly allowed us to use some for free).
Drugs Are Like That – (1979)
This film tries to simplify its drug abuse message with an analogy of kids putting together a contraption out of Lego blocks. Although the metaphors often don’t make sense, the visual impact of the film is stunning and could easily be quite popular with individuals consuming illicit drugs.
Similarly the following film feels like a scary nightmare one might have as a child.
If Mirrors Could Speak : Self-Image Film (1976)
In hopes of keeping kids’ attention, social engineering films would often use supernatural elements to make their points. In this film, we see a magic talking mirror that reflects bratty kids as clowns. Most of the misbehaving kids understand how their behaviour is disruptive and make amends. Surprisingly, one kid doesn’t care if he is a “clown” and continues being a jerk – probably for the rest of his life.
And there are some great lessons to be learned to from the films of the past; whether it’s how to survive germ warfare or why ‘loose’ girls aren’t popular or how ants repair their cities. There’s a vast array of movies to check out.
So what are you waiting for? I recommend you download a free piece of software called mpeg streamclip – you can use it to convert the Prelinger files to almost any other format (mpegs are horrible to edit with), and just start playing around in your editing program.
Panorama Ephemera (2004)
This feature length film, created by Rick Prelinger himself, consists of 64 self-contained film sequences ranging from 5 seconds to 4 minutes in length arranged into a narrative. Unlike many films made using archival footage, it’s primarily a combination of sequences rather than a collage of individual shots. Its amazing.
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! Once you too have made your film, you can upload it to the Prelinger Archive ‘Mashups’ page.
There is a movement online dedicated to sharing creativity and ideas that is not driven by profit motive but by a genuine love for creating art that can be seen and shared by anyone with an internet connection. You could call it the ‘Creative Commons’ Movement. Here is some suggested further reading on the subject. I hope you enjoy it as much as me.
- Dean Puckett, Director/Producer of The Crisis of Civilization