Home Education & Learning Download 9,200+ Free Films from the Prelinger Archives: Documentaries, Cartoons & More

Download 9,200+ Free Films from the Prelinger Archives: Documentaries, Cartoons & More

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Depend­ing on how you reck­on it, the “Amer­i­can cen­tu­ry” has already end­ed, is now draw­ing to its close, or has some life left in it yet. But what­ev­er its bound­aries, that ambigu­ous peri­od has been cul­tur­al­ly defined by one medi­um above all: film, or more broad­ly speak­ing, motion pic­tures. These very words might start a series of clips rolling in your mind, a high­light reel of indus­tri­al devel­op­ments, polit­i­cal speech­es, protest march­es, sports vic­to­ries, NASA mis­sions, and for­eign wars. But that rep­re­sents just a tiny frac­tion of Amer­i­ca on film, much more of which you can eas­i­ly dis­cov­er with a vis­it to the Prelinger Archives.

Rick Prelinger found­ed the Prelinger Archives in 1982 with the mis­sion of pre­serv­ing “ephemer­al films.” Accord­ing to the pro­gram of a 2002 series he intro­duced at the Berke­ley Art Muse­um and Pacif­ic Film Archive a cou­ple of decades lat­er, these are “typ­i­cal­ly edu­ca­tion­al, indus­tri­al, or ama­teur films,” often made to serve a “prag­mat­ic and nar­row pur­pose. It is only by chance that many of them sur­vive.”

These pieces of “throw­away media” — of which the Prelinger Archives now has some 30,000 — include news­reel-type doc­u­men­taries, works of polit­i­cal pro­pa­gan­da, instruc­tion­al pro­duc­tions for use in schools and work­places, and a great many home movies that offer can­did glimpses into every­day Amer­i­can lives.

As any enthu­si­ast of mid-twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can cul­ture would hope, the Prelinger Archives also has its odd­i­ties: take the 1923 Felix the Cat car­toon at the top of the post, over­dubbed with voic­es (and a ref­er­ence to “hip­pies”) in the nine­teen-six­ties. Their free online col­lec­tions at the Inter­net Archive (which con­tains 9,229 films as of this writ­ing) and Youtube, con­tain every­thing from a 1942 pro­file of the art scene in San Fran­cis­co (the Prelinger Archives’ cur­rent home); to “You and Your Fam­i­ly,” the kind of home-life primer that would be ridiculed half a cen­tu­ry lat­er on Mys­tery Sci­ence The­ater 3000; to “While Brave Men Die…,” sure­ly the only pro-Viet­nam War doc­u­men­tary to fea­ture Joan Baez.

If you real­ly want to see the Unit­ed States, as we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly said here on Open Cul­ture, you’ve got to dri­ve across the coun­try. What holds true in life also holds true in film, and the Prelinger Archives’ dig­i­ti­za­tion and upload­ing have made it pos­si­ble to expe­ri­ence the his­to­ry of the great Amer­i­can road trip through the eyes — or the eight-mil­lime­ter cam­eras — of trav­el­ers who took it in the for­ties, fifties, and six­ties, rolling through sites of inter­est from the Grand Canyon and Mount Rush­more to the Corn Palace. If a cul­ture is pre­served most clear­ly through its ephemera, then there’s a whole lot more Amer­i­ca await­ing us in the Prelinger Archives.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


#Download #Free #Films #Prelinger #Archives #Documentaries #Cartoons

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