I’ve talked about archive.org before. I revisited it this evening. As usual, another hundred or so films have been added. A handful of selections from another library, owned by the University of South Carolina, have trickled in.
But most importantly, many of the films in the Prelinger collection, which currently numbers 1,255 films, now have descriptions and the ability to view with RealPlayer in streaming format. So if you need a clip showing New York City, you can do a search and view the films to see if the clip is suitable before you spend a lot of time downloading a monster MPEG-2 file.

And since the copyright on these films has long since lapsed (if ever it was copyrighted in the first place), you can use it.

Some of the films are interesting to watch in their own right. The film The Challenge of Ideas shows just how much we’ve changed in 40 years. Some of the changes are good–virtually all of the narrators held lit cigarettes in their right hand as they spoke.

But as I watched, I couldn’t help but think the ACLU would never permit this film to be made by the U.S. Government today. For one thing, it showed churches and used the now-controversial phrase “Nation under God.”

The film talked about winning to Cold War in people’s minds. But the film’s description of the Soviets sounds an awful lot like today’s United States. Meanwhile, our values infiltrated the former Soviet Union. So who really did win the Cold War?

There’s also a lot of footage that shows the flip-side of the fifties. I remember in my 20th Century U.S. History class in college, my professor drove home the thought that Happy Days was a myth–there was a darker side. The films in this archive certainly show that–the beginnings of the demolition of historic neighborhoods to build pre-fab buildings, drug addiction, oppression. And of course there was the ever-present threat of war. I don’t know that the Fabulous Fifties were actually any darker than the decades that followed it. But they don’t seem to have been much better.

This stuff almost makes me want to be a history teacher.

But I’ll probably just abuse it as stock footage instead. I don’t have to go back to school to do that.