What's new with the Internet Moving Images Archive and in the world of ephemeral film? Your thoughts and leads to interesting stuff are welcome. Write us.
July 14, 2004
OK, much too much time since I really worked on this website. Going to try harder to keep up with what is happening.
Lots of people are downloading Panorama Ephemera, over 2,100 as of this morning. Speaks well for free distribution.
59 friends and like-minded people joined us in the first half of June to help shelve books, periodicals, and documents. The Prelinger Library is taking shape. More on this later.
I spent the second half of June working to inventory film material in the basement of Anthology Film Archives. More on this later too.
Now starting to work on another film.
And in very late news, Scanner the coonhound died on December 22, 2003, of complications resulting from a pituitary tumor. A favorite document.
May 24, 2004
I just finished a feature-length collage film (on video), Panorama Ephemera.
It's showing at the San Francisco Cinematheque on June 13, and at Anthology Film Archives in New York on September 20.
Download it here.
May 8, 2004
Swamp Formalism, by Lisa Jarnot.
July 11, 2003
Many of you have written after seeing us on TLC's show The Hunt for Amazing Treasures. My thanks for your kind words, ideas, suggestions, and donations of historical film.
I've been busy working on all kinds of projects, many of which won't see the light of day for quite some time. However, we're well along the way towards putting up 2000 films on the Internet Archive site. Skip Elsheimer is busy digitizing, and we are transferring hundreds more films to videotape. This should be done by end of summer. Some of you may have noticed that the metadata is still far from complete. I'm still working on it.
For San Franciscans and our neighbors in Northern California, don't miss the Illegal Art film and video screenings coming up on July 23 and 24 at the Roxie Theater. I'll be there and hope you are too.
I put my remarks at the Illegal Art panel up here.
And here's a plug for the little-known and unpublicized Open Source Movies collection at the Internet Archive. Megan's tape Releases is there, and so is my 4-second video Carp.
May 12, 2003
Caught a screening of James Benning's California Trilogy at the San Francisco Cinematheque last night. This was a marathon -- all three feature-length films in order, the way Benning wants them presented. Somewhat against his wishes, though, we had a one-hour dinner break for Indian food at a restaurant whose liquor license was under suspension for serving to minors. If anyone's made films that qualify as dense description of humans and their relationship to the landscapes they inhabit, traverse, or labor in, it would be these. Highly recommended.
Some of you may be wondering where the new films promised for the Internet Archive are hiding. Here's what's happening: I've contracted to deliver almost 900 new titles to the Archive. These have all been transferred to videotape, and a good many of them have already been digitized by the IA's digitizing contractor Skip Elsheimer. If you look hard, you may even find some of them already up on the IA's ftp site. After Skip encodes a film and uploads it to the IA, I then have to put together and post the metadata (the data about the data, information like producer, release date, running time, synopsis, etc.). I'm working on this, but as part of a major revision of our archival database. Trust me, it's much easier that way -- it just takes longer. A thousand apologies. Sometime this year there will be just about 2000 titles online for your pleasure and use. And yes, I'll find a way to post lists of what's newly added, so those of you who harvest the collection will be able to focus on new adds.
DVDs too -- we are now starting to work on a large DVD project. The idea is to produce thematic anthologies of important (and entertaining) films in the collection, quite a lot of them in fact. Initially, expect 20 to 30 discs. These will be commercially released, quality product, encoded from Digital Beta film-to-tape transfers and packaged with program notes and information. They'll not be cheap DVD-Rs like some people are selling on eBay. It's going to take a bit of time to make these, but they'll be worth the wait. So far I have no idea about when they'll be released or how much they'll cost, but watch this space.
December 19, 2002
Where to start? Here, in no particular order, are happenings, new stuff, pointers, and more.
Yesterday, got emailed by David Neufer, who has done something fantastic with shots he captured from the Internet Archive Movie Collection: remapped pans to panoramas. You must look at this.
And speaking of the Internet Archive movie collection, there is now a small but growing collection of Open Source Movies, including a weird dog movie someone shot in California. Would be great if some of you, yes, you who are reading this, pointed to some of your own movies and added to this collection.
Recently bought a digital camera [brand name omitted], which is what I used to shoot the mugshots of attendees at AMIA. As well as the usual stills it shoots 320x240 MPEG-1 movies, which can run up to four or five minutes long. The sound is surprisingly good, though the movies don't really look like much when shot under low light conditions. Still, I really like the medium and plan to be shooting more with it. Watch for more.
On Monday, December 16, attended and spoke briefly at the Creative Commons launch party in San Francisco. CC is trying something new and, I think, quite important. Rather than challenging the details of modern copyright law, CC has made a constructive intervention by providing various licenses that creators or content owners can attach to material of theirs that's online. The idea is that if you want people to make use of your intellectual "property" in certain ways, you can specify what is OK and choose a license that will accompany the work online (through creative use of invisible coding) and appear when someone clicks on the CC logo on your webpage. Many people, including the Prelinger Archives crew, wish to encourage people to use their material freely in certain ways, while looking to other lines of business for their income. Lisa Rein interviewed me for their website, look here. And here's Megan's editorial on CC, written yesterday. Remind me to update the URL when the piece moves somewhere else.
Staff and friends of CC made a great video, Get Creative, on what CC does.
My words at the event, posted in answer to several requests:
"It's an honor to be here tonight. And it's a great thing to see creators and custodians of content voluntarily joining to expand our audiences and enrich our cultures, using copyright in a positive way. Many people doing the most interesting and important work don't come out of high-end media. They can't afford to pay for content, and might not even know it was there. Creative Commons is helping to point their way to the pictures, music, and words they need. What's in it for us? 2 years ago we radically changed direction. We partnered with the Internet Archive to give movies away. We put 1000 of them online for free downloading and reuse. At first this was scary. But I'm no longer worried. We're still here. In fact, our sales have increased, and we have more new friends than we can count. These have been my happiest two years as an archivist. Images don't get exhausted. They don't fray around the edges. They gain value from being seen everywhere and then seen again. Ubiquity equals value. Archives like ours need to open ourselves to users and push our holdings out into the world. That's what justifies our existence. Dusty shelves and locked doors are yesterday, not tomorrow. Creative Commons is offering us all the opportunity to do the right thing, get our work seen and heard, and find new ways to get paid for doing it. We think CC's going to bring us many more users and help our imagery disperse even more widely. That's why I'm excited tonight. And even more exciting is what people are doing with our material. Great and often unpredictable things happen when you open up public access to the public domain." Then I introduced People Like Us, who performed at the event, as did DJ Spooky. Larry Lessig, Brewster Kahle (who, with Mary Austin and others, feverishly printed books from the back of the Internet Archive Bookmobile, Craig Newmark, Glenn Brown, Aaron Swartz, and others also spoke. Fun.
We're going to be putting up a bunch more movies. Skip Elsheimer is about to start digitizing 650 new films for the Internet Archive Movie Collection, plus another 175 or so we already agreed to put up. Sometime in the second quarter of next year, then, there should be about 1950 different films from Prelinger Archives up online. The new website is looking pretty good, and it's exciting to see lots of people posting film reviews and commenting on the site and its contents. Here's Angie Schultz's blog, redolent with critical comments on my commentaries. Check her archive for more. Don't always agree, but very very glad there's more than a monoculture out there.
Bernice Yeung wrote about me and other such things in the SF Weekly a couple of months back. This might be more than some of you want to know.
OK, tired, more soon.
November 25, 2002
Photos from the 2002 conference of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) are now up here . See them before everyone demands I take them down.
I'll be catching up on a great deal of unfinished business, including a labor film show in New York, Orphans 2002, talking at Bay Area Video Coalition and NAMAC in Seattle, Creative Commons, Eldred v. Ashcroft, the Northwest Film and Video Center, the IA Bookmobile project, People Like Us in the USA, the Pacific Film Archive, more about AMIA, San Francisco Cinematheque, and more about the Library of Congress acquisition. Please stand by, it has been a wild ride this autumn.
October 7, 2002
Most of our film collection has now been moved to a storage facility under the jurisdiction of the Library of Congress. The material in our New York archives on West 13th Street was moved the week of August 12th. This was a massive operation involving 18 Teamsters, a seemingly endless round-robin caravan of trucks between the meat market district and a Brooklyn warehouse, and hundreds of padded moving dollies. When finished, the move revealed a complex lattice of steel shelves -- 1155 in all -- empty of contents and sitting quietly, and the sun once again made it into the big room, first time since 1994. Greg Allen, Tim Ries, Kurt Gottschalk and Gabrielle Moss worked many hours and shifted tons of material in order to enable this move: many thanks to them.
A week after that, I traveled to Kansas City to help clear out the vaults containing unclaimed material from Calvin Communications, the legendary lab and production company. This was a dirty job, and outside the film storage areas the heat and humidity were relentless. Between 3000 and 3500 cartons of film left the four rooms in which they were stored and are now in the Library's custody.
While in the Kansas City area I was able to take a side excursion to Lawrence, Kansas, home of Centron Films, producer of hundreds of films of merit and great historical interest, where I visited with Margaret Carlile (Trudy) Travis, scriptwriter of many of the most interesting Centron titles, including the "Discussion Problems in Group Living" series. Trudy's films are thoughtful and quite often run against the stream of mid-century thought; I am especially thinking of Day of Thanksgiving, a 1951 film reminding Americans what we have to be thankful for, which quite unlike other similar films of its time chooses not to venerate materialism and consumer choice.
After going to Kansas City, I returned once again to New York in September to work with Greg and do what I could to help finish the job. We finished preparing a large number of films for videotape transfer, which have now gone to Charlie Churchman's to be transferred to Digital Beta and Beta SP. We also assembled films and other materials that we've been storing as a courtesy for others and have been asking others to pick them up. A crew from B&Z Steel, who assembled the shelving back in 1994-95, disassembled and removed it, and now the room is clear and open again. It's a wonderful space; if anyone is interested in renting about 2300 sq. ft. of below-market rental studio, storage, or party space in the trendy meat market district, please contact me. Note: As of December 2002, the space is rented. On this visit thanks to Greg and Johanna for crowding themselves in order to put me up in their friendly building.
August 19, 2002
Our film archives have been acquired by the Library of Congress. There's a page explaining what's going on. As this page hits the web, I'll be in Kansas City preparing for the packing and movement of the Calvin collection, a collection we have stored near its origin. More on all of this soon.
August 15, 2002
It's been a very busy summer so far. I'll be back with details about everything that's been going on shortly, but in the meantime here's news about a few things that have been going on.
We are in the middle of a large project to master (or remaster) many key films in the collection onto digital videotape. Most of these are going to Digital Betacam, a mature format that is moving, like all videotape formats, towards obsolescence, but still has some life left. We're also going to master a few key items to HD (high-definition videotape), though the expense of doing so will keep this part of the project small. Viewing and reference copies will be on regular Betacam SP. Most of the new titles being transferred will make their way onto the Internet Archive site, probably some time in the autumn. I anticipate that we'll ultimately have between 1,500 and 1,600 titles up on the site. As part of this project, I've been trolling the archives for unseen and interesting material, and have found a bunch of interesting film from the 1960s and 1970s, a number of worthy and previously unviewed amateur films, and original (preprint or master-quality) material on various key titles hitherto only available in lower-quality release prints. So keep an eye out for new films.
The new moviearchive site, which is part of the newly designed and rebuilt Internet Archive site, is still being tested and tweaked, but I think people will flip when they see what it offers. All of our shot lists and textual data on each film is up and searchable -- an average of 2K bytes of data per title -- and the thumbnail still images from the films are easily reached too. Let's hope this launches soon.
I rewrote the access page for the collection once again, making it more explicit. I am constantly getting calls and emails from people wanting permission to reuse the films from the site, and felt the need to restate that this was OK and did not need my permission. Even though I don't have to grant permission, I (and the rest of us involved with the Internet Archive) would really like to see what you are doing, so please, if feasible, send us finished products that make use of footage from the site.
Recently returned from Bucksport, Maine, where we attended (and spoke at) the Northeast Historic Film summer symposium on amateur film and home movies. This was big fun, with memorable presentations by Mark Neumann, Greg Pierce, Barbara Greenstone, Martha McNamara, and Jeffrey Ruoff, among others. I think some of these presentations are going to be up on the web soon at the Northeast Historic site.
The Bay Area Video Coalition workshop on using archival footage, described somewhere below, was supposed to happen last night, but was postponed because of a transformer explosion at BAVC. Stay tuned for the "rain date."
Upcoming excitements: I'm presenting the "Films that Haunt the Future" program, currently happening at Pacific Film Archive, at the Northwest Film Center in Portland, Oregon on October 18 and 19. The October program isn't yet published, but should be soon.
Oral arguments on Eldred v. Ashcroft before the U.S. Supreme Court have been set for Wednesday, October 9 in Washington. Be there for this historic moment.
July 12, 2002
Here's our upcoming programs at Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California. I'm going to introduce the films. Don't miss!
FILMS THAT HAUNT THE FUTURE: Ephemera from Prelinger Archives
Beyond what we usually think of as cinema exist untold numbers of "ephemeral" films. Typically educational, industrial, or amateur films, they are conceived of as short-lived, often serving a pragmatic and narrow purpose. It is only by chance that many of them survive. With over 48,000 individual titles, the Prelinger Archives can be seen as a vast and prescient rescue operation. Archivist Rick Prelinger has amassed an unprecedented collection of ephemeral films which, precisely because of their indifference to posterity, seem ironically to capture most vividly the issues and details of their day. For three programs, August 8, 15, and 21, Prelinger has selected some of his favorite films depicting everyday dilemmas that just won't go away.
Each evening Rick Prelinger will join us to talk about the unique character of throwaway media.
Presented with support from the Theresa Hak Kyung Cha Endowment.
Thursday, August 8:
Survival of the Fittest
Though these films were meant to consider the moment, they are often concerned with issues that irascibly linger. Here contradictions between Man, nature, and social byproducts duke it out.
Ant City (Almanac Films, 1949). Recut from a captured German science film, Ant City abuts images of the social life of ants with surreally dissociated narration. The effort to describe ant life in anthropomorphic terms leaves us feeling that such attempts to "humanize" other species are bound to fail. (9:56 mins, B&W)
A Nation at Your Fingertips (Audio Productions for the Bell System, 1951). For many, freedom to communicate instantly over a wide area didn't begin with e-mail, but with the telephone. This film dramatizes the exciting impact direct long-distance dialing had on isolated families. (10:19 mins, B&W)
Freedom Highway (Jerry Fairbanks Productions for Greyhound Lines, 1956). A bus transports us on a mysterious journey through the landscape of American mythology, overlaid with roads, battles, and Manifest Destiny. Its passengers, who include Tommy Kirk, Angie Dickinson, and Tex Ritter, learn that the space we inhabit can't be separated from the events that occurred there. (34:45 mins, Color)
Perversion for Profit (Citizens for Decent Literature, Inc., 1964-65). Banker Charles Keating and several others founded CDL in the early 1960s, producing "film essays" as part of their effort to influence anti-pornography legislation. Perversion for Profit shows examples of everyday erotica, reaching new heights of prurience in its efforts to censor offending body parts. (29:23 mins, Color)
Total running time: 85 mins, All films U.S., 16mm, From the Prelinger ArchivesThursday, August 15:
Ephemeral films document all aspects of human life, from birth unto death. What follows are four films about people at odds with their environments, and how they try to help themselves.
Safety: Harm Hides at Home (Rodger Landoue, 1977). As usual in safety films, the everyday world is a minefield of potential risks, menaces, and jeopardy, but "Guardiana, the Safety Woman" and her supernatural powers are here to protect children from harm. (16 mins, Color)
Age 13 (Arthur Swerdloff for Sid Davis Productions, 1955). Sid Davis's most compassionate film and certainly his most unusual, Age 13 enlists Bunuelian surrealism and a neorealist sensibility to follow the emergence of an "at-risk" young teen from immobilizing anger to self-expression. In its inability to come to terms with customary film language, this might well be called an outsider film. (26:40 mins, B&W)
Social Class in America (Knickerbocker Productions, 1957). This sociology film obeys the conventions of educational films, but packs quite a wallop. Following three boys who grow up in a small company town, it shows the limits that social class imposes on mobility. An unusually downbeat (and realistic) document of disappointment in the fifties. (14:49 mins, B&W)
Boredom at Work: The Search for Zest (University of Oklahoma, 1963). From a remarkable series on the emotions of everyday life, The Search for Zest shows the efforts of a bored, desexualized, and neurotic engineer to find happiness through therapy. Borrowing from film noir and late 1950s TV drama, it might be read as a case study of a rural man trapped by his discontent with urban life. (25 mins, B&W)
Total running time: 83 mins, All films U.S., 16mm, From the Prelinger ArchivesWednesday, August 21
The curiosities of campus life, from WWII to the Vietnam War era, come to the fore in this quickie survey of quirky college films.
Negro Colleges in Wartime (U.S. Office of War Information, 1944). Labor shortages in World War II brought about the opportunity for African Americans to enter technical and scientific work. This film shows unusual images of people of color being trained at traditionally white institutions. (8:16 mins, B&W)
This Charming Couple (Willard Van Dyke, 1950). A female student from Missouri and an "exotic" Louisianan professor fall in love. Will their marriage survive? This cautionary parable wanders through postwar "bohemian" college life in a manner unlike most other educational films. (18:46 mins, B&W)
The Home Economics Story (Iowa State University, 1951). Made to recruit students to Iowa State's Home Economics department, this promo is a vivid evocation of fifties college life. Criticized for short-selling the rigor of the program, the film depicts a gendered sense of science in which physics classes teach toaster-testing. (23:51 mins, Color)
Brink of Disaster (Jerry Fairbanks Productions, 1972). Set in a college library besieged by student "hooligans," this film, made to educate college audiences, criticizes 1960s student radicalism, freedom of speech, black nationalist movements, and much more. (28:29 mins, Color)
Total running time: 80 mins, All films U.S., 16mm, From the Prelinger ArchivesJuly 11, 2002
June 17, 2002
Back from a week in New York rummaging through the archives to pull films for a whopping big transfer to videotape (some of these films will one day appear on the moviearchive site) and to select material for future production use, for which you are requested to please stay tuned. It's an exhilarating, though rather dusty, experience to dig into the corners -- found stuff I'd not known we had and even a few titles lost since the late 1980s, like the legendary lost film introducing high-school age applicants to Michigan State University, Postmark East Lansing. Brought all this material down to Charlie Churchman, who does our film-to-tape transfers in a remodeled barn full of high-tech transfer equipment located just outside Philadelphia. Grateful thanks to my generous hosts who restructured their living situations to put me up while I was in NY: Carrie McLaren, Greg Allen and Johanna Fateman.
The new moviearchive site is under construction, and the builder is Jon Aizen from Ithaca, New York, working under contract with the Internet Archive. It's not yet finished, but will be up pretty soon now, and I believe you will all be very pleased with what you see. All of the film metadata, including shotlists and commentary, will be fully searchable; thumbnail frame grabs will be easily reachable; and much more.
Caught a screening in Los Angeles last week at the Echo Park Film Center, curated by the Coalition for Cinema Conservation & Preservation, whom I understand to be Erik Knutzen and Doug Harvey. They don't yet have a website, but are doing ephemeral film screenings every so often. The most unforgettable title was "Aerojet General Liquid Rocket Assisted Takeoff," a formerly classified film report produced by Aerojet General, co-founded by notorious Satanist and rocket scientist Jack Parsons, whose history is told in Feral House's book Sex and Rockets.
June 4, 2002
New film list up at http://www.moviearchive.org. Just finished a new list with a bunch of new adds, plus many new VCD and streaming files. This is kind of an interim update, as there are more films waiting to be uploaded. Watch for more sometime around the end of June after I've returned from six days in the archives in NYC and a National Film Preservation Board meeting in Los Angeles.
Note for Mac users: Though it is still difficult (if not impossible) at this moment to play MPEG-2 files, the VCD files play beautifully on a Mac through the QuickTime Player. They are smaller than the MPEG-2 files but really look quite good, and in fact will stream on a broadband connection. If you want good downloadable files for the Mac, please try these.
May 28, 2002
"What's New" has long decayed into "what was once new," and for that you have my profound apologies. It's been quite a busy spring and looks to be an even busier summer. Here's a long wrap-up of moldy, current, and future happenings.
Prelinger Archives collaborated with the Internet Archive and the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation on an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the case of Eldred v. Ashcroft, which the Supreme Court has agreed to hear this autumn. This case is a challenge to the extension of copyright terms legislated by the "Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act." The brief was written by Jason Schultz, Steven Harris, and Deirdre Mulligan, Mark Lemley, and Jennifer Urban at the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at Boalt Hall School of Law, UC Berkeley. We argue that a strong and continually refreshed public domain is an urgent necessity now that digital archives make possible fast and free distribution of information and cultural material. It's interesting reading, and so up-to-date it even describes bootlegs and mashups (which don't mean illegally copied CDs, but rather new music tracks made from pieces of old ones). Find the brief here.
Other news from the intellectual "property" front:
The Creative Commons project was announced on May 16th. This non-profit organization was, in its own words, "founded on the notion that some people would prefer to share their creative works (and the power to copy, modify, and distribute their works) instead of exercising all of the restrictions of copyright law." They're developing ways to label works (like the Prelinger Archives films available for free from the Internet Archive) that are in the public domain, or available under free or permissive licenses. They're also building a Web-based system that will allow creators and rightsholders to dedicate copyrighted works to the public domain. Creative Commons is a real-world example of an "intellectual property preserve" or "intellectual property conservancy" as described in my article "Beyond Copyright Consciousness." We are proud to be one of their charter collaborators.
Lots of interesting work coming out that uses our footage as propagated through the Internet Archive. Just two nights ago, saw the world premiere of Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, a short film made by Heather Rogers. This film "uncovers the contradictions of modern day recycling, digs into the history of the post-WWII golden era of consumption, and unearths the rich political past of refuse handling to investigate the roots of our waste-addicted culture." It's a very smart piece that makes heavy use of our material; don't miss when it comes to your town.
Our friends at Winton / duPont Films just finished another great episode of Big Thinkers for TechTV, this time profiling Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig (see below under December 11, 2001). This program, made by Jon Halperin, puts Lessig in a graffiti-filled warehouse somewhere in the Presidio of San Francisco while Jon Else's merry-go-round camera whirls around him. It's a great explanation of how corporate control over culture and innovation has gotten out of hand and what needs to be done to reverse this disturbing trend. If everything on TV was as smart and well-made as this show I'd be a couch potato. A bunch of Prelinger footage helps to visualize the metaphors.
Goings-on at the Internet Archive: First and foremost from our rarefied perspective, the moviearchive.org website is now actually being redesigned, as we promised way back when. The new design will allow the IA to offer diverse moving image collections, not just ours; to support more complex searches; to present much more metadata (that's data about data; call it "cataloging information" if you like); and to gather and make available commentary and annotation from you, the users. This is going to happen soon. A second collection is also on the way, stay tuned for details.
Words on permissions, rights and licensing: I get a great many emails and phone calls asking for permission to use footage that we've donated to the Internet Archive. It's nice that people ask, but most of the time you don't have to. As long as you download the datafiles from the site and turn them into movies, you can do just about anything with the movies or footage excerpts from the movies. It is OK (and warmly encouraged) for you to use the images and sounds in anything you make or produce, and there are no limits on how you distribute, sell, or license the work you make. The only thing we ask you not to do is to distribute the exact same files you download for money. We would like them to remain free. Naturally also we'd like credit when you can give it, so that people know where the raw material came from and can go and get some of it themselves.
If you want or need footage that's higher quality than what you can download, you will need to license it as stock footage. There's a page explaining how to do this here.
Visited the Taos Talking Pictures festival last month to talk about what we're trying to do to propagate films out into the world, and got to spend some time with a bunch of nice people including collectors/archivists/mediamakers Basement Films, who hold a great collection of historical educational films; Vanessa Renwick and Bill Daniel from the Oregon Department Of Kick Ass, on tour with a film/video program; Mark Hosler from Negativland, and the Southwest Film Center crew.
My spouse Megan Shaw Prelinger and I are both speaking at the Summer Film Symposium at Northeast Historic Film in Bucksport, Maine, July 27-28. The topic this year: "Close Readings: Seeing Amateur Films in Important Ways."
I'm going to do three film shows at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, Calif. this summer, on August 8, 15, and 21. Schedule and program forthcoming.
I'll join with others to do a workshop on finding and using stock footage at San Francisco's Bay Area Video Coalition on August 14th. This doesn't seem to be on their website yet, but check back if you're interested.
The Illegal Art Exhibit, Fall 2002 in New York City. This multimedia event, curated by Carrie McLaren and Stay Free! magazine, will, in Carrie's words, "will celebrate what is rapidly becoming the "degenerate art" of a corporate age: art and ideas on the legal fringes of intellectual property."
Then for the third time Orphans of the Storm will rule in Columbia, South Carolina Sept. 26-28. This year's symposium, "Listening to Orphan Films," focuses on music and sound, and will feature screenings and appearances by the likes of Skip Elsheimer, Stephen Parr, People Like Us, and a talk and panel with me.
I'll also be talking at the annual conference of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) in Boston, Mass., November 19-23, on online moving image archives and how to think about the rich and little-known history of educational film. If you are interested in any issue relating to moving image archives and archival practice, you owe it to yourself to attend AMIA.
Finally, nothing to do with archives, but Megan just finished a digital video piece entitled "Releases," a meditative and thrilling tape showing birds being released from human custody. This was inspired by her work with the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Suisun City, California. The video will soon be available online at the Internet Archive. You can also write her about distribution.
May 27, 2002
Collector/archivist/cultural preservationist/new homeowner Skip Elsheimer has two more new DVDs of ephemeral films coming out soon from Fantoma. The new titles: Driver's Ed and On the Job.
March 8, 2002
We recently filed a declaration supporting peer-to-peer networks, our contribution to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, et al. v. Grokster, Ltd., et al. This document explains why Prelinger Archives, a bona fide for-profit company, likes unrestricted digital distribution of our holdings such as the Internet Archive is now doing.
Stuff coming up: Thursday, March 21 (5 pm) I'll be speaking at the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. Don't know whether this is public, but interested people might contact the program and check it out. Here's what I'm going to be talking about:
FROM COUNTERSURVEILLANCE TO AVANT-GARDE: SECRET HISTORIES AND SUBCULTURES OF RADIO MONITORING
Since the earliest days of radio, a large group of listeners has focused away from broadcasting and towards the "utility corridors" of the radio spectrum, where millions of government and corporate voices coordinate, command and control the production and movement of goods, the social behavior of people, and the security of private and public property. Though radio monitoring has remained fairly obscure, its history and culture is deeply interwoven with such key phenomena as the mainstreaming of police culture in the U.S., the evolution of racism, the waxing and waning of social and political activism, authoritarian and anti-authoritarian discourses, and appropriationist art. This talk will present new perspectives on a highly pervasive, yet relatively unknown medium, and discuss, among other things, the failure of countersurveillance as a mass activity and the relationship of utility communications to the articulations of power.
This has been a big interest of mine for a long time and I've been writing on this subject. Recently I put some thoughts around this into words for the zineBad Subjects.
On quite another subject, in the most recent issue of Bad Subjects, there's a great piece by Carrie Rentschler, Carol Stabile, and Jonathan Sterne, entitled United We Stand: Fresh Hoagies Daily.
Wednesday, March 27 (10:15 am) I'll be keynoting the "Digital Frontier Kyoto 2002" conference in Kyoto, Japan. The talk is called "Digital Archives, Culture, and Intellectual Property." Can't find a website yet, but will keep looking.
And on Saturday, April 13 (2 pm), look for a talk at Taos Talking Pixels, on the "wars of attrition over intellectual property rights."
February 21, 2002
Lots going on, sorry for the late update.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in Eldred vs. Ashcroft, the constitutional challenge to the "Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act." Arguments will take place in the autumn. Though it is impossible to predict how they will rule, the announcement of their involvement has triggered major publicity regarding copyrights and wrongs, and it is good to see the challenge to the Bono Act receive considerably more publicity than did the passing of the original law. Updated information here.
The film-to-videotape transfers that were digitized for the moviearchive site were largely done by our good friend in the telecine business, Charlie Churchman, who finally has a website up. I recommend his facility for good work at reasonable prices. Unlike many other facilities, he transfers to PAL format, has a liquid gate to remove film surface scratches, and also transfers Super 8.
Wonderful article on the Internet Archive and its varied activities last week in the German webzine Telepolis, "magazin der netzkultur." Let me recommend that non-German speakers paste the URL (http://www.heise.de/tp/deutsch/inhalt/te/11680/1.html) into Google's language tools page for even more fun.
Very nice piece about Skip Elsheimer, citizen archivist and populist cultural historian, in the Boston Globe on February 8th. The Globe will charge you $2.50 to download it, but maybe Skip has posted it on his site by now.
I put a direct link to This Is Prelinger Archives, our orientation film, on the home page. Take a look if you haven't, and please excuse the economy-class voiceover.
January 27, 2002
There have been some problems with the DivX 4.11 files and a few issues around the VCD files as well. Rod Hewitt is working on these; if you have anything to report, you might want to write both me and Rod. Apologies.
Gabrielle Moss, December-January intern at Prelinger Archives, has just finished an arduous stint helping to inventory an important but unwieldy collection of preprint material. She's now back at Hampshire College, where she concentrates in American Studies and the culture of television. For five weeks, she worked with Greg Allen, who runs the archives in New York, shifting around dusty cans (the usual dusty cans you read about whenever members of the press visit a film archives), recording their contents, and doing a wonderful job to solve what amounts to a huge three-dimensional puzzle with eight thousand pieces. We are seriously in her debt.
Keller Easterling, with whom I collaborated on the laserdisc history of suburbia Call It Home, a selection of which can be found here, has built a fascinating site on the past, present and future of the "High Line," an abandoned New York Central Railroad freight spur stretching down Manhattan's lower West Side and passing within a block of the former Prelinger Archives headquarters at 430 West 14th Street. This site is an experiment in postmodern urban planning, a narrative, a game, and, in her words, "a machine for generating spatial scenarios and narratives about a specific portion of this city." Go here.
Last week visited the "Orphanistas" (Dan Streible, Laura Kissel, and Julie Hubbert) at USC in Columbia, South Carolina, all busily preparing for Orphans III, "Sound/Music/Voice," the third iteration of their wonderful conference that combines scholarly and non-academic presentations, screenings, parties and creative weirdness, not to be missed. Orphans III is scheduled for September 26-28, 2002.
December 31, 2001
The moviearchive collection went up just a year ago. Hundreds of thousands of movies are sitting on hard disks throughout the world.
Eldred vs. Ashcroft, the lawsuit to overturn the U.S. copyright extension law (the "Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act") continues. In October, the plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court to hear the case and to rule that the First Amendment requires greater constitutional scrutiny of copyright law. Some interesting amici curiae ("friends of the court") briefs have been filed recently. These documents, which are pretty interesting reading, may be found here, along with other material supporting the existence of a strong and vibrant public domain. One of the briefs comes from the Internet Archive, see it here.
December 30, 2001
The moviearchive site is currently down due to a bad hard disk. Apologies. For updates, best to visit the moviearchive discussion group.
I have been doing heavy digitizing lately, big fun. Titles that stayed with me for a long time after encoding were Shake Hands With Danger, an earthmoving-equipment safety film from the 1970s with an incredible country-style song, Self-Preservation in an Atomic Attack, an odd A-bomb orientation film for soldiers produced by the incomparable Cascade Pictures of California, and Mental Hospital, one of the beautifully crafted and internally contradictory noir-style films on psychiatry produced in 1953 by a gifted group of filmmakers at the University of Oklahoma. Watch for them soon.
By the way, anyone who wants to contribute anything to the online archives, or interested in seeing how we make the MPEGs, feel free to get in touch. We're in San Francisco.
December 21, 2001
As I was digitizing a long film yesterday afternoon (The Town and the Telephone, a Technicolor epic on the inside workings of the Bell System), I watched the MPEG-2 file grow and grow until it reached almost one gigabyte, and realized it was high time to explain once again why we chose this sometimes unwieldy format for the online archives.
Several considerations influenced this decision. First, we wanted to avoid proprietary, "closed" formats. This ruled out (at least at the start) certain highly popular online video formats, because we didn't know if they would be supported for very long, and because playing movies back might require installation of all kinds of proprietary software and acceptance of the restrictions that often tag along. Second, we wanted to offer reasonably high quality online. Third, following from the previous reason, we wanted to offer video files that our users could actually use in the production of their own work. And fourth, we wanted to pick a format that would still rank as high-quality at least a few years into the future.
MPEG-2 is the current world standard for television distribution. Most of the world's satellite TV is encoded and distributed using MPEG-2, and DVDs use MPEG-2 program streams combined with other stuff that makes a DVD a DVD (forgive the technophobic explanation). Many of the large organizations currently building digital archives, such as CNN, are adopting MPEG-2 as their preservation encoding standard. We think it'll be around for quite awhile, whatever that means in a world where obsolescence itself has become the new standard. It's also fairly easy to convert MPEG-2 to other formats, which we are now doing. MPEG-2 has been licensed to many companies, so there are a number of choices for encoder cards, decoder cards, and playback software. MPEG-2 allowed us to present our video in close-to-DVD quality, full-screen and full-motion, so that we can offer "real" video, in contrast to those glowing postage stamp-size screens you see on the streaming sites.
I've always felt that we need to be defining "access" to art, culture, and information more broadly than it is usually done. "Access" shouldn't just mean taking a book out of a library, renting a video, watching streaming video on the Net, or listening to music on the radio. Permitting a user to view, hear or read something temporarily no longer constitutes access in any meaningful way. People who watch moving images ought to be able to quote, sample, appropriate, combine and recombine images of their choice in their own ways, building their own movies. If we value free expression and new ideas, old ideas and the content in which they're expressed must be freely available for all authors and makers to work with. It therefore seemed to us that we needed to offer our users something better than the usual less-than-full-screen video.
Now, we're also going to be offering the files in lower-bandwidth formats, as follows:
These formats are choices that will allow many more users, especially those with dialup modem connections, to see the films. We hope that the collection will thereby become much more accessible and useful to all. At the same time, users will still have the option to download the huge, higher-quality MPEG-2 files if they wish.
For more information about MPEG-2, take a look at Rod Hewitt's pages.
December 20, 2001
Have you seen The House in the Middle yet? This 1954 film, sponsored by the "National Clean Up-Paint Up-Fix Up Bureau" in association with the Federal Civil Defense Administration, makes the rather astonishing argument that a clean, freshly painted, kibble-free house is more likely to survive a nuclear attack than its poorly maintained counterpart. This week, the National Film Preservation Board recognized this film's historical and cultural significance by placing it on the 2001 Registry. Available for downloading 24/7.
December 17, 2001
Stopped by Winton / duPont Films this morning. This production company, located in the Presidio of San Francisco, has been making a bunch of episodes of Big Thinkers for TechTV. The series profiles "high-tech visionaries" such as nanotechnologist Ralph Merkle, futurist Alvin Toffler, robotics investigator Rodney Brooks, and physicist Michio Kaku, and makes generous (and thoughtful) use of footage downloaded from the Moving Images Archive to comment on and metaphorize what the interviewees' remarks. Take a look and see what they're doing with the archival material; it's really smart, and makes for great, and often scary, TV.
What do you want to download today? Why not take a look at Freedom Highway, a 1956 promotional film for Greyhound Lines that's much more than just a bus ride. This 35-minute epic, made by Jerry Fairbanks Productions, takes us on a cross-country ride through the mythologized landscape of American history, showing us that the present in which we live is quite often overshadowed by a complex past. Lots of interesting and mysterious people hop this bus, including Tommy Kirk, Tex Ritter and a young Angie Dickinson.
Digitizing a bunch of amateur films this time around. More than that, talking to a group of people about building an area of the Internet Moving Images Archive site fully devoted to amateur film. Once taken for granted as trivial popular expression, amateur film is beginning to draw serious attention. It's about time. Hardly any film genre is as complicated and rewarding as amateur material: it speaks to just about everybody, raises questions that we can't easily dismiss, and densely describes everyday life. You might like to check out a thoughtful and provocative talk on amateur film by Patricia Zimmerman here.
Finally, another great resource on the IP wars: the Center for the Public Domain. Do not miss their feature IP in the News.December 11, 2001
But now there's a great book out: Lawrence Lessig's The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World. (Random House, 2001). Lessig's book describes how corporations, operating in the "free marketplace," are using technology and law to stifle the development of creativity, innovation and free expression. If we're interested in a world where access to art, culture, and information isn't just a chain of "billable events," we need to articulate a vision of the way things should be, not just play a defensive game against those who would build fences between content and its users. This book is a primary resource towards this end and a great read too.December 10, 2001
As you know, the current moviearchive website leaves much to be desired. We've conceptualized a new design which includes a "detail page" for every film and a searchable database. The "detail pages" will contain all of the information that's presently on the index pages and a lot more as well, including shot lists where they exist, fuller synopses, and more filmographic information. Since the detail pages will be static pages, they'll be crawlable, which means that the search engines will index them and they'll show up in web searches. There will also be annotation capabilities, so that YOU can review or comment on films and link the film detail pages to other pages on the Web with associated subject matter. The searchable database will support different kinds of queries, not just text searches. I can't wait for this; I need it now. My guess as to when this will start construction: January. When the new website structure and design is in place, we'll be able to start putting up different collections for you to view and use. There are a bunch in the pipeline already...
How could I forget: We moved our encoding workstation from New York to San Francisco, and I'm digitizing the last 300 films from Prelinger Archives right now. These will be uploaded in fits and starts; watch this page for updates. The whole process is going to go a lot faster now, as I'm doing quality control on the fly and digitizing straight to hard disk, rather than making CDs and shipping them across the country as we previously did. FedEx never found those CDs with 68 films on them that they lost last spring somewhere between Newark and Oakland.December 7, 2001
Comments and information on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the point of view of the Internet Archive or any other person, organization, or corporation.
July 14, 2004