British Pathé was one of the leading producers of newsreels and documentaries during the 20th Century. This week, the company, now an archive, is turning over its entire collection -- over 85,000 historical films – to YouTube.
The archive -- which spans from 1896 to 1976 – is a goldmine of footage, containing movies of some of the most important moments of the last 100 years. It’s a treasure trove for film buffs, culture nerds and history mavens everywhere. In Pathé’s playlist "A Day That Shook the World," which traces an Anglo-centric history of the 20th Century, you will find clips of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, the bombing of Hiroshima and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, alongside footage of Queen Victoria’s funeral and Roger Bannister’s 4-minute mile. There's, of course, footage of the dramatic Hindenburg crash and Lindbergh's daring cross-Atlantic flight. And then you can see King Edward VIII abdicating the throne in 1936, Hitler's first speech upon becoming the German Chancellor in 1933 and the eventual Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941 (above).
But the really intriguing part of the archive is seeing all the ephemera from the 20th Century, the stuff that really makes the past feel like a foreign country – the weird hairstyles, the way a city street looked, the breathtakingly casual sexism and racism. There’s a rush in seeing history come alive. Case in point, this documentary from 1967 about the wonders to be found in a surprisingly monochrome Virginia.
Here’s a film about a technological innovation that curiously didn’t take off -- an amphibious scooter. The look of regal dignity on the driver’s face as his vehicle moves down the Thames is priceless.
In an early example of a political blooper, there’s this footage from 1942 of Bess Truman trying valiantly to smash an unyielding bottle of champagne against the fuselage of a brand new bomber.
And then there’s this newsreel from 1938 on the wedding between Billy Curtis, a 3’7” nightclub bouncer and his 6’4” burlesque star bride. The jaunty, spectacularly un-PC voiceover should probably be filed under “things were different then.”
If you have several weeks to kill, you can watch all of the videos here.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.