Watch 85,000 Historic Newsreel Films from British Pathé Free Online (1910-2008)

The “pivot-to-video” moment of a few years back devastated writers everywhere with mass layoffs as companies scrambled to attract projected millions of nonexistent viewers. It’s a story about predatory media monopolies and the proliferation of news, documentary, and opinion video content online. While the sheer amount of video can feel overwhelming, we might remember that people have been getting their news from screens for well over a hundred years.

First came the newsreels. Thousands were produced from the end of the 19th century into the 1960s, when TV became the dominant screen of choice. These were ephemeral, often fragmentary films, not usually preserved in the way of great cinema.

But while “the newsreel may be history,” notes the National Endowment for the Humanities, "vast collections of it remain, much of it unseen.” One such collection resides at the archives of British Pathé, “a treasure trove of 85,000 films unrivaled in their historical significance.”

British Pathé has digitized their collection and made all of it—including more than 136,000 items from the Reuters historical collection—freely available online at their website and on YouTube. You’ll find there exactly the kind of variety Richard Eder described in The New York Times in 1977, a year when people also felt “flooded” by news:

Most of the time [newsreels] were patchy views of a rather scatterbrained reality. Sneezing contests would alternate with politicians cutting ribbons and South Americans rioting.But once in a while there was something unforgettable: the Hindenburg floated loftily into sight and suddenly settled on the ground like burning tinsel; a middle-aged Frenchman wept at Toulon when the fleet was scuttled. The newsreel cameras and the big screen provided an authority to these things that television equipment couldn't manage. Also there was the effect of waiting a day or two to see a disaster you had read of. World events were discrete, individual, weighty. They did not flood us.

British Pathé produced short documentary films on every possible subject around the world from 1910 to 2008 and might lay claim to capturing more unforgettable historical moments than most any other newsreel service of the era. A tiny sampling of newsreels in their massive digital archive includes the Beatnik makeover from 1963 at the top; a very brief film on Tolstoy; a longer featurette on the Titanic, with interviews from survivors; and a short on the psychedelic Mellotron.

Among the many “British Pathé Unissued” videos, we find the filmed interview clip below with H.G. Wells in the 1930s, in which he proposes disarmament, international cooperation, full public employment, and the nationalization of industry as antidotes to the rising tides of World War and devastating social inequality. The interview was “unused by Pathé editors and not screened in cinemas,” explains a title added at the beginning. One significant shift from the newsreel to the digital age is the unprecedented ability to bypass the censors.

“Before television” and the internet, as the archive description points out, “people came to movie theatres to watch the news. British Pathé was at the forefront of cinematic journalism, blending information with entertainment to popular effect.” If this blend sounds somewhat akin to the mass media world we inhabit today—one filled with proliferating video explainers, short documentaries, talking head conspiracy theorists and every other possible use of the form—perhaps it’s useful to remember that we’ve been living in that world a very long time. It has produced many thousands of artifacts that can tell us where we’ve been over the past 120 years or so, if not quite how we got to where we are now.

Enter the British Pathé collection on YouTube or their website.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Scenes from Czarist Moscow Vividly Restored with Artificial Intelligence (May 1896)

In May of 1896, Charles Moisson and Francis Doublier traveled to Moscow on behalf of the Lumière Brothers company, bearing with them the newly developed Lumière Cinématogaphe camera. Their purpose: to document the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II—the last Emperor of Russia, though no one would have known that at the time. The coronation was an extraordinary event, soon to be overshadowed by even more extraordinary events in the Revolutionary years to come. An enormous celebration followed, with gifts, bread, sausage, pretzels, beer, and a commemorative cup to revelers. The promise of these gifts led to what was later called the Khodynka Tragedy.

Hundreds of thousands descended on the city. Rumors that food was running short—and that the cups contained a gold coin—sent crowds rushing for the Khodynka Field. Overcoming 1,800 police officers, they caused a stampede that killed 1,389. That evening, Nicholas and the Empress Alexandra attended a ball, then visited wounded in the hospital the following day. One of the Tsar's valets, Alexei Volkov, who survived the Revolution and lived to write his memoirs, described walking “along the Khondinka” and meeting “many groups of people coming back from that site and carrying the Tsar’s gifts. The strange thing, though, was that not one person mentioned the catastrophe, and I did not hear about it until the next morning.”

The stampede seems a testament to the poverty and desperation among ordinary Russians at the end of the 19th century. That history does not enter the frame in the minute of footage shot by Moisson and Doublier, which you can see recreated above in stunning detail—with both color added and in original black and white—by Denis Shiryaev. The footage is simply dated May 1896 and might have been shot either before or after the coronation. As Peter Jackson has done with footage from WWI in the feature-length documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, Shiryaev makes the grainy, blurry past come alive with the help of an “ensemble of neural networks,” as he writes on the video’s YouTube page.

The enhancements to the video transfer of the original film include:

1) FPS boosting – to 60 frames per second

2) Image resolution boosted up a bit with ESRGAN (general dataset)

3) Resorted video sharpness, removed blur, removed compression "artefacts"

4) Colorized (optional) – due to high request I have decided to include both versions of the processed video: colorized and black and white.

Boosting the frame rate to 60 fps especially gives these bustling and/or sauntering Moscow denizens of Tverskaya Street a lifelike appearance. (See here for a comparison of various frame rates). Whether you prefer color or black and white, it may be easy to imagine strolling down this cobblestone avenue yourself, dodging the dozens of horse drawn carriages passing by.

It may be harder to imagine that perhaps days or hours before or after this slice of Moscow city life, the last tsar of Russia was crowned, and a crowd of somewhere around half a million people rushed through the streets for a glass of beer and a free bite to eat. See more of Shiryaev's AI-assisted film restorations at the links below.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Updating Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” to Cover Female Action Heroes–Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #33

This week's guest Vi Burlew has arisen, a shining figure clad in mail, carrying aloft a shimmering broadsword to bring your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt this topic about the hero's journey.

This general plot structure dating back to ancient myth was detailed by Joseph Campbell and famously and deliberately plundered to create the plot of the original Star Wars. So how has this evolved with the increasing introduction of female heroes in recent, largely Disney-owned blockbusters? We talk Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, anticipate Black Widow and the new Mulan, but also bring in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz, Little Women, Jane Eyre, Working Girl, and of course Road House.

What complicates this issue is that a distinct "heroine's journey" had already been plotted in response to Campbell by feminist thinkers at least back to Maureen Murdock in 1990. The key difference is that while the hero achieves the goal and comes home in triumph, the heroine then realizes that there was something self-betraying about the triumph and requires an additional step of reconciliation with her origins. This is like if Luke realized after destroying the Death Star that he was a moisture farmer all along and had to come to terms with that. (Maybe he could actually grieve for his dead aunt and uncle and his best friend Biggs!)

It's been argued that Harry Potter's journey more closely resembles that heroine's journey, whereas, say, Eowyn from Lord of the Rings ("I am no man!") is a more traditional hero. Action films of today may feature female heroes, but when this is done thoughtfully (not just by taking an action hero and swapping the gender without further alteration), then filmmakers may tweak the structure of the myth to include some gender-specific elements and perhaps blend the two types of journey. These new variants that may or may not resonate in the way that caused the original Star Wars/Campbell formula to become so popular.

Two articles we specifically cite in our discussion are:

For some basics about the journeys described by Joseph Campbell, Maureen Murdok, and a different version by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, see the Wikipedia entries on Hero's Journey and Heroine's Journey.

In addition, The Heroine Journeys Project website features numerous articles about female heroes in media. We also looked at this reddit thread, which among other things provides some opposing views to those of our guests about the Star Wars franchise character Rey.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

A Trip Through New York City in 1911: Vintage Video of NYC Gets Colorized & Revived with Artificial Intelligence

Denis Shirayev is at it again! The man who only a few weeks ago put one of the most famous pieces of film history--the Lumiere Bros. footage of a train arriving at La Ciotat station--through a neural network to bring it “to life,” so to speak, has turned to another fascinating slice of history.

For his next installment, he has taken footage of New York City daily life in 1911, eight minutes of tram rides, horse-drawn wagons, the elevated train, and the rush of crowded streets, and applied the same deep learning algorithms to make it all look like it was shot yesterday. This time he had a bit of help from another YouTube historian/technician Guy Jones, who had already speed corrected and tweaked the footage, as well as adding environmental sounds. Shirayev has used AI to upscale the footage to 4K and to 60p.

The original footage was shot by Svenska Biografteatern, a Swedish newsreel company, and begins with a shot of the Statue of Liberty as if seen through a spyglass. The film continues as travelogue and as an introduction to the immigrant experience, as the camera shows boats docking, passengers disembarking, and then the overwhelming experience of New York City.

The footage is clear enough to take in storefronts and advertising on trams and the sides of buildings. But the atmosphere is too clogged with daily smoke to get a real clear vista of the skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge.

At the time, Manhattan had a population about 2 million. Interestingly, that was its height. Over a hundred years later, that has declined to 1.6 million, with a significant decrease in population density. This Observer article ascribes that to gentrification, and a change of residential areas to commercial ones.

And let’s repeat what we said about Shirayev’s previous 4K footage: this is not a “remaster”. This is not a “restoration.” This is using the power of computing to interpret frames of film and create in between frames, as well as create detail from blurry footage. (I’m not too sure about the colorization--it doesn’t really work as well as all the other software...yet).

Now we know that Shirayev is making this a thing, please note his pinned message in the YouTube comments: he’s taking requests.

via Laughing Squid

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Immaculately Restored Film Lets You Revisit Life in New York City in 1911

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

Bernie Sanders Time as an Educational Filmmaker: Watch His Documentary on Socialist Activist Eugene V. Debs (1979)

If you grew up in the United States of America, you'll remember the name Eugene V. Debs from history class. And if you grew up during a certain era in the United States of America, you might have learned about Debs from Bernie Sanders. Try to recall one of Debs' speeches; if you hear it in Sanders' distinctive Brooklyn accent, you have at some point or another seen Eugene V. Debs: Trade Unionist, Socialist, Revolutionary. A film-strip slideshow with an accompanying audio track, it came out in 1979 as a product of the American People’s Historical Society, Sanders' own production company.

That venture constitutes just one chapter of a storied life and career, which includes periods as a high-school track star, a folk singer, and the mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Now that Sanders, junior United States Senator from Vermont since 2007, has pulled ahead in the race for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential election, people want to know what he's all about — and he has long been given, certainly by the standards of U.S. politicians, to clear and frequent expression of what he's all about. He has made no secret, for example, of his admiration for Debs, a socialist political activist who five times ran for President of the United States. You can see it come through in Eugene V. Debs: Trade Unionist, Socialist, Revolutionary, which Jacobin magazine has reconstructed and made available on Youtube.

Hyperallergic's Nathan Smith writes that the documentary frames Debs "as a lost prophet before explaining how he ended up where he did ideologically. It opens with Debs’s final presidential campaign, conducted in 1920 from prison. If a million people voted for this man while he was behind bars, if more people went to hear him speak than President Taft, then how could history have forgotten him?" Sanders explains Debs' socialism "as a response to issues which still resonate today: the exploitation of working people, segregation and violent racism, voting rights, and the suppression of free speech and dissent during World War I." More so than see Sanders' admiration for Debs — Jacobin having had to use visuals other than the ones on the film strip at the time — you can hear it: as in all the shoestring productions of the American People’s Historical Society's shoestring productions, Sanders himself plays the roles of the historical characters involved.

In this case, that means we hear Sanders give Debs' speeches, and in certain moments we viewers of 2020 could easily mistake Debs' indictments of the distribution of wealth, goods, and the means of production in America as Sanders' own. A self-described socialist, Sanders has in his political career placed himself in Debs' tradition, and having made a documentary like this more than 40 years ago shores up that image. The Washington Post's Philip Bump points out that, before becoming a U.S. senator, Sanders did a couple more acting jobs in feature films, once as a man stingy with Halloween candy and once as a Dodgers-obsessed rabbi. As much as those roles might have suited his demeanor, it's safe to say he played Eugene V. Debs with more conviction.

via Hyperallergic

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include 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.

A Tribute to NASA’s Katherine Johnson (RIP): Learn About the Extraordinary Mathematician Who Broke Through America’s Race & Gender Barriers

We don't call it a tragedy when a renowned person dies after the century mark, especially if that person is brilliant NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who passed away yesterday at the venerable age of 101. Her death is a great historical loss, but by almost any measure we would consider reaching such a finish line a triumphant end to an already heroic life.

A prodigy and pioneer, Johnson joined the all-black “human computing” section at NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, in 1953. She would go on to calculate the launch windows and return trajectories for Alan Shepard’s first spaceflight, John Glenn’s first trip into orbit, and the Apollo Lunar Module’s first return from the Moon.

All this without the benefit of any machine computing power to speak of and—as Hidden Figures dramatizes through the powerful performance of Taraji P. Henson as Johnson—while facing the dual barriers of racism and sexism her white male bosses and co-workers blithely ignored or deliberately upheld.

Johnson and her fellow “computers,” without whom none of these major milestones would have been possible, had to fight not only for recognition and a seat at the table, but for the basic accommodations we take for granted in every workplace.

Her contributions didn’t end when the space race was over—her work was critical to the Space Shuttle program and she even worked on a mission to Mars. But Johnson herself kept things in perspective, telling People magazine in the interview above from 2016, “I’m 98. My greatest accomplishment is staying alive.” Still, she lived to see herself turned into the hero of that year’s critically lauded film based on the bestselling book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly—decades after she completed her most groundbreaking work.

Shetterly’s book, writes historian of technology Marie Hicks, casts Johnson and her fellow black women mathematicians “as protagonists in the grand drama of American technological history rather than mere details.” By its very nature, a Hollywood film adaptation will leave out important details and take liberties with the facts for dramatic effect and mass appeal. The feature treatment moves audiences, but it also soothes them with feel-good moments that “keep racism at arm’s length from a narrative that, without it, would never have existed.”

The point is not that Johnson and her colleagues decided to make racism and sexism central to their stories; they simply wanted to be recognized for their contributions and be given the same access and opportunities as their white male colleagues. But to succeed, they had to work together instead of competing with each other. Despite its simplifications and glosses over Cold War history and the depth of prejudice in American society, Hidden Figures does something very different from most biopics, as Atlantic editor Lenika Cruz writes, telling "a story of brilliance, but not of ego. It’s a story of struggle and willpower, but not of individual glory… it looks closely at the remarkable person in the context of a community.”

Katherine Johnson lived her life as a tremendous example for young women of color who excel at math and science but feel excluded from the establishment. On her 98th birthday, she “wanted to share a message to the young women of the world,” says the narrator of the 20th Century Studios video above: “Now it’s your turn.” And, she might have added, “you don’t have to do it alone.” Hear Hidden Figures author Shetterly discuss the critical contributions of Katherine and her extraordinary “human computer” colleagues in the interview below, and learn more about Johnson's life and legacy in the featurette at the top and at her NASA biography here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Conquer Your Vertigo and Watch this Dazzling Footage of Construction Workers Atop the Chrysler Building in 1929

Paris has the gargoyles of Notre Dame.

New York City has eight art-deco eagles protruding from the Chrysler Building’s 61st floor.

These mighty stainless steel guardians seem impressively solid until you watch construction workers muscling them into place on April 3, 1930 in the Fox Movietone newsreel footage above.

Forget being sturdy enough to serve as a time travel diving board for a very freaked out Will Smith in Men in Black III

It now seems a miracle that no unsuspecting pedestrians have been crushed by an art-deco eagle head crashing unceremoniously down to Lexington Avenue in the middle of rush hour.

Also that no workers died on the job, given how quickly the building went up and the relative lack of safety equipment on display… no word on amputated fingers, but it’s not hard to imagine given that only one of the guys helping out with the eagle appears to be wearing gloves.

In fact, as author Vincent Curcio describes in Chrysler: The Life and Times of an Automotive Genius, the job site boasted a number of innovative safety measures, such as scaffolds with guardrails, tarpaulin-covered plank roofs, wire netting between the toe boards, a hospital on-location, and a bulletin board for safety-related updates. Founder Walter Chrysler was as proud of this workplace conscientiousness as he was of the 4-floors per week speed with which his building was erected:

In an article called “Is Safety on Your Payroll?” He spoke of staring up at workers on the scaffolding with a friend on the street below. “‘My, that’s a risky job,’ my companion remarked. ‘A man just about takes his life in his hands working on a building like this.’”

“‘I suppose it does seem that way,’ I replied, ‘But it’s no so dangerous as you think. If you knew the precautions we have taken to protect those workers, you might change your mind… not a single life has been lost in constructing the steel framework of that building.’” To give an idea of how much of an achievement this was, it should be noted that the rule of thumb at that time was one death for every floor above fifteen in the construction of a building; by this measure the Chrysler Building should have been responsible for sixty-two deaths.

By contrast, the guys Fox Movietone filmed seem happy to play up the vertiginous nature of their work for the camera, edging out onto girders and conversing casually atop pipes, as if seated astride a 1000-foot tall jungle gym:

“Gosh, that’s a long way to the street, boys.”

“How’d ya like to fall down there?”

“Whaddaya think, I’m an angel?

“Well, you’re liable to be an angel any minute."

“You’ll break the altitude record going down-“

“Ha ha, yeah, maybe!”

While our appetite for this vintage bluster is bottomless, it’s worth noting that Movietone usually issued those appearing in primary positions a couple of lines of scripted dialogue.

What would those workers think of OSHA's current safety standards for the construction industry?

Fall protection is still the most commonly cited standard during construction site inspections.

Falls claimed the lives of 338 American construction workers in 2018, the same year a construction worker in Kuala Lumpur used his cell phone to film a coworker in shorts and sneakers erecting scaffolding sans safety equipment, whilst balancing on unsecured pipes some 700 feet in the air.

Watch it below, if you dare.

via Boing Boing

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, February 3 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York, The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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