1,000,000 Minutes of Newsreel Footage by AP & British Movietone Released on YouTube

Both Faulkn­er and the physi­cists may be right: the pas­sage of time is an illu­sion. And yet, for as long as we’ve been keep­ing score, it’s seemed that his­to­ry real­ly exists, in increas­ing­ly dis­tant forms the fur­ther back we look. As Jonathan Crow wrote in a recent post on news ser­vice British Pathé’s release of 85,000 pieces of archival film on YouTube, see­ing doc­u­men­tary evi­dence of just the last cen­tu­ry “real­ly makes the past feel like a for­eign country—the weird hair­styles, the way a city street looked, the breath­tak­ing­ly casu­al sex­ism and racism.” (Of course there’s more than enough rea­son to think future gen­er­a­tions will say the same of us.) British Pathé’s archive seems exhaustive—until you see the lat­est dig­i­tized col­lec­tion on YouTube from AP (Asso­ci­at­ed Press) and British Movi­etone, which spans from 1895 to the present and brings us thou­sands more past tragedies, tri­umphs, and hair­styles

This release of “more than 1 mil­lion min­utes” of news, writes Vari­ety, includes archival footage of “major world events such as the 1906 San Fran­cis­co earth­quake, exclu­sive footage of the bomb­ing of Pearl Har­bor in 1941, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 2001 ter­ror­ist attacks on the U.S.” And so much more, such as the news­reel above, which depicts Berlin in 1945, even­tu­al­ly get­ting around to doc­u­ment­ing the Pots­dam Con­fer­ence (at 3:55), where Churchill, Stal­in, and Tru­man cre­at­ed the 17th par­al­lel in Viet­nam, dic­tat­ed the terms of the Ger­man occu­pa­tion, and planned the com­ing Japan­ese sur­ren­der. No one at the time could have accu­rate­ly fore­seen the his­tor­i­cal rever­ber­a­tions of these actions.

Anoth­er strange, even uncan­ny piece of film shows us the Eng­lish foot­ball team giv­ing the Nazi salute in 1938 at the com­mence­ment of a game against Ger­many. “That’s shock­ing now,” says Alwyn Lind­say, the direc­tor of AP’s inter­na­tion­al archive, “but it wasn’t at the time.” Films like these have become of much more inter­est since The Sun pub­lished pho­tographs of the roy­al family—including a young Queen Eliz­a­beth II and her uncle Prince (lat­er King, then Duke) Edward VIII—giving Nazi salutes in 1933. Though it was not par­tic­u­lar­ly con­tro­ver­sial, and the chil­dren of course had lit­tle idea what it sig­ni­fied, it did turn out that Edward (seen here) was a would-be Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tor and remained an unapolo­getic sym­pa­thiz­er.

This huge video trove does­n’t just doc­u­ment the grim his­to­ry of the Sec­ond World War, of course. As you can see in the AP’s intro­duc­to­ry mon­tage at the top of the post, there is “a world of his­to­ry at your fingertips”—from tri­umphant video like Nel­son Man­de­la’s release from prison, above, to the below film of “Crazy 60s Hats in Glo­ri­ous Colour.” And more or less every oth­er major world event, dis­as­ter, dis­cov­ery, or wide­spread trend you might name from the last 120 or so years.

The archive splits into two YouTube chan­nels: AP offers both his­tor­i­cal and up-to-the-minute polit­i­cal, sports, celebri­ty, sci­ence, and “weird and wacky” videos (with “new con­tent every day”). The British Movi­etone chan­nel is sole­ly his­tor­i­cal, with much of its con­tent com­ing from the 1960s (like those hats, and this video of the Bea­t­les receiv­ing their MBE’s, and oth­er “Beat­le­ma­nia scenes.”)

Movi­etone’s one nod to the present takes the form of “The Archivist Presents,” in which a his­to­ri­an offers quirky con­text on some bit of archival footage, like that above of the Kinks get­ting their hair curled. The com­plete­ly uniron­ic lounge music and casu­al­ly sex­ist nar­ra­tion will make you both smile and wince, as do Ray Davies and com­pa­ny when they see their new hair. Most of the films in this mil­lion min­utes of news footage (and count­ing) tend to elic­it either or both of these two emo­tion­al reactions—joy (or amuse­ment) or mild to intense hor­ror, and watch­ing them makes the past they show us feel para­dox­i­cal­ly more strange and more imme­di­ate at once.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: British Pathé Puts Over 85,000 His­tor­i­cal Films on YouTube

New Archive Makes Avail­able 800,000 Pages Doc­u­ment­ing the His­to­ry of Film, Tele­vi­sion & Radio

700 Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, etc. 

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

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  • blessinginthesky says:

    Is this footage in the pub­lic domain, and can I use it with­out a license in doc­u­men­taries?

    If it is NOT in the pub­lic domain (like the British Pathé’s release of 85,000 pieces of archival film on YouTube!) can it still be used under the ‘fair use’ pol­i­cy?

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