Download 6600 Free Films from The Prelinger Archives and Use Them However You Like

Fea­tures, com­mer­cials, art pieces, stock footage, home movies, pro­pa­gan­da: the his­to­ry of cin­e­ma so far has pro­duced count­less indi­vid­ual forms, all of which also count as doc­u­men­taries. Watch any kind of film made suf­fi­cient­ly long ago and you look through a win­dow onto the atti­tudes, aes­thet­ics, and accou­trements of anoth­er time.

And if it’s one made long enough ago or of obscure enough own­er­ship to fall into the pub­lic domain, you can incor­po­rate that piece of his­to­ry into your own mod­ern, era-span­ning work in any way you like. Now, Prelinger Archives has made that eas­i­er than ever by mak­ing more than 6600 films free on the Inter­net Archive to down­load and use.

“Prelinger Archives was found­ed in 1983 by Rick Prelinger in New York City,” says the col­lec­tion’s about page. “Over the next twen­ty years, it grew into a col­lec­tion of over 60,000 ‘ephemer­al’ (adver­tis­ing, edu­ca­tion­al, indus­tri­al, and ama­teur) films. In 2002, the film col­lec­tion was acquired by the Library of Con­gress, Motion Pic­ture, Broad­cast­ing and Record­ed Sound Divi­sion,” and now holds “approx­i­mate­ly 11,000 dig­i­tized and video­tape titles (all orig­i­nal­ly derived from film) and a large col­lec­tion of home movies, ama­teur and indus­tri­al films acquired since 2002.” Its mis­sion? “To col­lect, pre­serve, and facil­i­tate access to films of his­toric sig­nif­i­cance that haven’t been col­lect­ed else­where.”

And what can you find amid these 6000-odd pieces of ephemera host­ed on At first glance, they may real­ly strike you as 6000 odd pieces. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured 1958’s Have I Told You Late­ly That I Love You?, a UCLA stu­dent short Ayun Hal­l­i­day described as the tale of “a white-col­lar dad and house­wife mom… marooned in their indi­vid­ual exis­ten­tial hells, unable to con­nect” due to the labor-sav­ing devices of the day. 1965’s equal­ly cau­tion­ary (as well as often unin­ten­tion­al­ly hilar­i­ous) Per­ver­sion for Prof­it, offers a stern two-part warn­ing against the “pornog­ra­phy which may appear at the local news­stand, malt shop or drug­store.”

Mid­cen­tu­ry moral­ism man­i­fests in count­less enter­tain­ing forms across the Prelinger Archives col­lec­tion, includ­ing in Make Mine Free­dom, a Cold War car­toon treat­ment of the var­i­ous treach­er­ous “-isms” out to under­mine truth, jus­tice, and the Amer­i­can Way. That came out in 1948, just as fears start­ed roil­ing again after the Unit­ed States’ vic­to­ry in the Sec­ond World War. The year before, the hus­band-and-wife exper­i­men­tal film­mak­ing team of Alexan­der Ham­mid and Maya Deren com­plet­ed The Pri­vate Life of a Cat“Using their own cats in their own apart­ment,” writes Dan­ger­ous Minds’ Amber Frost, “they chron­i­cle the inte­ri­or world of a cat ‘fam­i­ly,’ and it’s just insane­ly com­pelling, even out­side of the cat-lady milieu!” Fur­ther down, we have House in the Mid­dle (1954), which sug­gests that a clean, tidy house can help you sur­vive an atom­ic blast.

But you don’t have to watch every­thing you dig up from the Prelinger Archives col­lec­tion in an iron­ic or avant-garde frame of mind. Some pieces, like ama­teur film­mak­er and inven­tor Tul­lio Pel­le­grini’s 1955 Cin­e­mas­cope homage to the city of San Fran­cis­co just above, offer much in the way of pure his­tor­i­cal inter­est. You can find a few more sug­ges­tions about where to start from Tim Brookes at MakeUse­Of, who high­lights even ear­li­er footage of the City by the Bay, per­haps the most gener­ic film ever made, and instruc­tions on what to do on a date as well as what to do in the event of a nuclear attack — all valu­able mate­r­i­al for those of us remix­ing his­to­ry, one ephemer­al clip at a time.

One final thing worth keep­ing in mind, the Archive comes with this invi­ta­tion:

You are warm­ly encour­aged to down­load, use and repro­duce these films in whole or in part, in any medi­um or mar­ket through­out the world. You are also warm­ly encour­aged to share, exchange, redis­trib­ute, trans­fer and copy these films, and espe­cial­ly encour­aged to do so for free. Any deriv­a­tive works that you pro­duce using these films are yours to per­form, pub­lish, repro­duce, sell, or dis­trib­ute in any way you wish with­out any lim­i­ta­tions.

If you hap­pen to get cre­ative with the films in the Archive, please feel free to share your cre­ations in the com­ments sec­tion below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More

Have I Told You Late­ly That I Love You?: A 1958 Look at How Mod­ern Gad­gets & Con­ve­niences Lead to Exis­ten­tial Hell

This is Cof­fee!: A 1961 Trib­ute to Our Favorite Stim­u­lant

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

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

The Pub­lic Domain Project Makes 10,000 Film Clips, 64,000 Images & 100s of Audio Files Free to Use

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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