The Internet Archive Part 3 - The Prelinger Archive


Continuing our Internet Archive series, today we'll look at the Prelinger Archive, part of which lives on the Internet Archive among its many collections. The Archive was founded by Rick Prelinger in 1983, dedicated to collecting "ephemeral films" (defined as advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur films -- things that are not often collected and cataloged by scholars). In 2002, the Prelinger Archive (then consisting of over 60,000 films) was acquired by the Library of Congress. Some of those films (about 2,000) are available online via the Internet Archive.

Duck and Cover
Duck and Cover /

The Prelinger Archive contains well-known films like Duck and Cover, but most of the material is deeply obscure. The films are often unintentionally hilarious, seeming amazingly transparent in their attempts at propaganda or "education." See, for example, "Soldier With Big Feet" (try the download/streaming links at left; the in-browser viewer sometimes stops early); the American Petroleum Institute's Destination Earth - from the description: "In this corporate-sponsored cartoon, Martian dissidents learn that oil and competition are the two things that make America great"; and This is Hormel - a lengthy look at Hormel's meat-packing operations.

More great films after the jump.

Hair Dress Through the Ages
Hair Dress Through the Ages /

The real gems of the Prelinger Archive, in this blogger's opinion, are a series of films narrated by John Kieran. These films feature hilarious commentary, apparently written on the back of a napkin after a single viewing of the material. They sound like baseball game play-by-play, with the narrator commenting on whatever comes on the screen, often seeming a bit surprised by the scene, but gamely fitting it into a loose narrative. An example from "Ant City": "The ant city we're looking at is a good-sized one; it compares to, uh, well, say, um, Minneapolis or Cincinnati or New Orleans. I mean a city of, uh, half a million, uh, busy inhabitants." Lots of fun.

For more, see, including information on Rick Prelinger's Panorama Ephemera, a 2004 collage film drawing from the archive. Or browse the Prelinger Archive films directly at the Internet Archive's Prelinger section.