December 4th, 02012 by Charlotte Hajer
Tuesday December 11, 02012 at the Castro Theater, San Francisco
Guerrilla archivist and “media archaeologist” Rick Prelinger has built his career on uncovering, preserving, and sharing alternative takes on American cultural history. He is the founder of the Prelinger Archives , a massive collection of “ephemeral films”: non-fiction video made for educational, industrial, or promotional purposes. Though these films are typically made for short-term usage with a very specific intent, Prelinger sees in this material a window into “secret histories” and untold perspectives on American life.
“I was amazed by these films’ dual character … How they both recorded appearances and sold persuasion – how to behave, what to buy and do. They showed the way things were and the way things were supposed to be. Quite unlike feature (commercial narrative) films, which tended to have a much more synthetic, artificially-constructed world.” – SF360.org
In 02002, when the collection had amassed upwards of 60,000 films, Prelinger sold the Archives to the Library of Congress. Yet his goal is not just to preserve these films: he seeks to share them with the public, in hopes that these arcane “celluloid fossils” become part of our collective cultural history and seed the growth of new stories.
“Art, culture and science are almost always built upon work that’s come before, and we want to provide access to historical materials so as to enable new authorship.” – aiga.org
Prelinger provides stock footage to filmmakers and companies, but is also dedicated to making his collection freely available in the public domain. To that end, Prelinger opened an “acquisition-friendly” library in San Francisco’s South of Market district in 02004. Open to the public on Wednesdays, it houses a collection of ephemera in both print and video, and encourages creative re-use of the materials in its collection.
Prelinger’s work is available online, as well. He has collaborated with the Internet Archive to provide public access to over 2000 films from his collection. Take a look, for example, at A Trip Down Market Street, filmed from the front of a San Francisco street car, just days before the earthquake of 01906:
Also available is Panorama Ephemera, a feature-length film that Prelinger released in 02004, made with footage from his collection. More recently, he has been working on a series of archival compilation films about San Francisco. Comprising seven annual installments, the Lost Landscapes of San Francisco tell a cultural history of the city through the eyes of home-video makers and ephemeral film footage. In collaboration with The Long Now Foundation, Prelinger has screened installments of the Lost Landscapes at theaters in San Francisco for four consecutive Decembers.
Rick Prelinger shows the 7th installment of his Lost in San Francisco series on December 11th at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. You can reserve tickets, get directions and sign up for the podcast on the Seminar page.