By: Steven Heller
Rick Prelinger is arguably the most ambitious film archivist on the planet, and The Prelinger Archives is one of the most extensive collection of industrial, cautionary, education and amateur films around. In 2002, the personal archive was acquired by the Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, which holds around 4,000 films on videotape. Included are almost all the Jam Handy industrial films (above), featuring the distinct brand of stop action animation Handy pioneered in the 1930s. But the best part is that all these films can be viewed online and downloaded mostly for free.
The films offer a unique perspective on the mores and fears of America, like “Boys Beware,” a cautionary film about homsexuality, and “Perversion for Profit,” narrated by the infamous savings and loan crook Charles Keating, linking pornography to Communism. There are classic post-World War II social guidance films like “Are You Popular,” with examples of “good” and “bad” girls, and so many more you could spend the better part of your life watching them.
Prelinger (bottom) still maintain his own library here, where he offers “appropriation-friendly” properties. As he notes: “We are interested in exploring how libraries with specialized, unique, and arcane collections such as ours can exist and flourish outside protected academic environment and be available to people working outside of those environments, especially artists, activists, and independent scholars.”