Category Archives: Movie Archive

(Educational) Film of the Week: A Shooting Gallery Called America (NBC, 1975)

Because of their role as pedagogical tools directed at students and the general public, educational films have often been the subject of controversy, especially when they tackle fraught social issues from a particular point of view. While it might seem like the debate on gun control, mass shootings and police violence has only recently mushroomed to extraordinary proportions — at least as far as its coverage in the print, broadcast and electronic press is concerned — the issue has a much longer history, including in documentaries and non-theatrical films.

One such film that originated as a TV documentary special on NBC, but whose inclusion in the Internet Archive’s educational films collection indicates its distribution in the K-12 and college film circuit, bears the rather poignant title A Shooting Gallery called America (1975).

The early 1970s were a period fraught with debate about gun control, especially after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

Interestingly enough, a pamphlet issued the previous year by the National Coalition to Ban Handguns had the exact same title, providing evidence of a coordinated campaign for gun control that deployed statistics, testimonies and visual materials calculated to have an emotional impact.

The program caused as polarized a response in 1975 as one would expect a similar broadcast to cause today. NBC received thousands of letters from supporters of both sides of the debate (starting before the program had even been broadcast!) with arguments that have remained almost constant to the present day.

Said one: “We can give you our opinion of your Sunday, March 2nd special ‘Shooting Gallery Called America.’ It stank.

“We found it nothing more than a rehash of the same tired old theme: blame the instrument, not the criminal.”

Another read: “I would like to commend NBC for its coverage of the gun problems in this country. The special, A Shooting Gallery Called America, was very informative. I would like to see it again.”

Producer Lucy Jarvis who would go on to direct many similar documentaries on social causes, later recalled the storm of controversy unleashed by this special:

“People knew we were doing it, and we began to get lots of mail,” she said. ” Probably they were alerted by a national organization. Because there was such an emotional reaction, I didn’t want the program to go until I was doubly sure that everything was checked out.”

As a result the airing date was pushed back on two occasions.

The statistics presented  by the journalists — number of handguns and rifles, number of victims in shooting crimes and accidents — have only gotten worse with the passage of four decades. But the visual vocabulary established by documentaries like this one, from footage of shooting ranges to interviews at gun shows on the one hand and with families of victims of gun violence on the other, will be more than familiar to viewers of cable and network news in 2016.

As a recent article revisiting the program and its reception forty years ago put it in a rather rhetorical fashion: “Why has nothing changed in 40 years?”

 

 

(Educational) Film of the Week: Now is the Time (1967)

The Internet Archive’s educational film collection is particularly rich in films from the 1960s and 1970s. As a result, events and movements of national and international important like the Vietnam War (Interviews with My Lai veterans (1970)) and the Civil Rights movement (Civil rights movement: the North (1966)) are well represented.

One of the more interesting and hard-to-find ones is surely Now is the Time (1967) featuring Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee (a couple in real life).

Davis and Dee participated in a variety of similarly themed film, including some in our collection like Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad (1964).

Produced for NBC’s local affiliate in Philadelphia and originally broadcast on December 13, 1967 (a few weeks before the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination), the tone of Now is the Time is that of reporting on history as it happens. Although it does not pretend to impartiality – the two hosts act as voices-of-conscience and often speak  in the first person – it cover the decade’s events succinctly and accurately: a story of anger but also of a people of “remarkable strength.” Archival footage, interviews, songs and music compliments the evocative staged vignettes between Davis and Dee in the studio.

The film won a number of awards and was featured in a number of prominent publications about educational film, including Richard A. Maynard’s The celluloid curriculum: how to use movies in the classroom (1971, see page 29) and was even the subject of a recent Master’s thesis (JoyEllen Freeman, Portrayal of Power: Black Nationalism in the Documentary Now Is the Time, University of Georgia, 2011)

This a wonderful example of how programs on current affairs that by the 1960s had transitioned from the newsreel to the TV set, where often repurposed in the opposite direction; transferred on 16mm these “films” often had a second life in the educational and non-thetrical market. Indeed, it is striking to find a film as opinionated and potentially controversial as The Time is Now  in the curriculum of public schools (in this case in the state of Pennsylvania). This is just another indication of how varied, transmedial and socioculturally rich the medium of the educational film was during its heyday.

Dimitrios Latsis

CLIR-Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for the Visual Studies, The Internet Archive

Film of the Week: Film Firsts (1959-60)

The Internet Archive is actively engaged in digitizing a wide variety of educational films on science, education, the arts, psychology, medicine and history. In this new blog series, we will highlight films that are newly digitized and available each week on the collection page, to provide visitors with a better idea of the breadth and depth of this quirky, informative and much-in-need-of-preservation medium: the non-theatrical film.

First up is Film Firsts a documentary in two parts (Part 1 and Part 2) covering the early history and development of the medium of motion pictures.


Our collection is rich in films about the film medium itself, whether aspects of its production (e.g. Cinematographer) or its history (e.g. Hollywood: The Golden Years and Hollywood the Dream Factory). Film Firsts, however, focuses on the early part of cinema’s developed the period usually described as early and silent cinema.

Produced for television audiences (ABC) but also screened for school groups and other non-theatrical audiences, the two-part, hour-long documentary does not exactly amount to a thorough and unbiased history but it is very representative of this reflexive sub-genre that dealt with the evolution of the motion picture. Often such films catered to the audience’s nostalgia in an era where memories of the nickelodeon and the picture palace were very much alive. They also provided a venue for studios to repurpose their library of films for the era of television. Finally, in a more implicit manner, they partook in an evolutionary rhetoric that cast the turn-of-the-century flickers as a primitive manifestation  of an art and industry that by the 1950s and 60s had blossomed into a global entertainment empire.

While film historians have long pointed out the fallacy in such reasoning, it is still useful to  consider these compilation/history documentaries for the narrative of film’s development that they provide, the moments along this trajectory that they choose to highlight and, just as important, what they obscure or gloss over.

Film Firsts has references to all the usual highlights: Edison’s Black Maria studio, Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, Melies’ Trip to the Moon, as well as a substantial section on early Westerns. This reflects the origins of the project in director Paul Killiam’s “Movie Museum” talks covering “films of historical interest illustrated by clips of vintage 1895 to 1915.” Many similar compilation films started as programs of the lecture circuit, reflecting a significant practice of the non-theatrical market.

Focusing on well-known “screen personalities” like Bronco Billy Anderson, but also delving into more idiosyncratic, behind-the-scenes aspects of the art and craft of moviemaking like special effects and animation, Killam compiles a list of “bests” and “firsts”: the first close-up, the first kiss, the first cartoon, the first western, the first use of lighting for effect, etc. Although, even with the resources that historians and archivists have today it is always perilous to claim any single example of an effect, practice or technique as “the first” of its kind, the authoritative voice of the documentary accurately represents an early vein of film historiography (see also works by Terry Ramsay and Maurice Bardèche and Robert Brasillach in the same period). As the medium was entering its second half-century of life, it was taking stock of pioneers, sentimentally remembering great moments and stars of the past, and “leafing” through its own history, as one might leaf through an old scrapbook or album of photographs.

Film Firsts thus represents this early “scrapbook” phase of historiography, crucial in that it was conducted by the medium itself in an era where it’s viability was threatened by the popularity of television — which is here deployed in the service of the older medium. It was actually the first episode in a six-part series entitled “Silents Please! The History of the Motion Picture” that promised an overview of “the stars, thrills, laughter and heartbreak” of silent cinema. Whether a nostalgic look on a much-evolved medium, a semi-authoritative account of the people and technology that made the motion picture possible or a potpourri of clips and firsts for the consumption a television audience, the film is a valuable document of historiography in practice and as such a valuable addition to our collection covering the history of educational audiovisual media.

For more information on the film see:

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1998-06-25/features/9806250371_1_silent-film-silent-era-killiam-collection

Dimitrios Latsis

CLIR-Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for the Visual Studies, Internet Archive.

archive.org download counts of collections of items updates and fixes

Every month, we look over the total download counts for all public items at archive.org.  We sum item counts into their collections.  At year end 2014, we found various source reliability issues, as well as overcounting for “top collections” and many other issues.

archive.org public items tracked over time

archive.org public items tracked over time

To address the problems we did:

  • Rebuilt a new system to use our database (DB) for item download counts, instead of our less reliable (and more prone to “drift”) SOLR search engine (SE).
  • Changed monthly saved data from JSON and PHP serialized flatfiles to new DB table — much easier to use now!
  • Fixed overcounting issues for collections: texts, audio, etree, movies
  • Fixed various overcounting issues related to not unique-ing <collection> and <contributor> tags (more below)
  • Fixes to character encoding issues on <contributor> tags

Bonus points!

  • We now track *all collections*.  Previously, we only tracked items tagged:
    • <mediatype> texts
    • <mediatype> etree
    • <mediatype> audio
    • <mediatype> movies
  • For items we are tracking <contributor> tags (texts items), we now have a “Contributor page” that shows a table of historical data.
  • Graphs are now “responsive” (scale in width based on browser/mobile width)

 

The Overcount Issue for top collection/mediatypes

  • In the below graph, mediatypes and collections are shown horizontally, with a sample “collection hierarchy” today.
  • For each collection/mediatype, we show 1 example item, A B C and D, with a downloads/streams/views count next to it parenthetically.   So these are four items, spanning four collections, that happen to be in a collection hierarchy (a single item can belong to multiple collections at archive.org)
  • The Old Way had a critical flaw — it summed all sub-collection counts — when really it should have just summed all *direct child* sub-collection counts (or gone with our New Way instead)

overcount

So we now treat <mediatype> tags like <collection> tags, in terms of counting, and unique all <collection> tags to avoid items w/ minor nonideal data tags and another kind of overcounting.

 

… and one more update from Feb/1:

We graph the “difference” between absolute downloads counts for the current month minus the prior month, for each month we have data for.  This gives us graphs that show downloads/month over time.  However, values can easily go *negative* with various scenarios (which is *wickedly* confusing to our poor users!)

Here’s that situation:

A collection has a really *hot* item one month, racking up downloads in a given collection.  The next month, a DMCA takedown or otherwise removes the item from being available (and thus counted in the future).  The downloads for that collection can plummet the next month’s run when the counts are summed over public items for that collection again.  So that collection would have a negative (net) downloads count change for this next month!

Here’s our fix:

Use the current month’s collection “item membership” list for current month *and* prior month.  Sum counts for all those items for both months, and make the graphed difference be that difference.  In just about every situation that remains, graphed monthly download counts will be monotonic (nonnegative and increasing or zero).

 

 

Lost Landscapes of San Francisco: Fundraiser Benefitting Internet Archive Dec 18th

FerryBldgFromWaterDuskRick Prelinger’s Lost Landscapes of San Francisco is a movie happening that brings old-time San Francisco footage and our community together in an interactive crowd-driven event.   Showing in the majestic Internet Archive building,  your ticket donation will benefit the Internet Archive, which suffered a major fire in November. Please give generously to support the rebuilding effort.


December 18, 2013
6pm Reception
7:30pm Film

300 Funston Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94118

Get tickets through Brown Paper Tickets.


TouristsGGBopening1936ATripDownMarketStreet1906_1Lost Landscapes returns for its 8th year, bringing together both familiar and unseen archival film clips showing San Francisco as it was and is no more. Blanketing the 20th-century city from the Bay to Ocean Beach, this screening includes newly-discovered images of Playland and Sutro Baths; the waterfront; families living and playing in their neighborhoods; detail-rich streetscapes of the late 1960s; the 1968 San Francisco State strike; Army and family life in the Presidio; buses, planes, trolleys and trains; a selected reprise of greatest hits.

As usual, the viewers make the soundtrack — audience members are asked to identify places and events, ask questions, share their thoughts, and create an unruly interactive symphony of speculation about the city we’ve lost and the city we’d like to live in.