Still from British Pathé’s newsreel on the opening of the National Gallery in Washington, DC, “”News of the Day. Nation Gets great Art Gallery!” (screenshot via YouTube)
The Pathé News company produced newsreels on events and places both important and strange for the greater part of the 20th century. That footage is now housed in the British Pathé archive, a collection of 85,000 historic films spanning the years 1896 to 1976. Yesterday, British Pathé announced that it had uploaded its entire collection to YouTube, making for a widely available trove of historic footage and a fascinatingly nerdy way to spend Friday afternoon.
You’ll find newsreels covering countless significant world events on the British Pathé YouTube channel, including the Battle of the Somme, the sinking of the Titanic (interviews with survivors), an early flight by the Wright Brothers, and the dropping of the first atomic bomb. The organization’s coverage of the Hindenberg disaster, though it doesn’t include an eyewitness account as wrenching as “Oh the humanity!,” is nonetheless riveting, and shows off the considered poetics of newsreel writing, narration, and sound.
But in many ways it’s the more obscure and offbeat stories that are the most interesting. They contain glimpses of everyday life as well as fun surprises, like this 1922 music-only clip that shows two well-dressed women operating the “world’s first mobile phone”:
(Speaking of technology, don’t miss this 1966 jetpack demonstration.)
Sorting through the less high-profile clips, you also get a glimpse of what’s been considered newsworthy over the last century. Turns out it’s not all that different from what we blog about today. There are plenty of cute and strange animal clips, including one of a fashionable woman walking her pet leopard through the streets and parks of London, and, of course, celebrities (the coverage of Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate’s wedding is particularly great).
Searching for art turned up some excellent finds as well. There’s the opening of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, in 1941 with a rousing mini speech from President Franklin D. Roosevelt:
A trip to a taxidermy tableaux museum in rural England:
Coverage of a show of modern American art — Ellsworth Kelly, Joseph Albers, Jackson Pollock, among others — at the British embassy, which includes this hilarious dig: “Of course, it isn’t everybody who appreciates modern art. In fact if you bought some of the pictures, you might think you’d been framed.”
And my absolute favorite, this silent 1965 clip of models showing off outrageous hairstyles and fashions alongside sculptures and mobiles by Alexander Calder (which, amazingly, they’re allowed to touch):
I must start planning a proper outfit for my next trip to MoMA!