Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Archive Of The Week : British Pathé

Once you hear that cock crow, hear that rising sweep of orchestral music, hear those clipped tones of the announcer - who sounds like a condescending bank manager - you are immediately transported back fifty years. You are sat in a dark and cavernous cinema. The B film has run its low budget course. The projectionist is spooling up the main feature while the usherettes serve tasteless ice-cream bars. On the screen is the newsreel from British Pathé.
I should thank Gerald Gee and his splendid Blog for a recent link which reminded me of the existence of the British Pathé film archive which is my Archive of the Week this week. British Pathé was one of four or five major providers of newsreels for British cinema audiences during much of the twentieth century (amongst the others were Gaumont British News and British Movietone News). Pathé started providing news footage for cinemas in the 1890s and continued right through until the 1970s. Their film archives - over 3,500 hours of film footage - eventually came under the supervision of the television company ITN and they have re-scanned all the original 35mm film and made it available via an on-line archive. If you are putting together a documentary and want full quality copies of the material you, quite rightly, need to pay. But if you want to view the material on-line, in what is called preview mode, access is free and there is an excellent search feature which allows you to find the material you are looking for in a variety of ways.
But like all good archives, the real joy is just to browse and to skip from one subject to another. Here is Ramsey Macdonald visiting America in the early 1930s, there is news of the Titanic disaster being received in London, and over there are the Beatles returning from one of their overseas visits. The archive is a joy to behold and well worth a visit. I have just calculated that if I limit myself to just watching an hour a day, five days a week, I can keep going through the archives for the next thirteen years without seeing the same piece of film twice.
Must go now, here comes the lady with my Choc-Ice.

9 comments:

  1. I'd love to browse those archives. Funnily enough, I actually read 'carnivorous' cinema instead of 'cavernous'. Now a carnivorous cinema would be pretty damn scary.

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  2. Alan, just took a quick peek. WOW! 12 million stills alone! OY! That'll take me a while, heh, heh. You do find some fantastic sites sir :)

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  3. What a fabulous archive that must be. I didn't realise they went back as far as that (or cinemas for that matter).

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  4. All your archive research is intriguing, but this is something I definitely will look into. Love the old newsreels.

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  5. ha. enjoy that choc-ice as you peruse your hour away. you find some of the most amazing things.

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  6. Splendid Link & Splendid Link.Nice Ones Alan.

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  7. Nice find! I'm gonna have to slip over there... history junkie that I am!

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  8. That sounds like so much fun...browsing and skipping from one subject to another..yes, that's how I would enjoy them also!

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  9. That is a jewel of a site! It is now bookmarked...I'm doing a bit of archival work although it does not involve film...

    I'll enjoy checking out this site further. Thanks.

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