Where can I find newsreels and films from the 1910s?
February 18, 2013 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Calling film historians and conservators! I am working on a historical novel set in the 1910s and I would like to get more of a feel for the time and place. Are there any high-quality online archives of films and newsreels of that era, from the likes of Vitagraph, Essanay and other studios?

I have found some resources on youtube (for example, Cure for Pokeritis), but I've found even more references to showings of films that have either not been digitized or not made available online. Beyond youtube, are there any sites that specifically have good collections of films that have been preserved or, even better, preserved and curated?
posted by burnfirewalls to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
When I was a kid I used to sift through anything I could find with images from the Bettmann Archive.

When I was in college I took a class in Silent Film, and saw quite a few films from the era you describe.

The problem is that most of the film stock was shot on celluloid, which is fragile and flammable (see Inglorious Basterds for a demonstration.) So so much of the stock has been lost.

There are still some great movies out there, you might have to pay for them. Here's a list on IMDB.

I found a DVD of the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for $2 at Wal-Mart, so you might have some luck with specific titles and eBay. Also, keep an eye peeled on Turner Classic Movies. They used to do silents on Tuesday nights.

Here's a list of films from 1900 to 1910. Not an awful lot of them to be sure.

So much of the film in that every early era were shorts. Here's an interesting site from UC Berkeley.

Here's the copyright information for the US:

95 years from publication or 120 years from creation whichever is shorter (anonymous works, pseudonymous works, or works made for hire, published since 1978)

95 years from publication for works published 1964–1977; 28 (if copyright not renewed) or 95 years from publication for works published 1923–1963 (Copyrights prior to 1923 have expired.)

I'm not sure if copyright factors in, but it may.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:05 PM on February 18, 2013

How about Europa Film Treasures? They've got a number of films from the turn of the last century. This month, they're featuring a 1912 version of Sherlock Holmes.

The Library of Congress American Memory Project may also have what you're looking for. They have some of Edison's films, news coverage from the San Francisco Earthquake, early 1900s NYC, some of the first animations, etc. The site is a little hard to navigate, so don't give up if you don't find the streaming links right away. They're there, I promise!
posted by juliaem at 1:19 PM on February 18, 2013

Library of Congress has some non-youtube films in its American Memory Collection. You can go in through this link and go to Motion Pictures and limit by timeframe. Keep in mind that while some of these stream a lot of them are downloadable. There's a ton of stuff there but (on preview) yeah the interface is awful, but it's worth persevering.
posted by jessamyn at 1:22 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can watch British Movietone on line at AP Archives--you have to register, but it's not big deal. Also, University of South Carolina, archive.org, WPA Film Library (also register, no big deal, but not everything is digitized, and you'd need to be ordering a screener). But 1910 isn't the ideal year for newsreels. You can buy the Edison films on DVD, and other silents films.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:04 PM on February 18, 2013

For newsreels specifically, as Ideefixe says, the 1910s aren't the ideal period for extant examples. But you can see digitized examples from Pathé News here and UCLA's got the Hearst Metrotone News archive (though they haven't got anything online).

For non-newsreels, there's all sorts of stuff available (though much is lost...). Good starting points for things that would have been popular at the time include Griffith's Biograph-era shorts (here's the Wikipedia filmography) and maybe William S. Hart's films (my great-grandmother's hearththrob! - filmography - Hell's Hinges (1916) is one of the best).

Other general resources: The Bioscope was a great blog on early motion pictures that would be worth some poring over, the TCM database is a fantastic research tool (as it's a back door into the AFI's usually-proprietary catalog of data and synopses), and I can't recommend the Media History Digital Library enough as a source of supporting material on early media culture.
posted by bubukaba at 12:25 AM on February 19, 2013

You have to know what you are looking for, but there are some things on ubuweb.
posted by cellura p at 3:35 AM on February 19, 2013

Thanks to each of you for your replies - this is all solid gold stored in platinum crates beneath a diamond roof.
posted by burnfirewalls at 4:43 PM on March 8, 2013

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