You Can Now Download and Watch Over 9,200 Short Vintage Films for Free

America has always had a unique relationship with film. Movies have shaped the United States in more ways than one, from drive-in theaters to classic blockbuster films. Amid these iconic cultural symbols, there is also a vast array of short films that have been nearly forgotten. The Prelinger Archives‘ goal is to prevent these movies from being lost in the ether.

Rick Prelinger started the archive in 1983 with a focus on preserving “ephemeral” films, which are typically educational or industrial in subject matter. Many of the films listed in the archive are from the mid-20th century and include vintage documentaries, instructional videos, political propaganda, and home videos that provide a glimpse into what life in the United States was like many decades ago. Of the 30,000 films in the Prelinger Archives, over 9,200 can be found at the Internet Archive or uploaded to the official YouTube channel.

Many of the films are as strange or campy as you might imagine, from heavily sanitized sexual education videos on puberty and dating to an uncomfortably long and detailed 31-minute tutorial on how to handle raw meat. But there are hidden gems in the vast online repository as well, including rare performance footage of Billie Holiday, playful Felix the Cat cartoons, and same-day news coverage of major historical events, including the Hindenburg explosion or the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Vintage home videos are where the collection really shines, as these tapes offer an uncensored, unedited look into the lives of everyday Americans. Watching footage of family vacations, road trips, and Christmas celebrations provides a unique glimpse into the past. While the clothes, styles, and social norms have changed drastically since many of these videos were created, they do serve as a reminder that people have always found ways to enjoy themselves and that humans have always been undeniably human. Even though it may take some digging, you are bound to find something that stands out to you in the Prelinger Archives and makes your day a little bit brighter.

The Prelinger Archives has the goal of documenting and preserving vintage films that are normally instructional, educational, or home videos.

Over 9,200 short films from the archive can be found on Internet Archive and the Prelinger Archives YouTube channel.

Prelinger Archives: Website | YouTube
h/t: [Open Culture]

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Sarah Currier

Sarah Currier is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. Based in central Iowa, she is currently enrolled at Iowa State University and is working toward a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in English. She loves all things creative, and when she’s not writing, you can find her immersed in the worlds of television, film, and literature.
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