Cities are designed and built in three dimensions. Watching Prelinger’s historic footage of San Francisco last night (to a more than overflowing crowd) reminds us however that one of the most compelling dimensions to a city is its fourth dimension - time.
The crowd gasped at an incomplete 280 freeway, and watched in amazement as horse and buggies dodged in and out of cable car traffic on Market Street in 01905. We sat silent watching the homeless of the forties, and cheered to see Playland by the Beach and Laughing Sal. Rick reminded us, “The past is not passé, it is prologue.”
Most archives and libraries put up access barriers in response to copyright laws. In contrast Rick has attacked the vast amount of work that is either out of copyright, or left in the ambiguous gray zones, like home movies. We have always been told that there is no economic case for archives, the Prelinger Archive and Library not only upends that notion, but proves that access is the key, not protection.
Rick started out in 01982 as an amateur collector of the un-collected. He began by collecting film out-takes, esoteric commercial films, and all the other ephemera that is usually discarded by archives and libraries. Today he is a professional archivist who funds his collections by selling commercial access, AND giving it away. Rick pointed out that his archival sales go up the more he provides free access. The film student who uses a clip in film school often becomes a professional who buys the content later.
Most interesting in seeing this historic content was the contrast that it draws to our modern sense of place, and the dramatic increase in documentation now going on. Today’s Google Maps Street View shot is tomorrow’s “Lost Landscape”.-- by Stewart Brand