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Filmed on Friday December 19, 02008

Rick Prelinger

Lost Landscapes of San Francisco

Rick is founder of Prelinger Archives in San Francisco, whose moving image holdings may be found online at www.archive.org. Rick co-founded Prelinger Library (www.prelingerlibrary.org), a publicly-available collection of historical periodicals, books, print ephemera, maps and government documents.

Rick Prelinger is a guerrilla archivist who collects the uncollected and makes it accessible. Prelinger will be presenting his third annual "Lost Landscapes of San Francisco" event, an eclectic montage of lost and rarely-seen film clips showing life, landscapes and labor in a vanished San Francisco as captured by amateurs, newsreel cameramen and industrial filmmakers.

How we remember and record the past reveals much about how we address the future. Prelinger will preface the film with a brief talk on how fragmentary, incomplete histories are being overtaken by pervasive real-time documentation, and how history, memory and property are combining into a new matrix of experience.

Since 01983 Rick has been collecting ephemeral films: advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur works. In 02002, the Prelinger film collection of over 200,000 items was acquired by the Library of Congress; much of it is available online at the Internet Archive. In 02004 Prelinger and spouse Megan opened the Prelinger Library in downtown San Francisco, which includes over 50,000 pieces of print ephemera, books, periodicals, maps and zines.

We encourage the audience to interact with the film, especially to identify mystery scenes!

Four Dimensional Cities

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”.

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We would also like to recognize George Cowan (01920 - 02012) for being the first to sponsor this series.