Highlights from the British MovieTone Darkweb

While researching oscilloscope art — more on that tomorrow — I stumbled on the MovieTone Digital Archive, an incredible and underrated online resource for vintage British newsreel footage from the 1930s to the late 1970s.

Amazingly, it seems virtually unknown on the web, linked seven times on Del.icio.us and only 33 links in Google’s index. It’s almost certainly because of the registration wall, with no clear insight into what’s hiding behind the curtain. But once you register (for free), you get access to full access to the entire video archive in high-quality Quicktime or Windows Media.

Funny enough, I noticed that their Quicktime previews are viewable outside of their site. So, as long as it lasts, here’s a small sampling of my favorites from the 48,500+ reels in the British MovieTone News archive.

Computer History

Cogs All Set for the Big Count (1931)

“A robot machine will sort out your secrets” when the British Census was conducted in the 1930s. Amazing footage of women speed-typing data into punch cards.

Human Voice Machine (1939)

Demonstration of the Bell Labs “Voder,” a valve/tube-driven speech synthesizer controlled by a chordal keyboard, at the Golden Gate Exposition. More on the Voder, with additional sound samples.

Computer Hits The Headlines (1964)

How computers are revolutionizing the newsroom.

Honeywell-Emett Forget-Me-Not Computer (1966)

Rowland Emett’s creative kinetic art that Time Magazine in 1974 called “a hilarious sendup of the whole electronic-brain industry.”

Accidental Art (1968)

“Cybernetic Serendipity,” an art exhibition demonstrating “creative forms generated by technology,” including Bruce Lacey’s R.O.S.A (Radio Operated Simulated Actress), Edward Ihnatowicz’ Sound Activated Mobile, John Ravilious’ Drawing Machine, and another creation by Emett. It’s like Maker Faire circa 1968!

London Telecommunications Exhibition (1969)

Demonstrating a typical office in 1909 and 1970, with some predictions about office life in 1990. Pretty much nails every prediction, including telecommuting, CAD, and cordless phones.

Info Fair (1970)

Technology companies show their latest products, including the newest offerings from IBM, STC, and others. “Today, the Bible can be recorded in its entirety on one tiny slip of microfilm.”

Valentine Cards (1970)

“Today, the language of love is mass-produced.”

Slimming by Computer (1970)

Profile of Weightcheckers International, a computerized diet service. “So if you’re chubby, tubby, or just plain fat, stick to your diet. The hard work’s done by the computer.”

New ERNIE Computer (1973)

ERNIE, the Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment, was a giant random-number generator created to select prize winners of a savings bond lottery in Britain. Ernie Mark 2 was designed to look like the set of Goldfinger. More on ERNIE.

Color Footage of ERNIE 2 (1973)

More great footage of ERNIE in color, but mute.

Arts & Entertainment

A Bubble – By Dali (1966)

Dali Story (1969)

Two clips of Salvador Dali appearing in public, one painting in an enclosed bubble in a park and the other unveiling a painting. In both clips, the commentary is sarcastic, often insulting. Strange.

Amusement Exhibition (1969)

Tons of great mechanical games. Sega’s Periscope and Helicopter both looked great. Note that even then, there were booth babes at gaming conventions.

Opening of Disney World (1971)

This one’s for Cory Doctorow. Long profile of the Magic Kingdom in Florida.

1973 Academy Awards (1973)

Red carpet footage from the 1970s and shots from the quaint show. “Godfather” gets Best Picture, “Cabaret” cleans up, and Marlon Brando sends Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse his Oscar.

Amusement Trade Fair (1976)

Great footage of early arcade, amusement, and coin-op games from the the mid-1970s. I couldn’t recognize any of these, but Jason Scott spotted Indy 800.

Selfridges Toy Fair (1977)

Color footage of ’70s toy stores, focusing on the elaborate window displays at Christmas. Muppets, Dr. Who, the Magic Roundabout, and The Rescuers are featured.

Science & Industry

Thomas Edison Dies at Age of 84 (1931)

Delightful, too-brief interview on his 84th birthday about Einstein’s theory of relativity, talking pictures, and being 84. Footage of Edison hanging out with Hoover and Henry Ford.

The Atomic Bomb (August 30, 1945)

Three weeks after the bombing of Hiroshima, this reel sums up the broad highlights of the events at the start of the Atomic Age. Nice footage of the Oak Ridge, Tennessee factory of the Manhattan Project and its employees.

Wot! No Gravity (1958)

Study of weightlessness in parabolic arc plane rides before manned space flight. Mostly, I just linked this because of the Lolcat headline.

I’ve barely scratched the surface, mostly with silly stuff. Every major political and social event is in there too, not just robots and rockets. If you register, which I encourage, post your favorites in the comments!

Update: Greg at Daddytypes found a bunch of odd baby-related clips, including a great Wonder Baby.


    Awesome. When I was a kid, I wanted to have a collection of stuff like this when I “grew up”. I’m getting an account. in the morning. Kinda reminds me of the “History of Bell Labs”.

    you know the site is meant for finding and licensing clips for commercials, film/tv etc, yes?

    Very interesting finds.

    In regards to the first video, punch card census by IBM was custom-implemented for Nazis to register Jewish people — even after it was known in the US what the Nazis had planned, and also even after it was illegal to cooperate with them. IBM’s then-boss Watson received the highest medal of honor a foreigner could get from Hitler. IBM.com’s history page today is very silent on that period, but it is detailed in the book IBM and the Holocaust.

    Anonymous: Yes, I realize it’s for licensing clips. The strange thing is that I couldn’t figure out how this was possible, as it seems the site is completely broken. I tried adding clips to my Clip Bin, but that doesn’t seem to do anything. There are no prices or checkout options, as far as I can tell. It’s a mystery.

    DO you know that this is not legal and Movietone websites owner can take you to the court for publishing their clips from anouther website without their permission?

    May be you should take this a bit more seriously and feel lucky that they have not yet noticed this.

    There’s absolutely no law against linking to videos on the Internet. I’m not hosting the videos myself; they are. If Movietone wanted to, they could disable hotlinking from their server at any time.

    If I mirrored their content on my own webserver without their permission, that’s a violation of copyright law. But I’m not!

    I’m a fan of Rowland Emett’s wonderful drawings and own a copy of THE EARLY MORNING MILK TRAIN: The Cream of Emett Railway Drawings. The Stephen Greene Press, Brattleboro, Vermont.

    Do you know who own copyright to Emmett’s drawings? i’d like to use on for a chapbook cover. I own a small press always operating in the red and don’t know if this is possible. Jennifer

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