Movietone Newsreel Archive acquired by AP

Movietone has a new home.


The British produced newsreel archive, clips of which are frequently used in period pieces, has been acquired by The Associated Press.


Newsreel reports are an important, and invaluable, archive of much of the 20th century. Movietone cameras recorded the rise of fascism, Beatlemania, speeches by Gandhi, and the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana all unfolded in front of newsreel cameras.


In fact, the Movietone archive contains the the only High-Definition film of the wedding and Prince Charles and Princess Diana known to exist, as it was filmed in 35mm. The video cameras of the day could not provide the level of detail that even a moderately priced 35mm movie camera was able to provide.


The archive is said to contain over 2,000 hours of digitized film. Additionally, a significant portion of the archive has yet to have been digitized. Some of this content hasn’t been seen since it ran in theaters. And some of these films have never been seen by the general public, having been censored for various reasons.


Filmed records have, since the introduction of the motion picture camera, always provided an impartial witness to events. Still photographs have always been subject to the whim of the photographer. How many important moments have been lost because a photographer simply didn’t snap the photo in time? How many speeches and comments have been misrepresented due to poor transcription? It’s impossible to answer those questions. Motion pictures aren’t given to the same problems. Once the camera is on, it records what it’s pointed at. Microphones record the sound that they ‘hear’. The record is only limited by the available technology. Movie cameras are not perfect, but they represent one of the most important leaps in technology since the invention of movable type.


Associated Press has said it will make the films available for licensing. Hopefully, they will continue to make them available free of charge for private and classroom viewing. The contents of those archives should be viewed as public records, and curated accordingly. In the end, the moments they contain belong not to any one person or corporation, but to the world as a whole, now, and for future generations.