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Fun with the Public Domain

April 20, 2009

My old College just started a new contest specifically tailored toward video editors, and that utilizes old public domain footage. It is called the Recycled Video contest and its goal is to “celebrate Earth Day, Remix Culture, and to promote an awareness of the importance of the public domain.” Even though I am not eligible as an alumni, I, of course, could not pass up such a fun idea. I got a hold of the mini-dv tape with the 50 minutes or so of old footage from the Prelinger Archives, and went to town. Here is what resulted:

Now, the goal of the project was to show the value that such public domain footage has in its ability to be manipulated. And not merely as a way to represent the time it was created in, but more for its ability to be useful now (like how a collage of old pictures can be viewed as current artwork). Parody is not a necessity, but certainly something I can identify with. So, I opened the video like that of a tv show. When looking through the footage, the first thing that struck me was the girl’s acting and how she casually suggests that if “she was a motor” than a boy might perhaps take more interest in her. This scene was great because I really wanted to play with the idea of man and machine, and how obsessed we are with technology. Also, the idea of having the girl imagine herself as a train really made me chuckle.

I ended the scene with a mushroom cloud just because it tied in with the voice over of “fallout of litter.” I edited the dialog to say “trash only becomes trash because of scientific advancements and modern living.” I think this statement is also a good summary of my goal. As we advance as a society, so many items become outdated and thrown out, simply because of a better replacement. Plus, it is also a discussion of the archival footage and how we’ve thrown it away. Of course, youtube is a strange beast that allows for the re-valuing of old footage as well as the re-defining.

I then changed the voice over of “who would think that from this crude oil pure baby oil is refined” to “Who would have thought that from this baby pure crude oil is refined.” Again, I liked playing with the connections of humans to machines, or in this case that oil is refined from a baby. The original footage itself was drawing a connection between birth and the country’s need for oil, so i just took it a step further. I was also trying to suggest that if baby equals oil, than oil also equals baby. I mean just look around your room and everything in it can probably be measured in a quantity of oil (transportation and production).

The rest of the video I just play with connections and imagery, and tying the human to the machine. I also made a point to breakdown the “serene grandeur of our glistening structures” with the mass chaos of the city. Sure we are capable of building something beautiful, but there is always a cost, or side effect as the case may be. Think along the lines of hotels obscuring a beautiful coast.

Also, throughout the piece I tried to create a feeling of anxiety, tension, and fear which was quite easy to accomplish with the footage since some of it was about the big bomb. Even though we aren’t in a cold war or an arms race, we all are still quite scared of where all this technology is taking us. Even more so now, with all of the economic problems we are currently dealing with. The future (more specifically, our view of the future) isn’t guaranteed. And that is how I recycled my footage. Of course, I was just having fun as well.

Want to get your own footage to play with? It is all easily downloadable from right here:

Prelinger Archives
General Internet Archive

Please note: fake mustaches have been received, new short to follow soon!

(Originally Posted on March 16th, 2009)

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