Documents 9. Prelinger Archives

Behind the American Dream

Sunday, 17 March 2019 - 6pm
Free, until full capacity is reached
Sabatini Building, Auditorium


Encounter and film screening language:

English, with simultaneous interpretation

Organized by
Museo Reina Sofía
Festival Punto de Vista

Created in 1982, the Prelinger Archives form the largest collection of international ephemeral cinema, with over 60,000 advertising, propaganda, educational, and amateur films, as well as home movies and American landscape films shot across the length and breadth of the 20th century — proof of its importance also lies in its acquisition in 2002 by the USA’s Library of Congress. This monumental archive becomes the focal point of the ninth edition of the Museo Reina Sofía’s Documents programme, which looks at artists’ publications, platforms, networks and independent publishing spaces, in addition to the potential of archive to reinvent narratives of art and its ecosystem. This edition opens with a presentation of the Prelinger Archives by founder Rick Prelinger, before screening different films interwoven into a common thread: the idea of future and progress in post-war American capitalism.

The content of the Prelinger Archives comprises a captivating archaeology of the cultural, social and political landscape in the United States, particularly in the period stretching from 1920 to 1980: animated propaganda films, government-made education films, messages from major corporations, and the first advertisements showing the ideology and manipulation concealed by the American dream. The archive is also one of the most comprehensive examples of digital preservation and dissemination, with around 7,000 digitised titles, accessible in the public domain free of charge through its association with the Internet Archive project since 2002. Its accessibility and the interest in its content have seen it become a perpetual source of information and inspiration for artists and film-makers like Guy Maddin and Adam Curtis.

This session features a number of film screenings, including home movies and other films made by corporations and government agencies, reflecting the consumerism, paranoia and obsession with the future in twentieth-century US culture. The films are only a taster of the 500,000-plus films produced in the USA in this period to promote not only the consumption of products characterising a set way of life, but also to turn Americans into voracious consumers, law-abiding citizens, model students, and children that adhere to marked gender patterns. Although their messages struggle to influence today’s worldly public, these films represent a kind of cinema that is still trying, just as it did sixty years ago, to uphold the American dream, in its firm belief in the capacity for a conflict-free world, its faith in the private company and capitalism as promises of a better future, and its optimistic and finalised view of history, where the American people have their destiny mapped out.


Rick Prelinger (Washington D.C., 1953) is an archivist, writer, film-maker and educator, and the founder of the Prelinger Archives. He is also the director of Panorama Ephemera (2004), a collage of sequences on lifestyles and American ideology, and the home movie More Road Trips? (2013) on experiences of the open road. His participatory project Lost Landscapes reconstructs, through home movies, urban memory in cities like San Francisco, Detroit, Oakland and Los Angeles. He is also a professor of cinema and digital media at the University of California.   


Sunday, 17 March 2019 – 6pm
Sabatini Building, Auditorium
With a presentation of the Prelinger Archives by Rick Prelinger, who will comment on fragments of the following films:

Robert R. Snody
The Middleton Family at the New York World’s Fair
1939, colour, English, sound, 35mm transferred to digital, 55’
Produced by Audio Productions for the Westinghouse Electric Company

Home Movie: Beany’s Drive-In, Long Beach, California
1952-1953, colour, sound, original version, 16mm transferred to digital 8’19’’

Carl Urbano
A is for Atom
1953, colour, sound, original version, 35mm transferred to digital, 15’
Produced by John Sutherland for the General Electric Company 

The House in the Middle
1954,  colour, sound, original version, 35mm transferred to digital, 12’10’’
Produced by W.J. Enders and Associates for the National Clean Up-Paint-Fix Up Bureau, with the collaboration of the Federal Civil Defense Administration

Home movie: Las Vegas
1958, colour, sound, original version, 16mm transferred to digital, 4’

Carl Urbano
Destination Earth
1956, colour, sound, original version, 35mm transferred to digital, 13’37’’
Produced by John Sutherland for the American Pretroleum Institute

Design for Dreaming
1956, colour, sound, original version, 35mm transferred to digital, 9’16’’  
Produced by MPO Productions for General Motors

Virginia Bell and Bert Spielvogel
In the Suburbs
1957, colour, sound, original version, 35mm transferred to digital, 19’30’’
Produced by On Film, Inc. for Redbook Magazine

American Look
1958, colour, sound, original version, 35mm transferred to digital, 28’
Produced by Jam Handy for the Chevrolet Motor Company