Mr Valve
at the

THIS final cost $1.29!


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Favorites from the Prelinger Archives


On The Air


On the Air

(Jam Handy, 1937)

This is a barefaced plug for a Chevrolet music show with a VERY elementary explanation of the technical miracle of Amplitude Modulation. Lots of violin music from a campy orchestra all dressed up for the radio. LOTS OF VALVES!

Review and stills



Voice of Victory


Voice Of Victory

(Jam Handy, 1944)

Made for Hallicrafters. Starts out as kind of your typical rally-the-war-production feel-good flick, but becomes the radio geek movie of ALL TIME! Boat anchor fans will be in heaven. I want one of these transmitters, BAD!!!!

Review and stills



Electronics at Work

Electronics at Work

(B.K. Blake, 1943)

Westinghouse paid for this VERY basic educational film on the wondrous Vacuum Tube. This might have the earliest Valve Dance ever filmed. Needless to say, at the end Mr. Valve saves England from Hitler.

Review and stills



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The Prelinger Archives

I first met Rick Prelinger through the old, defunct Radio Communications Monitoring Association. He lived in New York, but he'd come out to this coast for his Ephemeral Film screenings. Also, his scanner once appeared, quite unexpectedly, in a very cutting-edge art show called SURVEILLANCE. The radio sat there, happily receiving the cops, as a piece on exhibit. It was an installation, so to speak.

Rick Prelinger is like this. It turns out that we are disturbingly alike.

Before it became part of the Library of Congress, Rick's absolutely enormous collection was hidden away in the not-yet-discovered Meat Market district of Manhattan. At that time, there were still a couple of companies that actually sold meat, in among the designer firms, art lofts, and ultra-hip clubs where a different sort of meat became available nightly. Today, hip has morphed into tragically hip, mixing with the crowds attracted by the new urban park on the "High Line."

The Prelinger Archives remain an absolutely priceless collection of not just ephemera and/or camp, but true social and political history written inadvertantly from the bottom up by several industrial and informational film companies. The largest, and strangest, body of films comes from the prolific Jam Handy Organization in Michigan, way back when the Motor City was still just that.

The diminutive Handy was an Olympic swimming medalist. He said what he believed, which ultimately got him suspended by the University of Michigan for saying something the faculty didn't like. He finished his degree at the school of hard knocks. No film schools then! He became a self-taught master of marketing propaganda, who is still studied in universities such as the one he got kicked out of.

None of these film makers set out to record anything for posterity. They were in business to satisfy clients, and get paid. 60 years later, though, these decontextualized little films are an astonishing look not only at a time but at a set of assumptions about the universe that is (quite fortunately) gone forever. Best of all, thousands of titles have passed into the public domain. While you can still pay to use them commercially through Getty Images, non-commercial personal downloads are not only possible but encouraged on this sub-page of The Internet Archive.

If you can find Rick's long-out-of-print Our Secret Century series of CD-ROMs, grab it. It lays out his thesis that a lot of our culture was created quite intentionally by corporations and ruling social classes, with the help of eminent psychologists lured from academia. We come to see these short films, which were financed by the likes of General Motors, and often intended as school or public lessons, as nothing less than training materials for the post-modern American consumer. Who knew?

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