Favorite Film Finds of 2016

This post was written with Heidi Holmstrom.

In the past year, staff in the motion picture preservation lab handled millions of feet of film. Films might come to us for inspection and repair, photochemical duplication, or digitization. To follow up last year’s list, we’ve identified a handful of films that were digitized in 2016 and found their way to our list of favorites.

Manufacture of Gas Masks (Local Identifier: 111-H-1204)

Over the past couple of years, in remembrance of the centennial of the conflict, the National Archives has digitized photographs and motion pictures related to World War I. The Stills unit digitized some 24,000 photographs from the Signal Corps, while the motion picture lab has slowly but steadily digitized the Signal Corps’ historical film collection. Compiled in 1936, the series includes other historical events, such as the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial, but the bulk of the series is footage of World War I. We found this film compelling because it shows the entire process of the manufacture of the gas mask, an object of central importance during World War I.


The Hidden Army (Local Identifier: 111-WF-25)

The Hidden Army is a somewhat standard film about the involvement of American women in the war effort during World War II– but with a twist. In a fictional frame story, we see Adolf Hitler in a caged cell, writing his memoirs at the end of the war. Chapter 25 details how Germany’s underestimation of American women led to their defeat. One Nazi official in the film actually laughs at the suggestion that American women will step up to provide the nation’s labor. The Hidden Army was made by the Army Pictorial Service for “the men and women of industry,” ostensibly as a motivational film.


School for Assassins (Local Identifier: 306.2997)

If we could hand out an award for “Narrator of the Year,” it would go to the voiceover talent for the English-language version of the animated anti-communist film School for Assassins, produced in the 1960s for the United States Information Agency. This unsung artist steers us through the tragic story of two brothers at political odds in Latin America. Just listen to the way he spits out the phrase “school for assassins” in the closing line of the film. A+ work!


As the City Sleeps (Local Identifier: 306.8104)

As the City Sleeps is a fascinating peek into the lives of the workers who readied San Francisco’s Produce Market for a day’s customers. We digitized the film after receiving a request from the filmmaker’s son, who was hoping to surprise his father, Charles Larrance, with a copy of the film. As the City Sleeps features gorgeous nighttime photography and serves as a record of this significant San Francisco landmark.


Route One (Local Identifier: 235-ADA-2)

Route One is the only film we know of that allows you to see the world through the eyes of a hungover St. Bernard. The dog, named Patches, belongs to one of the students at Jackson Junior High, who is, coincidentally, learning all about alcohol in health class. This 1976 alcohol education film includes a folky song explaining how to avoid hangovers. There is also a bizarre animated sequence explaining the route alcohol takes into the bloodstream and how it affects the body. They don’t make alcohol education films like this anymore! Probably for good reason.

For more about the alcohol education films in the Jackson Junior High series, see this blog post from August.

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