Edinburgh Festival 2012: Inspire A Generation
MOSTLY FILM: Blood From An Angry Sky

MOSTLY FILM: Back Issues

This is what two years worth of Sight & Sound magazines looks like in the Digital Archive. Which is all well and good, but I'd paid for 80 years worth.

Normally when I write a piece for Mostly Film, I'll also lash together a quick bit of supplementary material for this site, so I can get in some much-needed cross-promotion. If I've written about a film, I'll throw in some video links: if it's one of my Monoglot Movie Club jobs, I'll give you some travel tips about the country I was in. It's a formula that's worked well for the last eighteen months, but this week initially looked a bit more problematic.

I'm responsible for just under 50% of Back Issues, a new post that appeared on Europe's Best Website yesterday. In the first half, I have a rant about the BFI's new Digital Archive of their magazines Sight & Sound and Monthly Film Bulletin, and how it's virtually impossible to access even after you've paid for it: in the second half, Clio reviews the archive itself, from the point of view of someone who has access even though they haven't paid for it at all. You can see the problem - it's a review of a website, and not even a website that I can see properly. What sort of backup material can I produce for that?

Happily, I found an answer, thanks to Clio's discussion of the vintage adverts to be found inside the pages of the archive. It made me realise an important thing: what makes this collection of old magazines such a fascinating resource isn't just the film criticism and analysis of the time, it's all the other stuff around it.

I still don't have access to the full archive, but I do have the online demo, and even the half dozen issues of S&S in that have some lovely ads buried inside them. Such as the ones I'm displaying below. Click to embiggen in each case.

Autumn 1935

It's 1935, three years after Sight & Sound was first published, and you find yourself wondering: who was it published for? The answer back then would appear to be, the sort of film enthusiasts who are interested in showing films themselves. Hence lots of adverts for the latest in hi-tech projection equipment.

Spring 1946

And once you've got your projector, what are you going to show on it? For several decades - the above example comes from 1946 - large British companies took up most of the ad space in the front of the magazine, offering you the chance to hire their promotional films. Liven up your child's birthday party with a movie from the series The Technique Of Anaesthesia!

Summer 1952

Obviously, Sight & Sound is the BFI's house mag, so you can also find adverts showing how the organisation's developed over the decades. Here's one from 1952 announcing the opening of the National Film Theatre: but it's not the one we all know and love these days. This was its predecessor, which ran for a few years in a temporary building left over from the Festival Of Britain - it subsequently moved to the current location in 1957.

Summer 1960

Summer 1960, and they're still trying to flog you corporate promotional films. Mind you, unlike ICI, at least some of Esso's shorts have genuine entertainment value. Here's Ronald Searle's Energetically Yours, as mentioned in the ad above.

Autumn 1973

Autumn 1973, and it's London Film Festival time again. As we enter the runup to LFF 2012, with people loudly complaining that big movies like The Master haven't been included in this year's programme, it's fun to look back at 39 years ago and marvel at how obscure the festival selections were in those days. If the BBFC website is to be believed, the film used for the lead image in the above advert - Kon Ichikawa's Matatabi - never had a release in this country outside of the LFF.

July 1983

Finally, it's 1983, and look! You can now watch films on your telly! Not those crappy ICI shorts about anaesthetics, but real movies! Choose from VHS, Betamax, Video 2000 or Laserdisc. Choose carefully, though.


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