Wednesday, April 23, 2014

British Pathé News: Beat School (1961) and 85,000 others

On April 13th, British Pathé News released 85,000 of its films on to YouTube.

I remember seeing Pathé newsreels at the cinema in the late sixties and early seventies. The appearance of a Pathé film always roused a groan from a cynical young audience. We knew we were in for 5 minutes of a plummy-voiced narrator over a simple-minded film that skimmed over its misunderstood subject with the blithe no-fucks-given of the upper class making a show at educating the lower classes.

That was when the subject was contemporaneous with our lived experience, of course. Looking at them now, the newsreels are AWESOME.  The plummy-voice bloke is still there of course, and his inch-deep and mile-wide excavation still leaves the vast majority of its subject completely unexposed, but something magic has happened in the meantime. The films have become little windows into the past you can look through, ignoring Mr. Received Pronunciation, and see real people in great color.

A few days ago, I put up a Pathé newsreel on Liverpool in the early sixties, and the trove has many such popular culture films. There are a dozen on the Rolling Stones alone, for instance.  To find your own favorite subject, just subscribe to Pathe's channel and hit the search button.

Here's a random example: it is an exploration of a boarding school (a private high school with live-in students) in 1961, which for whatever reason has decided to let the school children do what they want. Leather jacketed greasers, mods and rock'n'roll girls smoke cigarettes and study "drama" while beatnik teachers hang around. Over cheerfully incongruous classical background music, the narrator manages to sound thoroughly entranced by the subject matter. I'm sure if you switched his script for Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven, his perky enthusiasm would continue unabated.

I wonder what happened to the kids when they grew up. They'd be nearly 70 by now. Are they still free spirits? How did they educate their kids? Or was the school just lying to Pathé in the first place?


 "England has long been famous for its educational establishments, the freedom of choice of schools and for their political and social toleration. But here's a boarding school where youth is not merely allowed but encouraged to have its fling." Shots of children arriving at school. Some arrive on their own motorbikes, others jump out of a van. The kids wear casual clothes - jeans and leather jackets. A couple of the boys are "rockers" with quiffs and sunglasses, some might be called "beatniks". They go into the school building - this is the progressive Burgess Hill School in Hertfordshire. 
 The films are fully annotated, which makes them easily searchable.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin
I sometimes mention a product on this blog, and I give a URL to Amazon or similar sites. Just to reassure you, I don't get paid to advertise anything here and I don't get any money from your clicks. Everything I say here is because I feel like saying it.