Thursday, August 18, 2005

Legal and free: Films from the archive

For years the music and filmindustry complained about the illegal downloads via the Internet. However, apart from 2nd hand trading through eBay and TradeMe the offer to "poor" people gets bigger and bigger by the day. It will be many years until we can download the latest Hollywood blockbusters but for those who love classic movies and don't want to spend money on old VHS tapes or DVD's (if available) there is an option.

First port of call for all filmfans online is the library of the Internet Archive. Hundreds of titles are already available, from Wild West to Zombie movies, slapstick comedies to action dramas. And only just recently one of the most wellknown movies has been added. More famous for its ridiculously cheap look, Plan 9 From Outer Space reached cult status amongst film buffs and even reached a more mainstream audience when Tim Burton made Ed Wood, a biopic on its director Ed Wood.

Fans of Vampire and Zombie movies also have the option to legally download The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the classic silent horror movie by the german director Robert Wiene in 1920. In addition Murnau's ultimate vampire movie Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) and also the first Hollywood movie about the living dead, White Zombie (1932) with Bela Lugosi and George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1967) are available. If you don't want to be scared, there are several romantic comedies, Wild West movies, Tarzan movies (seems to have been a genre in that time) and movies from the legendary Three Stooges.

How is this all possible? Simple, the copyrights of all those movies have expired and are now public domain. The Internet Archive is seeing itself as the modern equivalent of the Library of Alexandria which wants to archive knowledge aquired in the digital age. In addition to the film it also offers free music, text documents and the "Wayback Machine", a search engine looking through the archives of the world wide web.

Looking through the movies I noticed that the classic Hollywood movie Charade (1963) with Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn and Walter Matthau is available. This is only possible because of an error as the producers forgot to mark the copies of the film with the necessary copyright. For the sake of space and time I cannot indulge in explaining how copyrights or public domains work but I suggest looking through Wikipedia for Public Domain or Copyright.

The format available for the movies are usually in the broadband saving MP4 format, which still looks alright on a computer screen or the professional MPEG-2 format, which can be burned immediately onto a blank DVD.

The reason why I became interested in this subject was that I can freely distribute those films on DVD to friends and family and most importantly I can cut or mix those movies the way I want it. For example Dean Lachiusa made a "Survivor Cut" of Night of the Living Dead where he leshed out the story by adding a new beginning with a NASA launch, a flashback that adds backstory to the Johnny & Barb Cemetery experience, and well placed color during delicate scenes. Legally!! As soon as I have some editing skills on Final Cut Pro I will try to update Charade and cut it down to a 60min running time instead of its original 113min. Just imagine if "my" new updated version becomes succesful? I could legally pocket all the proceeds.

Keep it foolish!


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