There are 1000 megabytes in a gigabyte. There are 1000 gigabytes in a terabyte. And there are 1000 terabytes in a petabyte. The Internet Archive has been archiving the entire Internet since 1996, and now contains nearly two petabytes of information – more than even the world’s largest library.
Among that ocean of information is a huge archive of copyright-free and copyright-expired movies. Last week, I browsed the Moving Image Archive and treated myself to a string of films from the dawn of cinema.
I started with Le voyage dans la lune, a short film created in 1902 by Georges Méliès. Méliès created a number of special effects that are still used today, and is credited as the first person to use celluloid to tell self-contained stories.
With my appetite whetted, I spent the next few hours downloading and absorbing Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Fritz Lang, The Man With a Movie Camera, Battleship Potemkin, Nosferatu – and a few Merrie Melodies along the way.
These golden oldies are a pleasure to experience on two levels. First, because they are oddly familiar. The styles and stories, the idioms and issues that characterize the range of cinematic possibility as we perceive it today, were nearly all present from the very beginning. And secondly, never mind the historical interest, they are just wonderful films on their own terms – a great joy to watch.