Tonight at MOCAD, San Francisco archive activist Rick Prelinger showed an hour’s worth of material from his vast collection of film images of Detroit from the first three quarters of the 20th century (earliest 1917; latest in the 70s). I attended, along with several hundred other people—the space was full to overflowing. The screening was open to audience participation, and Prelinger, after his opening statement, encouraged vocal responses.
This dynamic made for a unique occasion. To begin with, the range of Prelinger’s material was limited—indeed, its limitations made for a kind of interpretive framework in themselves. We saw clips of downtown and water transport (modernity); the auto industry (mode of production); suburbs (community) and family (reproduction); police work (power); and local landmarks that no longer exist (history). We did not see sufficient images of labor or the black community, as Prelinger noted, likely due to the distribution and use of home movies.