Panorama Ephemera | Chicago Reader

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This 2004 assemblage of excerpts from industrial, educational, advertising, and amateur films, collected by archivist Rick Prelinger over two decades, presents a portrait of 20th-century America, from strikes to elections to civil defense. Clips show smiling drivers wrecking their cars, a boy who's cooking and causes a fire, the “simple beauty of sheep serenely grazing,” a well-constructed house surviving an atomic blast. Using images as the equivalent of words, these films proudly parade their subject matter before us, but American optimism has rarely seemed more misplaced. Respecting his material by showing long excerpts and avoiding easy jokes in editing, Prelinger reveals the films' near-surreal strangeness. 90 min.

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