Becoming a student of cinema (obviously) means a lot more than learning how to use a camera. Film history is one area of cinema that not only can give you a wider and richer perspective, but also can make you a better filmmaker in general. And if you've ever done your own research, especially when it comes to archival documents, you might agree that they're pretty hard to come by -- especially in any kind of fun and interactive way. The Media History Digital Library has launched Lantern, a search platform of their enormous collection of classic media encompassing the histories of film, broadcasting, and recorded sound. How enormous? Over 800,000 pages enormous. Ready to flip through pages of cinematic history?
Before the internet and TV, people received their information through publications, and filmmakers were no different. Learning about cinema meant grabbing a book, periodical, or magazine and studying it intensely until the next edition or issue came out.
Today, the avenues we can take to learn about contemporary cinema are endless -- and easy. However, studying the history of the cinema can be difficult at times, especially if you don't live near a university library or museum that has its own collection of (or access to) historical documents.
The Media History Digital Library is a non-profit initiative that digitizes classic media periodicals that belong in the public domain. Because they're supported by materials' owners loaning them for scanning, as well as donors contributing funds to cover the cost, the MHDL is able to offer access to Lantern for free.
Lantern is interactive -- offering pages from periodicals, books, annuals, and catalogues from a wide array of publications, like Variety, The Film Daily, Photoplay, and American Cinematographer. You can start your search easily by clicking the interactive thumbnails from each publication, or get more specific in the sidebar options. Once you open something of your choosing, the viewer is simple and attractive -- beats the hell out of scrolling through a pdf.
The archival document resources I've come across in my studies have led me to pricey subscriptions or boring and hard to navigate sites, but Lantern is neither. It's interactive, easy to use, and free!
So, check out Lantern for yourself, but make sure you have at least half a day to dedicate to getting completely engrossed in issues of Variety from 1906 or an American Cinematographer article from 1941 about Citizen Kane. Just so you know, this is how I spent my day off.