Image Credit: BFI
If you often find yourself looking at the YouTube trending page, feeling slightly confused by all the bright colours and arrows: a new media scandal that you like to pretend you know (or care) about, another James Corden Carpool Karaoke or Piers Morgan rant, ‘Americans react to grime’ videos, or ‘insert here’ 24 hour challenges that make you question your decision to go to university instead of dedicating your time to making aesthetically ‘cute’ morning routine videos, or reacting to K-pop with enthusiasm and / or disgust, then you are not alone.
Undoubtedly, the new symbol of success will not be going to university and getting a glitzy job that our parents won’t be ashamed to share with their friends as they say, “oh yes, they’ve really landed on their feet”, but will be YouTube visibility and success. Being a lawyer, journalist or banker isn’t enough by itself to make strangers raise an impressed (or disgusted) eyebrow, you must perform all this on YouTube, and it is in the performance rather than the reality where success now lies.
Anyway, without going completely off-topic I will bring this depressing hyperbole somehow to the topic I want to discuss: the British Film Institute free online player. I want to discuss this archive in relation to YouTube and put forward the case that – well, for me at least - it’s a much more productive way of wasting time, and much more wholesome. I know YouTube has plenty of good things on it and many people watch channels they are genuinely interested in, but for me I somehow seem to be drawn to the most alienating, colourful and populist videos. On YouTube I have the mental age of a 12-year- old. I have let my YouTube existence be governed by the recommended algorithm, I have lost control of my YouTube identity and I often find myself, in a state of morbid procrastination, watching videos with titles like ‘A day in the life of Banker in Canary
Wharf, London’, which in its own way is weirdly disturbing, and Jimothy Lacoste music videos on repeat.
The BFI free archive is a way of both regaining control of my time-wasting and potentially calling this time wasting educational, though as you shall see, this is a bit of a stretch. The collection is nicely organised into categories and has everything from full length features to 30 second news bits. It also features a BFI Britain on film map in which you can type in an address and see all the archive videos which have been filmed around there. I spent an afternoon watching 1970s news features of Lincoln’s traffic problems and pleasant travelogue
videos of people picking potatoes which I can tell you is still very much hot news today.
There are public information films which will most likely terrify you, NHS films, one being titled ‘Word of Mouth’ from 1989 which is a public research funded hellraiser-style education film highlighting the potential fears of patients going to the dentists and ways of alleviating such fears. The film shoots the fear of the patients in a horror style, for example, a patient doesn’t know the direction to the dentist and is plunged into sheer dread while on a roundabout; to alleviate this make sure the dental practice is easily locatable on a map. It shows the before and after of him without and with a map and the change is remarkable. It is genuinely compelling, and you could just about justify
to yourself that it’s educational, you never know, you might suddenly find yourself working at a dentist.
Probably my favourite category to watch is ‘WTF-A Box of Odd’, which has videos
such as ‘Bothered by a Beard?’ from 1946 and ‘Frank Liptrot who talks to animals’ from 1977. Of course, delving into the archive instead of YouTube might seem slightly redundant, all these old archive films can probably be found on YouTube. My answer to this is the archive may be a way of helping you take back control of
your time-wasting, and if you are patriotic or have been inspired since Brexit-day to very literally adopt the take back control philosophy in all aspects of your life, then there is nothing more British than wasting your time the right way, the British way. Take Back Control.