Library of Congress Launches Its National Screening Room
Library Rare glimpses of George and Ira Gershwin working and socializing… Mid-20th century newsreels made for African-American audiences… Paper prints of D.W. Griffith shorts… Footage of the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, William McKinley, and Frank Sinatra…
Those are among hundreds of hours of motion pictures that The Library of Congress has digitized and made freely available on its newly launched National Screening Room website.
The first phase of the project features 281 titles. The site can be accessed online.
Most of the content in the National Screening Room is in the public domain. Movies that the Library believes to be in the public domain are fully downloadable. In the case of copyrighted motion pictures in the collection, the Library obtained permissions to make those available as streaming files.
This digital offering showcases the wealth and diversity of the Library’s vast moving image collections. The Library has the largest and most comprehensive archive of moving images in the world, totaling more than 1.6 million items.
Visitors to the National Screening Room can sample the nation’s cinematic history in all of its forms. The films range from fiction and non-fiction to home movies and social life and customs to newsreels and actualities, covering a period of more than a hundred years, from 1890-1999.
In celebration of the 120th anniversary of George Gershwin’s birth on Sept. 26, the National Screening Room features 17 home movies of George and Ira Gershwin made between 1928 and 1939. These provide rare glimpses of the Gershwin brothers, sometimes working but primarily socializing with family and famous friends.
“I’m overjoyed that the Library of Congress has digitized this collection and is now making it available for viewing,” said Michael Owen, consulting archivist of the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts. “The Gershwin home movies, long held in Ira Gershwin’s Beverly Hills archive, contain amazing images of interest to historians and fans alike.”
One highlight of the Gershwin collection is five reels of a party for Liza Minnelli on her second or third birthday. Ira Gershwin, Liza’s godfather, hosted the party at his home in Beverly Hills in 1948. Partygoers also included Liza’s mother Judy Garland, Harold Arlen, Sid Luft, and Arthur Freed. There is also behind-the-scenes footage of Fred Astaire’s performance in the 1937 “Slap That Bass.”
Other collection highlights include:
- 33 issues of the “All-American News” (1942-1945), a newsreel made specifically for African-American audiences during the mid-20th century;
- 103 titles from the Library’s Paper Prints Collection, including several shorts directed by D. W. Griffith for Biograph Company and films including the likes of Mary Pickford, such as Mugsy Becomes a Hero (1910);
- Historical and iconic figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, William McKinley, Frank Sinatra, Mary McLeod Bethune, Adam Clayton Powell and Art Carney;
- A selection of films about mental health released in the 1950s.
The Library will add new content to the National Screening Room every month, including titles named to the National Film Registry because of their cultural, historical and aesthetic significance.