The spectacle of the sport, if one can call it that, of human fishing is certainly a sight to behold. Screen shot/YouTube

The archive of the Pathé cinema newsreels that documented the “first 70 years of the 20th century” in the United Kingdom and beyond has been released onto YouTube. Some of the clips, such as those of the human fish and the 140-pound 3-year-old, are just too weird not to watch.

As The Guardian’s Stephen Moss explains, many of the moments the news film producers chose to document shed light on our perception of these decades in strange new ways, though don’t expect them to be enlightening. For example, the “jokey commentary” about “Leslie Bowles, the fattest baby in the world,” is in Moss’ word, “appalling,” leading the writer to exclaim, “The 1930s were a brutal decade.”

And among the seemingly trivial bits, Pathé News also captured crucial historical moments such as the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. This clip is cringe worthy in an entirely different way.

The Guardian:

“Our hope is that everyone everywhere who has a computer will see these films and enjoy them,” says Alastair White, general manager of British Pathé. “This archive is a treasure trove unrivalled in historical and cultural significance that should never be forgotten. Uploading the films to YouTube seemed like the best way to make sure of that.”

Admirable sentiments, but you can’t help noticing that a lot of the films they have chosen to highlight are redolent of the modern “sidebar of shame”, with an emphasis on death and disaster. So we get the airship Hindenburg going down in New Jersey in 1937 in a remarkable film that uses music to build tension, powerful effect; Franz Reichelt jumping to his death from the Eiffel tower while testing his homemade parachute in 1912 (in a particularly horrible touch, the crowd below measure the depth of the hole his body made in the ground on impact); and Gerard Masselin suffering a similar fate in 1963 when he jumps out of a plane and his parachute fails to open…

Whether or not these newsreels add much to our knowledge of the 20th century, it certainly feels like all human – and, indeed, non-human – life is here.

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To watch more of the 3,500 hours of film uploaded onto YouTube, click here.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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