Texas Archive of the Moving Image Flashback: 'Target Austin'


Target Austin: The Paramount

Looking for a reason to fall in love with the Internet all over again? If you're a fan of Texas history and culture like I am, you need look no further than the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI).

Created by an Austin nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Texas film heritage, the site is an amazing library of home movies, industrial and educational films, documentaries, local TV programs, news stories and commercials, and all manner of Texas-related video ephemera. If you're looking for slickly produced, Hollywood-style takes on Texas, you probably won't find them on the TAMI site. But if you're looking for 1960s Austin National Bank commercials, an early 1970s Texas Education Agency film titled The New American Schoolhouse, a family's home movies of their trips around Austin and Central Texas in the 1950s, or footage of Harry Truman's 1948 visit to El Paso, TAMI is the site for you.

The beauty of the site is that so much of its content was completely ordinary in its day, but is now extraordinary. Many of the films and videos weren't meant to stand the test of time; they were purely utilitarian productions designed for short-term use, to entertain, entice or instruct their audience and then be discarded or relegated to a musty storage closet. But their creators unwittingly captured glimpses of real, everyday life that are now unexpectedly interesting, warmly nostalgic and of great historical value. And thanks to TAMI, these long-lost films and videos are seeing the light of day again. Again, TAMI is another reason to love the Internet.

TAMI relies on contributions from the public for its content and welcomes submissions of any Texas-related films or videos. If the material is suitable for the site, TAMI will digitize it for free. If it is not suitable or you do not want it posted but still want it digitized, TAMI will do so for a fee. In either case, TAMI returns your original media and a digital copy. This is a great way to preserve those ancient home movies that have been gathering dust on your closet shelf, while also helping a very worthwhile organization. The site also includes storage tips to preserve your media for as long as possible.

With its many and varied videos, calling the library eclectic would be an understatement; where else can you find a 1978 tour of the newly completed Dallas City Hall, commercials for Fair Maid Bread and Gas-A-Teria produced in San Antonio in 1950, and footage of a 1950s Amarillo Shriners Parade? As such, the library's random nature can make it difficult to find videos on a particular subject, although the site includes a standard search window. Instead, I recommend browsing in the curated collections such as Pieces of the Past and Home is Where the President Is, or searching on a general term such as a city name. (Searching on Austin produced a list of nearly 400 videos related to our fair city. I have, ahem, repurposed many hours of valuable work time watching these videos.)

I also recommend clicking the Random Film link, because half the fun of the site is discovering videos you didn't know you were looking for. For example, who knew that outtakes from TV news person-on-the-street interviews could be so fascinating? If the TAMI site proves anything, it's that the passage of time can make even the most mundane footage very watchable. (My only wish is that more of the videos had sound.)

Another great feature of the TAMI site is the ability to tag videos with information about their content. You can identify people, locations and other items, and also share your knowledge and anecdotes about a place, event, etc. The tags greatly enhance the viewing experience, fleshing out the videos and making them far more meaningful with helpful background information. You also can share the videos via e-mail and social networking sites.

The site is also home to Teach Texas, a great resource for teachers who want to use TAMI library videos in their classrooms. Teach Texas has lesson plans and other activities to help teachers use the TAMI library to bring history to life for today's visually oriented students.

This article is the first in a series that will highlight TAMI videos I found especially interesting. My first pick is Target Austin, a 1960 public information film about the unlikely scenario of a nuclear missile strike near Austin. Produced by Austin's KTBC-TV and narrated by the beloved Cactus Pryor, the film follows several fictional and real-life characters (among them is Matt's El Rancho owner Matt Martinez) as they try to protect themselves from the blast and radiation. The image at the top is a screenshot of the Paramount Theatre taken from the film; you might also catch a glimpse of the long-departed Texas Theater (on a very different looking Drag).

I'm sure Target Austin was frightfully serious stuff in its day, the sort of scaremongering TV broadcast that could worry even laid-back Austinites. Fifty years later, however, its preposterous notions about surviving a nuclear attack and melodramatic production values render it more than a little hilarious. The woeful acting doesn't help, either. A lot of scenery survives the blast, only to be chewed to bits by the actors. But all cheesiness aside, Target Austin is an astounding, must-see glimpse of daily life in Lost Austin. It's also a stellar example of the weird and wonderful treasures to be found on the TAMI site.

I love all the locations

Even in the first couple of minutes, you get to see Barton Springs, The University of Texas (the part right where I used to work, too), Congress Avenue (with "traffic" that is laughably light) and The Paramount as they looked in 1960. This is just the kind of thing I love, seeing how a city where I live looked 50 years ago. I could spend all day on TAMI if I didn't have an actual life.

Wagner strikes again!

What a hoot! I found Ride of the Valkyries accompanying the nuclear explosion a nice touch. "I love the smell of fallout in the morning. It smells like...extinction."

Big Surprise for Me

I have already enjoyed the TAMI site, but hadn't seen this gem. Great to see video of Austin as it was in 1960. But I really got a surprise with the credits. Charles Lasiter is credited and he was once married to my cousin. I never knew him, but he worked for Mrs. Johnson at KTBC so it makes sense. I've heard he was very handsome, so I'm going to assume he was the foolish man who tried to outrun a nuclear bomb.