Cesar Romero, still in his Joker makeup, smokes a cigarette while talking to a reporter during the Austin premiere of Batman in 1966. A young and exuberant George W. Bush gives an interview to a Midland television station on year 1980 in which he talks about his father’s recent nomination to the vice presidency. In Dallas, an exhausted mother talks about her son’s obsession with Barney the dinosaur. Dressed in a canary-yellow turtleneck, American Bandstand host Dick Clark sits in front of a roaring fire and pulls out Dr. Pepper hot from a punch bowl in a 1968 ad. A choir from Houston’s Western University Baptist Church sings a joyful ode to the elderly, bursting into a kazoo-played refrain.
ACTIVATE THE SOUND! For your Sunday morning heartbreak, check out this 1982 episode of @KHOU11’s “Set the Echoes Ringing” in Houston. It features the Prime Time Singers of West University Baptist Church. The Senior Choir performs their musical “Count On Us”,… complete with KAZOOS!
These moments are the very definition of ephemera: cultural objects of fleeting curiosity and debatable significance, captured for local newscasts or by hobbyists fiddling with commercial cameras. Most of these images spent decades languishing on rotting film or unlabeled VHS tapes stored in closets. But since 2002, the Texas Archive of the Moving Image, the Austin-based nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Texas’ vast film heritage, has collected, cataloged and given new digital life, as generously as can be defined.
Founded by Professor Caroline Frick of the University of Texas at Austin, TAMI accepts submissions of almost any type of film from across the state, from shorts from the silent era to home movies from the 1950s , industrial documentaries to weird adverts from the sixties and seventies, and eighties. He then digitizes them for a small fee, or even for free during his annual Texas Film Round-Up program, which returns in October, with the only condition that the archive keeps a copy. Over the years, this collection has grown to more than 50,000 videos, while the archive’s website has become an indispensable resource for Texas history enthusiasts. It’s also a hell of a way to waste an hour or two. More recently, the archive has become something else: one of the best followers on TikTok.
Much of this viral success can be attributed to Elizabeth Hansen, TAMI’s Managing Director, who joined the archive full-time in February 2020 and immediately began looking for new ways to expand its reach in the community Unfortunately, the start of Hansen’s tenure coincided with the outbreak of COVID-19. So like many others who found themselves suddenly trapped inside, struggling to connect, Hansen turned to TikTok, the short-form video-based social media site that became wildly popular in those lonely early days of the pandemic
“The first time I looked at TikTok, I saw that there was a museum that made snail jokes,” Hansen recalls. “I thought, oh, this doesn’t really work for us. We’re archivists. We don’t really like being in front of the camera. Then I went to a webinar about TikTok where they talked about dancing. And I thought, well, we have all these movies. silent films of people dancing . . .
That May, Hansen launched the archive’s official TikTok account with a short clip taken from a 1996 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders audition, featuring footage of dozens of women with gloriously teased pigtails (and a couple of men who boasting some truly pitiful Billy Ray Cyrus mullets) dancing and gyrating to Valentino Khan’s 2017 single “Pump.” From those humble beginnings, @TexasArchive has grown exponentially, amassing over 56,000 followers in just over two years and nearly doubling website traffic. It’s also been a help with fundraising: Last year, TAMI secured $60,000 to buy a new top-of-the-line 5K film scanner, thanks in large part to that dedicated social media following. “I don’t think we could have raised that much money in such a short amount of time five years ago,” says Hansen. Today, the archive’s TikTok averages thousands of views per video, with frequent viral hits generating hundreds of thousands, not bad for an account that doesn’t feature pranks or elaborate choreography.
At one point, Hansen says, TAMI’s account became so popular that it broke TikTok’s rules prohibiting the use of commercial music by big companies and established brands. So he moved on to another tried and true TikTok topic: celebrities. Hansen began sharing clips of movie stars like Tom Hanks and Arnold Schwarzenegger being interviewed on local news shows, as well as vintage and often silent footage of classic bands playing at places like Dallas’ Cotton Bowl or rodeo from Houston. “Fleetwood Mac getting off a plane in Dallas I think won us twenty thousand fans,” says Hansen.
The account posts up to four times a day, an effort largely spearheaded by TAMI’s recently installed communications contractor Sarah Walters, who joined in May. To keep up with demand, Walters maintains a list of videos that stand out to the archive’s small, insular staff. Then look for topical hooks, choosing clips to post alongside news of celebrity birthdays (or deaths), historic anniversaries or other current events. This is supported by Archives Curator Katharine Austin, who personally eyes almost every video that goes through the digitization process and then keeps them all organized in a searchable database. Whenever Willie Nelson comes up, for example, and when not?, just have Walters plug in Willie’s name to find a treasure trove of images. Together they have made TAMI’s social media presence one of the most reliable points in your feed.
But the archive offers more than entertaining filler. Through regular series such as “Ask an Archivist,” which users were quick to request images of their own hometowns, it also provides Texans with a deeper understanding of their communities. Among TAMI’s most-played clips after Fleetwood Mac are a 1946 industrial video showing the Abilene skyline and a 1960s newsreel filmed in New Braunfels, where vendors in pants and dirndls toss sausages at the annual WurstFest.
“It’s funny, because you wouldn’t think of TikTok as a place for nostalgia,” says Hansen. “You’d assume it’s mostly younger people. But the Huntsville Jail Rodeo is one of our most popular TikToks because the people who watch it actually went there when they were kids. People love seeing what the their communities earlier, because Texas is changing so much all the time.”
There’s also TAMI’s monthly “Archive Dive” live series on Facebook and YouTube where Austin talks to the owners and subjects of some of the vault’s particularly notable collections. The next episode, airing on August 30 at 6pm, will feature Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas and veteran TV director Viet Nguyen revisiting Channel One’s 1990s news show Scope which Nguyen and his classmates at Austin’s Reagan High School did under Thomas’ guidance. These more investigative efforts help fulfill TAMI’s overall mission of not only providing Texans with a greater appreciation of their state, but also letting them know how Texas has been documented and represented.
“We’re called the Texas Archives, and we definitely have things related to Texas history that you learned about in school — oil wells and cowboys and things like that,” Hansen says. “But we have a very broad view of Texas. And a lot of us come from media backgrounds, so we’re very interested in how media is made. It’s something we don’t talk about enough, media literacy. Seeing how sausage is something that helps us understand the media we consume”.
Arguably the main draw of the channel is the material that defies comprehension, things like the 1914 footage of W.A. King, “The Snake King of Brownsville,” as he tosses rattles into a bag in front of a rapt Gulf Coast audience. Or the 1978 film produced for the Dallas-based marketing team of Taylor Wines, in which two robots named “Metal Man and Shorty” who are clearly C-3PO and R2’s lawsuit swindlers -D2 from Star Wars, they jump to disco music next to a leggy blonde.
Hansen gravitates toward these less polished industrial films, starring non-actors and often produced in-house by amateur filmmakers, such as one instructing Texas oilmen’s wives on how to assimilate into Saudi Arabia. Because of Walters’ background in television news, he has a weakness for the cheesy opening credits and crude quips of the local “Action News” casts of the 1980s. Like me, he’s especially fond of Roy Faires, the former entertainment critic for Austin’s KVUE News, who interviewed seemingly every movie star of the 1980s and 1990s while crafting reportage packages that bordered on the cutting edge. My favorite finds Faires by a duck pond, complaining that the star of 1986’s Howard the Duck just isn’t believable as “a real, live duck.”
Still, while Hansen has become a fan of schadenfreude-exploiting found footage festivals like Everything Is Terrible!, she’s quick to reiterate the spirit of the archive. “Sometimes these things can be ‘laugh at each other,'” he explains. “We really try not to be ‘laugh at each other.’ You know, Roy Faires had a serious career and we’re excited to share it. And I think it’s inherently educational.”
“We’re learning new things all the time, which is part of the reason this job remains interesting,” agrees Walters, saying that watching these clips regularly sends the entire staff down rabbit holes and into the guts. of Texas history, as much as it does. will for you “We’re like, ‘let me Google it,’ and all of a sudden it’s been an hour and a half.”