Newsreels Provide Glimpses of Old Cambodia

The year is 1945 and Cambodian men are packed into traditional longboats, ready to race each other in an event that “has been going on for more than 1,000 years” at the annual Water Festival in Phnom Penh.

The scene, which appears in a short video clip called “Cambodian Paddle Champs,” was captured by a cameraperson from the British Pathé newsreel company. It is one of around a dozen Cambodia clips in a trove of 85,000 old newsreels that were uploaded to YouTube by British Pathé this week.

Alastair White, the general manager of British Pathé, said in a statement that the company wants everyone with computer access to be able to view and enjoy the historical clips.

“This archive is a treasure trove unrivalled in historical and cultural significance that should never be forgotten,” he said.

The black-and-white “Paddle Champs” video is one of the few that has sound and narration.

“Not quite Oxford or Cambridge, but they certainly can move,” muses the clip’s British narrator over the roar of the crowd.

In the silent “Scenes Of Indo-China,” which was shot in 1931, the park in front of the Royal Palace is shown to be a leafy, quiet space, interrupted only by a passing horse and cart and a solitary pedestrian.

The clip is introduced as one of several taken during a visit to Phnom Penh by former French Colonial Minister Paul Reynaud.

Another scene in the same video shows men pulling rickshaws on Naga Bridge, with Wat Phnom clearly visible in the background.

A different video shows the elaborate 1956 coronation ceremony of King Norodom Suramarit, who took the throne when his son, Norodom Sihanouk, abdicated in order to pursue politics.

Another royal, King Sisowath, appears in a 1922 video being carried around the temples of Angkor in a sedan chair.

Some of the accompanying written descriptions offer short, sharp insights into the scenes unfolding onscreen.

“Cambodian Prince Norodom Sihanouk on dais, he salutes then is seated in chair to watch communist-style ceremony,” says one description accompanying a video of Cambodia from 1969 to 1970.

“Small dog at Sihanouk’s feet looking on. Youngsters salute with fists in the air, then wave hats cheering the leader. Various shots of Sihanouk moving through crowd of youngsters who jump to touch him as if he is a deity. He gets into a helicopter with his dog and flies off.”

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