Short urban exploration documentaries
April 7, 2010 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Uneven Terrain is a series of short documentaries about urban exploration, about 10-15 minutes long each. There are six so far, about monumental ruins in New York, Centralia, the Pennsylvania town where an underground coalseam has been on fire since the 1960s, abandoned missile silos in the US and how they're being turned into homes, oil drilling in Los Angeles, the Teufelberg listening station and the abandoned bunkers under Tempelhof Airport in Berlin and pirate radio in London and on the old Redsand sea forts. Each short doc has a different presenter. All have accompanying photo galleries. [These are produced for the bootmaker Palladium, but it's pretty low-key]
posted by Kattullus (7 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Infiltration has more UE, fewer boots.

Some others
posted by craven_morhead at 12:18 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I saw the Pirate Radio one a week or so ago and was enthralled the whole way through. The New York one is equally as fascinating.
posted by Spatch at 1:09 PM on April 7, 2010

Absolutely fascinating, Centralia. Bill Bryson describes it in interesting and funny detail in his A Walk in the Woods.
posted by Melismata at 1:20 PM on April 7, 2010

I'm wearing there boots right now and I first heard about that coal mine fire from this docus. This is good stuff.
posted by fook at 1:29 PM on April 7, 2010

The Teufelsberg piece is particularly bittersweet for me, as I worked there for a number of years, at the same time that Harry Pohlabel (the 'expert' in the film) was there. I think I actually remember him. I agree that it's depressing nowadays, since when I see the intercept floor now, open to the elements, I remember the people and the atmosphere there- the redheaded gal who sat in the corner by the elevator, mumbling about Jesus all the time- the radio-teletypes with the terrible adjustable speed motors, that were used to intercept coded encrypted messages when the sync signals weren't available- the quiet of a midnight shift- and being called up to the floor when there was an open mike intercepted- trying to determine from the sounds collected what sort of environment the microphone was in- all this sans computers. On the other end there were secure telephone booths, connecting to the analysis center at Templehof- which was *not* in the bunkers in the film- it was actually upstairs.

Good times, and you felt, if you worked there, that you really were on the pointy edge of the sword. I read OSPCOMM messages from the US embassy in Tehran as it was surrounded by armed mobs in early November of 1979, in real time. (OPSCOMMs of that era had Teletype ASP (Automatic Send-Receive) machines, where paper tape messages could be punched up ahead of time and then fed into the machines sequentially for transmission to various destinations. It wasn't unusually for friends to keep in touch over those circuits, much like a mechanical analogue of IRC, since each machine had a keyboard and printer as well. (What you typed on one keyboard was repeated to all the machines on a circuit.)

It was also a wonderful place for practical joking, as well. We used to surf on top of the elevator in the central shaft, and what very few people realized was that you could, from the top of the elevator, hear every facet of conversation in the cab. Whoops!

We had a Crypto tech who had a voice like James Earl Jones- resonant, booming, and very commanding, but he very rarely used it. One of the intercept ops (We'll call him 'Jamie') was a Come-to-Jesus proselytizer who had managed to annoy and/or alienate almost everyone in the building, and then hid behind freedom of religion when called on the disruptive effect he was having. One night, some of the techs jimmied his headphone jack during routine maintenance. His next work day, they had a mike and amplifier set up, and had our tech with the Voice whisper to him "Jamie...this is God". Startled, he spun the frequency dial, and resumed listening. "Jamie, you can't get away from me by changing frequencies....." came the Voice in his head. A couple of rounds of this, and Jamie was pretty freaked out. He headed to the elevator. We hustled up to the next floor, and priority-called (since we had the keys) the elevator to the floor above, where Voice boarded the Elevator roof. Jamie got it next, and Voice watched until Jamie was alone, and then announced "Jamie, why art thou forsaking me?" in a loud voice. Jamie freaked, and left the building at a high rate of speed. We never saw him again. I always thought that that might have been the cruelest practical joke I ever witnessed, but oh, the points for style....
posted by pjern at 3:26 PM on April 7, 2010 [13 favorites]

More UE: Photos from several paper mills in my home town. The site is a friend's (he'll prolly be along shortly to comment as well).

We loved, absolutely loved, exploring these mills as teenagers. Its a shame too many of these landmarks get torn down instead of preserved (the Allied mill in that link was torn down over the course of several years, the Crown Vantage mill is scheduled for demolition in q3 this year, and the Watervilet mill was scrapped shortly after we discovered it). Nothing beat skipping out school an hour or two early and heading down to the mills for a walk around the floor, an exploration of rooms we hadn't seen before, or just sitting in your car in the parking lot, admiring the architecture.
posted by ish__ at 4:01 PM on April 7, 2010

That's mad, a town above a burning coalmine. Watching the Teufelsberg piece now, have always been fascinated by the Tempelhof building. Thank you pjern for your comment which makes it even more interesting.
posted by dabitch at 7:02 PM on April 7, 2010

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