Found: A 46-Year-Old Film That Shows A Crowded Detroit, From A Chopper

This column contains no news, insight or anything about Kwame Kilpatrick or the emergency manager.

In fact, it’s about something that’s pretty dated.

I wrote the column to pass along an interesting film about Detroit that has been lurking on YouTube for nearly two years. I stumbled across it Tuesday. The film offers an absorbing view of Detroit in July 1967 – from a low-flying helicopter. The city of that era is rarely seen from such an angle.

July 1967 was the month of the infamous riot/rebellion, of course. And the film is directly linked to the insurrection. It appears to have been produced by the U.S. Army, whose paratroopers patrolled the East Side and bivouacked on the grounds of Southeastern High School on Fairview, south of Mack Avenue.

I’ll get to the riot aspect of the film later. The fascinating part of the footage is the look the viewer gets of Detroit itself. The shots come from almost 46 years ago, and -- to put it mildly -- much has changed.

From the 8:15 mark of the nearly 22-minute film, the chopper cruises above many densely populated neighborhoods that have little visible abandonment and no riot damage. A thick canopy of trees, mostly elms, shades the streets. Smokestacks and substantial buildings loom in the distance. At 11:45, we see an expansive cityscape that could be parts of modern-day Chicago or Brooklyn.

During the chopper ride, the camera passes over some blocks that show still-smoking ruins from the riot. The film was shot on July 26, a Wednesday, which was Day Four, and the intensity clearly has diminished. A bulldozer clears debris in one scene.

The first part of the film was interesting in a different way. The footage comes from the back of a jeep that is part of a convoy of paratroopers cruising the East Side. Passions have definitely waned; we see the soldiers deploying a couple of times with crowds of Detroiters nearby, but there is none of the taunting or tension of the riot’s early days. But there certainly is wariness -- on both sides of the rifles.

To review: The chopper ride begins at the 8:15 mark.

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