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Snookered + Behind the Scenes at Hutzler's from Maryland Historical Society on Vimeo.Behind the Scenes at Hutzler’s. This silent film from 1938 was meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hutzler’s, a Baltimore department store. We get to see scenes of employees arriving at work, enjoying a party, and goofing around behind the scenes, in the employees-only areas. This was made during the golden age of downtown department stores, so there’s lots of historical interest, as we get to see the huge staff required to run those big, elegant stores, as well as the wide assortment of jobs the employees had to do. We also get to see the blasé faces of management. A real 1930s time capsule. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ***.
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Basic Techniques for Home Landscaping. So, Mr. & Mrs. 1950s, you’ve had a new house for yourself way out in the suburbs, away from the dirt and grime and multicultural landscape of the city. But the house is on an empty lot, surrounded by nothing. You solve this problem by calling your local nurseryman and having him plant lots of pleasing trees and shrubbery in carefully balanced arrangements, as well as a sweeping lawn that you’ll have to mow every couple of days all summer long. But what about the backyard? We’re assuming your lot is huge, so you get to have a children’s play area, a vegetable garden, and a huge fancy formal garden for entertaining guests. How the nurseryman plans all of this is shown in this film, through the use of rather boring animation of a typical 50s suburban ranch house. By now, of course, the house is in what is known in 2017 as “midtown”. This is a real 50s suburban time capsule. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ***…
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Balanced Aquarium. Two children, Susan and Fred, put together an aquarium in their home. Fortunately, they have the Encyclopedia Brittanica narrator to tell them exactly what to do in detail. This is a charming children’s educational film, and if you’re wondering how to put an aquarium together, well, this is your film. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ** Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: ***.
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Begin the Beguine. Latin dancing couple Varios & Vida dance to “Begin the Beguine” in this 40s soundie. Their costumes are beautiful and some of the dancing moves are impressive, but mostly this is pretty ordinary. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
Bees and Spiders. Another early silent classroom film, this one about bees and spiders. Beekeepers show us how bees live in the hive, get food, and reproduce. And, oh, did I say that animals are always fun to watch? Not spiders—they’re creepy. Though they do hold your attention. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: ***.
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Beer Outtakes. This is billed as a series of outtakes from a 70s beer commercial, though it actually looks more like an audition tape. The soundtrack is lost, so we don’t know what the series of attractive 70s young people are saying as they drink a mug of beer in a bar setting. But it’s clear that the people drinking and chatting in the background are having lots more fun than they are. The awkwardness of the beer spokespeople just reminds me of why I don’t think drinking in bars is really very fun. But this just begs to have a new and improved satirical soundtrack dubbed into it. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
Beavers. Early silent classroom film about beavers. That’s it, really, but the beavers are fun to watch, and the cuteness factor is up when they show the baby beavers, which are essentially fluff-balls with little flat beaver tails. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: ***.
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The Beach: A River of Sand. This 1965 Encyclopedia Brittanica film shows us how ocean beaches are formed, what they are made of, and how they are parts of much larger geological systems. This sounds as dry as, well, sand, and it would be, except for how beautifully photographed and directed the film is. The striking imagery of beaches from all angles and distances holds your attention, making this a very successful educational film. As a Nebraska gal, I’ve only been on ocean beaches a handful of times, and this film makes me long for them. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.
Bate's Car: Sweet as a Nut, Tony Ianzelo, provided by the National Film Board of CanadaBate’s Car: Sweet as a Nut. Harold Bate, a British inventor, has invented a car that runs on methane gas, which he produces himself on his farm from animal manure. In this 70s film, he demonstrates it and explains it, along with several other inventions. It makes a high-octane, cheap, completely clean fuel, so, of course, nothing was ever done to actually mass produce this, though he did get a lot of interest in it in the form of letters. Setting aside any potential conspiracy theories, it’s great to see that somebody has invented a clean fuel, though it’s a pity that the powers-that-be will probably ruin the planet before they will consider using it. In any event, it’s fun to watch Bate, who is a typically kooky inventor type straight out of a British children’s novel. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
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Bargain Basement Clip. Before HSN and QVC, there was Bargain Basement, an early 60s TV show that hawked “As Seen on TV” type products. Since they only had a small time slot, rather than a 24-hour network, to fill, the pitches come fast and furious. Bottle openers, skin cremes, battery-life extenders, pearl necklaces, and, of course, food choppers are pitched one after the other at an amazing rate. This TV clip is a lot of fun and campy as all get out. And if you send, not $5, not $10, but only $1.98 to LBC, Box Q, Chicago, you’ll get a beautifully framed printout of this review, and the snake knives, Mrs. Presge! (Whew!) Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****. More Stars for Absolutely Free: ****.
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The Baltimore Plan. This 1953 public service film outlines an aggressive plan by the city of Baltimore to clean up slums. Working one neighborhood at a time, social workers helped landlords, tenants, and homeowners to fix up and clean up their properties. For those who wouldn’t cooperate voluntarily, housing courts were set up to enforce new, tougher housing codes, though even they took a problem-solving, rather than a punitive approach. This seemed to help a great deal to improve conditions in poor neighborhoods, though I don’t know if the changes lasted, or how things are in Baltimore now. The film provides a great historical snapshot of social services in the 1950s. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ***.
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Ball Handling in Basketball. First of all, stop that snickering. Gangly, skinny white guys demonstrate proper and effective ball handling—hey! You in the back! Shut your mouth!—in basketball, in this 1946 Encyclopedia Brittanica film. It’s all done in the dry EB style, but the necessary repeated mentioning of the B-word has a tendency to bring out the 7th grade boy in all of us. I’m surprised this was actually shown to young people without the entire class getting sent to the principal’s office. Great for msting. For actual basketball players, get back out on the floor and practice your dribbling (sorry). Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: ****.