Along the Great Divide: Great Britain 1900-1912 (film #1 on The Silent Revolution: What Do Those Old Films Mean?, Vol. 1 (Facets, 1999)). [Category: Early Film & TV]

This is the first in a series of BBC documentaries about early film. This one concentrates on early English films and contains many clips of same. It's well-written and provides an interesting historical context to the films. The soundtracks of the films are unusual––some are typical piano soundtracks, others have sound effects that are so appropriate that the films seem like sound films at first, and some have bizarre experimental vocal music soundtracks. These documentaries should be good companions to the other films on this list as they place them within their historical contexts. This film points out that early English film was mostly made for the lower classes and has an anarchic feeling as a result, a feeling that was later lost when the middle and upper classes got interested in film. This provides a historical context for other films in this category, including Rescued by Rover, A Day in the Life of a Coalminer, and Buy Your Own Cherries (which turns out to be a temperance film--who'd a thought?).

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

Classic Commercials, Vol. 3 (Madacy Entertainment, 1998). [Category: Commercial]

This tape has mostly 60s commercials, with lots of celebrity endorsements, well-known advertising characters (Josephine the Plumber, Mr. Whipple, etc.), ditzy housewives, and Proctor & Gamble products. Should bring back lots of memories for those of us who grew up during the 60s (like me).


Highlights:


  • I had that Frito bandito eraser! It was cool!
  • See the American Association of Retired Persons being pitched by Fibber McGee and his closet, Post Grape-Nuts being pitched by Euell Gibbons and his cattails, and Scotties tissues being pitched by Jimmy Durante and his nose.
  • There's another great 60s Kool-Aid commercial here featuring both Bugs Bunny and the Monkees! How can you top that?
  • Memorable advertising characters found on this tape: the obnoxious Phillip Morris delivery boy, the Frito Bandito, Josephine the plumber, Tony the Tiger, the anti-pollution PSA crying Indian, Mrs. Olson, and Mr. Whipple.
  • Watch Ed McMahon get a bowling trophy for beer drinking!
  • This tape really goes overboard on the ditzy housewives. When they're not obsessing on laundry whiteness and stain removal, they're talking way too much about smeary makeup. No wonder there was a feminist movement during the 60s!

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

Beautyrest Mattresses commercial (film #6 on TV Turkeys (Rhino, 1987)). [Category: Sleaze & Outsider]

This early Technicolor filmed commercial (probably a "minute movie" meant for movie theaters, rather than a tv commercial) is one of the most blatantly racist things I've ever seen. A black maid named Congenial, who looks like a Topsy doll, tells her white employer, in outrageous mammyspeak, all about her latest husband's (he's number five) problems with sleepwalking, and how she solved them by buying a Beautyrest mattress. The white woman actually says with a straight face, "But how can you afford that on your salary?", allowing Congenial to mention Beautyrest's easy payment plan, which even a Negro can afford! It's hard to believe that not so long ago this was considered perfectly acceptable, which is precisely why such things need to be preserved.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *****. Weirdness: *****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: *****.

Valley Town (film #3 on Our Secret Century, Vol. 2: Capitalist Realism CD-ROM (Voyager). Also, film #1000 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Public Service]

This 1930s documentary about the impact of the Depression on steelworkers in a Pennsylvania town stands in stark contrast to the optimistic corporate films on this and the other Our Secret Century discs, and yet it shares certain traits with them as well. This film shows us the downside of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. A steel town thrives from all the new industries providing jobs for its citizens and lots of nifty machine-made goods to buy. But then the Depression hits and factories close down. Two thirds of the workforce is thrown out of work. And when some of the factories open up again, it's with new, high-speed automated equipment, which requires much fewer workers. The despair of the unemployed workers and their families is shown, as is the need for aggressive retraining programs, so that the workers can find new jobs. This film uses a lot of the same techniques as the corporate-sponsored films, but with a very different message. Thus it reminds me a lot of those other films, but in stark counterpoint. The initial images of thriving factories are a lot like those in Master Hands, but with the looming specter of the inevitable closing of the plant hovering over them. We see a worker walking home, like in From Dawn to Sunset, but this worker is not walking home from work, but from another unsuccessful day looking for a job. He walks through a run-down slum area, rather than one of the pretty neighborhoods in the other film. And instead of hearing voices singing about his "perfect life", you hear him thinking about how he dreads going home and seeing once again the disappointment in his wife's face when he tells her he hasn't found work yet. There's even a musical interlude featuring a housewife, like in Design for Dreaming. But this housewife isn't having pretty dreams about a rosy future, she's adding up all the family expenses in her head and worrying about where the money's going to come from––to her, the future looks pretty bleak. A touching film that provides a good dose of reality to the Our Secret Century series.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: *****.

Captain Celluloid vs. the Film Pirates (Sinister Cinema, 1999). [Category: Outtakes & Obscurities]

OK, I said I wasn't going to do any serials, but this is different. A bunch of film buffs, including William K. Everson, author of Classics of the Horror Film, got together in the 60s and made this "Adventure Serial" as a tribute to the old silent serials. The joke is that it all involves collecting silent films. Hooded villain The Dupe Master steals negatives of classic silent films and duplicates them to sell on the film society black market. Caped crusader Captain Celluoid does his best to stop his evil machinations. What both men don't know, at the beginning at least, is that in their true identities they are both members of the Associated Film Distributors, a 4-man-and-one-female-secretary body that meets daily in a tiny office to discuss the problem of film piracy. The serial, in 4 chapters, manages to throw in practically all the serial cliches you remember, such as endless farfetched fistfights, lots of car chases, and a cliffhanger ending for every chapter. As a tribute to silent films, the dialogue is all done with title cards, though the film has a soundtrack of music and sound effects. I was expecting this to be funnier, but it seems to be more of an earnest tribute than a parody. Still, it's quite lively and lots of fun.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.

Feed (First Run Features, 1992). [Category: News]

Imagine you could watch political candidates during their "off" times, when they think they're not being watched. You get a little bit of that in this film about the 1992 New Hampshire presidential primary. Video artist Brian Springer hooked a video recorder up to a satellite dish and recorded unedited news feeds of political candidates in front of cameras but before the "official" broadcasts have started. This footage is combined with local tv news footage, news footage outtakes, and films of grass-roots front-lines campaign workers doing the gritty work for their chosen candidates. It all forms an enlightening and quite funny collage of the American political process as it actually happens, which is not necessarily the way the media portrays it. We get to see fascinating moments such as Jerry Brown endlessly adjusting his tie, a New Hampshire newscaster struggling to coherently interview Bob Kerrey when Kerrey can't hear him, a Clinton campaign worker skillfully steering a homeless man away from Hillary and then trying to get him to register to vote, another Clinton campaign worker making endless phone calls and dealing with difficult callers, Paul Tsongas ribbing Sam Donaldson when he spots Sam at the back of a crowd during a speech, political analysts asserting that no one will vote for Tsongas because he wears a pocket protecter or for Kerrey because "he looks like a choirboy", Ross Perot telling off-color jokes, Jerry Brown surreally leaning into the camera and using a nasal spray, and endless scenes of a complacent-looking George Bush sitting and waiting to go on the air. Would that we could watch something like this before an election, rather than after.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: *****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: *****.

And a Voice Shall Be Heard! (film #4 on Atomic Scare Films, Vol. 2 (Something Weird, 2000)). [Category: Military & Propaganda]

The good people of Syracuse, New York show us how they would cope with a nuclear attack. Things turn out just fine, mainly because they have plenty of two-way radios, a bank of phones that in peacetime were probably used to drum up support for Public Television, and a firetruck. We are especially relieved to find out that although an elementary school was nuked, no children were harmed because they all decided to play hooky that day. Check out the bowties on one of the ham radio experts and the bizarre looking "food" loaf a family is having for dinner during the closing credits.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.

Argentina

Argentina. Standard geography film about the South American country of Argentina. There’s some historical interest here as you get to see ...