For the Living (in the Ephemeral section of Open Video Project. Also, film #550 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Public Service]

This 40s film promotes the building of public housing projects to replace slums in New York City. Housing projects are presented as The Answer to poverty, transforming the lives of slumdwellers from misery and danger to the bright, shiny, clean lives the middle class were living in the suburbs, with the father going to work in a crisp suit, the son going to school in a new sweater, and Mom wheeling the baby down a tree-lined sidewalk to the laundry room, where “the washing is easy.” This is laughable from today’s standpoint, where the words “the projects” conjure up as many images of poverty and crime as “the slums” used to. But the film does portray the problems of the poor sympathetically, and, at least at first, the housing projects were probably an improvement over the places these people used to live in. So I wouldn’t laugh too hard––poverty just turned out to be a lot more complex and difficult a problem than people thought. The film does give a historically interesting view of the original thinking behind public housing projects, as well as the conditions they were designed to ameliorate.

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


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