The Blacksmith (film #1 on Side A of Disc #2 of Comedy Classics DVD Megapack (Treeline Films, 2004)). [Category: Hollywood]A poor shmoe of a blacksmith makes the big mistake of hiring Buster Keaton as his assistant. That guy should never be allowed near fire, magnets, motor oil, or railroad tracks. This is classic silent slapstick comedy, with lots of moments that made me laugh out loud, such as Buster doing a whole shoestore schtick with a horse that needs to be shod; Buster thoroughly destroying a rich man’s car that was simply being parked through sheer incompetence; and Buster foiling his angry boss, avoiding being hit by a train in the nick of time, and eloping with the girl of his dreams, all within the space of a few seconds. One of the funniest Buster Keaton shorts I’ve seen, with the added historical interest of being made during the time when horses and cars were about equally common and blacksmiths were expected to be able to fix both.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: *****.
Automobile Parade (film #24 on Edison Film Archive. Also, film #3 on The Life of a City). [Category: Early Film & TV]If you’re really interested in the latest 1900 model cars, then this is your film. 1900 cars of all shapes and sizes parade slowly past the camera. I wish the film quality had been a little bit better on this one––some of the cars are hard to see. A 1900 Edison film.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
Benson and Hedges 100s in 1967 (film #14 in the Cigarette Advertising on TV section of TVParty). [Category: Commercial]I remember this series of Benson and Hedges commercials that feature hapless smokers struggling to get used to their new longer cigarettes. Like the text on the TVParty site says, the real surprise here is seeing how many places it used to be acceptable to smoke, such as one’s desk at the office, a closed Volkswagen, while talking, or even in an elevator, for God’s sake! Sometimes change is good, I think.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
RFD Greenwich Village (in the Ephemeral section of Open Video Project. Also, film #1251 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Sleaze & Outsider]This late-60s film, made by cotton producers, is purportedly about Greenwich Village, except it’s the most gawdawful square film ever made. Robotic catalog models practice “relaxed suburban living” in the Village, wearing comfortable cotton clothes, while a laid-back narrator drones on and on about how carefree their “country lifestyle” is, and Muzak plays in the background. Everybody is white, and the only sign of hippies is a very brief view of a graffiti-covered wall with peace signs on it. Even given that I lived through the 60s as a child in Omaha, Nebraska, I can hardly believe this film exists. It’s as if all signs of the counterculture had been cleansed from one of its hotbeds, leaving a fresh, lemony scent behind. Contrast it with Greenwich Village Sunday, and see if it doesn’t feel like The Stepford Village to you. It even makes Coffee House Rendezvous look like Columbia Revolt! Unfortunately, after your jaw drops, it’s boring as all get-out, and that lowers its rating somewhat, though it does have the distinction of being the first film I’ve ever reviewed to get a “BOMB” in the Historical Interest category.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: BOMB. Overall Rating: ****.
Freedom of the American Road (in the Ephemeral section of Open Video Project. Also, film #563 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Public Service]This 50s film, sponsored by Ford, emphasizes the need for better highways so that Americans can go places lots faster and the landscape can be further dominated by the automobile. How better highways were built in four different parts of the country is shown. It mostly involves the grass-roots efforts of ordinary citizens, yet the sponsored nature of the film makes you wonder how grass-roots these efforts really were. All changes that result from bigger and faster highways are shown to be beneficial in all ways. The campiest part of the film is the last segment, which shows the citizens of St. Joseph, Missouri taking a safety campaign to near mind-control proportions. Jaywalkers are photographed by “concerned citizens” and handed leaflets telling them how wrong they are. Of course, cars are never dangerous, only drivers. This is a prime example of the sponsored “public service” film that really exists to serve corporate agendas.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
Meet King Joe (film #2 on An American Retrospective Through Animation (Moviecraft, 1994). Also in the Ephemeral section of Open Video Project. Also, film #908 on Prelinger Archive. Also, film #24 on Ephemeral Films CD-ROM (Voyager) (excerpts)). [Category: Industrial]This animated film tries to explain to labor why the capitalist American system is the best in the world. A buffoonish everyworker named Joe (who looks an awful lot like Private Snafu) is patiently told by the narrator that he enjoys the best standard of living in the world, no thanks to him, but thanks to the capitalist system. The film is actually quite insulting to workers and it strongly implies that they have no right to complain about their wages or working conditions in any way. If I were trying to forment communist revolution, I wouldn't bother making my own propaganda films––I'd just show workers Meet King Joe. In fact, the communists didn't have to bother––apparently this film was shown regularly to workers in many plants during their lunch hour.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
Crashing the Movies (recorded off of Turner Classic Movies). [Category: Hollywood]Newsreel clips are shown of all the weird and wacky stunts 30s people performed to get the newsreel cameras focused on them. This is lots of fun, as a lot of the stunts really are quite weird and wacky. You haven't lived until you've seen the Human Loop-de-Loop. This, and most of the other stunts, leaves you with questions about the sanity of somebody who would think up such a thing. The narration, which could have been lame, is genuinely funny.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.
Believe It or Not #1 (film #4 in the Schools section of TVArk). [Category: Educational]Believe it or not, this is an educational program about religions, which is a different take on this title. Those wacky Brits! Anyway, this brief clip shows the first few minutes of a show about Judaism, featuring Jewish teens doing an Israeli folk dance. Can’t you hear the music playing in the village square?
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
Better Breakfasts, USA. An early-60s school class takes a field trip to a TV station. But instead of learning about television production,...
Autumn on the Farm . Farm kids Joan and Jerry have fun exploring the farm during the autumn in this 1940s EB film. They pick apples, grapes...
Beginning at Plymouth Colony. From the title, this 50s film sounds like it will be a dry historical film about the settlers at Plymouth Co...
Beginning Responsibility: Taking Care of Things . Grade-schooler Andy is a slacker in the taking-care-of-things department, so he suffers t...