Dinner Party (in the Ephemeral section of Open Video Project. Also, film #430 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Educational]

Stiff, stilted manners film from the 40s featuring teens having a dull, lifeless dinner party, and the narrator reading their thoughts, most of which consist of worries that they are not doing everything absolutely 100% correct. The constant implication is that any manners gaffes, no matter how small, have the potential to totally ruin such a party, even though the narrator takes pains to deny this. Other implied contradictions include the narrator repeatedly asserting that the rules of etiquette have logical reasons behind them while never even once giving such a logical reason and further implying that even logical behaviors are forbidden if they’re not “correct”, and the assertion that being perfect in one’s manners increases enjoyment for everyone despite the fact that the both the hosts and the guests of the party are constantly worrying about whether they are doing things right or not. Simmel-Messervey seemed to have a talent for producing “manners” films that exposed the dark side of 40s and 50s middle-class conformity. Their masterpiece in this is A Date with Your Family. This film shows that even outside of the family, the straightjacket of conformity was tightly bound.

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

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