Reviews of film ephemera, including such things as educational films, industrial films, military and propaganda films, tv commercials, movie trailers, shorts, experimental films, and movies made for non-mainstream audiences.
Burns & Allen Show #6 (film #6 on Side A of Disc #4 of TV Favorites DVD Megapack (Treeline Films, 2003)). [Category: Early Film & TV]
More inspired wackiness from George and Gracie. This one features a pair of teenagers from the pre-rock ‘n’ roll days, as well as George and Gracie doing a mean jitterbug themselves. Gracie’s wackiness is in full flower and Bill Goodwin makes a strawberry shortcake in a suitcase. This is a real early TV relic that is both historically fascinating and a piece of comedy that holds up well today.
Standard-issue educational film about Connecticut, with flowery prose that makes you almost think it’s a travelogue, but then it ends with “Now let’s review what we’ve learned about Connecticut…,” which puts it squarely in the educational category. No surprises here.
Battle Beyond the Sun Trailer (extra on Rocket Ship DVD (Sinister Cinema)). [Category: Commercial]
This trailer for a 60s outer space mission film made me giggle the minute I saw it. Perhaps it’s because it opens with a battle between two incredibly ridiculous-looking monsters that I can only describe by saying they are two different versions of the Horrifying Vagina with Teeth, though too silly-looking to generate much fear even with the Freudian implications of their appearance. To add to the fun, many of the titles are in a wacky 60s font that changes in size to produce text blocks in fun shapes. The rest of the trailer is standard cheap sci-fi fare, but the monsters really make this one.
This early 50s film chronicles the development of the Negev desert in Israel from a barren wasteland to a place where agriculture is possible and where some of the thousands of Jews coming into Israel can settle. This is told in great detail and this gives the film quite a bit of historical interest, especially for those interested in the early development of the modern nation of Israel. It’s told rather dryly, though, which makes it drag after awhile. Still, those interested in the history of Israel will definitely want to check this out.
The Dog and His Various Merits (film #31 on The Movies Begin, Volume One: The Great Train Robbery and Other Primary Works (Kino Video, 1994). Also, film #31 on The Art of Cinema Begins (Video Yesteryear, 1997)). [Category: Early Film & TV]
Various types of working dogs are shown, and this gives you a chance to see some sights you don't see today, such as a legless beggar on one of those flat wheeled platforms that he pushes with a couple of handled objects that look like irons, or a milkman delivering milk using a large milk can with wheels and a dog harness. An interesting turn-of-the-century (the 19th to the 20th, I mean; I still can't get used to the fact that we're in the "turn of the century" now) relic. A 1908 Biograph film.
Two brothers from Morocco come to the city of Beersheva in Israel. There they are educated and trained in job skills by the Youth Allyah organization. That’s about all I can tell you, as the film is narrated in French, or some language like it (unfortunately, the archive lists the language as English, but it’s no English I’ve ever heard). This has lots of images of the life of Moroccan Jews in Israel, so that gives it some historical value. But if you don’t speak the language, it’s impossible to follow.
The Ducktators (film #6 on V for Victory WWII Cartoons & Shorts Show, Vol. 1 (Something Weird, 1996). Also, film #11 on WWII Cartoons, Vol. 1 VCD (Authentic History Center)). [Category: Military & Propaganda]
A Hitler duck, a Mussolini duck, and a Tojo duck take over a barnyard, much to the dismay of the Dove of Peace, who, in the end, decides to beat the crap out of them. So much for peace. This Warner Brothers toon is not one of their best, but it is one of the most representative of all wartime toons, with plenty of gags that would never pass muster today. Possibly the most offensive is when the Tojo duck shows an angry turtle a button that says, "I Am Chinese," which seems to imply that most Chinese were really Japs in disguise. Watch for Daffy Duck in a very non-PC cameo.
Amitrock (film #19 in the Action section of Brickfilms. Also, film #6 in the Music Video section of Brickfilms). [Category: Outtakes & Obscurities]
This is basically just one action sequence featuring Lego guys after another, while electronic music plays on the soundtrack. I found this boring for the most part, but the last third of it picks up a bit as the music gets faster and the action on screen gets weirder. An oddity.
Frogland (track #6 on Weird Cartoons (Rhino, 1987)). [Category: Hollywood]
Foolish frogs pray to the god Jupiter for a king, but they get more than they bargained for. This early, silent example of stop-motion animation has some great character animation. The different frogs are fun to watch and their foolishness is quite human, making the cartoon quite satirical at certain points (especially the frog politicians!).
Assassination Attempt on Ronald Reagan (film #4 in the Featured Clip Library section of WPA Film Library). [Category: News]
Short tv news clips of the assassination attempt on President Reagan, and his later return to the White House after being hospitalized. This is pretty straightforward, having historical value as an event that was televised as it happened. Reagan’s narration of his experience during the first clip adds interest to it.
This newsreel from 1945 includes stories on the Allied takeover of Rome, retreating German soldiers burning a warehouse, Allied bombing of Italian rail yards, a meeting of Allied generals, a fun story about ladies’ fashions and “rooms of tomorrow”, some boys collecting enough pennies to buy a canteen truck for soldiers, a roller skating show, African-American paratroops, and fierce fighting on a Pacific island somewhere. This makes it a great slice of life from the war years, but unfortunately, it’s missing its soundtrack. Still, the visuals have a lot of historical value.
Expo ’67, “Monument to Man,” Opens in Canada (film #169 on Universal Newsreels). [Category: Industrial]
Newsreel story about Expo ’67, a huge world’s fair that unfortunately opened during the days when world’s fairs were waning, so you don’t hear much about it today. The typical scenes of modern architecture, opening ceremonies, and carnival rides are shown. By 1967, newsreels were almost dead, giving this a double swan-song quality.
Astronomeous (film #5 on 11 Cartoons Starring Felix the Cat DVD (PC Treasures, 2005)). [Category: Hollywood]
Felix goes to Mars and encounters some truly strange Martians in this early sound cartoon. This is one of the better of the early sound Felixes, as Felix gets a chance to manipulate the environment a bit, and the Martians are great tooney strange creatures. You can’t really make out what Felix is saying, but it doesn’t really matter, because visually, this is a treat.
Burns & Allen Show #4 (film #4 on Side A of Disc #4 of TV Favorites DVD Megapack (Treeline Films, 2003)). [Category: Early Film & TV]
More fun with George Burns and Gracie Allen, as Gracie bamboozles the income tax man, gives away Harry Morton’s surprise birthday gift for Blanche, and arranges for their income tax to be paid in whipped Carnation milk. Also included are silly antics involving cigars, a cake that is destroyed to show how delicious it is, and Bill Goodwin’s usual bizarre Carnation commercials incorporated into the action. This time the musical acts are ditched and the set is expanded to include Gracie’s kitchen. As usual, this is as fresh and funny today as it was when it first aired, yet it also retains the character of early TV.
Competition and Dominance Hierarchies in Rats (film #372 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Educational]
Stark, silent college psychology film showing a behavioral experiment done on white rats. Three white rats are placed in a cramped beaker and forced to compete for a single food pellet. When they are well-fed, this results in competition but not outright battles. When they are underfed, however, it gets nasty. After a number of fights, they eventually settle into a hierarchy, with the rat whose the biggest bully getting first grabs at the food pellet, the middle rat occasionally offering mild resistance, and the submissive rat becoming so scared he refuses to eat even when alone. The stark, disturbing atmosphere of this film is intensified by the soundtrack, which consists only of film sprocket noises alternating with a trio of repetitive beats––boom boom boom, boom boom boom, over and over again. The uncaring “objectivity” of the film is also disturbing, considering that this was probably a highly stressful experience for the rats. The results of the experiment are interesting, though, showing us how dominance hierarchies are formed. This would be a good film for video artists to mine for footage for a film about violence.