The American Cowboy. In this 1950 film, sponsored by Ford, a journalist visits a Colorado ranch to learn how the cowboys live. He is initially surprised that they aren’t exactly like the ones in the movies—they drive pickup trucks and all!—but quickly learns that they are a hard-working lot, and much of the work has changed little since the days of the Old West. If you like cowboys, this is your film. It documents a year’s work raising cattle on the ranch, and also includes plenty of rodeo footage. Lots of historical here, pardner. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ***.
American Antiquity. This color yet silent travelogue from 1945 shows us the American southwest, with particular focus on evidence of early human habitation in the area. We get a tour of the ancient pueblos of Mesa Verde and images of many kinds of artifacts that have bee dug up there. We also get to see lots of footage of the Native Americans of the southwest carrying on their traditional ways of life. There's a great scene of a Native American woman carding, spinning, and weaving wool into a beautiful blanket with traditional designs on it. Lots of historical interest here. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ***.
America in Space: First Decade. This NASA film documents the first decade of American space exploration. Made on the eve of Apollo 11, it tells its story in a somewhat trippy fashion, with an endless montage of images of space and space-age technology, narrated in an annoyingly sexist fashion. It would have us believe that all of humanity is Man (MAN wants to explore space; MAN has figured out that HE can survive in zero-gravity, etc.), and that all the people who worked together to put MEN into space are all MEN wearing white shirts and skinny black ties. But ignore the narration and get off on the great images in this film that stream by in a psychedelic fashion. There’s some good historical interest here and lots of great footage to mine for a video project. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
All My Babies: A Midwife’s Own Story. This 1952 film shows us the work of Mary, an African-American midwife who helps poor rural African-American women to give birth. We get to see her work specifically with two different women: Ida, a woman who lives on a family prosperous farm, and who is well-prepared for the birth of her baby; and Maybelle, a woman who lives on a very poor farm and has miscarried the last two of her pregnancies. Mary works hard and manages to do well with both cases, helping Ida to deliver a big, healthy boy, and helping Maybelle deliver a premie. This is an incredibly heartwarming film that shows the birth process in great detail and under what we would today consider very primitive conditions. Mary takes her job very seriously and scrupulously follows the sanitation rules laid down by the public health doctor and nurse that she works with. She also provides lots of encouragement and emotional support to the new mothers she works with, as well as plenty of education on the importance of pre-natal care and good nutrition. Since this was made in the deep south in the early 50s, there’s a subtle backdrop of the Jim Crow realities black people had to deal with back then, such as the fact that the professional doctor and nurse are both white, the black women studying to be midwives practice on a white baby doll, and all of Mary’s clients seem to live in grinding poverty; even Ida’s house, which is the better of the two, doesn’t have electricity, and is heated with a wood stove (so is Mary’s, in fact). Still, this is a film that treats its subject with respect for the most part. It has tremendous historical interest for portraying childbirth practices in its time and place. And it stimulates lots of compassion for Mary’s clients, as well as respect for Mary and her profession. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****+. Overall Rating: *****.
Airport in the Jet Age ( This 1962 film shows schoolchildren how an airport runs and all the different kinds of jobs people do in it. Since its Encyclopedia Brittanica, the narration is rather dry, but the visuals just scream early 60s, a time when flying was really special, and people would go to the airport just to watch the jets take off and land (I should know; my family did this). There’s also an innocence about this film that makes it ripe fodder for msting; I came up with some great jokes without half trying. I suppose kids nowadays have to watch “Airport in the Age of Terrorism” (“Here’s where all the passengers take off their shoes, so the safety workers can check for bombs. This woman is getting her bra padded down.”). Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
Aircraft Carrier Footage ( This is an excerpt from what looks like a WWII film about aircraft carriers, specifically how the deck workers help the planes land. I’m wondering if anybody knows what film this was from, as even just this excerpt has tons of historical interest. The camera is positioned from the point of view of the deck workers, so it really feels like you are there with them. The narration is sparse, but helpful in explaining what you are seeing, Too bad it looks like the rest of this film may be lost. Rating: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

Eyes on the Prize - 03 - Ain't Scared of Your Jails, 1960-1961 (PBS) from NetNZ on Vimeo.

Ain’t Scared of Your Jails, 1960-1961 ( This episode of the TV documentary series “Eyes on the Prize” documents the Civil Rights movement of the early 60s, including the lunch-counter sit-ins and the Freedom Rides. Although originally made for TV, this was edited and distributed to schools to show in the classroom. It tells a tremendously inspiring story of how nonviolent protest brought real and important change to the entire nation. It should be required viewing nowadays to progressives who want to bring about positive change in this country. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: *****.
Agricultural Midwest ( Several midwestern farm families describe in their own words what it’s like to live on a family farm and make a living in agriculture. We also get to spend a little time at a grain elevator, a cereal making plant, and the Chicago Board of Trade, where farm commodities are bought and sold on a busy trading floor (Buy corn! Sell beans! No, buy beans! No! SELL! NO!…sorry). This part of the US is where I was born, raised, and still live, though I’m a city gal myself. But this is all very familiar territory to me, because even in urban Omaha, you never get far away from the influence of agriculture. This is like a holiday visit to my in-laws, who live in rural Nebraska (I even have a sister-in-law and brother-in-law who run their own family farm). This is a fairly well-made and realistic film. You get a sense that the people in it are real and are talking spontaneously in their own words, all with a charming rural accent. I bet they eat dinner at noon and everything. A real slice of life with lots of historical interest. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ** (slightly more if you live here). Weirdness: BOMB (these people are hyper-ordinary). Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
The Agony of Jimmy Quinlan ( Jimmy Quinlan is a middle-aged, homeless alcoholic, living on the streets of Montreal. His agony comes when he attempts to get sober, with the help of a mission. This National Film Board of Canada film is very compassionate and realistic in its portrayal of life on the streets and on the bottle. We meet many such homeless men and get a taste of the culture they have built for themselves, including how they attempt to sabotage those, like Jimmy, who attempt to escape it. These are men without hope, whose only solace comes in a bottle. We see Jimmy sweat through his withdrawal, getting help from other recovering alcoholics who have been through the same thing. The film ends on a note of uncertainty, with Jimmy sober just four days. We don't know if it will last, because it’s just one of many attempts he has made to get off the bottle. And even if he is successful, we have no idea of what may lie ahead for a sober Jimmy. This is a great slice-of-life film of a group of people that are society’s cast-offs, that most of us would prefer not to think about. And that makes it very thought-provoking. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
African Monkeys ( This silent Geramn educational film features several species of primates engaging in typical behaviors in the wild. This is a lot like watching primates at the zoo, but without the sounds and smells, and in a more natural environment. Which makes this more fun to watch than you might think. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overal Rating: ***.
African Pygmy Thrills ( This 30s travelogue, although very unenlightened in its narration, nevertheless impresses in its documentation of a Pygmy tribe’s building of a bridge across a crocodile-infested river. Their obvious ingenuity and bravery almost completely counteracts the unfortunate narration that calls them “little men.” There is lots of educational content and historical interest in this rather exploitatively-titled film. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
Adventure in Telezonia ( Billy has a problem—he lost his dog, Bounce. And he can’t even figure out how to use the telephone to call his mom! So he consults with Twangy…er, Handy, the evil sprite that lives on the telephone lines for help. Soon Handy gets his whole family of evil sprites to tie up the phone lines looking for Bounce. Eventually, Billy gets Bounce back and even learns how to use the telephone in the process, but now he has a bigger problem: psychosis. This thoroughly evil film is great fun from beginning to end. It actually makes cell phones seem like a blessing. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *****. Weirdness: *****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: *****.
Admiral Cigarettes ( This 1897 film may be the first advertising film ever made. Uncle Sam, a stereotyped Indian and a couple of other costumed folks oped a package that contains a costumed woman who throws cigarettes in the air, as the other unfurl a banner that says, “WE ALL SMOKE.” Whoopee! Smokes for all! There can’t possibly be a downside to this, can there? Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.

Better Breakfasts USA

Better Breakfasts, USA. An early-60s school class takes a field trip to a TV station. But instead of learning about television production,...