The Ancient World: Greece. Made by the same folks as The Ancient World: Egypt, this film also lets the art tell the story, but this time, instead of providing their own narration, the filmmakers let the ancient Greeks themselves tell the story, with all the narration coming from ancient Greek writings. It comes out a little less coherent than the other film, but no less beautiful and compelling. It gives you a real feel for how the Greeks thought about things, and how they saw themselves. Again, I think this would stand up in classrooms today. NOTE: The link is to Part 1. Follow the link on the page to view Part 2. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.
The Ancient World: Egypt. This 1951 history film for the classroom on the ancient Egyptian civilizations is surprisingly compelling. I was expecting dry narrated facts or poorly-acted recreations, but no; this film tells its story through the majesty of ancient Egyptian art. Shown in beautiful color and with finely-crafted camerawork, the art tells the story, with the help of dramatic music and stirring narration that never quite gets over the top. This was probably a breath of fresh air for students in the 50s, who were used to dry ERPI fare for history class. A fine film that could be shown in classrooms today. NOTE: The link is to Part 1. Follow the link on the page to view Part 2. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.
AC Wholesalers Campaign 1971. AC!…IS THERE…FOR YOU! AC…IS THERE…FOR YOU! AC…IS…oh, sorry. This 1971…sales promotional film…for AC auto parts…tries hard…to be bouncy and psychedelic…but fails…because the spokesmen…can’t act their way out of a paper bag. Oh, by the way: AC…IS THERE…FOR YOU! Sorry, I’m having a hard time shaking the badness of this film. Anyway, to top off the excitement, they do a very 70s thing: give away free 8-track players with orders of sufficient size! Wow! To be fair, they have a bit of a tall order in promoting auto parts, since most consumers don’t even notice them until they malfunction. I guess that’s why this film is completely dude-oriented (the only woman in the film is cheesecake in one of the commercials), since car-obsessed dudes are the only ones who can get excited about auto parts. Don’t forget…AC…IS THERE…FOR YOU! If this review seems disjointed, wait till you see the film. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
Anatomy of a Lie. This 1962 film is a refutation of another film, And Women Must Weep, which is also on my list to review. That film was an anti-union film that dramatically showed how a machinist’s strike in Princeton, Indiana supposedly damaged the community. Anatomy of a Lie was made by the union who voted to strike and interviews the workers who were involved in it, mostly women. The workers all point out that the anti-union film grossly misrepresented the facts of the strike, making it sound like it was not supported by the workers (actually it was overwhelmingly supported by them), that the picket lines exploded into violence (they didn’t), and that the union hired out-of-state goons to harass people who tried to cross the picket line (the sheriff even corroborates that there were no out-of-state goons, and the workers point out that the company hired out-of-state strikebreakers to cause problems on the picket lines). It all comes off as very convincing, since the interviewed workers are all real people and not actors. My favorite part is when they interview the tough old woman who was union president at the time of the strike. Part of the company’s dirty tricks was when they fired her on a trumped-up pretext. The anti-union film turned her character into a bitter, rabble-rousing man who gets the union to strike in revenge for his firing. When the interviewer asks the real union president about this, she says she actually discouraged the union to strike because of her, because “I’m fat, old, and ugly enough to take care of myself.” Yeah, you go, sister! Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: **** (mainly for being an ephemeral film that rebutts another ephemeral film). Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.
Americans at Work: Hotel and Restaurant Workers. This chapter of “Americans at Work” focuses on those who work in the kitchens and dining rooms of big hotels and restaurants. There’s lots of footage of cooks and food preparers working in big kitchens with huge quantities of foods. It’s pretty impressive, really, all the work that goes into you being able to go out for a nice dinner, which was the point, I guess. Pretty straightforward with lots of historical interest. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
An American Valley: The Story of Trade Adjustment Assistance for American Workers. This 70s public service film is aimed at workers who have been laid off due to plant closings caused by cheap foreign imports. It explains the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program, which provided additional unemployment benefits, career counseling, and skills training to such workers. It looks like it’s a pretty good program which prevented economic collapse in some areas hard hit by plant closings. There’s a subtle underlying message, though, that cheap foreign goods causing American unemployment is an absolutely necessary thing that can’t be helped, which I question. The film has that depressing style of many 70s films that’s a little hard to explain, but you know it when you see it, and that makes it less watchable than it might be, and makes even the happy endings for some workers not seem that great. An interesting flash from the 70s that still has relevance today. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ** (mostly from 70s ties). Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
American Tanks in China. 1920s newsreel about U.S. troops protecting American interests in China during the Chinese civil war. There’s some great footage of old tanks here, as well as footage of Chinese people during the 1920s with lots of historical interest. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
The American Spirit. Early silent film in which the spirit of our American forefathers is transmitted to a new generation though overacting. Proves that you don’t have to hear dialogue to know when acting is bad. The film is in very poor condition, so it might have looked a little better in its time, but that would have just made the acting that much worse. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *** (would have been more if the film had been better preserved). Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: ***.

An American in the Making (1913) from Ned Thanhouser on Vimeo.

An American in the Making. In this 1913 film, made by US Steel, a Hungarian immigrant gets a job at the US Steel plant in Gary, Indiana, is introduced to, and vastly impressed by, the wide array of safety equipment used in the plant, marries his pretty English teacher, and lives happily ever after with his wife and son in a nice middle class house. I’m sure that he, as well as all the workers he was meant to represent, were so darn happy they had no need for any of those rabble rousing unions. In US Steel’s dreams! Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
The American Indian Speaks. This 1973 Encyclopedia Brittanica film is a surprisingly harsh critique of the white peoples’ and the US government’s treatment of Native Americans. American Indians do speak in this film, and what they have to say Is unsettling to non-native citizens. What’s especially surprising is that EB would have sanctioned such a political film. According to Geoff Alexander’s Films You Saw in School, the suits at EB were shocked by the film and didn't much care for its message, but were afraid of being criticized if they failed to release it. This is a truly educational film that really helps you to empathize with the struggles of the Native Americans, and how they are continuing to be treated shamefully by the rest of this country. I wonder how much this film was shown in actual classrooms, at least after administrators and conservative moral guardians got to see it. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
The Air We Breathe in Industrial Environments. This industrial safety film explains the hazards of breathing air contaminated by various industrial pollutants, and the importance of wearing proper safety gear when doing various kinds of industrial jobs. It’s pretty standard for the most part, but there’s an old guy who’s not the narrator who has a great set of visual aids in the form of blocks that represent various concentrations of gasses, including one that says “FATAL” on the bottom (a must for the Film Ephemera Museum of Quriky Devices). Also, there’s lots of footage of gritty-looking industrial environments, where it’s hard to breathe just looking at them. Take a deep breath, folks, and be grateful you don't work in a coal mine. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.
The ABCs of Film Direction. This 60s film on the basics of film direction is a lot of fun to watch, not just because of its lively and somewhat campy Calvin Workshop style. It’s also really interesting for those of us who are into badfilm, as it shows us just how some directors are so incompetent that they screw up directing basics that are taught to beginners. In particular, there is a scene that shows how you can show an actor crossing a room and going up the stairs without showing every last little bit of it, a mistake I’ve seen many a time in bad films. The film also provides some great scenes for miners of video footage; I have a feeling that many of the scenes are a lot campier out of the film’s context. There's some mstable content in a scene of a male boss a female secretary that the narrator keeps referring to as a “girl.” Don’t forget to ask a member of the Calvin staff if you have any questions about this film! Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.
The American Indian: Child Life. This 1930s silent film shows us the everyday life of Native American children from several different tribes, mostly southwestern. From the time it was made, you’d expect lots of stereotypes, but you would be wrong for the most part. What you get is lots of charming and very real images of Native American children playing, working, interacting with animals, and going to school. A few of the title cards might make you cringe (like the one about how Indians can’t resist drumbeats), but for the most part, this film is quite respectful of its subject matter. Which gives it a great deal of historical interest. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
Aeronautics and Space Report 1977. OK, it’s the 70s now, and NASA has calmed down quite a bit. (Told you the drugs were just a faze.) It's now in the space shuttle business and even has a pointy-haired boss in charge of finding customers for the shuttle’s payload area. Watch this after America in Space: First Decade to get an idea of what “settling down” looks like if you’re a space agency. No more MAN talk here; they’re even considering hiring women astronauts! Mostly, though, this film is about as interesting as your first real job was. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: **.
America in Space. So it looks like NASA made an earlier film to celebrate 5 years in space. This 1963 film is far more ordinary than the 1969 one. I wonder what happened in between—oh yeah, the 60s. So it must have been the lack of drugs that makes this film farm more coherent than the other one. There’s still a lot of MAN talk—what will MAN find in space, where will HE go, etc.? But since this film is more coherent and lots shorter than the other one, it doesn’t grate as much. For lots of trippy footage to mine, go with the 1969 film. For a little bit of historical interest on the history of the space program, go with this one. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
Acting Is the Art. This 1971 film shows an African-American acting teacher teaching a basic acting class to a group of 4th and 5th grade African-American students. He plays acting games with them to draw them out, then helps them to create and act out short stories that they make up themselves. This is a charming and realistic film that really puts you into this situation. I’m not sure of the economic background of these children, but they seem to me to likely come from poor backgrounds (that may just be my stereotype, though). This passionate teacher may be providing them with their only experience of being encouraged to tell their own stories. I believe this must have had positive effects on them. Anyway, it’s fun to watch these ordinary kids being encouraged to use their imaginations and what they come up with when they do. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
The All-American Ski Tournament. Water skiing, that is. This early 60s film from Cypress Gardens, Florida shows us the highlights of what looks like the American waterskiing championships for that year. The action is pretty impressive, and both’s women’s and men’s events are shown. Also shown are bits of the show skiing by bathing beauties that they had between events. If you want footage of waterskiing, then this is your film Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
American Farmer. This 50s film features a clean-cut 50s teenager from the city who takes a summer job working on a farm. He narrates the entire film, giving his impressions of farm life and the new experiences he has. This is a charming little film that gives a really great glimpse of what it was like to live and work on an American family farm during the 50s. There are a few campy moments, such as some of the farmer’s facial expressions, but the charm and sincerity eventually keep you from making fun of this film too much. Just about everything in farm life is here, from chores, to animal care, to the great food, to the farmer worrying about the weather and his account books, to going shopping in town and visiting the county fair. A great snapshot of a particular time, place, and way of life. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
America the Beautiful. If you're looking for a good old-fashioned gung-ho American propaganda film, look no further. This 1940s film goes way over the top in telling us that America is the best nation on earth, bar none. This, of course, begs to be msted, but it almost makes it too easy. The film borders on self-parody, but at least it’s lively. We’re just the best nation that ever existed, OK??? Here's some stock footage to prove it. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Propaganda Quotient: *****+. Overall Rating: ***.

Better Reading

Better Reading . Teenager Harold Wilson has a problem—he can’t read for (expletive deleted). So he has to spend all his free time studying ...