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Living Better Cinematically



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.



Updated: 2017-11-19T09:40:03.905-06:00

 



Argentina

2017-11-10T11:43:34.905-06:00

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Argentina. Standard geography film about the South American country of Argentina. There’s some historical interest here as you get to see tons of footage of what Argentina was like in 1961. Other than that, there’s mainly just lots of trivia about Argentina’s economy, though it’s presented in a way that’s not quite as dull as you might think.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *** (mostly for the “Can you spot the former Nazis?” angle of msting, which this film provides lots of opportunities for). Weirdness: *. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.




Allen Is My Brother

2017-10-28T21:12:22.405-05:00

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Allen Is My Brother. A 50s housewife gets frustrated when her 3-year-old son, Allen, keeps getting into mischief, so she does what any good 50s housewife would do—she gets his big sister Karen to look after him. Karen doesn’t think much of this, but once Mommy explains that family members help each other, she cooperates and eventually has fun with her little brother. This is a very cute film that has that white-bread, Dick-and-Jane feel so often seen in films of the period. It takes place in 50s Sitcomland, where there are no problems bigger than a lost puppy, and children get into no worse mischief than squirting the hose on the laundry on the clothesline. This should bring back lots of memories for any baby boomers watching it.

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




Adventuring Pups

2017-09-15T19:41:09.695-05:00

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Adventuring Pups. Three beagle puppies (one named Trouble, and you know what that means) run away from their mother and get into various forms of mischief with other animals. This very cute children’s film gets by on the antics of cute animals, just like the Internet does. It’s missing the ending, so we never know if the puppies find their way home or not. The stuffed animals that watched this with me (including two little ragamuffins who know a lot about getting into mischief) are concerned about the puppies’ welfare. Let’s hope they made it home OK.

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




Arabian Children

2017-08-25T20:59:47.073-05:00

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Arabian Children. This Encyclopedia Brittanica film shows us the lifestyle and customs of one Arab family. It’s portrayed pretty much without bias or commentary, just straightforwardly. Despite the desert setting, this is not nearly as “dry” a film as many EB films. It’s actually pretty interesting to watch a family of a different culture pursue its everyday life, while narration helps us understand what’s being done. This was probably a mild mind-expander to the schoolchildren it was shown to. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ***.




Bethune

2017-08-11T17:34:32.464-05:00

src="https://www.nfb.ca/film/bethune/embed/player/" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="true" webkitallowfullscreen="true" mozallowfullscreen="true">

Bethune, Donald Brittain, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Bethune. This film tells the story of Norman Bethune, a Canadian doctor who managed to beat the tuberculosis he came down with as a medical student, and go on to invent many new surgical tools and techniques. He had a passion for bringing medicine to where it was most needed, and that led him to go to Spain and create field hospitals for the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War. There he created the first mobile blood bank. Eventually he grew disillusioned with the progress of the war, so he moved on to China, where he aided partisan forces led by Mao Zedong, who were then fighting the Japanese imperialist forces. He single-handedly created field hospitals out of the caves where the wounded were left to die. No matter how bad things got, he still operated on and treated the wounded with whatever was available. He eventually died of blood poisoning after cutting himself during a surgery that he had to do without gloves. Despite his obsessive tendencies towards his work, he was also a playful character who partied hard during his off hours, though this later went away in China because the conditions were so terrible and he was so overworked. The film was not shown in the U.S. for many years because of Bethune’s connection to Mao and his communist sympathies, even though he died before the People’s Republic ever happened. It’s a very powerful film about a fascinating human being, made more powerful by the narration containing quotes from Bethune’s many letters and diaries. I love this kind of historical documentary, so this was a joy to watch, though the sections on Bethune’s efforts to bring socialized medicine to Canada made me cringe, not because I’m against it, but because it was hard to watch Canadians treating this as history, and something that obviously had to be done, when it has yet to be done in my own country.

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




Airborne Magnetometer

2017-07-17T19:33:00.401-05:00

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Airborne Magnetometer. Turns out the bird really is the word. The “bird” refers to an airborne magnetometer, so nicknamed by the U.S. Geological Survey, which made this 1952 film. This device is towed by a plane and measures magnetic anomalies in the earth’s surface, which may indicate mineral deposits. And we all know what mineral deposits mean, don’t we? Mining of all kinds of valuable minerals, that’s what. The film is rather dry, since narration is the only thing on the soundtrack, but it does have lots of great visuals of various forms of clunky 50s technology, which I happen to be fond of. And it also lends itself well to msting, especially when you consider that one of the assigned crew is known as “The Observer”. This would also be a good film to mine for a video project.

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




Assignment - Shoot the Moon

2017-07-14T11:21:24.022-05:00

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Assignment: Shoot the Moon. What if you had to take a close-up picture of a caramel apple being held by a woman on a spinning carnival ride, while you were moving around on another ride? This is the metaphor shown in this 1967 NASA film for photographing the moon close-up, in order to plan for a landing site for a manned mission. This is less bombastic than most other NASA films, and it’s chock-full of information about the unmanned lunar probes that were sent before Apollo 11 to photograph the moon. It’s mostly pretty straightforward, with some interesting imagery, and lots of historical interest, as it was made just before Apollo 11, so you get an idea of what scientists were thinking on the eve of that historic mission.

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




Anatomy of a Triumph

2017-07-09T09:07:21.857-05:00

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Anatomy of a Triumph. It’s MAN again, discovering flight and conquering the skies! Will he never stop in his quest for manliness? This early 70s government film starts off bombastically, then settles down to document the history of flight from Kitty Hawk to Apollo 11. We get to see the usual wacky early films of failed attempts at flight at the beginning, which I always find amusing. Then it’s on to working airplanes, Lindbergh, World Wars I and II, and the first rockets, which were invented by Nazis. But who cares about that? This is about MAN’s conquest of space, by golly! The Russians have launched Sputnik, so now the race is on! We get to see more embarrassing footage of the U.S.’s first failed attempts at space flight, and then the final success of the Apollo II mission. Richard Nixon ends the film with congratulatory messages, the film being blissfully ignorant of his embarrassments to come.

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




Agriculture in Virginia

2017-07-01T18:16:15.085-05:00

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Agriculture in Virginia. Rural teenager Bud Wilson (Why does that name sound familiar to me? This name must have appeared in other educational films.) is planning on following in his farmer father’s footsteps, so he takes Ag 101 class in high school, but that’s not enough for his father, who has the county extension agent take him all over the state and explain how the state government supports agriculture in great detail. This is a pretty dry film, but there are some fun images of 50s farm products, as well as some coverage of home economics, complete with attractively-dressed 50s farm wives and colorful 50s grocery products. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.




Accident Prevention Through Equipment Guarding

2017-06-23T21:43:26.153-05:00

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Accident Prevention Through Equipment Guarding. Guards, in this case, are not human, but refer to guard rails and metal cages used to prevent machines from killing or maiming their operators. This 1982 industrial safety film for miners teaches us the importance of guards and generally how to keep yourself safe around machines that could easily remover a finger or a limb or two if operated carelessly. It's mostly pretty dry, but it’s punctuated by staged accidents that are announced by dramatic music on the soundtrack. Oh no! There goes another one! Fortunately, the blood is kept to a minimum.

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





2017-06-10T19:06:58.392-05:00

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The Benefactor. This 1917 film may be one of the first biopics ever. The life of Thomas Edison is told in a lively and fun fashion for a 1917 silent film. We find out that he was an incredible prankster, extremely creative, and very hard-working. It all comes off like Edison sitting down with us and telling us stories of his youth, with the expected embellishments. General Electric added an ending where we see the real Edison accepting a Congressional Medal of Honor. Also of interest are scenes of 1917 cities being lit up by electric lights, which have an erie art deco feel to them, even though they predate art deco by some time. Lots of historical interest here.

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





2017-06-04T14:11:28.905-05:00

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Belonging to the Group: Respect as a Human Value. This 50s EB social guidance film shows us two families that are newcomers to a small town, one of average 50s folks, and one that are first-generation immigrants from an unnamed European country. They both have minor problems with getting accepted into the town’s social fabric, with the immigrants having a few more problems than the white-bread family. But all the problems are on the 50s sitcom level, i.e. they’re problems we’d all like to have because they’re so minor. There’s a slight hint of discrimination towards the immigrant family, but it all gets resolved in the end when the boy impresses kids at school with his woodcarving skills and the mom wins a cake baking contest at church. This is one of those 50s films that hints at larger problems and then denies the seriousness of them, which makes it slightly campy and somewhat disturbing at the same time.

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





2017-05-18T19:30:24.921-05:00

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Snookered + Behind the Scenes at Hutzler's from Maryland Historical Society on Vimeo.

Behind the Scenes at Hutzler’s. This silent film from 1938 was meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hutzler’s, a Baltimore department store. We get to see scenes of employees arriving at work, enjoying a party, and goofing around behind the scenes, in the employees-only areas. This was made during the golden age of downtown department stores, so there’s lots of historical interest, as we get to see the huge staff required to run those big, elegant stores, as well as the wide assortment of jobs the employees had to do. We also get to see the blasé faces of management. A real 1930s time capsule. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ***.




2017-05-08T17:43:19.032-05:00

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/9r8tu6u5yhY?&rel=0" title="YouTube video player" class="ayvpp responsive" width="506" height="304" data-ratio="16:9" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen allowtransparency="true">Basic Techniques for Home Landscaping. So, Mr. & Mrs. 1950s, you’ve had a new house for yourself way out in the suburbs, away from the dirt and grime and multicultural landscape of the city. But the house is on an empty lot, surrounded by nothing. You solve this problem by calling your local nurseryman and having him plant lots of pleasing trees and shrubbery in carefully balanced arrangements, as well as a sweeping lawn that you’ll have to mow every couple of days all summer long. But what about the backyard? We’re assuming your lot is huge, so you get to have a children’s play area, a vegetable garden, and a huge fancy formal garden for entertaining guests. How the nurseryman plans all of this is shown in this film, through the use of rather boring animation of a typical 50s suburban ranch house. By now, of course, the house is in what is known in 2017 as “midtown”. This is a real 50s suburban time capsule. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.




2017-05-06T16:59:25.103-05:00

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/G071V_mWaro?&rel=0" title="YouTube video player" class="ayvpp responsive" width="506" height="304" data-ratio="16:9" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen allowtransparency="true">Balanced Aquarium. Two children, Susan and Fred, put together an aquarium in their home. Fortunately, they have the Encyclopedia Brittanica narrator to tell them exactly what to do in detail. This is a charming children’s educational film, and if you’re wondering how to put an aquarium together, well, this is your film. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ** Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: ***.




2017-03-31T22:02:49.085-05:00

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/L7SnNal23So?&rel=0" title="YouTube video player" class="ayvpp responsive" width="506" height="304" data-ratio="16:9" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen allowtransparency="true">Begin the Beguine. Latin dancing couple Varios & Vida dance to “Begin the Beguine” in this 40s soundie. Their costumes are beautiful and some of the dancing moves are impressive, but mostly this is pretty ordinary. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.




2017-03-31T21:53:06.703-05:00

src="https://archive.org/embed/bees_and_spiders" width="640" height="480" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="true" mozallowfullscreen="true" allowfullscreen>Bees and Spiders. Another early silent classroom film, this one about bees and spiders. Beekeepers show us how bees live in the hive, get food, and reproduce. And, oh, did I say that animals are always fun to watch? Not spiders—they’re creepy. Though they do hold your attention. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: ***.




2017-03-31T21:33:48.374-05:00

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/NCkvZQCzTt4?&rel=0" title="YouTube video player" class="ayvpp responsive" width="506" height="304" data-ratio="16:9" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen allowtransparency="true">Beer Outtakes. This is billed as a series of outtakes from a 70s beer commercial, though it actually looks more like an audition tape. The soundtrack is lost, so we don’t know what the series of attractive 70s young people are saying as they drink a mug of beer in a bar setting. But it’s clear that the people drinking and chatting in the background are having lots more fun than they are. The awkwardness of the beer spokespeople just reminds me of why I don’t think drinking in bars is really very fun. But this just begs to have a new and improved satirical soundtrack dubbed into it. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.




2017-03-31T19:07:06.186-05:00

src="https://archive.org/embed/beavers_1930" width="640" height="480" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="true" mozallowfullscreen="true" allowfullscreen>Beavers. Early silent classroom film about beavers. That’s it, really, but the beavers are fun to watch, and the cuteness factor is up when they show the baby beavers, which are essentially fluff-balls with little flat beaver tails. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: ***.




2017-03-31T13:29:52.014-05:00

width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/FqT1g2riQ30" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>The Beach: A River of Sand. This 1965 Encyclopedia Brittanica film shows us how ocean beaches are formed, what they are made of, and how they are parts of much larger geological systems. This sounds as dry as, well, sand, and it would be, except for how beautifully photographed and directed the film is. The striking imagery of beaches from all angles and distances holds your attention, making this a very successful educational film. As a Nebraska gal, I’ve only been on ocean beaches a handful of times, and this film makes me long for them. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.




2017-03-30T22:01:39.175-05:00

src="https://www.nfb.ca/film/bates_car_sweet_as_a_nut/embed/player/" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

Bate's Car: Sweet as a Nut, Tony Ianzelo, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Bate’s Car: Sweet as a Nut. Harold Bate, a British inventor, has invented a car that runs on methane gas, which he produces himself on his farm from animal manure. In this 70s film, he demonstrates it and explains it, along with several other inventions. It makes a high-octane, cheap, completely clean fuel, so, of course, nothing was ever done to actually mass produce this, though he did get a lot of interest in it in the form of letters. Setting aside any potential conspiracy theories, it’s great to see that somebody has invented a clean fuel, though it’s a pity that the powers-that-be will probably ruin the planet before they will consider using it. In any event, it’s fun to watch Bate, who is a typically kooky inventor type straight out of a British children’s novel. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.




2017-03-28T07:47:55.133-05:00

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ZYfNvDUNJVg?&rel=0" title="YouTube video player" class="ayvpp responsive" width="506" height="304" data-ratio="16:9" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen allowtransparency="true">Bargain Basement Clip. Before HSN and QVC, there was Bargain Basement, an early 60s TV show that hawked “As Seen on TV” type products. Since they only had a small time slot, rather than a 24-hour network, to fill, the pitches come fast and furious. Bottle openers, skin cremes, battery-life extenders, pearl necklaces, and, of course, food choppers are pitched one after the other at an amazing rate. This TV clip is a lot of fun and campy as all get out. And if you send, not $5, not $10, but only $1.98 to LBC, Box Q, Chicago, you’ll get a beautifully framed printout of this review, and the snake knives, Mrs. Presge! (Whew!) Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****. More Stars for Absolutely Free: ****.




2017-03-27T21:20:47.897-05:00

width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-52MmEdIqOU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>The Baltimore Plan. This 1953 public service film outlines an aggressive plan by the city of Baltimore to clean up slums. Working one neighborhood at a time, social workers helped landlords, tenants, and homeowners to fix up and clean up their properties. For those who wouldn’t cooperate voluntarily, housing courts were set up to enforce new, tougher housing codes, though even they took a problem-solving, rather than a punitive approach. This seemed to help a great deal to improve conditions in poor neighborhoods, though I don’t know if the changes lasted, or how things are in Baltimore now. The film provides a great historical snapshot of social services in the 1950s. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ***.




2017-03-27T17:45:07.304-05:00

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/hQM7DT4UKBI?&rel=0" title="YouTube video player" class="ayvpp responsive" width="506" height="304" data-ratio="16:9" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen allowtransparency="true">Ball Handling in Basketball. First of all, stop that snickering. Gangly, skinny white guys demonstrate proper and effective ball handling—hey! You in the back! Shut your mouth!—in basketball, in this 1946 Encyclopedia Brittanica film. It’s all done in the dry EB style, but the necessary repeated mentioning of the B-word has a tendency to bring out the 7th grade boy in all of us. I’m surprised this was actually shown to young people without the entire class getting sent to the principal’s office. Great for msting. For actual basketball players, get back out on the floor and practice your dribbling (sorry). Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: ****.




2017-03-25T19:01:58.373-05:00

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/NQ0IxM2wn2c?&rel=0" title="YouTube video player" class="ayvpp responsive" width="506" height="304" data-ratio="16:9" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen allowtransparency="true">The Balanced Land Force. Short, silent World War II film showing all the different kinds of jobs that go into waging war. It’s unclear whether this was meant to be silent, or whether the soundtrack was lost. There’s lots of great footage here for WWII documentary filmmakers to use, though. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.