Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Atomic Age Classics

This boxed set of educational films from the 1940s, 50s and 60s presents five themed discs: Manners, Courtesy & Etiquette; Hygiene, Dating & Delinquency; A-Bombs, Fallout & Nuclear War; Venereal Disease and You, and “C” Is For Communist.

The spread thus has some crossover with the Educational Archives collection, which currently spans eight discs but also looks at industrial safety, drugs and religion, while a sixth volume of this collection deals with Love and Marriage.

I couldn't find a cover for the set as a whole, so here is one for Volume 1

Taken as a whole, I was less entertained by Atomic Age classics than Educational Archives, although this in part might also be down to watching all five discs – each running between 90 and 110 minutes – over the course of little more than a day. (Don’t say I lack devotion to the paracinematic cause!)

Nonetheless, they are of equal worth as historical / cultural / sociological artefacts.

In C is for Communist, for instance, we see, how the USSR went from being a brave ally in the WWII March of Time newsreel Russia at War, which declines to mention the likes of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, to being the representation of all that was evil a few years later in the amusingly paranoid What Is Communism. (The answer: an international criminal conspiracy.)

In the VD volume Story of D.E. 733 / USS VD: Ship of Shame is a stand-out, with its depiction of how a US Navy vessel barely made it through combat because half the crew were functioning at reduced efficiency after a spot of shore leave left them with gonorrhoea and syphilis despite the best efforts of the ship’s administrative officer.

Significantly condoms, which he tries to hand out to the sailors, are not mentioned in the civilian films in the same collection. There the complete avoidance of sex outside marriage is the message.

In the Manners, Courtesy & Etiquette; Hygiene and Dating & Delinquency volumes we get a panoramic overview of the numbing conformity of the period. The stand-out here is Any Boy, in which the Huck Finn styled William Blake – in retrospect a bad choice for a name, given the inspiration he gave to the Doors’ Jim Morrison – dreams of leaving the country for the city. En route he meets Mr Whiskey, a personification of the same drink, who proclaims to be a friend but is soon proven to be an enemy. In the course of this we see some of the most bizarre use of stock footage and imaginary geography this side of Ed Wood and Dziga Vertov respectively.

Paradoxically, however, much of the collection’s value lies not in what it shows but what it omits. For example, the anti-VD films present charts showing the spread of disease from person to person in which all the pairings are strictly heterosexual.

Similarly, with the exception of an Asian girl, Irene, in We Play and Share Together, everyone featured is white – an obvious point of distinction from later 1960s, post-Civil Rights films, particularly on the topic of drugs.

Overall, the films present a nice cross-section of producers, ranging from independent entrepreneurs like Sid Davis (whose installment is one of those youth in danger entries) through local and national government agencies, through educational publishers such as McGraw Hill, to private companies.

1 comment:

Scary Manilow said...

The "Mr. Whiskey" bit gets a lot of play at the bar where I work, and it knocks 'em dead every time.