I have an effing virus that has settled in my sinuses and makes me dizzy and headachy and awful, so I’ve taken to my boudoir to wait until the weather changes and the humidity goes down so I can move around again. You know what that means: Another trip to the National Film Registry (which is not really a physical place, but a list).
Gratuitous Dog Show:
Guess who can do zippers?
Lucy. She is the devil.
Tiki cuddling with his toys. He may not play with them very often, but he needs them and more importantly she can’t have them.
Two early social issues films.
The Cry of the Children, 1912, B&W, silent, 28 minutes. No Wiki stub. IMDB page. Watch online here. AND Traffic in Souls, 1913, B&W, silent, 88 minutes. Wiki article. IMDB page. Broadcast on TCM once in a blue moon. So Cry of the Children is about child labor and it has moments of schmaltz, but also some searing social criticism and actual footage of child factory workers at work. You may have seen photos, but when you see film of the machines in motion, yikes! Traffic in Souls is a really cheesy drama about white slavery, a trendy topic of the day. There’s more about how they put the ringleader under surveillance than there is about the abducted young women and their creepy johns, but it was 1913 and it’s one thing to portray vamps in a sexualized setting and quite another to do so with nice, wholesome white girls.
Two films with sound issues.
Preservation of the Sign Language, 1913, B&W, silent, 14 minutes or so. Wiki stub. IMDB page. Available on YouTube and on Lost Shangri-la Horizon’s channel on Dailymotion It is what the title says it is. A completely silent, not even any musical background, film of a man standing there speaking sign language. Beautiful and obviously significant, but I don’t read sign language, tho I should probably learn before I lose what’s left of my hearing. Oh wait. It seems that this was only a bit over a minute long. Well, then. I guess we’ve all learned a bit about Dirtbunny’s attention span.
The Sex Life of the Polyp, 1928, B&W, a talkie!, 11 minutes. Wiki stub. IMDB page. Available at IA. A comedy depicting Robert Benchley making a presentation to a women’s group (you know, the kind where everyone has big hats and feather boas) about the sex life of the polyp and Benchley gets all embarrassed because he’s talking to these hoity-toity types about S-E-X, in a manner of speaking. Wait! Did you say ROBERT BENCHLEY! Hotdiggetty. I can’t wait to see this. Sadly, “see this” was about all there was to it for me. The sound was poor, there were no captions, and the film was grainy enough that I could not pick up any visual cues to help me “hear” the sound. Might not have helped anyway, given that film voices in the 1920s and 1930s tend to be all high-pitched and that plays to my brain like an unfamiliar accent, and unfamiliar accents make it harder for me to put a sound in context so I can figure out the word. Needs captions. 🙁
Siege, 1940, B&W, 10 minutes. Wiki stub. IMDB page. Watch online here. The site is German, but the film itself is in English. There’s also a link on the Wiki stub. Newsreel-style narrated footage of the Siege of Warsaw by the Nazis. First, the Nazis bombed the crap out of it. Then there were a few days during which the Poles put together some barricades, dug trenches, built obstacles for tanks out of rail lines. Passersby were conscripted off the street to work on the defenses, while the German air assault continued to the point where the Poles stopped bothering to sound the air raid alarms. Then the ground war started. Nothing gross here, just piles of rubble and footage of things on fire. In fact, while many people were killed, the biggest immediate problem was hundreds of thousands of people with no food, water, or shelter, all looking for somewhere safe, and at risk of being bombed from the air at any moment.
As I type this, the elementary school (which is on the next block) is having its annual Halloween parade. There are hundreds of kids in costumes walking around the block and I can hear all the giddiness, the occasional shriek (what are they shrieking about? ), the adult voices trying to corral the chaos, happy children sounds. I like them a lot, even better when they aren’t directly in front of the window. The sort of devastation shown in Siege is incomprehensible to me. It’s just pictures. I cannot remotely imagine anything like that here in my idyllic little suburb. There have been wars during my lifetime, but they were all far away wars that did not directly affect anyone I know. Nothing closer than telling an acquaintance that I hoped her son made it back safely from Iraq. (He did). What a cushy life I’ve had.
Also, as a federal employee with intimate first-hand knowledge of how things happen or don’t in the government, I am confident in saying that if Washington DC were bombed, the Department of Homeland Security would be absolutely helpless. Do you think there’s a warehouse full of blankets and drinking water just in case? Even if there is, Colonel Warehouse is not going to dispense anything without authorization so someone in the chain of command is going to have to have the awareness and sense to make the decision in a frightening and chaotic situation and actually see that an authorization that meets all the petty little rules is delivered according to all the petty little delivery procedures. Then Colonel Warehouse has to tell the Warehouse Lieutenants that it’s time to load the trucks, then the trucks have to actually be loaded, and all of this has to be done with authorization and according to procedure. Do you even think there’s a procedure in place? There’s probably an Interim Procedure, but it’s under review by the committee, and they’ve already made changes to section 17 and section 54B that aren’t reflected in the copy of the Interim Procedure on file at the warehouse. “Which rules apply? Are you sure? I don’t want to stick my neck out over whether we stack cases of water parallel to the truck’s back door, or perpendicular to it.” Are you beginning to get the idea?
Why can’t they just use their common sense in ambiguous situations, you ask. And that’s a very good question, one I ask myself pretty much every goddamned day. There is an answer to that question, and here it is: Because Not Everyone Has Common Sense and many of the people who do put that second. Goal number one is always Impress the Higher Ups. But I digress.
Let’s stretch this scenario a wee bit further, shall we? Where does the water in the warehouse come from? Some company owned by someone’s campaign contributor and golf partner gets a contract to put water in bottles and put bottles in boxes. $10 per 8-oz unit. But there’s a problem. When the bottles are open and the cap removed, the bottles explode. It doesn’t hurt, but the only way anyone gets any water is to lick it off someone who’s been splashed. Heads will roll, I assure you, and the congressional hearings begin immediately (“there was nothing in the contract that said that the bottles should not explode”), but everyone forgets about the thirsty bombing victims so they all die. The End.
Speaking about government/corporate partnerships, let’s see what happens when the Federal Civil Defense Administration and the National Paint, Varnish, and Lacquer Association team up to make a short educational film about how to protect yourself when the rooskees drop the big one:
The House in the Middle, 1954, color, 12 minutes. Wiki stub. IMDB article. Watch on line at IA. Do you like science and mocking self-important people who are idiots? Then this might be your very favorite film of all time. Everything you need to know about 1950s conformity, the lack of any standards whatsoever for claims made in advertisements, paranoia during the Cold War, and the sorry state of American education is on display right here. Really, early evidence that They are training Americans to be stupid and happy to buy stuff. Highlights: (1) Tidy houses survive the bomb better than untidy houses. For our purposes, tidy=plastic covers on all the upholstered furnishings and untidy=magazines “strewn about everywhere,” i.e. on the end table in a pile that no one bothered to square off, the Pigs! No one one says anything about how the plastic furniture covers will melt and fuse to your irradiated limbs before you have a chance to get up, but that’s probably because the upholstery is all made from artificial fibers anyway. (2) Planting a flower garden and building new steps for your front porch will help you survive a nuclear bomb. The message here is Be Good and Uncle Sam will magically prevent the heat blast, fire, falling debris, immediate dose of radiation, and decades of contaminated air/food/water from hurting you, your lovely wife, Jimmy, Mary, little Billy, Lassie, or Whiskers.