Part of Spring 1996
In a special screening of 16mm prints from his archive of 33,000 ‘ephemeral’ films, New York-based media archaeologist Rick Prelinger unleashes on Toronto a sampling of his ‘archival films from the Darker Side of the American Dream’. Ephemeral films are typically low-rent shorts which were commissioned by corporations, government and other institutions in an effort to modify behavior and attitudes. This all-but-invisible cinematic history spans most of this century and comes complete with its own studios, auteurs, genres and sub-genres. Tonight’s focus is the Safety Film. No, you’re not in gym class.
Among the five titles being presented, Safety Belt for Susie (1962) puts you in the driver’s seat for an ‘ecstatically violent’ ride with a gang of crash-test-dummies, ‘Teen-A-Cide’ melodrama Last Date (1949) threatens teenage girls with disfigurement for hanging around with bad boys, and The Days of Our Years (1955) portrays a ‘despairing trilogy of accidents’ that paradoxically undermine their own emphasis on caution since, as Prelinger points out, ‘If you are a typical spectator, what you’re really doing is waiting for the accident to happen.’
These earnest, unintentionally funny yet often disturbing films are viewed today in what can only be the wrong context, but therein lies a certain transfixing power, perhaps even a kind of poetry. They are fragments of a puzzle, evidence of the everyday from a lost world that is at once alien and resonantly familiar.