Monday, June 30, 2008

That Damned Metric System!

This show had been requested by popular demand at the last show that I did in Raleigh. These films were made during the late 1970s push for the nation to adopt the metric system of measurement. Gee, it seem so easy to learn compared to the English system. I wonder why it was dropped in the 1980s?

Generally, math films are hard to watch. Most are very dry and, while trying to make a math concept easier with examples, tend to muddle up things. I did a show a couple of years ago called "Math!" where I pulled out some math films that seemed to rise above the genre (Donald in Mathemagic Land, some rare Multiplication Rock, The Weird Number and of course, Powers of Ten). So putting together a night of compelling metric system films was going to be a challenge. I had a short list of titles that I was going to put on a compilation called "That Damned Metric System". Here are the films that I showed:

The Metric Film (1975) Lewis Hall
Discusses the history of the metric system, conversion to the metric system and how to solve measurement problems. There's some tongue-in-cheek scenes such as the official "meter bar" being gently placed on a shelf and being locked away in a safe in France - only to hear it drop off the shelf behind the safe's door.

Wonder Baby (1978) Metric Marvels series - Yohe & Newall
This is part of the Metric Marvels series made by the same talent behind the Schoolhouse Rock. So the animation, humor and song stylings are there but the subject matter is so simple (the metric system is so much easier to understand than the English system) that the concept of each piece makes it more confusing. This contrasts other Schoolhouse Rock pieces which had the challenge of simplifying hard elementary school lessons into catchy songs and cartoons.

This particular film features the animated superhero Wonder Gram in a discussion of metric measurement. (a young Wonder Gram converts pounds to kilograms). Basically, Wonder Gram (an overweight Wonder Woman) was a fat kid. Her parents, embarassed by her weight, decided to list her weight in kilograms so it would seem less (since 2.2 pounds equal one kilogram). Wonder Gram then reveals that she can change her size (from a gram to a metric ton).

Metric Meets The Inchworm (1974) Bosustow Entertainment
Uses a story about Fred Inchworm (whose voice is a poor man's Jimmy Durante) to explore the basic components of the metric system and show the advantages of converting to this form of measurement. Fred quits working at the ruler factory when they go metric and goes from job to job trying to find an occupation that hasn't switched over to metric.

Wonder Gram (1978)
Metric Marvels series - Yohe & Newall
Tells how Wonder Gram foils a gang of snack thieves and demonstrates the multiples of metric weight. This film had the catchiest song of all the Metric Marvels series.

Make Mine Metric (Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the gram) (1975) Braverman Films
Presents a light-hearted introduction to the metric system and the situations it will cause in our daily habits when driving speeds, supermarket purchases, dress sizes and other every-day items are recast into metric figures. This one was aimed towards adults and was maybe a little too clever for itself.

Eeny, Meeny, Miney Milliliter (1978)
Metric Marvels series - Yohe & Newall/NBC
Explains how Liter Leader helps a camp cook deal with an army of hungry children by showing him how to use a metric measuring cup.

Measure Weight - Think Metric (1974) Barr
Introduces the concept of measuring weight in metric units. Shows two girls as they visit a chemist to learn about the standard units of weight. Tells how they use their new knowledge to compare the weight of common things in their home and to bake a metric cake. The audience love when then girls decide to weigh a sleeping cat. The cat is picked up and dumped in a produce scale and begins batting at the scale's measurement arm. The audience audibly gushed. Everybody seems to be a sucker when it comes to kitties on the screen.

Mara - Mara - Marathon (1978) Metric Marvels series - Yohe & Newall
Shows how Meter Man uses a track meet to explain kilometers and other metric distances. None of these films were particularly memorable - although they weren't run as often as the Schoolhouse Rock series.

A Rough Sketch for a Proposed Film Dealing with the Powers of Ten and the Relative Size of the Universe. (1968) Charles Eames Films
Powers of Ten was probably the first film that I saw as a kid that used the metric system. It's a very elegant way to teach about scale, orders of magnitude and the metric system. This particular version that I screened was a "rough sketch" that I found in a collection. It is not as smoothly animated as the final film and it has a British female narrating. Plus it starts off in Miami, Florida, where the final film starts in Chicago. Given that it is a "rough sketch", I don't know why it was distributed to the public except maybe Eames was trying to raise money for completing the final film which was release nine years later.

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizza Pies

NASA seems obsessed with Italian food. Their big old logo (and now new logo) is called the "Meatball logo". Now I just saw a cartoon teaching kids the planets with a goofy mnemonic song "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizza Pies" (sung to "Way Down Upon the Swanee River").

Their late 1970s-mid 1980s logo (the more modern logo) was called the "Earthworm logo." I probably would have been more popular if they had called it the "Spaghetti logo".

Monday, June 16, 2008

Films on 6/16/08

Five Chinese Brothers (1958) Weston Woods So my nephew heard that I wanted to get a haircut and he suggested I get one like a Chinese boy - bald with a pigtail. Later, we tried to figure out how a six year old knew about that old stereotype image. I thought it was because of the book Five Chinese Brothers. Germaine didn't remember reading it, so we watched the film. In case you forget, five Chinese Brothers get away with murder by duping local villagers who try to exact justice for the death of a small boy. It's a great kid's story but there are some underlying stereotypes (someone chimed "yeah, all those Chinese look the same"). Budding film collectors take note. This film is an iconographic film meaning it is just made up of shots that pan the illustrations in the book as someone reads the story. Weston Woods is known for doing many great animated adaptations of children's books (Where The Wild Things Are, Smile For Auntie) but they also do these dull iconographic films - so beware...

Sun: Friend or Foe (1968) Charles Cahill
Discusses the positive and negative aspects of the sun's influence on the Earth and our daily lives. Teaches basic concepts and facts about the sun. It really looks like Cahill just strung together a bunch of stock footage from other Cahill films

The Box (1973) Hans Halberstadt / Barr Films
Presents a visual and sound experience about a young boy who enjoys playing with a large cardboard box. Explains that the boy imagines that the box becomes a stagecoach rumbling across the prairie, a steam locomotive puffing through the forest, a stunt plane diving and twisting in the sky and finally a space capsule on its way to the moon. We did some digging and discovered that Hans is a big train enthusiast.

It All Depends on You (late 1960s) Fox and Assoc. AT&T
Jack Klugman (just before The Odd Couple and long before Quincy) and a young Peter Ostrum (as Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) as his son. Tries to convince customers to dial direct when dialing long distance - to save money and ultimately for AT&T to save employing operators during off-peak times. It took a while for everybody to figure out what the hell this film was selling. I personally love films that take their sweet ass time to make their points - its maddening and so indulgent...

Fears of Children (1951) Mental Health Film Board / Bryan, Julien
Tells the story of five-year-old Paul whose mother is unduly protective and whose father is over-severe. Shows how fears which are common to children may be magnified by inconsistency in parental attitudes. This is one of Rick Prelinger's favorite films and I'm happy that I found a good copy on Ebay. I'll definitely show this one publicly soon.

Neurotic Behavior - A Psychodynamic View (1973) CRM/McGraw-Hill
Shows the basic dilemma of the neurotic and how mental defenses serve to reduce the anxiety. Takes a psychodynamic approach to neurotic behavior as it follows an episode in the life of Peter, a troubled college student who attempts to cope with reality. Holy cow, what a great film! Courtesy of Valerie and the People of Pavement 16mm archive that she just donated to the A/V Geeks archive.

Normalization - A Right To Respect (1973) Atlanta Assn For Retarded Children/Wooster Productions
So I let folks pick a film based on the title and they picked this one. Depicts handicapped persons in real life situations to illustrate what normalization is for persons with developmental handicaps. Narrated by TV actor Lloyd Nolan - a very gruff gumshoe character actor whose voice seemed very inappropriate for a film about the handicapped.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Noise (1970) Don Dickerson
Describes various types of noise familiar to young children and raises the questions, what is the difference between sound and noise, how much does noise affect the quality of our lives and how much noise can we tolerate. This particular copy of the film was clipped so we don't know how it ended but it was clear that in teaching kids to pay attention to all the ambient noise in their lives, that they'll never be able to concentrate in school.

For Goodness Snakes (1973) Learning Garden
Introduces snakes to young children before they have been prejudiced by the attitudes of adults. The subtext of this film is far more evil since it teaches kids not to fear the lying serpent -Satan. For example, the film was made by the"Learning Garden" - a reference to the Garden of Eden and Tree of Knowledge. Also, after looking for snakes in the wilderness, the man and kid eat apples(!).

Let's be Friends - an Emotionally Disturbed Child (1977) Encyclopedia Britannica Films
Like You, Like Me Series. Shows how a group of children decide to help one of their friends, a little girl with an emotional problem. This film is animated and looks very similar to the "Most Important Person Series" but aimed towards special needs kids. The main characters in this particular episode are a deaf black girl, an emotionally-disturbed girl and an Asian girl. Not particularly a great film but it has piqued my interest since it is trying to address "normal kids" who are sharing a classroom with mainstreamed "special needs kids". Other films in this series (which I don't have): Doing Things Together - a Child with a Prosthetic Hand, Everyone Needs some Help - a Child with Speech and Hearing Impairment, I Can do it - a Child with Double Braces, It's Up to Me - a Child with Asthma, Let Me Try - a Mentally Retarded Child, See what I Feel - a Blind Child, Let's Talk it Over - a Child with Epilepsy, When I Grow Up - Career Aspirations, Why Me - an Orthopedically Handicapped Child.

The Dime (1973) Little Red Filmhouse
Follows the circulation of a dime from the mint through many changes of hands until it finally ends up in a sewer. This film is great - first there's assembly line porn of dimes being made and wrapped. Then we watch this single dime (with a nail polish smudge) as it goes from person to person. It's a kid's version of Twenty Bucks.

PCP: You Never Know (1979) Churchill Films
Presents information on PCP, known as 'angel dust', 'Sherman' and 'crystal' and reveals the unique dangers of this drug. There's a good girl freaking out scene but this, like other drug films about PCP, is fairly dull when compared to films about LSD or marijuana.

Getting Busted (1973) OCATS Orange County Alcohol Traffic Safety
Presents an in-depth study of an 18-year-old's arrest for driving while 'under the influence,' through trial to sentencing. Discusses the humiliation, emotional and financial problems which are created by the abuse of alcohol. There are some good curbside sobriety tests (including some that we couldn't do sober) and some jailhouse hijinks in this film.

Fluoride: The Magnificent Mineral (1983) National Institute of Dental Research, Colgate-Palmolive
Discusses methods of fluoride, including community fluoridation, dietary fluoride supplements and fluoride mouth rinses. Points out that tooth decay can be prevented through the proper use of fluoride. This Colgate-sponsored film was such a highly polished piece about the wonders of fluoride that we all immediately questioned the benefits of fluoridation.

Portrait of the Enemy - American Dental Association /Vision Associates
I let my guests pick from three films based on their titles. They chose this one. Like "Dead Birds" they chose weeks ago, this film had everybody screaming in horror. It starts off simple enough with an analogy of basketball game strategy in dealing with gum problems. It recognizes the opponent (gum disease) and his style of play (plaque), effective defense (proper home oral hygiene and regular professional care), and the cost of losing (loss of teeth). It was shots of extreme peridontitis - nubs of teeth surrounded by thick pus and tartar in a bed of irritated and bloodied gums - that had people screaming in terror.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Films on 6/1/08

Now About Lamb (1965) American Lamb Council
Includes basic lamb cookery showing easy, versatile lamb dishes as prepared in the family kitchen and on the outdoor grill. A housewife in pearls and glistening plasticky-helmet of hair learns about all the delightful meals you can make with lamb - stew, lamburgers, rack of lamb and so much more.

Hamm Comes to the Riverbank (1965) Riverbank Film Productions
Part of the Tales of the Riverbank series, the film uses live animals to tell the story of a hamster meeting a raccoon, rabbit, bee, frog and a rat. We saw a film later in the series, Let's Have A Party. Hamm moves onto the Riverbank and meets his new neighbors including Roderick the Rat who curses "Sufferin' Cheese Rinds"! I'm told that the Riverbank films were shown on Canadian TV - generally early in the morning. It's very soothing and has a definite British influence and maybe a little gay subtext? A bunch of gentlemen bachelor rodents meeting up for a picnic and tea discussing their flower gardens.

Flash That Smile (1984) American Dental Association
A teen dancer teaches others about how good dental hygiene will help make you attractive and confident. Heavily influenced by the 1980s dance films (Flashdance, Fame, Dirty Dancing) and break dancing films (Breakin', Breakin' 2, Krush Groove) there is a lot more dancing than there is dental information - which is a little odd for your average ADA film. The break dancing/flossing pantomime sequence is awesome, borderline stupid. I think I have a low tolerance for films that were made after I graduated from high school - mostly because I hated 80s pop culture so much...

Thumbs Down - Hitchhiking (1974) Filmfair
Demonstrates the variety of potential dangers to both the hitchhiker and driver, using dramatizations of hitchhiking and interviews with victims of hitchhiking-related crimes and accidents. some great shots of stringy-haired teens talking about how they avoid getting picked up by the wrong person. A Pasadena cop then tells us some great stories of the dangers of hitchhiking. Rape (hetero- and homosexual) is one of the main dangers discussed. The cop tells an amazing story of a driver who picked up two teen boys, shot one and performed "immoral acts" on them before dropping them off at a hospital. Supposedly the driver had intended to kill the boys, wrap their body parts in chicken wire and stucco, paint them green and dump them i the wilderness. There is a lot of b-roll of the camera crew filming the "teen-on-the-street" interviews which makes the film seem all more fake.

Johnny Boy (1973) Joyous Lake
A poignant story about a foster kid named Johnny in rural Florida and how the transitory nature of foster care isn't good for anybody. A horrible singer-songwriter warbles throughout the film and ruined the film for my audience, but I thought the film had a lot more going for it.

Adventures in Grammar Galaxy- Verbstar (1979) Barr Films
Having read the synopsis for this film, I was prepared for a bad film, but I had no idea what a trainwreck this would be. Presents puppet characters who find the clues to conjugating s-form verbs, learn when and how to use auxiliary verbs, find the answer to the riddle of the 'ed' and 'ing' ends and tackle the irregular verbs. Character actor Hal Smith (Otis the drunk, Goofy) does some of the puppet voices but the script is such a mess I don't know how any kid could fathom the subject matter. Generally, puppets are a bad sign that an educational film is going to be bad for its intended purpose - but usually great for laffs!

Magic Circle - Bleacher Feature (1975) United Methodist Communications.
Focuses on role playing. Asks children to think of a time when they thought they were doing the right thing, but got in trouble anyway. You have a bunch of fifth graders in a circle being spurred on by an adult to act out a scenario - where a kid sits in another kid's seat in the bleachers. The kids brainstorm alternative solutions. Lots of wide leather watchbands and belts in this film.

Rifles and Sabre (1974) Interland
Sigh, even though the weapons being twirled and tossed in this film are fake, I was hoping for a little bit more excitement than what this film shows. A tall automaton girl demonstrates the various techniques...