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My name is Carla Arton and I recently joined the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive this past February as the new Film Digitization Specialist. I’m so happy to be a part of the Archive team and to work with our great collection. My initial work includes creating a minimal item level inventory of film held within our archive and within other special collections around campus. I will also be setting our standards for digitization and building up our infrastructure and workflows in order to process large collections quickly and prioritize them for digital transfer; and restoration for our higher profile titles.
I come from the Library of Congress where I was a Recorded Sound Library Technician. While there I worked on multiple high profile projects and collections, such as the National Jukebox, the Tony Schwartz Collection, and the Film Synchronization Disc collection. Prior to my Library of Congress work, I served as the first Film Archivist at the Wende Museum of the Cold War and spent the beginning of my career at Chace Audio by Deluxe preparing multiple audio formats for preservation and restoration.
I currently serve as Co-Chair of the Association of Moving Image Archivists’ (AMIA) Education Committee, which provides information on educational resources and training opportunities for students and professionals in audiovisual archiving. I also hold a master’s degree in Film Archiving from the School of Film and Television Studies at the University of East Anglia and a bachelor’s degree in Film Studies from Chapman University.
I’m also a classic Hollywood fan; proud to have lobbied for Betty Grable’s Down Argentine Way to be added to the National Film Registry. Please come stop by our space in the Herman B. Wells Library to say Hello. I’d love to show you what we’re up to.
– Carla Arton
We know you are salivating for another scrumptious Social Guidance Sunday so we are pleased to close out the spring semester with a treat! “Mmmm! Digesting Educational Films about Food” dishes out delicacies featuring good nutrition, funny industry films, and morsels of movie magic to munch on.
Cut from the highest grade and arranged to perfection, we bring you an array of savory 16mm films. The appetizer is a short classroom film from 1951 featuring Bill, a glutton for junk food (Good Eating Habits, 1951). The first course will be Eating on the Run (1975), a comical film featuring good nutrition and the importance of taking time out to savor your food.
In Mystery in the Kitchen, we experience a little domestic intrigue as we follow an invisible detective as he investigates an average housewife’s meal preparation for her family.
Housewives bear the burden of making sure their families are well-fed as we see in the third course, Food and Magic (1943), where Mysto the Magician explains better food management to prevent waste. Dessert will be brought to us by the U.S. Department of Agriculture who made a comical film featuring the importance of statistics and selecting food. Even if you don’t much care for math, this film will have you craving for more numbers!
We encourage you to eat, drink, and be merry as we bring you foodies films that inspire critical reflection as well as a satisfied pat on the stomach. Our guest programmer for this delicacy is Rebecca J. Butorac, a food studies scholar who is interested in the intersections between food, social class, and culture. She is particularly interested in how media portrayals of “correct” shopping, eating, and housekeeping habits tend to ignore the social, cultural, and economic differences that shape our attitudes toward – and access to – food.
If this program makes you hungry, and we are positive it will, there will be food trucks stationed outside of the Bishop for your dining needs. Food trucks will be available starting around 7pm. The show will begin at 8pm on Sunday, April 17th.
Good Eating Habits (1951)
The Eating on the Run Film (1975)
Mystery in the Kitchen (1958)
Food and Magic (1943)
Alice in Numberland (1962)˙
Join us for another scintillating evening of Social Guidance Sunday this Valentine’s Day! We know how to treat you right with beer in the backroom of the Bishop and our newest program: “16mm and Chill.” That’s right, on Sunday, February 14 at 8pm IU Libraries Moving Image Archive presents four seductive short films on the topic of sex, dating, and STDs. In what promises to be an entertaining if not informative evening, this month we present 16mm films that offer a glimpse of American educational programming addressing the highs and the lows of sexual relationships.
This month our guest programmer, Alyssa Bossenger is a dual Ph.D. student in Gender Studies and Communication in Culture where she studies how people learn about sexuality in ways that uphold power structures of heteronormativity and whiteness particularly in relation to television,
film, and digital media. While these films feature formal sex education, Alyssa focuses on how people find information about sex through television and the internet.
Our featured films this month are frank and funny, posing important questions about sex and relationships. In the first film, called Engagement: Romance and Reality (1965, 15 min.), we will have a heart-to-heart conversation confronting the tendency to rush into marriage without making sure s/he is the right match. Is a pet name like “Sweetie Pie” a deal breaker? To provide informative, anatomically correct demonstrations of the growing body, we will then show Achieving Sexual Maturity (1973, 16 min.) which will address or remind you of your adolescent years. Ah, puberty! The third film, V.D. – Play it Safe (1980, 20 min.), will answer all of your “burning” questions about different venereal diseases.
And finally, we conclude our program with a film titled, It Must Be Love, ‘Cause I Feel So Dumb (1976, 30 min.). This sweet story features a young boy in the throes of first love and then real tragedy. Will he be able to see a better relationship blossoming beyond his love interest? All of these questions and more will be answered when you join us for “16mm and Chill.”
Engagement: Romance and Reality (1965)
Achieving Sexual Maturity (1973)
V.D. – Play it Safe (1980)
It Must Be Love, ‘Cause I Feel So Dumb (1976)
What better way to begin another academic semester than an exciting Social Guidance Sunday program on listening! This might sound like a dry topic but the short films that will be screened on Sunday, January 24th will be sure to have your full, undivided attention. For the past three years the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive has screened 16mm original celluloid reel-to-reel films from the Libraries’ collection. These short films feature quirky relics of Americana: cheesy classroom instructional films, goofy commercials, job training films that may or may not provide necessary guidance, along with films featuring somber messages regarding serious topics. A projector clicking away in the background offers a blast from the past for some while younger generations get to experience the fun of programmers providing witty banter while they switch film reels. Social Guidance Sunday takes place on a monthly basis at the Bishop.
Each show features a theme such as the rise of the digital age, the threat of atomic power, and the dangers of puberty. Continuing last year’s tradition of inviting a doctoral student to visit the moving image archive, Dan Hassoun, a Ph.D. in Communication and Culture is the special guest programmer for the first SGS show of 2016. While his research is primarily concerned with the problems that arise with technology and distraction, the topic of listening and paying attention offer a unique glimpse at the ways our everyday life is filled with opportunities to either listen and understand or mishear, misinterpret, and miss out on a million dollars.
Kicking off this year’s first Social Guidance Sunday will be a rousing film called You’re Not Listening! (1978, 17 min.). An overly dramatic Shakespearean actor portrays the problems associated with failing to listen. In The Strange Case of Mr. Finch (1983, 15:40 min.), a man walks around town with a briefcase and a list of names of potential millionaires, in order to become a millionaire, all these people have to do is listen! As these films demonstrate, the struggles of listening and comprehending information are not just difficulties faced by school children daydreaming about recess but these are struggles that can have detrimental impacts on the job as well. In Telemarketing III – Techniques for the Phone Sales Representative (1983, 12 min.), two telemarketers, a male and a female, explain the differences in their techniques when making a sales call. Although some films feature problematic stereotyping, they often give us new perspectives on the past through laughable “teaching” moments. Hassoun has selected a compilation of short educational films featuring dramatic renditions of listening skills, children dressed as anthropomorphic ears, and the chance to win a million dollars. So listen up and pay attention! There will be a quiz at the end.
January’s SGS films will include:
You’re Not Listening! (Callner Films, 1978)
Telemarketing III-Techniques for the Phone Sales Representative (Centron, 1983)
Listening Skills: An Introduction (Coronet, 1965.)
The Strange Case of Mr. Finch (Filmfair Communications, 1983)
Are You Listening (Educational Communications Inc., 1971)
~ Katie Lind
IULMIA’s expanded WWII Films and IU: Audiovisual Production, Distribution, and Education exhibit includes an extensive selection of films on food production, agriculture, and natural resource conservation produced and exhibited for civilian audiences during wartime. Our earlier post on the 1942 Federal Security Agency-produced You Can’t Eat Tobacco profiled the role of government sponsored films promoting federal public health and food policy. This week’s post showcases another wartime food and agriculture film appearing in the expanded exhibit, the 11 minute Farmer At War released March 11, 1943 by the Office of War Information Bureau of Motion Pictures, and Columbia Pictures, under the aegis of the War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry.
The November, 1943 issue of Educational Screen advised readers in the audio-visual education field of the Office of War Information’s current themed propaganda campaigns: November was “Food For Freedom” month, and December’s campaigns included “Farm Production Goals” (along with “Don’t Travel” and “Security of Military Information”). A list of OWI produced and distributed 16mm films relating to food and agricultural subjects supported these campaigns, including World of Plenty (included in the IULMIA’s original WWII films exhibit), and Farmer At War, the short to be discussed in detail here.
As publicity and reviews frequently pointed out, Farmer At War is notable for its use of “actual farmfolk” – farm families of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – filmed in a documentary style unlike many of the other propaganda shorts of the period.
The farms of Harry Schaeffer and Moses Zimmerman, both identified as being of “Pennsylvania Dutch” (German) ancestry are profiled, as well as a meeting of a farmers’ cooperative group discussing shared use of equipment and resources. While the overt message of the film’s narration is motivation and patriotism, showing a model of American hard work and resourcefulness as these farmers increase food production despite a scarcity of labor, Farmer At War also stands as a document of the role of Mennonite and Old Order Amish pacifist religious orders in WWII.
Earlier this spring IULMIA digitized in 1920×1080 HD over eighty films originally distributed by the IU Bureau of Audio-Visual Aids during the war years to be included in the expanded WWII Films and IU exhibit, including a 16mm print of Farmer At War . Exact dating of this print on DuPont film stock has not been possible, but is believed to be at least 70 years old. The print held by IULMIA was made with a variable density optical soundtrack, which, combined with slight warping of its aging cellulose acetate base, contributes to the noisiness of the sound in the first few minutes.
The Office of War Information, Bureau of Motion Pictures
In June of 1942 President Roosevelt established the Office of War Information (OWI) as a centralized agency supervising all print and broadcast media, with a goal to “facilitate the development of an informed and intelligent understanding, at home and abroad, of the status and progress of the war effort, and of the war policies, activities, and aims of the Government.”¹ The Bureau of Motion Pictures was formed as part of the Domestic Branch of the OWI, both to produce short, quickly made short informational films, and to liaison with Hollywood studios for the production of government-ordered films. Farmer At War was one of the dozens of films created in the first year of OWI production (other OWI productions from this period viewable in IULMIA’s exhibit include Salvage and Paratroops).
After this initial year OWI’s film work shifted to its Overseas Branch, with a mandate to create movies for audiences outside the Western hemisphere, while Hollywood assumed more complete control of domestic film production for the remainder of the war through the War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry.
Our previous post on filmmaker Irving Jacoby overlaps with the OWI’s shift of movie making from the Domestic to the Overseas branch: this change coincided with Jacoby’s start as director of non-theatrical distribution for the Overseas branch in 1943, bringing on dozens of leading documentary filmmakers from Europe, Canada, and New York City. The 1943 Swedes In America (with Ingrid Bergman) is an excellent example of an OWI Overseas Branch production newly available in IULMIA’s expanded WWII exhibit.
The War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry
The Hollywood motion picture industry during the war years was the epicenter of expert artists and technicians of filmmaking in the U.S. The urgent need for propaganda, motivational, training, and instructional films during wartime caused the government to call upon this national resource of talent to do its patriotic duty. Coordinating the roles of the Hollywood studios, theatrical exhibitors, distributors, newsreel producers, publicists, and the trade press in the war effort was the War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry. Representatives of the major studios and dozens of other leading businesses in the movie industry made up the committee. Thousands of employees of the movie industry turned from feature film production to work on educational and inspirational films for both military and civilian audiences.
Film scholar Thomas Doherty, in his excellent history of Hollywood during WWII Projections of War, emphasizes the tensions arising from the government’s attempt to oversee the Hollywood film industry’s production of patriotic propaganda and motivational shorts. Many “Victory shorts” of the war years bear credits of individual studios, the OWI Bureau of Motion Pictures, and the blanket sponsorship of the War Activities Committee. Roles of production and distribution differed among Government and the film industry for various titles, but Doherty reports that Victory shorts such as Farmer At War achieved a degree of saturation in the American public matched only by the most successful feature films. A War Activities Committee survey found that 94 percent of theaters were including a Victory short in every show, and WAC vice-chairman Francis Harmon is quoted stating that “only eighteen to twenty four weeks is are now required for one of these war information reels to appear on more than fourteen thousand screens.”
As one of many non-theatrical distributors, the IU Bureau of Audio-Visual Aids contributed to even greater exposure to war information films such as Farmer At War through impromptu screenings using portable 16mm sound projectors in classrooms, community groups, and churches.
Pacifist Religious Orders in Wartime
Though Farmer At War presents the work of Pennsylvania Dutch farmers in terms of the contribution to the War effort by those too young or old for military service, it also provides a much rarer glimpse the role traditionally pacifist communities during wartime through its documentation of Mennonite and Amish communities of Lancaster county.
Historian and scholar of Amish history Steven Reschly has written on depictions of Lancaster county pacifist religious orders in wartime propaganda, and particularly on Farmer At War as a document of the role played by members of Mennonite and Amish religious groups in the national war effort. Though the film never identifies religious affiliation of its subjects, Reschly identifies Moses Zimmerman as “a plain farmer whose wife wears a head covering,” referring to the plain dress customs of those religious groups descended from the Christian Anabaptist tradition.
While members of these historic peace churches were entitled to exemption from military service as conscientious objectors, Farmer At War depicts their cooperation in the nation’s war effort through increased food production.
In addition to images of plain farmers appearing in Farmer At War, the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information produced photographs and posters using images of old Lancaster county farm families as part of domestic propaganda campaigns. OWI leadership called for morale-building, pro-America pictures, and photographers John Collier Jr. and Irving Rusinow travelled to Lancaster county to produce them. Images of the Lancaster county Amish served as “wartime symbols of American comradery and abundance.”²
The use of synchronous sound in Farmer At War also sets it apart from many of the similar Victory shorts in IULMIA’s exhibit.
Instead of the usual narration and music added to silent camera footage or compilations from stock footage libraries, this production evidently brought cumbersome field sound equipment to Lancaster county to record Schaeffer, Zimmerman, and the voices of the farmers’ cooperative. Most notable is the closing Thanksgiving prayer delivered in an unbroken 90 second take by Moses Zimmerman, summarizing the film’s message: calling for aid to the Allied nations and particularly for the nation’s farmers as “doubtless this coming year we will have less help, less machinery…”
Release of the new WWII Films and IU exhibit
On June 6, the 71st anniversary of the 1944 D-Day landings at Normandy by the armies of the Allied nations in World War II, IU Libraries Moving Image will release its expanded World War II Propaganda Films and IU online exhibit. More than two hundred 16mm wartime films from IULMIA’s collections, originally distributed for classroom and non-theatrical exhibition by Indiana University during the war, will be available for streaming viewing through the exhibit, here:
1. Larson, C. (1948). The Domestic Motion Picture Work of the Office of War Information
Hollywood Quarterly. 3(4), pp. 434-443. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1209318
2. Reschly, S. D., & Jellison, K. (2008). Shifting images of Lancaster county Amish in the 1930s and 1940s. Mennonite Quarterly Review, 82(3), 469-483.
Harmon, F.S. (1944). Movies As Propaganda. In The Command Is Forward (pp. 8-13). New York, NY: Richard R. Smith.
Reschly S.D. & Jellison, K. (2014). Picturing World War II on the “Garden Spot” Home Front: Images and Memories of Mennonite Farm Families in Lancaster County. Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage 37(4), 114-118.
IULMIA has chosen to showcase Irving Jacoby’s 1942 High Over the Borders as another of the outstanding films recently digitized for our soon-to-be expanded online exhibit WWII Propaganda Films and IU. Over 80 new titles from IULMIA’s collections will be available for viewing as part of this curated project that explores the distribution and exhibition of propaganda, educational, and training films on 16mm by the I.U. Extension Division throughout World War II.
An area of special focus in the exhibit is the WWII-era film productions of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA). High Over the Borders is one of seventeen OCIAA productions viewable in the expanded exhibit, drawing attention to a body of remarkable films reporting on the nations of the Americas, many of which have not been widely available for viewing and study outside of archival collections.
Irving Jacoby was a member of an influential early generation of documentary filmmakers who went to work for governments of the Allied nations as war broke out, making a contribution to the war effort, developing their craft as filmmakers, and producing films of lasting value in the process. In the U.S. the OCIAA employed a remarkable roster of civilian filmmakers to create films showing life in the U.S. to the southern nations of the hemisphere, and educating U.S. audiences on the culture and geography of the Latin American countries.
The Pan-Americanism of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy, and the Office of the Coordinator of Inter American Affairs, under the direction of Nelson Rockefeller, sought to boost political and economic relations between the U.S. and Latin American nations. Before war broke out this U.S. public relations campaign worked to improve relations and counteract an imperialist image prevailing the south. Soon after the war began the OCIAA hastily shifted its priorities toward working to assure hemispheric solidarity, and preventing South American nations from any undue alliances with the Axis. In late 1941 a program of motion picture production and distribution by the OCIAA commenced, intending to use films to “show the truth about the American Way” to southern nations. A report on the new OCIAA film program in a December, 1941 issue of Motion Picture Herald makes mention of Irving Jacoby’s work-in-progress, referring to the film by the working title As Birds Link the Americas.
Completed early the following year, an announcement appearing under the heading “Good Neighbor Film” appearing in the April, 1942 Movie Makers (via Media History Digital Library) provides the basic details of the production:
The seasonal flights of birds all over the American Continents, irrespective of boundaries and man made laws, constitute the theme of High Over the Borders, a two reel movie prepared jointly for the Office of Inter American Affairs, the National Film Board of Canada, and the New York Zoological Society. Most of the footage came from the newsreel and nature footage libraries of the National Film Board, while John Ferno did the camera work and the editing. Irving Jacoby was the writer and director, Phil Brown was the narrator and Vittorio Giannini composed the musical score. The National Film Board is handling theatrical distribution in both Americas, while the Office of Inter-American Affairs takes care of the non theatrical circulation in South America.
Having worked in London under John Grierson’s General Post Office (GPO) film unit (occupying W.H. Auden’s recently vacated writing position) from 1938-39, Jacoby was among the first filmmakers to join Grierson in Ottawa, Ontario as the newly forming National Film Board of Canada was taking shape. In the logistics of its production, as well as in its thematic content, High Over the Borders embodied the internationalist message intended by Jacoby and the OCIAA. The migratory journey of barn swallows from the Ontario farm of young Richie, to their wintering grounds over 7000 miles south to coastal Peru, near the village home of Richie’s counterpart Ricardo, serves as a narrative thread through the film. With Grierson the Scot as producer, Jacoby the New Yorker writing and directing, and the Dutch John Ferno (given name Johannes Fernhout) shooting and editing, this U.S.-Canadian co-production was to be exhibited in all corners of the hemisphere, with 16mm prints following the north-south routes of the birds themselves.
An excellent entry on Irving Jacoby by Cecile Starr (herself a fascinating filmmaker and author) in the Encylopedia of the Documentary Film makes brief mention of this early production in Jacoby’s career:
For the NFB, in association with the New York Zoological Society and the [OCIAA], Irving Jacoby produced, directed and wrote High Over the Borders, an appealing, straightforward film about bird migration between North and South America. Tinged with the spirit of internationalism, Dutch filmmaker John Ferno gave Jacoby first-hand experience in balancing the exigencies of organizations and government agencies with his own artistic and social concerns. High Over the Borders was a major success in every way.
The text of Jacoby’s narration drives home the metaphoric significance of migratory bird routes for the message of internationalism. After their southward migration, Canada geese are “full fledged residents of a new country, by virtue of the laws of nature and their power of flight. A thousand miles are nothing, borders do not exist, for the birds have in their wings a passport to the world.” Later we hear the narrator proclaim that migratory birds “mock the man-made lines by which nations separate themselves. For the birds are free, they are at home in the hemisphere, to them belongs all the land over which their wings carry them, and they belong to all the peoples who live in those lands.”
Turning away from propaganda toward a tone of more conventional nature education, the film shows the motion picture camera as an instrument of scientific study. In what was apparently a contribution of the New York Zoological Society’s participation in the production, footage using “super-speed photography” reveals that the ruby-throated hummingbird makes 75 wing strokes every second. According to this essay on nature film by scholar Helen Sommer, the hummingbird footage appearing in Jacoby’s film originated from Nazi government research in high frame-rate photography:
Friday, February 2, 1940: During a meeting at the Institute for Women’s Professional Relations, Mr. Osborn, from the New York Zoological Society, gave a speech on the topic of photography; both as a tool in scientific research and as a form of record for science. He recalled an incident when the society borrowed from Germany a truly remarkable slow-motion-film; 1,200 exposures a second showing the flight of a hummingbird. He reveals apologetically that it was later discovered that the origin of the film was the German Government, more specifically, the Nazi division of Ballistics and Aeronautics. Consequently in 1942, Osborn appropriated the Nazi hummingbird footage in a Canadian/American production: a documentary called High over the Borders, about bird migration in the western hemisphere. The thought of the hummingbird being turned against democracy frightened Osborn to such an extent that he appropriated it into another context in an attempt to rescue it.
The film then turns to the patient and less glamorous work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, protecting migratory birds by providing sanctuary and regulating sport hunting. The use of banding in scientific study of migration is explained and a vast card file of data gathered by fieldworkers around North America is shown housed in Washington D.C.. Species maps charting migration data – and the 30,000 letters reporting banded bird sightings around the hemisphere received every year – are maintained by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Maps of the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific flyways across the hemisphere are animated.
Returning home to New York City after his Canadian stint, Jacoby, along with documentarian Joris Ivens, persuaded the City College of New York to create an Institute of Film Technique, instructing students in production of non-fiction films during the wartime boom years of training and instructional film production. The institute would go on to greater fame under the leadership of the German expatriate abstract filmmaker Hans Richter, from 1943 to 1946.After leaving the Institute of Film Technique in 1943, Jacoby went on to become chief of the Non-Theatrical Section of the Office of War Information (OWI) Overseas Branch. During his tenure at OWI Jacoby wrote and produced Henwar Rodakiewicz’s short film Capital Story, IULMIA’s catalog record gives this brief summary:
Tells the story of the part played by the U.S. Public Health Service in tracing the cause of a lung infection contracted by a shipyard worker. Details of the tracing of the poison cadmium to a small order of flanges are pictured.
Jacoby concluded his tenure in governmental film production in 1946 with The Pale Horseman, a documentary on the postwar problem of epidemic disease, and the work of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in aiding European and Asian nations devastated by the war.
Founding Affiliated Film Producers in 1946 with Henwar Rodakiewicz, John Ferno, and Willard Van Dyke (distinguished filmmaker, educator, and later director of MOMA’s Department of Film), marked Jacoby’s turn to private production for the post-war educational film and television market. Jacoby served as writer and producer on a series of short films in the social guidance vein, produced to accompany the Mcgraw Hill textbook Marriage For Moderns. Offering “guidance for young people in the preparation for successful marriage,” the films are perennially popular viewing at Prelinger archives.
A 1947 documentary on Edward Weston, The Photographer, a series of well-regarded films on mental health produced with his wife Alberta Altman, and a 1960 Academy Award nomination shared with Shirley Clarke and Willard Van Dyke for their 1959 short documentary Skyscraper, are among the highlights of Jacoby’s later career.Too little seems to have been written about Jacoby, despite the fact that the many films written, produced, and directed by him have been shown around the world for the past 70-some years. In every period of his career Jacoby was closely involved with the influential figures and major developments in the evolution of documentary and educational filmmaking. A search of IULMIA’s catalog returns at least 18 titles that Jacoby played some part in.
In addition to the many Affiliated Film Producers titles available at archive.org, an early National Film Board production Hot Ice (1940) can be viewed online. Also, James Beveridge’s 1978 book John Grierson: Film Master includes a transcript of an interview with Jacoby conducted for the 1973 documentary film Grierson.
Before the expanded WWII Propaganda Films and IU online exhibit is released on June 6, we’ll have one more post here featuring another exemplary war era film recently digitized by IULMIA, the 1943 short Farmer At War. This co-production of the Office of War Information and the War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry profiles the stoic Pennsylvania Dutch farming communities of Lancaster County, a film intended to inspire citizens to greater thrift and cooperation in their contributions to the war effort.
~ Seth Mitter
Irving Jacoby 16mm prints held at IULMIA
1942 High Over the Borders
1945 Capital Story
1946 The Pale Horseman
1947 The Photographer
1950 “Marriage for Moderns” Series (Affiliated Film Producers, with Willard Van Dyke – many in this series also can be found at archive.org)
Choosing For Happiness
In Time of Trouble
This Charming Couple
It Takes All Kinds
1951 Angry Boy (with Alexander Hammid)
1951 Secure the Blessings
1954 The Lonely Night
1955 Broken Appointment
1961 The Hickory Stick
1962 The Dropout
1966 Community Mental Health
Leading up to IULMIA’s June 6 unveiling of the expanded WWII Propaganda Films and IU online exhibit, we’re presenting in-depth posts about three outstanding titles among the many newly digitized war-era films from our collections. The first film in this series of feature blog posts is a 13 minute Kodachrome gem from 1942, You Can’t Eat Tobacco.
Curation of the 84 films in the expanded exhibit has focussed on the uses of government produced informational, educational, and propaganda films in civilian life. Films were selected from IULMIA’s collections of 16mm prints distributed during WWII to school and community groups around Indiana by the University Extension Division’s Bureau of Audio-Visual Aids. Beyond the combat reporting and heavy-handed propaganda intended to mobilize public sentiment behind the war effort, government film production also addressed nearly every other sphere of civilian life, from natural resource conservation to workplace training and educating citizens about the cultures of Allied nations. IULMIA’s expanded WWII Propaganda Films exhibit brings together an extensive collection of these war-era films, representing the great breadth of U.S. Government film production during the conflict.
You Can’t Eat Tobacco is a perfect starting point for taking such an expanded view of wartime filmmaking. The war is neither mentioned nor obviously evident in the world documented, yet the film stands as a strikingly personal and artistically executed work reporting on problems of public health and nutrition resulting from tenant farmers’ economic dependence on cash crops. A clear position advocating reform and improved community health comes across in its brief running time, exemplifying the short form 16mm sound film as a means of educating and informing the public, as a medium for Government to speak to its citizens.
With the film itself offering no more identifying information than this title and the names of the writing and photography team of Margaret T. Cussler and Mary L. De Give, no record on Worldcat, and scarcely anything written about the film turned up in Google searches, excitement mounted at IULMIA at the discovery of this beautiful and apparently rare film. Though it stands on its own as a well crafted, stately work of documentary filmmaking, the story of its creation and its creators is no less interesting.
Piecing together the story of this film and its creators has relied foremost on the account given in Margaret Cussler’s highly entertaining memoir Not By A Long Shot: Adventures of a Documentary Film Producer, published in 1951 (in the public domain and available in its entirety at Hathi Trust). Described on the jacket flap as a “lighthearted, firsthand story of two young women who set out on a shoestring to form a film company,” promising the reader that “when two young women step from the college campus to enter into a new audio-visual medium of education and information, you can look for things to happen.” Armed with Radcliffe credentials, government funding, a 16mm motion picture camera, and an abiding love for Kodachrome color reversal film, the team of Cussler and De Give produced You Can’t Eat Tobacco while assigned to conduct an anthropological study of “food habits” in the rural southeast.
In 1940, while both were still doctoral students working under Harvard sociologist Carle C. Zimmerman, Cussler and De Give were sent to a tobacco growing region of coastal North Carolina to study the role of nutrition in the cultural changes of the area. Their study focussed on a place referred to as Seaford, or “a village of 300 inhabitants of the coastal plains area of a southeastern state,” actually Bath, North Carolina’s oldest town, a port located near the mouth of the Pamlico River.
Having seen the study conducted for Harvard, the director of the Federal Security Agency’s National Nutrition Program sent Cussler and De Give back to Bath over a year later to evaluate the effects of the Nutrition Program. The two were sent on by the government to study the contrasting food habits of other areas of the rural south with those of the Bath tobacco country: the “live at home economy” of self-subsistent agriculture in German Flats, South Carolina, and the cotton growing economy in Thomas County, Georgia. The two women’s remarkable fieldwork tour of the rural south in the earliest months of WWII is narrated in charming detail in the first third of Not By A Long Shot. This work also resulted in doctoral dissertations, both completed in 1943 (Cussler’s Cultural Sanctions of the Food Pattern in the Rural Southeast and De Give’s Social Interrelations and Food Habits in the Rural Southeast, see bibliography below).
Bath, N.C., and the surrounding communities of tenant tobacco farmers, became a focus of Cussler and De Give’s work as it exemplified a local economic and cultural food system failing to provide nutrition and health to its citizens. As Cussler would write in her narration of the film, the reliance on a “one crop” system meant that farms weren’t producing food to feed farm families, and the paltry cash yielded by a tobacco crop too often went to store-bought foods of poor nutritional value. From November 1941 through February 1942 Cussler and De Give lived in a boarding house in Bath, observing, photographing, filming, and conducting interviews about local food habits.
In their 1952 book ‘Twixt the Cup and the Lip (also available in full at Hathi Trust), drawn from the cumulative experience of their research on food habits in the southeast, Cussler and De Give reflect on their decision to use filming in their fieldwork, also indicating that they were screening their footage locally in Bath as they worked:
Documentary photography provided a device for securing supplementary data on the physical milieu, and also provided some insights into the social and cultural milieu. Besides a collection of still shots, a movie in color and sound, You Can’t Eat Tobacco, depicting socio-economic factors affecting nutrition in the rural, one-cash-crop South, was produced in the course of these studies. An additional advantage proved to be the entree which photography gave to homes when it was desirable to check the behavioral pattern with regard to food against the ideal pattern. Also, the popularity of local showings of scenes from local movies facilitated continued work in the community.
Shot on 16mm Kodachrome over the course of these four months, using mostly naturally lit outdoor shots with handheld camera, the film has all the apparent spontaneity and unscripted intimacy of a particularly beautiful home movie, yet a striking, serious aesthetic intention in De Give’s composition of her shots. Repeated throughout the film are steady, eye-level portraits, held long enough for each subject to stare back into the camera’s lens. The fieldwork itself required a degree of trust and intimacy, going from farm to farm interviewing mothers about the diet and health of their families. As they note in ‘Twixt the Cup, “working as women with women informants on a topic so closely associated with women’s traditional work appears to have its advantages (…).”
After its completion in 1942 the film appears to have been put into distribution by the New York University Film Library. A 1944 New York City Food and Nutrition Program publication provides this excellent summary:
Poverty, broken lives, disease-ridden people . . . these are all-too-common by-products of the one-crop system throughout the tobacco country of the South. You Can’t Eat Tobacco deals with the evils of this system, then proceeds to illustrate some of the ways in which the impoverished Southern tobacco farmer may improve his lot. The film opens with scenes of the typical broken-down homes and under-nourished families of farmers who plant all of their acreage in tobacco. Raising practically nothing for themselves, these families depend on the “rolling store” to supply them with the sweets and starchy foods which constitute a major portion of their diet. Pellagra is prevalent throughout tobacco-land with patent medicine men and unscrupulous druggists thriving on sales of costly remedies. Tobacco farmers can, however, improve their diet, their health and their income by devoting some of their land to raising food crops and livestock. They can turn to Federal, state and local agencies for assistance in planning and growing foodstuffs and selling their surplus at nearby markets. Local schools can help speed community rehabilitation by developing school lunch programs, by teaching good nutrition and health to parents and children, and by offering instruction in home economics to future farm mothers and classes in farm management to future farm fathers. The county doctor, too, can be encouraged to play a more active role in fighting malnutrition in his locality. Even church meetings and picnics may be used to teach better health through better eating. Thus, through individual and community effort, the one-crop system with its attendant malnutrition and disease, can be banished from tobaccoland forever.
An entry in the 1947 H.W. Wilson Educational Film Guide confirms that the film was generally available for rental, noting “Sequences of special regional interest include: a day in the life of a sharecropper, typical pellagra cases, a Negro church service, the visit of a patent medicine man and teaching in a rural school.”
Circumstances surrounding its distribution by Indiana University are less clear; the print held at IULMIA is dated 1943, yet the title does not appear in the War Films catalog or any of the other Burueau of Audio Visual Aids catalogs published during the War.
After a short stint working on educational films for Eastman Kodak, Cussler and De Give ultimately went on to found their own production company, Social Documentary Films, making at least two more completed films that are known. Not By Books Alone (1945) commissioned by the Rochester, NY, public library, with this summary in the Wilson guide:
How one library serves the citizens of its community in education, enrichment, and recreation, making better homes, earning a living, and intelligent citizenship.
An issue of Rochester History Journal notes that Not By Books Alone was so successful that “the U.S. State Department paid for its translation into several languages and UNESCO screened the film at conferences in Mexico City and Paris.”
Their third and final film, Hopi Horizons (1946) was shot around Arizona reservation communities while Cussler and De Give had temporarily relocated to Los Angeles. IULMIA’s sole Kodachrome print of this film has been judged too delicate for flatbed viewing, and the Wilson guide’s description gives little more detail than IU’s own scant catalog record:
Life today on the Hopi Reservation is presented from the Indian view-point. Aspects included agriculture, primitive methods and introduction of modern farming; handicrafts; economics; health; education; influence of missionaries and others on customs and habits of living. Film provides starting point for further discussion.
We at IULMIA hope to eventually give both of these later films by Cussler and De Give more thorough attention and research – the work of this remarkable independent production team seems too little known and is certainly deserving of study, appreciation and preservation. Anyone with knowledge of Margaret Cussler and Mary De Give’s filmmaking work, other existing copies of their films, their papers, or their descendants is emphatically encouraged to contact IULMIA.
Coming up next in our series profiling educational films from the World War II era: High Over the Borders (1942), Irving Jacoby’s film on North American bird migration, where flight paths “mock the man-made lines by which nations separate themselves,” providing a useful metaphor for a wartime spirit of alliance between the nations of the Americas.
Margaret T. Cussler and Mary L. De Give non-exhaustive bibliography
Cussler, M. (1943). Cultural Sanctions of the Food Pattern in the Rural Southeast. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Radcliffe College (Harvard University).
Cussler, M. (1951). Not by a long shot: adventures of a documentary film producer. New York: Exposition Press. [Full text at Hathi Trust]
Cussler, M & De Give M.L. (1942) Some Cultural Factors Affecting the Nutritional Situation. Nutrition Division, Office of Defense Health and Welfare Services, Federal Security Agency.
Cussler, M. & De Give M.L. (1942). The effect of human relations on food habits in the rural southeast. Applied Anthropology 1(3):13-18.
Cussler, M. & De Give M.L. (1942). Let’s Look It in the Eye. Consumer’s Guide, March 15.
Cussler, M. & De Give M.L. (1943). Foods and nutrition in our rural Southeast. Journal of Home Economics 35:280-282.
Cussler, M., & De Give, M. L. (1952). ‘Twixt the cup and the lip: psychological and socio-cultural factors affecting food habits. New York: Twayne Publishers. [Full text at Hathi Trust]
De Give, M.L. (1943). Social Interrelations and Food Habits in the Rural Southeast. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Radcliffe College (Harvard University).
De Give, M.L. & Cussler, M. (1941). Interrelations between cultural pattern and nutrition. A study of a village of 300 inhabitants in the coastal plains area of a southeastern state. U.S. Department of Agriculture Extension Service, Circular No. 366. [Full text at archive.org]
As IULMIA’s WWII Films and IU: Audiovisual Production, Circulation, and Education exhibit approaches it’s one year anniversary, we are excited to announce the upcoming expansion of the exhibit to include 84 newly digitized World War II era films. Beginning June 6, 2015 the exhibit will grow to include access to over 200 titles, many never before available online or on video.
The Second World War era films in IULMIA’s collections represent a founding part of the film collections at IU, as widespread use of motion pictures in training and education took hold during the war years and immediately after. Looking back on his years with the Army Pictorial Service of the Signal Corps, applying the lessons of wartime film use to postwar education, Charles Hoban wrote in his book Movies That Teach:
In the face of unprecedented demands for training millions of men and women to win a war in the most effective way in the shortest possible time, the armed forces and other war-training and morale-building agencies turned to motion pictures with unquestioning faith in their teaching values. During the years immediately preceding and throughout World War II, thousands of motion pictures were made and used on a scale which, in comparison to total possible audiences, exceeded the pre-war use of films both in entertainment and education.
Indiana University prided itself on being at the forefront of innovation in audiovisual instruction, adopting military uses of moving pictures to civilian training and pedagogy. I.U.’s Bureau of Audio-Visual Aids (BAVA) ascended to prominence over the course of the war years as it lobbied for a greater role for educational film libraries in the distribution of government films¹. Under the leadership of L.C. Larson, the Bureau became a major depository of government produced wartime information, propaganda, and training films, serving as a distributor to audiences in Indiana and the surrounding region.
Hundreds of films acquired or deposited at I.U. during the years of the second World War substantially increased the size of the BAVA film collection, the core of a film distribution library that would grow to tens of thousands of film prints under the custody of the renamed I.U. Audio-Visual Center (IUAVC) by the 1970s. These 16mm prints dating from the war era now constitute some of the oldest materials among the roughly 48,000 prints in the I.U. Libraries Moving Image Archive’s educational film collection.
In June 2014 the I.U. Libraries Moving Image Archive unveiled WWII Propaganda Films and IU, an online exhibit, created using the Omeka platform, providing access to 117 films digitized from original 16mm film prints distributed by the Bureau of Audio-Visual Aids during the war years. Curated from the 1943 War Films catalog issued by the I.U. Extension Division, the exhibit highlights the role of I.U.’s BAVA and educational film libraries in distributing these War-era films to domestic audiences of school and community groups. Increased availability of 16mm sound film projectors, necessary for the government’s dissemination of War Information to citizens, made possible the non-theatrical circulation of films found in the exhibit. Portable exhibition of the smaller 16mm format turned the classroom, 4H meeting, fraternal order, church, or factory floor into the setting in which these film prints from I.U. were screened.
Now, nearly a year later, IULMIA is finishing preparations for the substantial expansion of the WWII Propaganda Films and IU exhibit—set to officially launch June 6, 2015— to include 84 additional digitized films from its collections, representing an even broader sampling of government film production during the WWII era.
Virtually all of the films to be added to site have never before been available online in any form, and most have never seen video release of any kind. All additions to the exhibit, amounting to more than 20 hours of film, are high definition digital transfers of original 16mm prints in circulation during the War era. When the expanded exhibit opens June 6, 2015, a total of 201 WWII era films from IULMIA’s collections will be available for streaming access.
Curation of these additions to the WWII exhibit has emphasized the scope of wartime filmmaking beyond the battlefield and military films that brought news of the war home. Because civilians were the primary audience for films distributed by I.U., subjects concerning domestic life and economy, agriculture and natural resource management, workplace training, and the cultures of the allied nations are especially prevalent in IULMIA’s war era film collections. Additionally, selection for the expanded exhibit has focussed on providing streaming access to historically notable war era films not available through other major online archival collections (U.S. National Archives, National Film Board of Canada, Prelinger Archives, and FedFlix all provide access to major collections of WWII related films).
Among the highlights of the expanded exhibit will be many lesser known productions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that were released and widely exhibit during the war years. While many titles such as Farmer’s Wife and Harvest For Victory carry explicit messages of wartime conservation and thrift, an equal number of the USDA’s films from the era articulate less war-specific messages about improved farming practices, conservation of natural resources, land, and water management.
The addition of 10 titles in the U.S. Office of Education’s wartime “Problems in Supervision” series to the exhibit provide a fascinating look at the wartime factory shop floor and assembly line in their mini-dramatizations of workplace conflict. Fans of Supervising Women Workers will be sure to enjoy such titles as Maintaining Workers’ Interest and Placing the Right Man on the Job.
The productions of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs represent another facet of government sponsored filmmaking in the war years. Dozens of documentary shorts profiling the culture and geography of Central and South America attempted carry out the aims of FDR’s “Good Neighbor Policy” by fostering a sense of solidarity between the nations of the Americas. Many great OCIAA films have been viewable via Prelinger Archives, such as Willard Van Dyke and Ben Maddow’s The Bridge, or the numerous OCIAA films of Julien Bryan. Seventeen wartime OCIAA titles not previously available are among the newly digitized IULMIA films, including lovely Kodachrome prints of travelogues such as The Hill Towns of Guatemala and Sundays In The Valley of Mexico, and the cautionary animated short Water: Friend Or Enemy.
Before we officially launch the expanded exhibit June 6, we’ll be featuring a few of the outstanding examples among the newly digitized films with posts here. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a closer look at some great examples of these government-produced films, never before available online, intended to inform, train, persuade and inspire domestic audiences during wartime.
Check back soon for these coming attractions for your viewing pleasure here at the IULMIA blog:
- The singular You Can’t Eat Tobacco (1943), a public health film reporting on impoverished tenant farming communities in coastal North Carolina. Written by Margaret Cussler and photographed on unfailingly beautiful Kodachrome by Mary DeGive, the film marked the debut of this two woman filmmaking team.
- High Over The Borders (1942), a U.S.-Canadian co-production whose credits include documentary makers John Ferno and Irving Jacoby, featuring sophisticated high-speed photography, and studying the migratory routes of birds as a symbol of the unity of the nations of the Americas.
- Farmer At War (1943) a neglected masterpiece credited to The War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry, using stark landscape photography and a social documentarian style to profile the heroic efforts of elderly farmers in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, increasing wartime food production even as farms were vacated by young men.
1. Cook, A.W. (1980). A History of the Indiana University Audio-Visual Center: 1913 to 1975 (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.
In the course of working with one of the world’s largest educational film and video collections, archives staff at IULMIA inevitably come across some extraordinary works that transcend the genre boundaries typical of classroom and educational films. Just a few recent examples turned up by programmers combing through the collection for this semester’s Social Guidance Sundays screening series include the unforgettable 1962 scare film H-Bomb Over U.S., with its felt cutouts and burning doll’s heads, and two early 1970s 16mm prints of Lillian Schwartz’s films UFOs and Pixillation,
While we do love the reliable formulas of narration, diagrams, and demonstrations found in classics from Coronet and Encyclopaedia Brittanica, the cinephile within us is drawn to those classroom films where the creative, individual touch of the filmmaker manages to shine through. There may be no place and time better than California in the late 60s where the spirit of creative personal filmmaking crossed over into educational productions, and the output of Churchill Films is exemplary is this respect.
IULMIA’s previous blog post discussed the series of music films that Les Blank worked on for director Pieter Van Deusen and Churchill Films – a series that exemplifies the surprisingly adventurous and original filmmaking sometimes found in 16mm cans with seemingly undistinguished titles like String Sounds. These music films were a series created for the primary school classroom by a gifted group of filmmakers loosely connected through the USC School of Cinematic Arts, all working at in the overlapping worlds of industrial and independent filmmaking in southern California. Since our last post we’ve continued corresponding with filmmaker Pieter Van Deusen, who has generously shared his memories and photographs from his work on the music series. As promised, we’re featuring excerpts from another outstanding title in the series – New Sounds In Music – with some rare performances from the West Coast experimental music scene circa 1968.
New Sounds In Music, along with the other 4 titles in the Music series, were written, directed, and produced by Pieter Van Deusen for Churchill Films, the educational film company founded by Robert Churchill in Los Angeles.
Each of the films in the series takes an expanded view of “sound,” musical and non-musical, with special emphasis on children producing sounds with commonplace objects and homemade instruments (Percussion Sounds even features a performance by a Santa Monica children’s gamelan ensemble!). However New Sounds departs from the others in the series as it introduces young audiences to then-current varieties of “serious” avant-garde music, including chance composition, prepared piano, electronic synthesizers, tape music, and the invented instruments of composer Harry Partch.
The opening sequence of the film (shown in the clip above) features musician Christoper Tree, known for a few sought-after records and the subject of a 1967 short film by Les Blank and Van Deusen, in footage shot by Blank (whether it same performance and footage appearing in both films is still unknown). Pieter Van Deusen writes:
I’m not sure who knew knew about Chris Tree, but he was a natural for the series. And Les Blank was a natural to capture his performance on film. We chose to shoot it outdoors where Chris looked and acted as natural as a musician was allowed to look and act in those days…
At the time the music series was produced, Van Deusen had only been working for Churchill Films briefly, since writing and directing In A Medical Laboratory in 1966, a sponsored film “designed to get college students interested in that particular work environment,” according to Pieter. Shortly after this, Churchill produced three films on the Bill of Rights, Speech and Protest, Interrogation and Council, Search and Privacy, all written and directed by Van Deusen in 1967.
Pieter’s own varied background and accomplishments in music performance and composition likely contributed to Robert Churchill’s confidence in giving the young filmmaker nearly complete control over the production of the series of five music films that commenced in 1968. Pieter writes of the moderate success of his own early tape and musique concrete compositions, written after a mid-50s army stint and before entering USC film school:
I had also experimented with “electronic music” (more exactly–“musique concrete”) of my own in 1958, when I composed two pieces of tape music for Anna Halperin’s modern dance group in Marin County, CA.
The works were performed at venues around San Francisco, and eventually the Experimental Music Pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair. During this time Pieter also describes visiting Harry Partch’s Sausalito studio to study his invented instruments. Pieter goes on to mention his role in no less a project than the Cinerama film To The Moon and Beyond alongside visual effects specialists John Whitney Sr. and Douglas Trumbull:
Then, in 1963, I wound up composing a sequence of music concrete for an amazing double sized (square) 70mm film projected on a giant dome (like at a planetarium) at the [1964-65] World’s Fair in New York…
His own tape compositions make appearances in two of his films for Churchill: Drugs and the Nervous System, and in the concluding sequence of New Sounds In Music. A portion of a performance event with musicians and students involved in the Mills Tape Music Center at Mills College in Oakland, CA, engaged in a spontaneous and participatory composition using gigantic analog synthesizers, begins this final section of New Sounds In Music:
As noted in Churchill’s promotional flyer, above, several of the films in the series were released with an accompanying long playing record. While IULMIA isn’t fortunate enough to have a copy of any these records, evidence exists that copies of a New Sounds In Music record can be found. Among the tracks listed on the New Sounds record is a composition by Michael Tilson Thomas, which is conducted by the then-24-year-old composer in the film as well. Pieter writes:
At the time [Michael Tilson Thomas] was already conducting the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra (…) He also took [assistant director] Kent and I to his converted garage in Studio City, where he kept his piano. There, he performed some Liszt for us as well as some ‘prepared piano’ improvisations. We decided that the best thing Michael could do for us was to get hold of a percussionist friend of his with whom he could improvise an original piano/percussion duet for New Sounds In Music
Along with this original work, New Sounds shows Tilson Thomas executing a performance of the chance composition, “The Knight’s Tour” by Fredrick Lesemann, requiring a chessboard and an invented form of abstract-geometric musical notation. Rounding out this 23-minute survey of the late 60s Californian avant-garde are a number of performances using invented instruments, such as Harry Partch’s Chromelodeon and Diamond Marimba.
The number of memorable and historically significant performances included in the 5 titles of the music series are enough to merit broader appreciation for these nearly 50-year-old films. Through Pieter Van Deusen’s graciousness and generosity in telling the stories of their making and adding to our understanding of these films, it’s our hope here at IULMIA that greater awareness and interest in these films will soon follow.
The body of work that Pieter Van Deusen went on to produce with Churchill over the next 20 years is no less remarkable than the films of the music series. Some highlights include A Kite Story, made with Roberto Chavez (whose animation in What Is Music? was featured in our earlier post), and The Voyage of Odysseus, a 1980 adaptation of Homer narrated by actress Julie Harris, and laboriously animated in three dimensions on the sides of vases, in the style of ancient Athenian vase painting.
Pieter and his partner Leah Miller continue to work on films, recently completing a long awaited independent project Netherby Naps, written by Pieter and shot entirely with a handheld 35mm Bell & Howell eyemo camera.
As the films of Les Blank are inaugurated into the canon of “important classic and contemporary films” IU Libraries Moving Image Archive (IULMIA) brings to light some of his less well known work, as cameraman for a series of late 60s classroom films produced by Churchill Films and director Pieter Van Deusen. In late 2014 the Criterion Collection released Les Blank: Always For Pleasure, a DVD/Blu-Ray edition including 14 of the documentary maker’s films and a raft of supplementary material befitting a filmmaker with as long and varied a career as Blank. While this much deserved rediscovery of Blank proceeds and his own films are now more available to be seen than ever, the time is ripe to unearth these works-for-hire intended for the primary school classroom.
In the months after Blank’s death in April, 2013, numerous tributes and memorial screenings were organized around the country. In the midst of the season of celebrating Les, IULMIA staff processing newly acquired 16mm films from circulating library and classroom film collections noted some unfaded polyester prints of music education titles produced by Los Angeles-based Churchill Films in the late 60s. A little research and a flatbed viewing of the prints of these mostly innocuous-sounding educational films soon revealed that they are not only well-made works by a great ensemble of filmmakers of the era, but also contain excellent documentation of music performances and figures of the late 60s Californian milieu that Van Deusen and Blank were a part of. This post focuses on Blank’s notable contributions to the 1968 short film What Is Music? An upcoming post will profile New Sounds In Music and its documentation of experimental music composition happening at Mills College, Oakland, CA circa 1968.
Churchill Films distributed a series of music films for young audiences written, produced and directed Pieter Van Deusen. Thanks to the work of fellow-archivist Geoff Alexander and the Academic Film Archive of North America in documenting the auteurs of educational film, there exists a biographical/filmography page on Pieter Van Deusen and his work. IULMIA holds prints of all known titles in the series, including: What Is Music?, New Sounds In Music, Wind Sounds, String Sounds and Percussion Sounds. Production credits on the music series of films included Robert Kaufman as director of photography (credited as one of the cinematographers on Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles), and the team of Les Blank and Skip Gershon as 2nd camera and assistant.
Recently IULMIA sought out Pieter Van Deusen to ask about his work on the music films for Churchill, and his acquaintance with Les Blank. Pieter and Les began working together very early in their respective careers, with both appearing in Blank’s 1960 student film Running Around Like A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off. While we hope to present a more in-depth conversation with Pieter Van Deusen in an upcoming post, he was gracious enough send this reminiscence:
Les Blank and I were good friends during the year we studied filmmaking together at USC Cinema. We cast each other in leading roles in our student films and wound up as neighbors in Woodland Hills (at the far end of the San Fernando Valley). Also Lisa and Gail (our wives at that time) both gave birth to two boys close to the same age. […]
In 1968, when I had the opportunity of making a series of music films for Churchill Films, I naturally turned to Les to do some of the camerawork. When he showed up at one location in Hollywood (an Indian Music school), he had just returned from shooting one of his pig roast scenes somewhere in the south. When he arrived at our location, he said that he’d been so engrossed in the easy-going life that surrounded his time in the south, that he’d been absolutely terrified during his drive along the freeway. It may be just that combination of easy-going, almost meditative absence of thought and that heightened sensitivity to the experience of seeing that made his cinematography so remarkable.
What Is Music? includes a two and a half minute section (shown in the video above) composed of outtakes from Les Blank and Skip Gershon’s 1968 film The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins. This was the first of the music and folk culture films that would become a hallmark of Blank’s style, and in some respects propelled his career from USC film school graduate freelancing educational film work, to making documentary films reaching broader audiences. According to Blank, the success of The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ was helped by its being programmed as a short playing before that 1967 art-house hit, J.L. Godard’s Weekend. To the best of our knowledge the footage in the scenes found in What Is Music? appear nowhere in Blank’s work, found hiding away unassumingly in this educational film.
What Is Music? tours young viewers through a distinctly late ‘60s panorama of musical sounds. We begin with the “accidental” sounds of nature and conclude with a long silent scene of a girl frolicking with dogs in a forest, as the narrator asks viewers to “try and imagine music of your own for a moment…what kind of music would be like this moment in life?” The Hopkins passage is framed as an example of “country blues” and African-American folk culture, appearing just after a segment with traditional Chinese instruments and just before a collage of aboriginal didgeridoo and Indian raga-psychedelia. The music track for the segment is another in the style of the many improvised, riffing performances Hopkins gives in Blank and Gershon’s documentary. The song plays uninterrupted as Blank’s camera cuts between Hopkins’ performance, posed portraits of a churchgoing group somewhere near Centerville, TX, and country landscapes in the same region taken from a car window.
[Those interested in researching Lightnin’ Hopkins on film are advised of a 1971 episode of the National Educational Television series “Artists In America” titled Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins, produced by Houston, TX KUHT-TV, which IULMIA holds several 16mm prints of.]
Coming soon from the IULMIA blog: we’ll discuss the Harry Partch instruments, Tape Music and prepared pianos in New Sounds In Music, and further conversation with Pieter Van Deusen.
We leave you with another excerpt from What Is Music? The final segment in the film’s panorama of world musics, with dazzling animation credited to Roberto Chavez.