Fantoma Films presents
The Educational Archives: Volume 3—Driver's Ed (1950-1980)
"If that car had hit you, you wouldn't be able to go fishing tomorrow. Or ever."- Dad
Stars: Crazy Teens Hopped Up on Goofballs
Other Stars: Stern Narrators, Crash Test Dummies, Talking Cars
Manufacturer: American Zoetrope
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some graphic crash footage)
Run Time: 02h:10m:06s
Release Date: 2002-05-07
DVD ReviewVolume three in Fantoma's Educational Archives series collects driver's education films produced from the 1950s to the '80s. While the other discs focused on more ideological subjects (and thus serve more of a purpose as a time capsule of the mindset of a generation with regard to things like sex and drug use), this collection is fairly straightforward. After all, drunk driving is just as frowned upon today as it was in the 1950s.
Watching this collection in one sitting can be a bit of a patience-tester, as most of the shorts outline the same basic information (particularly common are descriptions of the effects of alcohol on the body), but in small doses, they can be a hoot. The stilted acting, dated fashions, and leaden narration transform educational tools into cultural artifacts. It's particularly nice to see this material on DVD since rarely are such films shown in classrooms today. I attended high school in the mid-1990s, and we watched but one such production. I wonder, is my generation is the last to experience the elementary school distraction of the filmstrip? Beep!
Ratings out of five projectors for camp value and overall presentation.
Drivers of Tomorrow - 1954 (10m:59s)
"What you're seeing is one of the most important experiments in driver's education today. And it proves that many drivers really do drive like six-year-olds."
Jimmy Stewart narrates this short about an early educational program that taught kids road safety by letting them tool around in little motorized cars. Some of the kids follow the rules well; others are little terrors behind the wheel. The conceit that the personalities and actions of the tots mirror those of older drivers is a bit hard to swallow, but the footage of the children puttering by in miniature cars makes this one worth watching.
Joy Ride: An Auto Theft - 1974 (12m:34s)
"He won't find out. He'll never even know it's gone."
This "based on a true story" cautionary tale is full of 1970s cheese. Two bored teens "borrow" the car of the star baseball player (whom they hate, because he actually has a hobby... "What a hot rod!"). We know they're rebels because one of them complains about his dad bugging him to cut his billowy, feminine hair. The boys pick up their equally disaffected girlfriends, who shrug and hop into the backseat for the best two hours of driving through a car wash and primping in the rearview mirror ever—until they are chased by the cops and wind up crashing into a roadside embankment. Notable for its dated fashions, "teen" protagonist who has yet to experience the joys of puberty, and wonderfully nerdy music (including the song "duded up for you" played as the boys go to get the girls), I don't see how this one could instill much fear in young drivers, since the kids were having a great time until the fuzz harshed their collective buzz.
Alco Beat - 1965 (11m:11s)
"This is the most unusual party you've ever attended. These people are deliberately getting drunk, with the later intention, once they're under the influence, of driving automobiles."
Members of a group of volunteer adults get drunk on purpose at a sedate, middle-aged party, and then go out driving (but don't worry, their driving will be monitored not only by police, but by the Parent Teacher Association... phew!). They then navigate a driving test, and their scores while inebriated are compared to their initial results when sober. This one is amusing because it plays for laughs. There's no fake drama of the horrific results of drunk driving, simply footage that outlines what happens to someone who gets behind the wheel after a few drinks. And who doesn't like watching mom and dad stumbling around, giggling and grinning, as they drown their sorrows in the devil's milk? Also note that the legal limit is given as .15%, nearly twice what it is today in most states.
The Bottle and the Throttle - 1961 (10m:10s)
"Not too many minutes ago, that woman and her child were happy and healthy. Now their young bodies are crushed and wracked with pain."
A harsh lesson about an "evil" man who got behind the wheel after "only a few beers" and accidentally runs over a woman and her small child. As he relives the day leading up to the unfortunate event, the narrator spends many tedious, self-satisfied minutes explaining the effects of alcohol on the body. The way the accident is shown, the man easily could've hit the pedestrians even if totally sober, and the laundry list of the negative effects of alcohol is dull, dull, dull.
The Talking Car - 1969 (15m:59s)
"I am too responsible, I just forgot. I know the see-and-be-seen rules!"
Little Jimmy (Brian Forster from The Partridge Family) is nearly hit while crossing the street, prompting a visit from a bunch of creepy, judgmental talking cars (brought to life by crude animation). The cars explain the "see and be seen" rules, and then Jimmy repeats them about 500 times. This extremely patronizing piece treats kids like idiots, and feels like it goes on forever. If fact, any kids who'd be young enough to actually learn from the message as presented would probably be fearful of being terrorized by angry, possessed automobiles. Kind of funny for the weird premise and bad acting from Jimmy, this one wears out its welcome quite quickly.
The Last Prom - 1980(23m:11s)
"Was it a pretty face that made this gaping, jagged hole in the windshield?"
This is the only one of the included shots that was actually shown at my high school. The extremely dramatic voiceover, the haunting choir on the soundtrack, and a "flashback" full of doom and portents, this one is aimed at keeping teens from drinking and driving on prom night, when many kids were killed. If only the teens had heeded the warning signs, like the middle-aged teen that preferred to ride a bike instead of drive and the kid in the white van who likes to drive fast. So sad, that their awkward, lustful fumblings were cut short by alcohol and a lead foot. The dorky scenes of girls getting ready for prom offset the tension and are sure to get some laughs from a jaded teen audience, undercutting the effectiveness somewhat. Still, this nearly half-hour piece is pretty good for what it is. My junior year, my school did one better by staging a "live-action" version of the same basic story.
Safety Belt for Susie - 1962 (10m:47s)
"What if this had been Susie?"
This disturbing seatbelt awareness short is about Susie and her life-sized doll companion. Susie's parents are in an accident while on their way to bring Susie her doll at grandma's house, and walk away unscathed, thanks to their seatbelts. But they are shocked to discover the damage to Susie's doll, which was thrown into the front seat and horribly crushed. As an effort to get parents to realize that seatbelts were important even in the backseat, this one is extremely effective, especially with all the footage of the doll getting thrown around the car. Supplemented by early footage of crash tests using dummies, this short manages to be chilling even despite its dated feel.
I Like Bikes, But... - 1978 (13m:49s)
"Bikes and cars are a great part of our style of life, but we have to get along together."
Narrated by Ike the Bike, this piece, which combines animation and live action, illustrates the importance of both drivers and bicyclists following all of the rules of the road. Also tracks Lisa's life from her days riding a bike to her time in driver's ed. class. Running about 8 minutes longer than it needs to, this piece is full of padding, restating the rules over and over in a rather dull fashion. Moderately enjoyable for the dated fashions and such, but the plodding pace subtracts somewhat from both the message and the amusement.
Highball Highway - 1963 (11m:05s)
"At first I couldn't believe my leg was gone. A guy like me, who's so active, always involved in sports."
A moderately effective piece about an athletic man who has a few drinks and gets behind the wheel, only to wake up in a hospital with an amputated leg. He also has to question whether he killed his best friend, who was driving with him. The drama with the narrator is fairly well played (as opposed to amusingly overplayed), and the middle section, which, like many of these pieces, spends a lot of time explaining the effects of alcohol on drivers, isn't as dull as it could be.
The Crossroads Crash - 1973 (10m:17s)
"Ever notice how people in a hurry in a hurry tend to disobey the rules? Now that can get them in a lot of trouble. If you're in the way, it can get you in a lot of trouble, too."
A good way to wrap up the disc, this one starts off with a goofy reenactment of a bank robbery leading to a car crash and only gets better. The importance of following all signals while driving through an intersection is elucidated with the help of crash test footage and Claymation. Also fairly cool is the time-lapse footage of the comings and goings at a busy intersection. Though it's presented fairly innocuously, without a lot of moralizing, this footage actually does a great job of illustrating just how much is at stake every time you drive someplace—and just how much faith you put in other drivers. Keep an eye out for some shots of poor Susie's doll from Safety Belt for Susie.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Assigning a grade here is almost pointless, as these films wouldn't be the same without that "run through a cheap projector 1000 times" look. They are presented with scratches, pops, and missing frames, just as they should be. Fantoma can't be faulted for the video quality, and they've done a great job just in archiving these things to a digital format.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is on par with the video. That is, the mono mix sounds pretty rough—scratchy, with quite a bit of background hiss. Still, as with the video, the shoddy audio lends an air of atmosphere and authenticity to the proceedings. And it's not like a remix is warranted. A 5.0 "classroom experience" mix is also offered, adding the sound of a running projector and a echo to the audio. It's a cute idea, but could have been a bit more creative (akin to the "drive-in experience" on some Image discs).
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
Extras Review: The disc doesn't include any real extras, but Fantoma gets points for presentation—the menus and packaging are very creative (including the enclosed "pamphlet" with an essay by Skip Elsheimer of the A/V Geeks Educational Film Archive. Each episode also includes a screen of production notes from Skip. Thanks, Skip!
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsAll the discs in the Educational Archives series are worth a look, and Driver's Ed. gets the nod for being the cheesiest of the bunch (even if it is the least sociologically significant—but talking cartoon cars!). Fantoma has done a fine job preserving the material on DVD. Embrace the bad audio and video and rediscover the A/V geek within. Maybe the teacher will let you run the projector.
Joel Cunningham 2002-11-21