Fantoma Films presents
The Educational Archives: Religion (1941-84)
"We want to live God's way, no matter what others do."- Dad (Robert Rockwell), in Turn the Other Cheek
Stars: Jack Hawkins, Saeed Jaffrey, Tom Lensink, Robert Rockwell, Betty Lou Gerson, Kathy Garver, Ann Staunton, Wendy Stuart, Fred MacMurray, Father James Keller, Hal Gibney, S. Bryce Chamberlain, Jared Keller, Buzz Martin, Jacklyn O'Donnell, Martin Dean, Dan Peters, Steve Peters
Director: Rolf Forsberg, Edward Dew, Wetzel O. Whitaker, William E. Claxton, Jim Pearce
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 03h:26m:46s
Release Date: 2003-09-09
DVD ReviewThey say that if you want to play it safe, avoid talking about politics and religion; happily for us, the folks at the Educational Archives didn't listen to them. Assembled here are ten films produced to bring their audiences closer to God, but that from our vantage provide more unintended laughs than spiritual epiphanies. You'll be hard pressed to find a more unintentionally entertaining series of short films, anywhere. I'm sure that the makers of these films will be damning my soul to Hell for the comments that follow, but come on. You know you want to. All the cool kids are doing it. What are you, scared?
The Door to Heaven— 1941 (09m:15s)
"Those who remain outside the door are already under the wrath of God."
Yes, it's Jesus Christ as a hotel porter—the door metaphor is made very literal, over and over again. What is heaven? According to this film, it's a black door with spangly stars that you can only get through if you know the secret password, or something. Among those denied entry are a man carrying a huge parcel labeled SIN, and another with a valentine bearing the word UNBELIEF—an unbelieving heart, get it? When he scratches out the first two letters, the door swings open for him. This is a fine effort from C.O. Baptista Films, billed in an opening title card as a "non-profit company engaged in spreading the gospel of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by motion pictures." (Does Mel Gibson know about this?)
A sturdy four projectors on our five-projector scale.
Stalked— 1969 (28m:56s)
"I prefer wax to flesh."
This seems to be some thickly veiled religious parable, but it makes extremely little sense. A man is on a spiritual quest of some sort, at a carnival—we cannot see his face, but he bears an odd resemblance to Richard Nixon, as he looks at wax figures of ancient Romans playing dice, and makes odd analogies (in voice over) between Jesus Christ and convicted Lindbergh kidnapper Bruno Hauptmann. Our hero decides to return home, where he encounters an old family bible and a Jesus-like figure dancing about the streets in clogs. There are some elements of Hitchcock pictures in here, actually—the funhouse stuff is decidedly reminiscent of Foreign Correspondent and Strangers on a Train—but really, this thing is completely baffling. It also features a marvelous credit: "Voice of Consciousness: Barry Sullivan."
Carnivorous Plants— 1955 (09m:44s)
"Well, this certainly is an age of progress, isn't it?"
Religion comes through the back door in this faith-based science film, which takes the Venus flytrap as the ultimate expression of the power of the Lord. Mom and Dad may have told you that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door—guess what, smart guy? God beat you to it. The logic of all this seems more in support of Darwinism than creationism, and it requires some serious intellectual contortions to find evidence of God in bug-eating plants. And there's some callous disregard for some of God's creatures, too—that is, the bugs, for whom this is a horror movie. The narrator relishes the bug murders: "When an insect topples in, a pool of death waits below...beautiful, isn't it?" What happened to "All things bright and beautiful," and all that?
Turn the Other Cheek— 1958 (14m:03s)
"I just love nights by the fire. Especially when we talk about things that Daddy reads from the Bible."
Gossip rears its ugly head on the elementary school playground, leading little Molly to ask: what would Jesus do? She's caught in the crossfire between her best friends, Sue and Carol, and Sue's and Carol's mothers are setting a good example by joining the fray and getting into an offscreen catfight. Molly seeks counsel from her parents, who advise her to turn the other cheek, and invite their daughter to think about the word of the Lord by imagining someone torturing her kitten. Later, Molly commits an unspeakable sin: she talked back to a grown-up! (If you can go to Hell for this, they've been keeping my seat warm down there for a good long while now.) Of course everybody learns the Biblical lesson alluded to in the film's title, but this is a story fraught with suburban angst and the perils of friendship. Fun fact: Molly is played by Kathy Garver, who would go on to change the course of television history by playing Cissy in Family Affair.
Atomic Energy Can Be A Blessing— 1952 (27m:41s)
"This is atomic energy as God intended it to be used."
Yes, God is everywhere—in the previous film, in botany, and in this one, in thermonuclear science. Our host is Fred MacMurray, somewhere between Double Indemnity and My Three Sons, who prides himself on his ignorance: "When I think of the word 'atom,' I immediately think of the word 'bomb,' which shows you how much I know about atomic energy." Fred introduces us to Father James Keller, head of the Christophers, last seen on the Educational Archives: Patriotism disc, buddying up with Bill Holden—this is one very well-connected man of the cloth. They're here to tell us that atomic energy is God's work, and we take a little tour of the parking lots of places like Oak Ridge and Los Alamos; we don't deal with pesky little inconveniences like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hal Gibney narrates as radioactive feed is given to farm animals, so that they and we can all share the love. It's horrifying Cold War stuff, and it's especially nauseous to see a clergyman working so hand in glove with the powerful—Galileo would have something to say about science in the service of religion, or vice versa. The film is capped off from another Christophers production, in which a family while motoring along is lucky enough to stumble upon an A-bomb blast in the desert—they watch the explosion go up as if they were at the drive-in. Stuff like this proves yet again what a genius Stanley Kubrick was, and what an amazing film he made in Dr. Strangelove.
Of Heaven and Home— 1963 (30m:09s)
"This sounds like a pretty important assignment, Bishop."
Why is college tuition so outrageously expensive? Perhaps in part because universities are funding the production of patronizing movies like this one. This is a Brigham Young University Production, and the subject is the home teacher—my knowledge of the Mormon Church is limited, but this seems to be some sort of layman deputized by the church authorities, and given the assignment to bring a certain number of families in the congregation closer to Christ. The home teacher here is Dave, and the toughest nut he has to crack is the Lannons—that John, the father, just drops off his wife and daughter at church, and won't go in himself. Dave does his best to buddy up to him—when Dave comes knocking, John hides his beer—but it takes John's youngest, Jocko, being in a terrible sledding accident to get John to open his heart to the Lord. I don't want to make fun of anybody's faith, but I don't know how having some patronizing, judgmental jerk come around once a week is going to do anybody any good. The film is interesting especially for its odd little cultural aspects—it's an outdoor life they lead in Utah, and lots of the discussions take place on mountainsides; and when Dave can't sleep, he consoles himself with a Miracle Whip sandwich. Yum!
Getting Ready Morally— 1951 (10m:42s)
"Sooner or later, you'll have to face up to being the kind of guy you want to be."
Well, my own prayers have been answered with this one—it's the sequel to a short that appeared on the Patriotism entry from the Educational Archives, and this is Number 7 in the series, Are You Ready For Service? It's not a religious parable precisely—produced for high school boys getting ready to go into the military, it's more a warning about running with the wrong crowd. We see a Goofus and Gallant in the Navy, basically—Al is the cautionary tale, the wide-eyed innocent who starts hanging out with a pack of whoring alcoholics. Carl, on the other hand, has a will of iron—in high school, he foregoes an afterschool swim so he can attend baseball practice, because he fancies himself the next Lou Gehrig. He's also got the self-control to avoid looking in his high school teacher's folder with the delightful label "Tomorrow's Examination Questions." Sadly, just how this gets you ready morally for killing people for your country isn't resolved before the closing credits roll.
Teenage Challenge— 1959 (28m:05s)
"Is it possible to be a Christian and still be popular?"
Poor Dave is getting it from all angles. He covers the baseball team for his high school paper, and begs off going to the players' party because he's got his church youth fellowship meeting; his girlfriend, Betty, goes with him, but doesn't care for him preaching his faith too loudly. ("I know when you're out with other kids, sometimes it's hard even to admit you're Christian.") Dave wades into a social quagmire, to say nothing of provoking a local Constitutional crisis, with his entry in the school's essay contest—he's asked to write a piece on A Teenager's Greatest Challenge, and his piece is on doing the Lord's work. How Dave works it all out is covered in excruciating detail here—he doesn't have much success winning over his buddies Ziggy and Stan, but that Betty sure is proud of her man. There's an overarching sense in this film of true believers as a besieged minority, and popularity is equated with Godlessness. ("Whom do we want to please first: the rest of the gang, or God?") The anxiety of faith percolates throughout this movie, but that really doesn't make up for the singularly bad acting.
New Doorways to Learning— 1953 (19m:52s)
"Are ya yeller? Or are you trying to be a Christian?"
If Michelangelo lived in the 1950s, he wouldn't have painted frescoes in cathedrals; he would have made film strips. That's the position of Cathedral Films, anyway, the producers of this particularly noxious sales device—under the cloak of religion, they're looking to shill their wares. (The Cathedral Films employees must have had a whole lot in common with the guys peddling bibles door to door in Salesman.) This is oddly self-reflexive, a movie designed to sell more movies—it's an effort to get every church to establish an A.V. division, with helpful brochures bearing titles like Holy Night Filmstrip Manual and Using Audio-Visuals In The Church. And sound advice, too: don't just read the brochures—form a committee! We're even treated to some clips ("Today, through the wonder of the modern motion picture, the majestic prose of the Bible comes to life before your eyes!") from both the Old and New Testaments, and then some offensive blather about faith healing, better suited to the carny than the church. ("Faith in Him made my daughter walk!") The phrase "opiate of the people" may occur to you as you watch this one.
Youth Suicide Fantasy— 1984 (28m:17s)
"He's actually holding himself, holding his genitals."
Oh, it doesn't get any better than this. From the height of the Reagan years comes this sermon of sorts from the brothers Peters, Dan and Steve, preaching to their intended audience, teenagers, about the evils of rock music. Things start out looking like a Pat Benatar video gone horribly wrong, but the bulk of the movie shows the Peters boys in a couple of folding chairs, spewing forth on the evils of contemporary rock music, and their firm view that listening to David Lee Roth and Boy George will lead you directly to suicide. (Also, MTV makes you want to take drugs.) These may be the two most uptight white guys ever, but of course they're titillated, and they know an awful lot about their subject matter. They report with glee on their attendance at a Prince concert—"we were shocked and appalled"—but they relate the tale in very specific detail; they're also not as up on things as they think they are, when, for instance, they refer to the band Twisted Sister as "he." They like talking about throwing up, too—the music makes them want to vomit, and they like stories about rock stars overdosing and choking on their own vomit. (You can't dust for vomit.) And sometimes they're just plain stupid, in their zeal to conflate music, violence, sex, and the anti-Christ: "This one's called Killer II, because they know sex sells." It's like Heathers without the irony and humor, and as a special bonus, they endorse Torquemada-like book burning. Dan, Steve: have either of you guys ever even kissed a girl?
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The picture quality on most of these films is absolutely horrible—scratches, missing frames, faded colors—and they're preserved in all their industrial glory on this disc, which introduces little or no new interference. (Not that you'd notice, or care, anyway.)
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The sound is just as hideous as the picture, and there are many, many sync problems, but that's what you'd want out of this. As with their other releases, the Educational Archives has added a 5.0 "Classroom Experience" track, to re-create the whirr of the films as they went through rickety old projectors. It's cute for a couple of seconds, but you'll soon want to click off of it.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
Extras Review: Each film comes with a brief panel of notes, but the best extra is the accompanying film strip, God Needs You to Care For Others (05m:00s), in which 5-year-old Jonathan learns to do the Lord's work by passing out cookies at the playground.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsPraise the higher power of your choosing for bringing these films to DVD. Can I get an amen?
Jon Danziger 2003-11-12