ROCHESTER, NY - Ever wonder why schools today stink compared to decades ago? Every think tank moron has their dubious reasonings that appeases their corporate masters. But the truth is extraordinarily simple: Schools dumped their education films.
Do you remember those days when the gym teacher had to pad out health class by wheeling in the 16mm projector from the AV department? They’d thread up classic tales about your body, narcotics, driving safety and manners. Things which kids nowadays can’t seem to handle.
When the VCR arrived in schools, the 16mm projector was quickly dumped as teaching tool.
Where did these classic films go? Many arrived at the city dump. However a few lucky tens of thousands found themselves on the racks of the AV Geeks Archive. This repository of cinematic education is overseen by Skip Elsheimer. He started collecting the films after I moved out of the infamous PineHaus. I left that much space to be filled.
Over the years, Skip has toured the country and released various video compilations with such titles as “Sex and Drugs,” Social Engineering” and a Lunch Box with a thermos and 4 discs.
Safe…Not Sorry and The Celluloid Salesman are the recently released two volumes of Kino’s Classic Education Shorts series curated by Skip. Thus it was time to have a little email exchange with Skip about the two DVDs and the AV Geeks archive. Let the educating begin.
Party Favors: How many titles are now in the AV Geeks Archive?
Skip Elsheimer: Well, there’s over 23,000 reels but there’s duplication and some titles are more than one reel but I feel pretty confident that I have over 20,000 titles.
Party Favors: Which of the collections was harder to curate for the DVD?
Skip Elsheimer: The real challenge for the DVDs was figuring out which films to pick and which to leave off the DVDs. I had whole other DVDs worth of material for both titles. Celluloid Salesman was maybe a bigger challenge because the concept is a little foreign to most folks.
Party Favors: How often are you on the road with presentations?
Skip Elsheimer: I do monthly shows in the Triangle and then hit the road every couple of months.
Party Favors: Are these topics ones that you’ve explored as themes to screenings?
Skip Elsheimer: Yes. Although, with these DVDs I’ve pulled from a couple of different shows that I’ve done. I’ve done very general and very specific shows on safety and advertising.
Party Favors: Did you do a live performance of the films to see which titles connected better with the audience?
Skip Elsheimer: Yes, I get a good sense of what audiences respond to.. Even so, I do put films on the DVDs that I haven’t screened publicly.
Party Favors: Is it odd to think there’s an entire generation of college graduates that has no memory of a 16mm projector in their classroom?
Skip Elsheimer: Oh yeah, most folks don’t know what the projector is or they don’t understand that I have the actual film on a reel and not on a video tape or DVD. I mention that because a stack of 100 film reels takes up a lot of space and is very heavy. So imagine 23,000 reels.
Party Favors: What do today’s kids receive as far as educational films in the classroom? Do they have time for such things while studying for the No Child Left Behind tests?
Skip Elsheimer: I’m not sure what is happening in most schools. I know that teachers often show feature films or programs taped from the History Channel or Discovery Channel. There are plenty of topics however that aren’t addressed by video nowadays - social responsibility, courtesy and manners, etc. And it isn’t just No Child Left Behind. School shootings increased the need for schools to address bullying and diversity issues (to reduce their liability mostly), so social programs are usually geared towards those topics.
Safe…Not Sorry focuses on the child abduction, school burnings and running with scissors. It reminds kids of the various ways they can poke an eye out.
Party Favors: What made the “The Dangerous Stranger” so alluring?
Skip Elsheimer: This film is the quintessential Sid Davis film. That guy made scores of films but they all have the same feel as this film. Plus it shows us the vocabulary of how we talk and think about strangers and children nowadays. I feel that our society has become super paranoid and it’s not helping protect children any more than before.
Party Favors: Does it explain what child abductors did before the advent of the windowless van?
Skip Elsheimer: I wouldn’t know. The hidden tragedy of these films are that many children are actually abused in their own homes by people they know. That subject is only really addressed in the 1980s films…
Party Favors: How do kids react to seeing “Live and Learn?”
Skip Elsheimer: I actually haven’t screened this film for kids. I’m guessing when it was released some kids would giggle and some would be aghast. Given the film is more than fifty years old, I’m guessing most kids now would just laugh at the slapstick aspect of the film - since it would seem so far removed from their contemporary lives. That was always the challenge of filmmakers - to keep current and relevant to young minds who were quick to dismiss.
Party Favors: Do you think it’s important for small kids to see these films to get a visual as to the consequences to their actions?
Skip Elsheimer: I’m not sure if the films are as effective as the filmmakers hoped. I think talking with kids - not at kids - is most effective.
Party Favors: Has “Jackass” made children forget that most injuries don’t lead to fat paydays?
Skip Elsheimer: I think it’s part of our genetic code that we think watching somebody fall down is hysterical. I’m sure somebody will figure out that even apes laugh at slapstick.. Jackass is just the latest version of the Three Stooges.
Party Favors: We’re you spooked by “Ghost Rider?”
Skip Elsheimer: I was amazed by the ending and that a bus safety film plays as a love story.
Party Favors: What’s the best safety tip you received from watching these films?
Skip Elsheimer: Well it’s not from this set but in “Sudden Birth” - a police training film - I learned to hold tight onto the legs of a just-delivered baby. “They’re slippery!”
Party Favors: What’s the most paranoid piece of advice that was in a film?
Skip Elsheimer:“Dangerous Stranger” is pretty paranoid but there’s another film called “Cautious Twins” which has these animated twin kids being stalked by every creepy adult imaginable just walking to get some bread for their mother. It’s so heavy handed that kids probably would miss the subtly of most child abductors.
Celluloid Salesman teaches us
Party Favors: Is there a real difference between the advice on these films and the various better salesman seminars offered at hotels around the country?
Skip Elsheimer: Well, there are two types of films on this DVD. Some of the films are made specifically for salesmen. The others are advertising to sell the viewer a product, service or concept. The films made for salesmen certainly reinforce the same concepts over and over. The sales pitch films are like proto-infomercials. They capitalize on our desires and fears and laziness - just like nowadays.
Party Favors: Were you motivated to buy any products featured in these films?
Skip Elsheimer: Not these films. But I was involved with a project where I digitized 10,000 TV commercials. After watching 13 hours of Crest commercials, I had to start using Crest.
Party Favors: What happened to the Potato Chip Institute that made “The Adventures of Chip and Dip?”
Skip Elsheimer: They became the Snack Food Association and moved to Alexandria VA as a lobbying body. They lobbied and sued Proctor & Gamble and General Mills when those companies tried to call their potato crisps snacks - like Pringles - “potato chips”.
Party Favors: Did Alistair Cooke make you want to visit Swinging London?
Skip Elsheimer: No, the possibility of meeting swinging British chicks does however…
Party Favors: What made “This Is…Elk Country” essential to the collection? Is there “This Is….Moose Country?”
Skip Elsheimer: I had so many films targeting women as consumers that I wanted to include a couple for men. It’s a great film about hunting elk and “roughing it” with Schlitz beer and portable batteries. Moose Country? No, but Schlitz has a series outdoor sportsman films.
Party Favors: Have you become a better salesman for the treasures of the AV Geeks archive from the films?
Skip Elsheimer: We’ll see.
Party Favors: Were there any titles you wanted to include, but couldn’t for copyright issues?
Skip Elsheimer: Yes, I am stymied by that all the time. There is a great wealth of material that I would love to share but I’m limited by copyright - even though many of the companies no longer exist or are so big they don’t know they own the copyright. It’s often hard to search out the copyrights on some material and YouTube are hairtriggered in taking down anything copyrighted. We are losing a lot of our cultural history (film, music, literature) because a few companies are greedy and successfully lobby to extend Copyright durations.
Party Favors: Any clue to the topics you’ll tackle in the next Classic Educational Shorts series?
Skip Elsheimer: Well I’m doing two DVDs with Alpha Video soon. How To Be A Housewife and How To Be A Soldier. After that, who knows. I average getting a couple of films a day and have only seen about a fifth of my collection. I’m discovering gems all the time.
Remember that educational films might be the best way to keep your kid from turning out to be a lawless moron unlike those Baby Stalin DVDs. Visit AVGeeks.com to find out if Skip’s bringing his films to your area.
Who knew that “abandoned” storage lockers would contain ratings gold? A&E has Storage Wars, Spike gives us Auction Hunters and finally TruTV has Forbidden Storage. All three shows have the same structure. A bunch of people running thrift shops and treasure hunters converge at storage centers to bid on storage lockers that are unpaid.
My major issue with the genre comes from being shafted in the past by a storage center that first didn’t properly file a check and wanted to auction off our stuff with a week’s notice. Later the same storage locker was robbed when a creep cut off the lock, picked through the boxes and put their own lock on our unit. Who knew how many times they came and went. Naturally the owners of the storage place claimed they weren’t responsible for security. Their security cameras were useless since they weren’t angled right. Even worse, a week later they announced their monthly rates were going up. No larceny victim discount from them.
But even with my antagonism towards the subject, I’m suckered into watching this like the freakish surgery shows that run late at night.
The thing that gets me is that the producers never attempt to find out what happened to the old owners of the lots. There probably is a high percentage of the defaulting owners being dead. Watching the bidders poke their heads into the units and get mesmerized by the auctioneer makes it seem like they’re bidding to be grave robbers. They pick through the belongs like vultures devouring meat on bones of decaying cows - which is also my favorite show on Animal Planet. There’s plenty of time when you see a locker that can easily be understood as abandoned. The one full of dirty laundry and a cat urine soaked sofa wasn’t worth saving. People who figured it was easier to let the storage people toss it in the dumpster. But there are curious moments when there’s a true treasure inside. Once a guy found nearly $2,000 hidden in a painting. Why didn’t the person who rented the locker not just pay up their bill with their stash?
But why dwell on such an obvious question when you’ve got to find out what else is tucked inside various objects? Of the three shows, I prefer Storage Wars for two of the regular characters. Barry Weiss is hilarious. He’s got an old Los Angeles hustler charm to him. He’s willing to do weird things to get the edge on what’s inside the unit like bring night vision goggles, a small person on stilts and psychic sisters. He also has cool skeleton gloves when he’s doing the dirty work. While Jarrod Schulz gets the star billing, his wife Brandi runs the show. She’s six sextuplets short of a TLC series. She’s got plenty of great ballbuster moments. Why A&E doesn’t give her a full biography on their website is a damn shame. They give Darrell’s barely on camera son Brandon the dazzling bio. Give Brandi her due!
In the end, the shows do seems to speak of our rough economic times. People can’t even afford the rent. Others with money fight for their consumer remains. And we sadly witness stuff we hold near and dear get tossed into the dumpster since it isn’t fetching a dollar on eBay. Sometimes you are better off just setting stuff on fire.
When will Flea Market Queens, Plasma Princes and Copper Recycling Kings be coming to TruTV?
MILLION DOLLAR CAMPAIGN
To all readers on Madison Avenue; why haven’t any of you properly marketed smartphones and computablets with the right advertising slogan? What could the most genius way to sell your phone to America? Sit down. Dim the lights. Be prepared to receive the wowza moment that shall get you the executive washroom key. Ready? Here it is:
(Your Product) makes life an open book test.
The ads write themselves. A nerdy guy telling an auto mechanic that there’s no such thing as a Dual Gasperator for his car thanks to a quick search. A dumb jock telling a professor they’re so wrong on historical facts. A driver telling a cop that he can’t give him a ticket for that offense. Isn’t that the best part of having a smartphone with internet access?
The first Don Draper or Brian Kinney that drops me a line gets the deal done.
GREATEST X-RATED COMEDY EVER
This movie needs to get released on DVD by either Shout! Factory or Criterion. This is the movie Kevin Smith thinks he’s made.
HOW MUCH FOR A MONKEY SKULL?
My other new favorite show is Oddities on The Discovery Channel. This is about the Obscura Antiques and Oddities shop in Manhattan. Imagine Pawn Stars with Mike Zohn as Rick Harrison except instead of buying gold, he’s hunting down mummy hands and two faced calf heads. Mike’s assisted by Evan Michelson and Ryan Matthew in procuring only the best of Jim Rose-worthy bizarre items. I’m impressed since this is the type of cool and freaky store you’d imagine stumbling into while wandering through New York City. Sad to think that WalMart now wants to take over the Big Apple. Can’t wait to hear the intercom announce, “Clean up at CBGB aisle.” Oddities does need a visit from Chumlee although a drop by from Amy Sedaris was fun. This is where she bought outfits worn in her Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People book. Oddities gets shown on both Discovery and Science channels.
FACEBOOK HATES BUNNIES
How dare Facebook yank down Bunny Love’s profile. She’s an HBO superstar on Cathouse. Yet that doesn’t matter to Mark Zuckerberg and his little prude patrol. I miss my updates on the snow conditions in Tahoe.
Shout! Factory has made a deal with Fox to release a few of their films that haven’t been released on DVD. They’re going to come out with Sylvester Stallone and Ben Gazarra’s Capone, Peter Fonda’s drive-in epics (Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, Race With the Devil & Fighting Mad) and Damnation Alley in the coming year. The first four titles hit the shelves this month with major stars in overlooked roles.
Lucky Lady gives the triple team of Burt Reynolds, Gene Hackman and Liza Minelli when they were at their prime. The trio take us back to the prohibition era when evil people thought they could cure America by banning booze. Liza plays a widow that takes over her husband’s smuggling business around San Diego. She enlists her lover (Burt) and a mystery partner (Gene) to work the boat. They sail out past the territorial waters of the US, get the bottles of booze and sneak them past the coast guard. Things get tricky when John Hillerman (Magnum P.I.) arrives to bring the law to the open sea. The big thing is the hint that the stars are into threesome action. It might have been a period piece, but they were a mod squad. There’s even a role for Geoffrey “I’m not Robert Pine” Lewis. Stanley Donen does a fine job recreating the time. It’s kinda like The Sting with Burt Reynolds. This came out in 1975 so Liza was still on her hot streak post-Cabaret.
11 Harrowhouse comes from that strange era when Charles Grodin was a cinema superstar. He plays a diamond merchant in England that gets a major chance with a major diamond. However things go wrong and the precious stone is swiped. The thieves don’t want the diamond. They want Grodin assistance on a huge theft at the title’s namesake address. He has to drag his girlfriend (Candice Bergen) into the criminal planning. There’s a trio of British greats filling out the cast with James Mason, Trevor Howard and John Gielgud. It’s far from an average jewel heist flick with enough talent on the screen to dazzle beyond the rocks.
Butch and Sundance The Early Days / Death Hunt is a Western double feature. After the success of the original film, the studio wanted its sequel. However it had to wait a decade and get new stars to play the playful outlaws. Instead of Paul Newman, the younger Butch Cassidy was Tom Berenger (Platoon). The Sundance Kid’s boyish face belonged to William Katt (Greatest American Hero) instead of Robert Redford. The good new is that they hired Richard Lester (A Hard Days Night, Three Musketeers & Superman II). He brings the action. There’s plenty of great supporting faces including future Buckaroo Bonzai cast member Peter Weller, Christopher Lloyd and Vincent Schiavelli. The film is a bit more comedic since Allan Burns wrote the script. You might recognize him as a creator of My Mother the Car, The Munsters and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. There’s plenty of slapstick as the duo learn the ropes to being train robbing outlaws. It’s interesting to think that William Katt was pegged as the next Redford before his successful career in Cinemax After Dark favorite films.
Death Hunt features Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin in their later years. Marvin is going after Bronson in the snowy wilderness. He’s a mountie who always gets his man. Bronson has zero plans from being nabbed. Marvin’s woman is Angie Dickinson. It’s pure macho as they race across the frozen mountains. It’s a chilled badass super cinema cocktail. This is based on a true story. Andrew Stevens appears in the film which is interesting since he made the Cinemax After Dark films that William Katt couldn’t book. The film was directed by Peter Hunt. He’s best known as the innovative editor on the first James Bond movies. He went on to direct On Her Majesty’s Secret Service - one of the three best Bond films. The action really looks great. This movie is meant to be experienced inside a man cave with the air conditioning blasted.
THE DVD SHELF
Hoodwinked gives another version of Little Red Riding Hood. The police interrogate the fairytale suspects to get the truth of the story. Famous voices are all over the project with Anne Hathaway as Little Red Riding Hood. Patrick Warburton goes sly as the Big Bad Wolf. The woodsman gets dumber thanks to Jim Belushi. Andy Dick voices a bunny. Case is solved since there’s no way Andy Dick isn’t guilty. The new release comes with both a Blu-ray and DVD so you can have one for the house and one for the car when it comes time to CGI dazzle the kiddies. It looks better in the 1080p of Blu-ray with Warburton’s voice wrapping around you. There’s deleted scenes, a commentary track from the filmmakers, a Behind the Scenes featurette and a piece on how to make your own animated film. This is more fun than Green Hornet.
The Fugitive: The Fourth and Final Season, Volume Two brings to an end the greatest television pursuit show of all times. Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen) has been running around the country in search of a one-armed man that he swore killed his wife. On his trail is Lt. Philip Gerard (Barry Morse). There’s a lot of other adventures before the finale lets the mystery of the homicide be revealed. “The Other Side of the Coin” gets Kimball framed for a robbery since the real crook is the sheriff’s son (Beau Bridges). “The One That Got Away” lets Charles Bronson (Death Wish) recognize Kimble. “Concrete Evidence” doubles up the character actors with Jack Warden and Harold Gould. Jack Lord isn’t all law and order on “Goodbye My Love.” He wants to frame Kimball in the murder of his wife so he can marry his mistress. “The Judgement” is a two part finale that finally gives us all the answers as to what happened the night Kimball’s wife died. I won’t spoil the ending. A bonus interview with composer Dominic Frontiere lets him say that Quinn Martin considered these episodes a major mistake. Since it ended the series, the show didn’t do that well in syndication. He wouldn’t make Star Trek money. The 15 episodes are on 4 DVDs. Now that The Fugitive is all on DVD, will CBS DVD please give us the last season of The Untouchables?
Night Catches Us is a tough drama about the return of a Black Panther (Anthony Mackie) to his Philly home in 1976. It’s not a warm homecoming since people swear he snitched out his fellow Panthers. His only real support is Kerry Washington. She ought to have a reason to hate his guts. It’s not an over the top film dealing with such an explosive topic. There’s a few faces from The Wire in the production. Wendell Pierce (Treme) gets to be a bit of the law once more. Jamie Hector (Marlo on The Wire) maintains his smoldering intensity in the role of DoRight. This is so much better than a Tyler Perry production.
Monsters is what happens when you combine a good story with the budget of a SyFy channel alien flick. It doesn’t always have to turn out flaky. A NASA space probe crashes in Mexico and unleashes intergalactic lifeforms that take over the northern part of the country and a bit of Texas. A photojournalist (Scoot McNairy) on the southern end of the infected zone gets a gig to bring back the boss’s daughter (Whitney Able). Their dangerous journey keeps getting derailed by greedy travel agents, shoddy equipment and giant spider-like monsters. The film becomes a bit of a romance as the two head North without a guide. This is finally a date film with aliens. It’s Love in the Time of Monsters. Some nerds might be disgusted that it’s not full of lasers and space ships zipping around with a rah-rah message. Not all low budget monster films have to feature Tiffany and Debbie Gibson wrestling in a wedding cake. Monsters should have been up for a Best Pic nom at the Indie Spirit Awards.
Ong Bak 3 gives a third (and supposedly final chapter) to Tony Jaa’s Thai action epic. He’s best known for bringing elephants into the martial arts genre. The film opens with Jaa’s Tien completely messed up by the wicked Lord Rajsena. There’s probably a really great cultural plot, but ultimately what makes this film work is the sadistic grace of Jaa. He knows how to not only dish it out, but take a beating. It’s like Passion of the Christ on his body. He’s not afraid to look like a bloody mess during his struggle. The locations around Thailand look amazing as Jaa unloads the fury. Jaa is pound for pound the best cinematic ass kicker going today. The bonus feature is the HDNet special about the film.
The Guardian: The Final Season wraps up Simon Baker’s first major US series. The premise has him as a partying attorney that gets busted on drug charges. His penalty is to perform 1,500 hours of community service. Since the first season, he’s gotten straightened up even though he has lapses. “Big Coal” has him fighting for a sick guy who is getting stiffed by his insurance company. Henry Gibson (Blues Brothers), Nick Searcy and M. Emmet Walsh (Blade Runner) guest star. “The Father-Daughter Dance” has Nick sue a fertility clinic for a white couple that had a black baby. But there’s a nagging suspicion that the wife might have gone outside the clinic. High School Musical fans will scream with Zac Efron appearing in “Without Consent.” Erik Estrada pops up in “The Bachelor Party.” These are the last 22 episodes of the series. Baker now is the star of The Mentalist so don’t feel too bad that series ended before hitting five seasons.
Have Gun Will Travel, The Fifth Season, Volume 2 wraps up the penultimate season with 19 episodes on 3 DVDs. Paladin (Richard Boone) continues to perform the dirty work necessary around the Old West. He’ll go anywhere and solve anything for a price. “The Exiles” brings him into international intrigue as he’s hired to go after exiled nobles that might have stolen bonds on their way off the throne. Another royalty in exile needs his services in “The Hunt.” However this time the guy wants to chase down Paladin since he’s bored by shooting elk. Harry Dean Stanton is a murdering rapist in “The Waiting Room.” “The Trap” presents more of Frank Sutton (Gomer Pyle’s Sgt. Carter). William Conrad gets to go cowboy in “Man Who Struck Moonshine.” He’s running a still. “Coming of the Tiger” enters the great James Hong. Where is his Kennedy Center Honor? “Jonah and the Trout” hooks Bill Mumy (Lost In Space). Richard Boone is still cool after all these years as the man in black out to solve problems for a price.
ReBoot: Seasons 1 & 2 contains the revolutionary Saturday morning cartoon. Back in 1994, this became the first computer animated cartoon. The show was a bit like Tron in that it took place inside a Mainframe computer. Bob is the guardian of the area. He gets help with Phong, Dot Matrix, Enzo Matrix and their dog Frisket. They all must help defend their world from Megabyte, Hexadecimal, Mouse, Hack & Slash. They are computer viruses from an era when such evil didn’t come in an email letting us know they love us. Although Megabyte will enter core control chamber disguised as an upgrade. There’s a bit of nostalgia watching these old codes battling it out in the programming. This was a time before social networking became all the rage in the computer world. There’s 23 episodes spread over two DVDs. Youthful geeks will get a buzz out of the Computers 101 action. There’s an audio commentary that explains how they pulled off this CGI action 17 years ago. The kings of Facebook were kids watching this show back in the ’90s. You can order ReBoot: The Definitive Mainframe Edition directly from Shout! Factory’s website if you want all four seasons and bonus features.
The Reef was once given the more colorful name of Shark Bait. Hard to tell why they changed it unless parents were reluctant to give their kids a movie that suggests a feeding frenzy. The movie continues the Freddie Prinze Jr. genre of plucky young guy aching to get the girl. In this case he wants to hook up with a fish voiced by Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood). She’s a famous fish model on the coral reef. Freddie’s big rival is a shark that’s a little bit psychotic. He might get eaten. The CGI isn’t overwhelming and doesn’t quite dazzle on the Blu-Ray 1080p. Seems a big part of the budget went to loaded up famous voices including Andy Dick, Donal Logue, John Rhys-Davis, Fran Drescher and future Oscar winner Rob Schneider. The Reef is aimed straight at young kids. The shark action isn’t that angry and intense. The bonus feature is a DVD that you can run on the mini-van’s player to keep the little ones occupied.
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