POLITICALLY INCORRECT film screening
Saskatchewan Filmpool Co-operative
#301 - 1822 Scarth Street, Regina, SK, S4P 2G3
8:00 pm, January 15, 1999
few months ago I got a call from veteran filmmaker Don List with an
amazing offer. It seems that his father used to have a company which
did electrical contract work for, amongst others, the General Recorders
Regina branch. Through this contact, he acquired a collection of 16mm
films destined for the dustbin. During the 1940s and 1950s he would
show these comedy, cartoon and documentary shorts at the hospital and
at his cottage at Regina Beach. Don grew up watching them in his
basement screening room. The films have since sat in a closet until Don
decided that they needed a new home. Although they have become shrunken
and brittle with age, I felt that they must still have some life left
in them. I began watching them. While most were rather innocent and
fun, I was surprised at the frequency that racial and sexual
stereotypes arose. My initial thought was that the films were
unscreenable due to their politically incorrect nature. As I worked my
way through more and more of them, I realised that I was having what
has become a rare experience. In efforts to suppress racist attitudes,
films such as these are cited as examples of the problems but are never
seen again. It occurred to me that the fight against racism is
difficult to wage while simultaneously hiding examples of it. This
screening is an experiment to see what kind of reactions and dialogue
might come out of a viewing of such films with modern eyes. It is
interesting to note that the films are not consciously racist. They are
products of their times, perpetuating stereotypes suggested by other
media depictions. The Indians in Pale Face are based upon Indians in
live action movies, not upon real aboriginal people. Other films use
racial stereotypes as a matter of course to establish location. For
example, in the otherwise mundane horse breeding documentary, Bit and
Bridle, (not included in this program) the voiced-over phrase "Here in
the heart of the deep south" is accompanied by an image of a black lawn
jockey. In fact, the voiced-over commentary in many of the films is the
primary culprit of politically incorrect material. It is likely that
the narration was written by people in Hollywood who never set foot on
the locales shown on the screen and were writing solely from their
limited, biased and prejudiced perspective. Perhaps when we look at how
far we've come, it will make us more aware of how far we still need to
Scattergood Baines Rides Again (1946, 60 minutes)
Thanks to Don List for holding onto this collection and passing it on to us. Thanks also to Margaret Bessai who has helped me begin to sort through it all.
This film focuses on the Lumbwa tribe of Africa as they perform a frenzied war dance and then proceed to hunt lions with spears. Fortunately, a young flapper referred to as "Mrs. Johnson" shoots one particularly angry lion dead with her elephant gun. Originally a silent film, this "documentary" is a re-release with a Wagner score.
This cartoon pits a nice little woodsman, loved by his girl and by all the animals of the forest, against a hoard of Indians. These Indians are depicted as particularly savage; one of them even transforms into a horse. They are also unnatural, being hated and feared by every animal around.
This documentary about Alaska seems to even be trying to be politically correct. Its problem lies in the naive attitudes of the times. "Eskimo" dances, if they really are legitimate dances, are filmed outside of any context and become comical attractions akin to sideshows or buskers. The view of Alaska presented to the south is summarised with shots of high powered hydraulic mining and the words "Just come and get it and it's yours".
Trailer for Dick Tracy's Dilemma
Dick takes on a physically disabled villain who "uses that hook for everything".
The Voice of China
This world war two documentary about "The New China" praises the noble spirit of the Chinese peasant in the face of adversity. It is insightful in light of the next film made only a few short years later.
Canadian Movitone News
This newsreel contains three stories, the first being a discussion of the state of the Korean war in which the formerly noble spirited Chinese are referred to as "double crossing reds". The other stories relate to the first eucharistic congress to be held in Quebec and a 105 year old immigrant to the USA.
Trailer for The Farmer's Daughter
How can an unschooled Swedish girl with Princess Leia hair possibly fail to get her man?
Mystic Miss and Parisiene Dream
Don told me that he thought there was an old stag movie amongst the collection. I am uncertain if either of these films are it. Mystic Miss may be modelling a swim suit or perhaps auditioning her poodle for a dog show. Parisiene Dream might be a panty hose commercial for all I know.
The master of puppet animation created this colour film using three songs from three social/ethnic backgrounds including Mexican, White and Black. The Harlem scenes are particularly well constructed, but one cannot miss the dice and watermelons which seem to be Pal's codification for Black America.
Africa, Land of Contrasts
This travelogue of Africa is friendly in tone, clearly aimed at making "the dark continent" seem hospitable to white visitors. The judgmental status of the filmmakers over their subject matter becomes apparent when they discuss the children in the desert having "no time for a normal childhood". In the film's look at South Africa, it credits the "genius of the white man" for the colonisation of these savage lands. Beautifully shot, the majority of the scandalous aspects of the film exist on the soundtrack, written months after the movie was made.
This is part of a series of films with these continuing characters. Scattergood is a hobo turned entrepreneur. His black sidekick has likewise moved up in the world from being a foolish hobo to a foolish store clerk. Scattergood uses humanism and common sense to better his community.
© Gerald Saul 2005