Archive | May, 2013

Human Growth (1947)

29 May

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As part of my lifelong effort/obsession to promote the work of Lester F. Beck, I just nominated the venerable Human Growth (1947) for the National Film Registry. Here’s my pitch (vote early and often!):

 Human Growth (1947) is an educational film of great cultural and historic significance, although now mostly forgotten, with only a handful of prints left in existence.  Human Growth was the first sex education film shown widely in schools in the United States. At its peak of popularity in the 1950s, there were over 1,000 prints in circulation. “Life” magazine did a glowing five-page feature story on the film in 1948. Favorable reviews were also in “Time,” “Better Homes & Gardens,” and other popular magazines.

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The film was sponsored by the E.C. Brown Trust, a social hygiene organization affiliated with the University of Oregon (UO), and based in Portland, Oregon. The Trust hired a UO psychology professor, Dr. Lester F. Beck, to script the film and lead the production. Beck was a nationally recognized expert in audiovisual education and had already made several educational films of his own. Eddie Albert Productions produced the film, and Sy Wexler shot the film. Wexler, who worked as a cameraman in the Signal Corps for Frank Capra on the “Why We Fight” series, went on to make hundreds of educational films through the 1970s.

 Human Growth is neither campy nor threatening, unlike many of the more well-known sex education films that came out in the 1950s-1960s.  Human Growth approaches its sensitive subject in a calm, facts-based manner. It demonstrates how families and classrooms can discuss sex openly and without embarrassment. Boys and girls are not segregated, and there is no moralizing. The film also models good pedagogical methods and exemplified how it should be used in actual classrooms. In the film, junior high students watch a film called “Human Growth” and the teacher leads them in discussion before and after the film. “Every single aspect of a film being made must have an educational purpose ultimately related to the classroom so that the film will aid the teacher, but never substitute for him,” Dr. Beck wrote in a 1964 article.

The film won every national and international award for documentary film, including the Golden Eagle Award from the Committee on International Non-theatrical Events (CINE). Thousands of schools from all over the United States and 20 countries worldwide adopted the film, with widespread approval from parents and teachers.

According to the scholar Robert Eberwein, “Although not the first sex education film shown to students in public schools in the United States, [Human Growth] has a legitimate claim as being the most important of its kind since it received national attention and would become one of the most widely viewed sex education films for children ever made”(“Sex Ed: Film, Video, and the Framework of Desire,” Rutgers Univ. Press, 1999).

 Human Growth went through five subsequent editions to keep pace with current teenagers, most recently in 1998. The first edition from 1947, however, is exceptionally rare, and the film itself has fallen into obscurity. The E.C. Brown Trust, while still in existence as a non-profit foundation, no longer has any of the many films it sponsored. I only recently discovered the master elements in a UO Libraries off-site storage facility. The E.C. Brown Trust funded the cost of a new internegative and digital transfer of the film, and it can be viewed online here:  http://media.uoregon.edu/channel/2012/04/03/human-growth-1947/

Nearly 70 years after  Human Growth was seen by so many children, sex education in schools is perhaps more controversial than ever, and abstinence-only education is the unfortunate norm for many young people in the United States.  Human Growth holds an important place in both the history of sex education and educational film. Its widespread acceptance and acclaim is a testament to its sensible approach and sound educational methods.  Human Growth serves as concrete proof that sex education can be an ordinary part of the school day.

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Family Counseling (1960) revisited

24 May

This film is now online, thanks to another request from a person in Chicago [watch it here]. From the early years of public television, “Family Counseling” features a live counseling session with Rudolf Dreikurs, M.D., and a set of parents and their three children, all in front of a studio audience in Corvallis, Oregon. Dreikurs followed the methods of Alfred Adler, which in this case focuses on changing children’s behavior without reward or punishment.

Breakdown (1951) revisited

20 May

This just in: a low-res, greenish transfer of BREAKDOWN, a 1951 gem from the National Film Board of Canada [watch it here]. A nice woman in British Columbia whose mother appeared in the film contacted me to order a DVD copy after the NFB referred her to me(!) since they apparently don’t have a copy. This despite their otherwise amazing preservation efforts.

Nepal Royalty Visit University of Oregon, 1960

20 May

I’ve discovered another hidden pocket of film in the library’s basement, and in the process of documenting it I found another piece of film to add to the Nepal trove. It is a short newsfilm, likely produced by KGW TV in Portland, of the Nepal king and queen’s visit to Oregon in 1960 [watch it here].

Mahendra of Nepal and his wife Lady Ratna Rajya Lakshmi Devi came to Oregon in part to recognize the American Nepal Education Foundation’s work to establish an education system in Nepal in the 1950s.

The transfer is low-res and greenish, unfortunately, but such is the state of our film chain.

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TV News Gift, Part I

15 May

The local ABC affiliate has offered us their archive of 50 years of TV news (1961-2011) from Eugene, Oregon. A team of folks recently went out to the production company’s sound stage to do a field appraisal of the materials to get a better sense of what we’ll be dealing with. The beauty of the gift is the scope and comprehensiveness, and that fact that they are giving over the rights to the library. Even if there are gaps in the 50 years, it is still a great deal of content from a mid-size TV market covering some pretty interesting times.

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A lovely relic, unfortunately not part of the gift.

In a nutshell: 355 boxes of mostly U-matic videotape, much 16mm film wound on cores, fat binders of dot matrix printouts of broadcast and segment contents.

Some cool people like video, but I kind of hate it. Too many formats, too fragile, the way it hides itself on seemingly blank tape inside a box–where is the mystique? But hopefully this project will improve my relationship to video, if only because the content is so compelling.

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