Freaks and Geeks
Remember back in school the excitement that surrounded getting to see a film during class? Either a projector or a television would be wheeled into the room, those dreadful fluorescent lights were turned off and suddenly we were free for 45 minutes. It would be a great day. Though it may be hard to remember those days now, if you try, you might understand why Skip Elsheimer tours the country presenting shows such as The Best of A/V Geeks 3.
A/V Geeks is the name of the program that samples educational and training films from Elsheimer's archive, which numbers more than 8,000. This year's presentation gives us Purely Coincidental, a 1980 film called "a paranoid melodrama about food safety," Parent to Child About Sex, a 1967 show that features "some truly awkward scenes," and 1972's The Huntsman, "always a crowd pleaser," according to Elsheimer.
More Dates for Kay, from 1952, features a girl who doesn't understand why she winds up staying at home on Saturday nights. She is told about Kay, a girl who practiced good hygiene, dressed nicely (but not too flashy) and was nice and helpful to everyone ("especially the boys"). The techniques demonstrated include asking the cute guy in the next locker to grab a book for her from the top shelf or calling up to ask a boy for help with her homework. "Isn't that going too far?" asks our heroine. "I didn't say I approved of everything she does," the narrator responds.
Fast-forward to 1970 when we have Teeth, where the American Dental Association meets the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. We are introduced to the main characters as they rock out in a band amid swirling psychedelic lights. The boy loves to work on cars, and the girl is chronically late because of primping and watches her figure (after all, she aspires to be a model, actress or stewardess someday). The point is they should invest as much attention and care into dental hygiene as they do their hobbies. "What's interesting is that the films that reinforce these [sexual] biases are talking about something completely different," Elsheimer says. "They are not talking about gender roles; they are talking about teeth. We all know about dental hygiene, so it's easy to pick out some other odd things that the film's producer didn't think about, but were included."
Elsheimer continues, "Dates for Kay was a little more authoritarian and conservative (the film's production company, Coronet, frowned on slang and demanded perfect posture from its actors), but I guess that's what was more appealing to kids at the time. That definitely changed with the '60s and '70s. You see a shift. They do try to get hip." The downside to this newfound artistic freedom is that "you're often watching films that you're just baffled what the point is," he says. For example, a bizarre montage in Teeth flashes still images of historical figures, ex-presidents, war and the Beatles without warning or explanation. Slang makes up a significant portion of the dialogue in Lunatic, a 1972 film, as well. It's obviously about venereal disease, but what about it? We're not too sure, even though we've seen it.
Of course, nowadays these films aren't necessarily honored for their educational value. "What people initially do is come to laugh at the films or get a sense of nostalgia," Elsheimer says. "But what brings them back is a sense of cultural history. They look and see how things were or at least how we wanted them to be."
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