No one has yet written a comprehensive history of ephemeral films and filmmakers. Those seeking information to fill this historical gap must rely on an imperfect combination of older works not necessarily informed by historical consciousness and newer works that tend to draw selectively from the rich history of ephemeral genres. Many books and periodicals of historical interest are difficult to find, though not as difficult as many of the films they cite. In time, we hope to post a selection of key texts on this website.
Although ephemeral films are by no means an exclusively North American phenomenon, this bibliography won't attempt to cover the rich array of international resources. Happily, scholars and archivists in many other nations have done more to come to terms with the full range of their film production, and in those countries the history of ephemeral films is much better documented.
I use the term "ephemeral films" to denote a cluster of genres that frequently intersect: educational films, advertising or sponsored films, industrial films, institutional films, government-produced films, and amateur films or home movies.
I cordially invite those who know of other historical resources to suggest them for inclusion here.
Feaster, Felicia and Wood, Bret. Forbidden fruit: the golden age of the exploitation film. Baltimore, Md.: Midnight Marquee Press, Inc., 1999. This detailed and delightful history of this "renegade film movement" contextualizes many well-known and not-so-well-known films and exults in the flavor and personalities of disrespected film genres. Many educational films, especially those devoted to teenage transgression, are descended from exploitation-oriented "cinema in the raw," and this book sets the stage for understanding their evolution. Includes a useful filmography and many still images.
Smith, Ken. Mental hygiene: classroom films 1945-1970. New York: Blast Books, 1999. The first book dealing with the history, rhetoric and surrealism of postwar American social guidance film. Thoughtful and funny exploration of this crowd-pleasing genre, notable for its explanations of diverse subgenres (conformity, cautionary, dating, menstruation education, anti-drug, sex education, safety, and sponsored films), and capsule reviews of 250 classic titles. Not a scholarly study, but a loving tribute, made especially strong by virtue of Ken's efforts to find and interview many of the long-forgotten makers. Though the author is quick to spot quirks and traces of irony in the films, his study doesn't stoop to campiness. Recommended. Most of the films cited in the book are held by Prelinger Archives and available for downloading through the Internet Moving Images Archive.
Audiovisual materials in education, industry and libraries
Dale, Edgar; Dunn, Fannie W.; Hoban, Charles F. Jr.; and Schneider, Etta. Motion pictures in education: a summary of the literature. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1937. Detailed annotated bibliography. Essential reference.
Devereux, Frederick L. The educational talking picture. Chicago, Ill.: The University of Chicago Press, 1933. How Erpi Picture Consultants, Inc. a division of Western Electric's Electrical Research Products, Inc.) developed a pioneering experimental educational film production and evaluation program. Useful summary of the state of knowledge at the time and the practical expertise of the visual education movement.
Koon, C.M. Motion pictures in education in the United States. Chicago, Ill.: The University of Chicago Press, 1934. Theory and practice of film use in U.S. schools.
Waldron, Gloria, with the assistance of Cecile Starr. The information film: a report of the public library inquiry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1949. Sponsored by the Public Library Inquiry and the Twentieth Century Fund "as part of a general inquiry into the functions and problems of American public libraries," this useful study treats in detail such subjects as early informational films and their use; the place of 16mm films within the motion-picture field; producers and production; the chaotic distribution system; the use of films; films in libraries; and the film council movement. Does much to dispel the general mystery that today surrounds the question of how ephemeral films were distributed and who watched them. Highly recommended.
American Council on Education. Selected educational motion pictures: a descriptive encyclopedia. Information on about 500 pre-1941 16mm motion pictures that were evaluated for curricular value by teachers in schools, colleges and universities. Filmographic information, evaluation, judgment of technical quality and "objective description" is included for each film. This attempt at producing a "canonical list" of films deemed educationally valuable in the pre-World War II period goes far towards illuminating the mindset of visual educators, and permits the reader to reconstruct the contents of early educational film libraries in his or her mind.
Association of Documentary Film Producers, Inc. Living films: a catalog of documentary films and their makers. New York: Association of Documentary Film Producers, Inc., 1940. Invaluable reference: in the words of Mary Losey's preface, "...a who's who of documentary films in America....Here is set down who makes documentary films, what films, when, for whom, why and where they are now." Lists 150 titles and contains valuable biographical sketches of 99 filmmakers, many of whom worked extensively in various sectors of ephemeral film production. Indispensable compendium of information on pre-World War II filmmakers whose work ranged from social documentaries to corporate-sponsored extravaganzas and from pedagogy to poetic realism. At some point, I plan to put the biographical sketches on this site.
DeVry Corporation. Free films for schools, clubs, CCC camps, and other non-theatrical users. Chicago, Ill.: DeVry Corp., 1939 (published in other years as well). Lists over 1400 sponsored films without annotations.
Educational Screen. 1000 and one, the blue book of non-theatrical films. Chicago, Ill.: Educational Screen, 1939 (an annual publication). Includes brief annotations for educational and sponsored films.
Hartley, William H. Selected films for American history and problems. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1940. Interesting annotated filmography of history and social studies films, with detailed film descriptions of many films that are difficult or impossible to locate today. With introductory chapters on obtaining, evaluating and using educational films.
General works on film having relevance to ephemeral films
Leyda, Jay. Films beget films: compilation films from propaganda to drama. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1964. Classic (and unduplicated) study of the assembly and manipulation of archival materials. Especially valuable for its treatment of politically motivated documentary films from film's beginning through the early 1960s.
Sloan, Kay. The loud silents: origins of the social problem film. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988. This interesting study explores "the largely precorporate, inconsistently censored" films produced prior to World War I that focused on controversial social and political issues. Many of these films share common characteristics with, and may themselves have been early examples of the ephemeral cinema.
International Review of Educational Cinematography.
Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (formerly Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers).
See and Hear.
Public relations, advertising, corporate and commercial speech
Bird, William L. Jr. "Better living:" advertising, media, and the new vocabulary of business leadership, 1935-1955. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1999. How large corporations transmitted increasingly sophisticated messages through industrial film, radio broadcasts, advertising, television programs, fairs and exhibitions during the New Deal, World War II, and the fabulous Fifties. An unusually detailed and fascinating study of how and why key industrial films came to be, and an examination of "commercial speech" that is helpful in understanding today's pervasive media landscape. Recommended.
Harty, Sheila. Hucksters in the classroom: a review of industry propaganda in schools. Washington, D.C.: Center for Study of Responsive Law, 1979. Critique of corporate sponsorship of educational materials, filled with fascinating historical detail, many examples, and useful references. The corporate presence that Harty describes seems almost gentle compared to the intense commercialism students face today in their classrooms.
Walker, S.H. and Sklar, Paul. Business finds its voice. First published in Harper's Magazine, February 1938.
"Jamison Handy: Master of "Show 'Em" (from Sales Management, 1963)
Leo C. Beebe article from Sixty Years of 16mm Film.
"The man who put business in show biz," from Sales Meetings, July 1970.
"A Fly on the Wheel," Fortune, January 1947.
"Detroit: The Commercial Hollywood", Barron's, 6/29/36.
"Industrial Movies Come of Age," Business Week, 10/9/37.
"Camera! Action! Sales! Business Week, 5/27/39.
Roland Marchand also discusses ALCOA advertising imagery and public relations in Creating the Corporate Soul (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1998).
Ramseyer, Lloyd. A study of the influence of documentary films on social attitudes. Oxford, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1938. Describes a controlled experiment using 6 16mm government-produced films and their effect on the attitudes of student viewers.
MacCann, Richard Dyer and Perry, Edward S. The new film index: a bibliography of magazine articles in English, 1930-1970. New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1975. A kind of sequel to The Film Index (New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1941), containing a number of valuable citations on "nonfiction films," specifically newsreels, documentaries, religious films, avant-garde films, and more.
Dale, Edgar. Audio-visual methods in teaching. New York: The Dryden Press, 1954 (revised edition). Textbook for teachers divided into three primary subject areas: theory of audiovisual instruction; materials for audiovisual instruction; and classroom applications of audio-visual methods. This and other books of its type are valuable in illuminating the strategy and tactics of A-V instruction as embodied in educational films, and can help to provide a context for understanding why many films work the way they do.
McKown, Harry C. and Roberts, Alvin B. Audio-visual aids to instruction. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1949 (second edition); 1940 (first edition). Wide-ranging textbook for teachers.
March 19, 2001