Bike-in 2012


For one night only, the McAuslan patio will be turned into a sprawling 1970s classroom, complete with bubblegum music, wacky packs and fizz poppers, and a throng of 40-year old juvenile delinquents reliving the colorful cartoons and homeroom horrors of days gone by. When I was a kid I always looked forward to those afternoons when the 16mm projector would get wheeled into the classroom on its rickety rack and the teacher would struggle with threading and focus until some scratchy print would appear on the yellowing pull-down screen. The teachers thought they were pulling one over on us, tricking us into learning something under the guise of entertainment. But this tactic was more insidious than we thought, because decades later, some of us are still traumatized by the images that flashed onscreen in those 70s salad days. And some of us, damn it all, may have even learned a lesson or two.

Thousands of these films were made from the 1940s through the 1980s, when companies like Centron, McGraw-Hill, Coronet, Encyclopaedia Britannica Films, Avis Films, Crawley Films, Bell Labs, the NFB and others thrived on the burgeoning market for classroom or workplace educational films. Skip Elsheimer, who runs the website, has amassed over 24,000 film prints of discarded educational films, inadvertently becoming one of the world’s foremost preservationists – and experts – regarding the history of social hygiene onscreen. Skip Elsheimer will be making a rare visit to Montreal for POP Montreal’s annual Bike-In, to co-present – along with fellow collectors Le CineClub/The Film Society – a 90-minute smorgasbord of original 16mm classroom films that will rock you, shock you, choke you up and make you cry from laughing. While they differ greatly from what might be considered standard programming for youngsters these days, there’s no denying these films packed a countercultural punch rarely seen since.

As with all AV Geeks Shows the show will begin with a live audience-participation recitation of a “film strip” story!

Films in the program (ALL ON ACTUAL 16mm FILM!) will include:

Centron’s principal director was none other than Herk Harvey, who in 1962 made his seminal film Carnival of Souls, utilizing a Centron crew and written by Centron writer John Clifford. One of Harvey’s most notorious industrial pieces is the construction site accident film Shake Hands with Danger (1970), which features hands being mangled and lobbed off in machinery, all set to a great Johnny Cash-esque soundtrack by regular Centron composer Jim Stringer.

Sometimes traditional ‘horror’ elements such as monsters and eerie musical cues would be used to entice audiences into learning. Utilizing Mid-Atlantic Karloff-esque horror narration overtop of thunder and lightning effects and cartoonishly eerie sound design, Don Klugman’s The Mysterious Message (1982) is a creative approach to the dilemma of bad handwriting.

This wacky, short-lived 4-H Council and Michigan State University-produced TV show taught kids good nutrition with humor and songs, performed by the pre-teen house band, The Stews . A hilarious time capsule in which pizza is considered health food (because it fits into all the food groups) and people who don’t eat breakfast are described as “uptight”.

Claude Jutra’s short 1966 documentary dedicated “to all victims of intolerance” depicts the dawn of skateboarding in Montreal. A new activity frowned upon by police and adults, skateboarding gave youngsters a thrilling sensation of speed and freedom. This film – the first Canadian documentary ever made about the sport – captures the exuberance of boys and girls having the time of their lives in free-wheeling downhill locomotion. Available in a French version.

This trippy tribute to America’s 200th birthday was funded by a Bicentennial Project Grant and animated by Vincent Collins who made other psychedelic cartoons. Produced by the United States Information Agency, it’s a perfect example of how even the most square programming couldn’t escape the effects of the counterculture.

Joan Micklin Silver’s bizarre The Fur Coat Club (Learning Corporation of America, 1973) was ostensibly a film about stealing, and unconsciously a film about fur fetishism. Two little girls have a contest to see who can touch the most fur coats without alerting the wearer. They find their tactile mecca in the form of a fur coat store, where they accidentally get locked in overnight. The fur coats come to life and slither around, baring their teeth at the young girls, who manage to foil an attempted theft in the middle of the night at the store and come out heroes. This cautionary tale was shown regularly at my grade school, and gave me nightmares every time!

Joyride: An Auto Theft (1976) – from William Crain, the director of blaxploitation horrors Blacula and Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde – is about two teenagers who get bored with the neighbourhood baseball game and decide to jack a car and use it to impress some girls. The foursome go speeding through some winding roads and end up driving headfirst into a cliff face. With pinball machines, powder blue muscle shirts, a soundtrack ranging from cheap funk to the soft sounds of am radio, Joyride is pure 70s American juvenilia – with cinematography by Douglas Knapp, who shot Carpenter’s Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13.