A Blast From The Past: The Holy Roman Empire

It may seem strange to celebrate the Ides of March by sharing an educational film about The Holy Roman Empire, seeing as how it was famous for being neither holy nor Roman nor an Empire.  But then again, the fact that the name “Roman Empire” was still being appropriated into the 19th century shows you just how powerful a hold the Roman Empire had over people’s imaginations.  Everyone wanted to be Roman and everyone wanted to be a part of an empire.  Of course, there would have been no Roman Empire if not for the Ides of March.

Add to that, this 1961 film features not only a teacher but also historical reenactments.  I love cheap looking historical reenactments!

Here, for your educational viewing, is a blast from the past.  From 1961, it’s a look at The Holy Roman Empire!

A Blast From The Past: What Made Sammy Speed?

From 1959, here’s a short film that asks the question, “What made Sammy speed?”

(I’m going to guess that the title is meant to pay homage to the novel, What Makes Sammy Run?)

Sammy Robertson (played, in flashbacks, by David Felshaw) was a popular high school student until he was killed when his car collided with a truck.  A local detective tries to figure out what caused the accident to happen.  To be honest, I’m not really sure why there’s any question as to why it happened.  Sammy was speeding.  He ran a stop sign.  The truck crashed into his car.  It’s tragic and there’s definitely a lesson to be learned about paying attention to the road but it’s not particularly complicated.  It really doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that would require a massive criminal investigation.  It’s not like Sammy was smuggling drugs or drinking or driving or anything like that.  At most, the cops might want to ask themselves why the stop sign was at such a strange angle.

Still, since there’s apparently no other crimes being committed in this town, the detective spends a few days talking to Sammy’s relatives and his friends and trying to figure out why Sammy felt it was okay to speed.  (The driver of the truck, meanwhile, is totally let off the hook.  How fast was he going because it looks like he really messed up Sammy’s car.)  The detective learns that Sammy’s father wasn’t a particularly good driver.  He learns that Sammy’s little brother looked up to Sammy whenever he would drive fast.  He learned that Sammy’s friends were impressed by his car and his total lack of concern when it came to safety.  (That said, most of them still refused to ride with him.  They knew better than to risk their chances to attend the next sock hop.)  He learns that, shortly before the accident, Sammy’s boss couldn’t give him a raise and that Sammy failed in his attempts to join the school’s baseball team.  Broke and not destined for athletic glory, Sammy needed to feel like a man so he ignored the speed limit and the stop sign.  He had issues with authority, the detective tells us.

Yes, the detective tells us a lot.  That’s because this is a Sid Davis production and no Sid Davis production was complete without a judgmental narrator.  In this case, the narrator decides that everyone was to blame for Sammy driving too fast so I guess the message here is to let a bad player on the team and always give your employees a raise whether you can afford it or not.  If you don’t, the worst possible thing that could happen will happen.  That was another frequent Sid Davis lesson.  The worst always happens, no matter what.  That said, my main takeaway from this film was that Sammy was just naturally self-destructive.  It really doesn’t sound like anyone could have saved Sammy.  Sammy’s enemy was not the coach, his boss, his father, the cops, or even his little brother.  Sammy’s greatest enemy was himself.

Anyway, here’s a blast from the past from 1959.  Watch it the next time you’re tempted to drive too fast.

An Election Day Blast From The Past: Jerry Springer Isn’t Afraid Of The Truth

Today, we have a special election day blast from the past!

In 1982 (and not 1980, regardless of what the title of the YouTube video says), former Cincinnati Mayor Jerry Springer entered the race for governor of Ohio.  He was one of three major candidates to enter the Democrat primary.  During the campaign, Springer cut this memorable commercial in which he let voters know that, a few years earlier, he “spent some time with a woman (he) shouldn’t have” and that he “paid her with a check.”

Despite Jerry’s claim that “the nomination is finally within grasp,” he came in a distant third.  Of course, if Springer had won that election, America would never have had the Jerry Springer Show or any of the shows, like Maury, that followed its example.  So, Ohio, it’s all on you.  Elections have consequences.

A Blast From The Past: A Trip To The Moon (dir. by Georges Melies)

On October 1st, Case reviewed Moon.  What better way to celebrate October 31st than taking a trip to the moon with classic film that came out 120 years ago?

Directed and written by Georges Melies, A Trip to The Moon is often cited as the first sci-fi film and the image of the capsule crashing into the eye of the man in the moon is one of the most iconic in film history.  Seen today, the film seems both charmingly innocent and remarkably ahead of its time.

For me, it always takes a minute or two to adjust to the aesthetic of early films.  We’ve grown so used to all the editing tricks that modern filmmakers use to tell their stories that these old silent films, with their lack of dramatic camera movement and obvious theatrical origins, often take some effort to get used to.  Still, the effort is often worth it.

Here then is Georges Melies’s 1902 science fiction epic, A Trip To The Moon.

Blast From The Past: The Mermaid (dir by Georges Méliès)

For today’s blast from the past, we have another dream film from Georges Méliès.  In this film, a man (played by the director) appears to dream of a mermaid.  This film is from 1904 and, 118 years later, it’s still a charmingly surreal vignette.  Georges Méliès reveals himself to be not only a dreamer but a pioneer of the type of special effects that we today take for granted.

A Blast From The Horror Past: Georges Méliès’s The Monster

For today’s blast from the past, we have a film that has often been described as being France’s first horror film.

The Monster is 2-minute silent film from 1903.  Directed by the pioneering French filmmaker, Georges Méliès, The Monster tells the story of an Egyptian prince who brings the dead body of his wife to a sorcerer who apparently likes to hang out in front of The Sphinx.  The sorcerer attempts to bring her back to life and, as so often happens in any film directed by Georges Méliès, things don’t quite go as planned.

In my opinion, this is one of the most charming of Georges Méliès’s surviving films.  From the simple but crudely effective camera trickery to the nicely surreal Sphinx in the background, The Monster is a chaotic delight.

A Blast From The Past: The Vanishing Lady (dir by Georges Méliès)

In this short film from 1896, Georges Méliès shows off not one magic trick but actually four.  He makes a woman disappear.  He makes a skeleton appear.  Then he makes the skeleton disappear and then he brings the vanishing lady back.  Today, of course, we all know how these tricks were done but just imagine how audiences in 1896, many of whom were still amazed that movies could exist at all, would have reacted to this short film.  This film provides a look into a simpler and more innocent time.  Watching this film, I found myself wishing that I could feel the wonder at a movie that someone in 1896 would have.  Sadly, audiences are far more jaded today.

Personally, I liked that both Méliès and the Vanishing Lady stepped back onstage to take a little bow.  Even in those early days of cinema, they understood the importance of connecting with the audience.

A Blast From The Past: The Four Troublesome Heads (by Georges Melies)

With the arrival of both October and our annual horrorthon, today’s Blast From The Past is here to help us get in the mood with some head action.

In this short film, director Georges Milies plays a magician who can remove his head.  Fear not!  When he removes his head, another head quickly appears on his shoulder.  Pretty soon, our magician has one head on his shoulders and three other heads chatting away on a table.  Everything’s fine until it’s discovered that, apparently, the heads aren’t very talented when it comes to singing.

Obviously, today, we know how camera tricks like this are done.  We tend to take them for granted.  But consider this, when watching The Four Troublesome Heads: this film was made in 1898.  At a time when the movies themselves seemed like an act of magic, Georges Melies was removing his head and then trying to perform a song.

Yes, this the same Georges Melies who was played by Ben Kingsley in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  That’s a great film, by the way.  It marks the only time that Christopher Lee appeared in a Scorsese film.  Go watch it, if you haven’t already.

A Blast From The Blast: Rob McElhenney Says Don’t Smoke

I don’t even smoke and I still think anti-smoking commercials are annoying.

Take this one from 1999, in which some weirdo harasses students as they try to leave their high school.  He gets an interview from one student, who seems to be annoyed with the whole thing and …. OH MY GOD, THAT’S ROB MCELHENNEY FROM IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA!

We finished?

A Blast From The Past: Ben Affleck For Diet Coke

In the year 2001, Ben Affleck wasn’t only Matt Damon’s best friend.  He was also a commercial spokesman!

For instance, he narrated this creepy commercial for Diet Coke.  Oddly enough, he doesn’t say anything about Diet Coke but he does say a lot about his wife’s underwear and then, eventually, the underwear that he saw in “the hamper as a kid.”  Wait, what?  Weirdo.

I actually get what this commercial is attempting.  Diet Coke is a soft drink for real people and real people get married and eventually stop having sex.  But do real people tell complete strangers about it?  Of course, they do now but this commercial was before social media.

This is from the same ad campaign that featured Renee Zellweger watching her neighbor take a shower and sing.  (I shared that commercial last week.)  Since we didn’t see Renee’s face in that previous commercial and since we don’t see Ben’s face in this one, I like to think that this commercial is a sequel to the previous one.  Renee eventually married the guy across the street and then started wearing cotton underwear.  And I assume that the guy stopped singing.

Wow, this was a depressing world that Diet Coke created.