I stumbled across Bibi’s Box, a blog that appears to be devoted to finding videos available on the internet. Bibi wrote about John Sutherland, a producer for Walt Disney who struck out on his own in 1944. He became famous, or infamous, for doing cartoons for hire that capitalist enterprises wanted to make available for schools.
Some of us Baby Boomers will recognize almost every one of these films. Film distribution was always problematic back then, before Federal Express or UPS and overnight air delivery to almost anywhere in the world, and back when 16-mm film projectors were often old, cranky monsters that defied the most tech-savvy teachers to make a film dance on a screen. Consequently, to increase the circulation, many of these films also ended up in the afternoon cartoon fests that local television stations ran for “kiddies.”
The images are rich. There are time-bound charicatures of middle-class Americans, and full use of other American iconography. In a 1948 film, “Make Mine Freedom,” Sutherland’s film shows a Member of Congress dressed as a southern politician (though without an accent), the labor representative in denim overalls, the capitalist factory boss with a cigar and morning coat with striped pants, and the farmer in stereotypical straw hat. In a later scene, some of the characters parade in a “Spirit of ’76” fashion, with drum, fife and flag, across the Lincoln Memorial.
Some of the images are corny, but they are rich mines for classroom use, where the images form powerful mnemonic devices for kids who don’t know the history of that era. I have used chunks of “Schoolhouse Rock” for individual study on specific areas — last year I required high school history students to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution, and the “Schoolhouse Rock” version helped enormously. Sutherland’s films could be as useful, in certain topics.
If you find a good use for one, please let me know.