Peril & Hygiene

Posted by Rob Walker on November 9, 2006
Posted Under: America,Obituaries

The obits today bring the news of the death (last month!) of Sid Davis, “considered one of the foremost practitioners of the social-hygiene film.” The Times says:

The Sid Davis universe is fraught with peril. Every transgression — a swig from a bottle, a drag on a cigarette — leads to swift and certain doom, usually in under a half-hour. Among the series of unfortunate events to which Mr. Davis’s young protagonists fall victim are these: abduction, murder, rape, stabbing, robbery at gunpoint, falling off a cliff, suffocating in an abandoned refrigerator, being burned to a crisp, being stuffed into the trunk of a car, being run over, pregnancy, venereal disease, unemployment, time in pool halls, time in prison, myriad auto accidents, heroin addiction (a direct result of smoking marijuana), prostitution (ditto) and bad hair (ditto).

I became familiar with some of Davis’s films years ago, through Rick Prelinger, who made a convincing case that it was worth looking at these things as more than just laughable camp — there’s a “secret history” here, as he has put it. He has in the past noted that, viewed a certain way, Davis’s films are “wonderful documents of L.A.’s underside in the fifties.” I wrote a little article about Prelinger’s work as a “media archeologist” back then, and would go to these parties he would have every so often where he’d show a bunch of industrial or educational films from his massive collection, which has since become part of the holdings of the Library of Congress. I continue to admire his work.

The obit mentions “Boys Beware” (in which Davis himself apparently has a cameo as a “predatory” homosexual”) and “Age 13;” these and a bunch of other Davis films can be viewed online here.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

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