Some time ago now, Rick Prelinger sent me a book he’s put together, The Field Guide to Sponsored Films. (For quick refresher on Mr. Prelinger and his work, see this earlier post.) The book is intended for scholars, and available from the National Film Preservation Foundation. (Click here, then on “cooperative projects,” then on “The Field Guide To Sponsored Films” for more information, including how to request a copy or download one.)
Compiled by Rick Prelinger of the Internet Archive with the help of scores of scholars, collectors, and archivists, The Field Guide to Sponsored Films singles out 452 sponsored motion pictures notable for their historical, cultural, or artistic interest. The 152-page annotated filmography includes indexes, repository information, and links to works viewable online.
I spent a bit of time going through this — not reading every word, but browsing, and reading up on films with interesting titles — and when possible, checking out the actual films via the Internet Archive mentioned above.
In the days ahead I’ll post more about several of the films I watched — and I’m giving this limited-run series the title, “Murketing’s Sponsored-Film Virtual Festival.”
I’ll start later this afternoon.
Meanwhile, I just want to mention one of the films I read about and really wanted to see, but that apparently isn’t available online. Made in 1954,by production company Sarra Inc., it was titled, The Secret of Selling the Negro. (They mean selling to “the negro,” of course.) The Field Guide says:
Film commissioned by the Chicago-based publisher of Negro Digest, Ebony, and Jet to encourage advertisers to reach out to African American consumers. The Secret of Selling the Negro depicts the lives, activities, and consumer behavior of African American professionals, students, and housewives. A Business Screen reviewer noted that the film focused on the “bright positive aspects” of “the New Negro family.”
I would love to see this, because it sounds like a perfect example of what interests me about these old industrial films so much. It’s not that they show you what the world was like, but that they show you some vision that someone at a particular time was trying to pass off as what the world was like.
Usually there’s some truth, and usually there’s some bullshit, and always there’s stuff that we can see now as bullshit, but at the time might have been something plausible, or appealing. These films aren’t about reality, they’re about a version of reality, and looking back at them from today is like squaring that version.
I hope that comes through in some of the films I’ll link to and write about in the days ahead. And I hope you enjoy.