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The Terrible Truth

If you've enjoyed my articles on Public Information Films, then you'll probably enjoy this Archive Hour programme on Radio 4 at 8pm tonight, where Tom Robinson looks at the history of PIFs.

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Just listened to it via Listen again. It's a really interesting programme; there's something of an emphasis on US "public information" films over British ones, especially in the first half, but they handled it so well and it managed to be so interesting I won't complain. Something I thought was interesting was that it seemed to suggest that whilst British PIFs were produced by a government department, US PIFs were made by independent filmmakers and sold to schools and the like which might explain the sometimes lurid nature of the latter which has lead to them ending up on video and DVD as "ironic" collectables. One thing I found quite disturbing was the stuff about "Signal 30", a film infamous in the USA and made-up of footage of actual road accidents shot by an amateur filmmaker who apparently listened-into US highway police radio broadcasts in order to find crash victims to film. It was apparently dressed-up as a "warning to motorists" finger-wagging film complete with portentous voiceover but it appears to have been little more than a nasty exploitation flick and the sort of thing, thankfully, I couldn't really see anyone getting away with any more. Someone I really liked was that American chap we heard from a few times (the one who sounded a bit thoughtful and tired, best way I can describe him, I think he runs an archive of US films or something) who tried to put the US PFIs into the perspective of the times and tried to make us understand the society that created them rather than going "LOL Reefer Madness!1"

If the programme had a fault it was possibly the occasional moments when Robinson seemed to be trying to put a spin on things, which I found particularly annoying when he compared the "Charlie says" stranger-danger advert with a more scaremongering 1950s US ad on the same subject and used it to argue that British PFIs were terribly sensible whilst US PFIs were telling people to be scared of everyone around them; sorry, but UK PFIs are more than capable of holding their own in the scaremongering department: I recall plenty from my own childhood that were clearly designed to be harrowing and to scare more than simply inform.

Well worth listening to, though. Apparently, you can find a lot of them online at something called the BFI National Archive.

By Zagrebo
May 12, 2008 @ 7:36 pm

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I enjoyed it too, and agree that there seems to be rather a one-sided look at US and UK PIFs. Surely there were some common-sense US PIFs too? And yes, some of the UK stranger danger films you can find on YouTube are a bit lurid.

By Tanya Jones
May 13, 2008 @ 12:02 am

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