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Strange & Surreal Films In The IU Libraries Film Archive

Orson Welles on the threat of technology, woodchucks in doll clothes, and bicycle safety complete with monkey masks—all from the IU Film Archive.

film still from one got fat

Photo: film still, One Got Fat

The children in this 1963 bicycle safety film wear monkey masks and tails, although it's never made clear why.

You might remember watching educational films when you were a kid—movies about how to treat fellow students with respect, how to have healthy relationships, or even films about academic subjects like biology.

Watching them today, these films can seem dated. This is especially true of the social guidance films of the 1950s, which have titles like “What to Do on a Date” or “Are You Popular?”

The Indiana University Libraries Film Archive has more than 46,000 of these educational films, all of which provide a glimpse into our cultural history.

The Film Archive is currently digitizing their collection, a process they expect to take 15 years. Three graduate assistants from the Film Archive share some of the more intriguing and surreal films they’ve come across while cataloging and digitizing their collection.

1. “Future Shock”

IU Libraries Film Archive graduate assistant Josephine McRobbie chose the 1972 film “Future Shock.”

Narrated by actor and director Orson Welles, this film “talks about technological change in the modern world, it talks about artificial limb innovations, modular architecture, hippies and how they’re living this transient existence and it’s just basically really funny and campy and interesting for those reasons,” McRobbie says. “But it’s also really relevant to the way people still view change and innovations.”

2. “Chucky Lou”

Jason Evans Groth chose the 1948 film “Chucky Lou: Story of a Woodchuck.”

The film follows Chucky Lou as she’s taken from the wild to live in an Indiana state park. The park’s caretaker looks after her; he builds her a large habitat, feeds her well, but also teaches her to wear doll clothes and sit upright in a child’s chair.

“I wouldn’t call it sinister, but it is odd when you see a woodchuck propped up on a child-sized chair, wearing a Victorian dress. With kids looking at her without much regard for what is going on in front of them,” Evans Groth says. “The gravity of the situation isn’t as heavy for them as it is for those of us looking at it through the internet or on film.”

Watch the film on IU’s streaming service website.

3. “One Got Fat”

Graduate Assistant Asia Harman selected “One Got Fat,” a 1963 bicycle safety film.

In the film, a group of children decides to ride their bikes to have a picnic. Over the course of the 9 blocks it takes to get to the park, all but one of the children are struck down by various obstacles because they failed to adhere to the rules of bicycle safety, like stopping at road signs or using hand signals.

When a child is struck down by a steam roller, manhole, or other obstacle, a cartoon flash symbol appears, similar to the “pow!” in Batman cartoons of the same era. Contributing to the surreal quality of the film is that essentially, the children are being killed by these obstacles, but the other students keep going as if nothing is wrong.

And for some reason, all of the children are wearing monkey masks and tails.

“As far as the weirdness factor…it’s one of the ones that takes the cake for sure,” Harman says.

4. “Drinking And Thinking”

Film Archivist Rachael Stoeltje has a special place in her heart for social guidance films with titles like “How to go Steady,” and says its interesting to contrast the lessons on dating rules, courtesy and respect being taught in the 1950s to the dating techniques and texting of today.

But for  this list she chose the 1985 film “Drinking and Thinking,” which was made by IU Professor Ruth Engs.

The film shows people drinking excessively, and had tips for how to drink more responsibly. Stoeltje says Engs was criticized for showing student drinking, because they “felt that she should just say people shouldn’t be drinking.”

Watch “Drinking and Thinking” through the IU Film Archive’s streaming service.

Mia Partlow

Mia moved to Bloomington from Louisville, Kentucky in 2002. After completing her BA at Indiana University, she lived briefly in New Orleans, and then moved to NYC to get a master's in American Studies. Now settled in Bloomington, Mia loves working with area organizations in her role as a Corporate Development associate for WFIU and WTIU. She spends most of her free time sewing and trying to tire out her energetic dog.

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  • Barry Allen

    Because Hollywood has gotten such a high profile in the world of film preservation, the world of the educational, industrial, and promotional films gets far less attention than it deserves. These are rare and priceless views into the life and social culture of America in the era before consumer video. I’m not sure how far back the collection goes, or if the majority of the motion picture product made for classroom use dates predominately from the post World War II era, but this is one of the great archives of the world (of course I might be a bit prejudiced since I’m a Hoosier, an uncompleted IU student, and I rented my first 16mm film from the IU Audio Visual Center about 1955). But, I’ve seen the archive and it is second to none, including those in Hollywood. Go, IU Archivists!

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