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Driver's Ed Scare Films Vol. 5

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Something Weird
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The lifetime love affair between a man and his car is more akin to a dysfunctional obsession with a plot twist at the end worthy of the Lifetime Movie network where the object of years of cruel abuse strikes back with an act of single, final deadly force.  When I was younger, my friends and I played with all manner of toy that simulated wrecking cars in one action packed play set after another.  In my day, the baddest fantasy violence that toy manufacturers dared to bring us was just the rock em, sock em action of driverless cars colliding head on into one another, simply because it looked simply beautiful when painted onto the box of usual plastic mass produced crappy parts from China (see below!).

But then at the age of sixteen I received Driver’s Education training and suddenly learned that crashes were supposed to a bad thing; tragedies full of crippling consequence and sadness.  Suddenly, racing against the crossing guard of a train set wasn’t tabletop fun anymore but the quickest way to end up in a bad way; at best you would be grounded; get your license revoked. At worst you would end up as an organ donor, scrapped for your body parts like a car in a common junkyard. Nowhere is the sudden whiplash inducing stop between childhood and adulthood more apparent than in the driver’s education videos from decades past. Gritty, grainy and often having the production values of a small town used car commercial, these films paint a portrait of the stupidity and ill judgment of youth, a lurid picture scrawled in white outlines, colored in with blood and framed with “all –knowing” voiceovers by unseen godlike narrators with joyless voices scolding decapitated teenagers, abject victims indeed as they can no longer hear the lessons being handed down.  But you, the viewer can….

Here is the review for Drivers Ed Scare films Volume 5.   Another assortment of emotional wrecks disguised as teachable moments. So sit let’s sit down and nibble on the saccharine “told you so” nuggets of infallible adult authoritarian wisdom served cold and tasteless, hopefully with a few scenes of “dashboard eating” on the side (a  little dessert for the crash loving kid in you).

The Last Prom (1972)

This one is a distinct shift in tone from most drivers-ed videos. While most of them end with a wreck, this one actually begins after one has occurred. The camera lingers over the smashed convertible while a disembodied male voice asks us to postulate luridly about those involved in the crash; “who sat here on this seat now stained with blood. Was it a pretty face which made this gaping, jagged hole in the windshield? Whose body came crashing against the steering wheel, twisting it with fear-crazed hands?” Told in flashback, we follow the day to day lives of four young prom kids, all passengers in this fateful car ride. This was dramatically narrated, and sequentially told with a Hollywood sense of classic foreshadowing yet for a driver’s ed film this one had so little visceral content that it could be shown on modern prime time network TV. I like them more screechy/ less preachy than this.

Courtesy (1950)

COURTESY introduces us to Sgt. Bruce, an officer who is to the traffic fatalities what Smokey The Bear was to forest fires. With the exact screen mild mannered screen presence of Barney Fife meets Mr Rogers, Sgt. Bruce teaches us how to be polite to one another in our day life on the road. I am going to be the first to say this, the only way I can: Sgt. Bruce is a pussy. Five volumes into this series I have seen all manner of insane patrolman narrator behaving in every extreme manner from threatening me through the fourth wall of my TC set to weeping openly like a child. Far from representing the long hand of the law, or the iron grip of fate which are common themes to most drivers ed videos, Officer Bruce is the all-time limp wrist of the Drivers Ed scare film policeman and as such he is incapable of slapping some sense into the worst teenage drivers from yesteryear nor wringing some respect into the most shameless vintage crash porn aficionados of today.

Dateline Today (1960)

This one is just weird. While most every drivers ed video I have ever seen thus far in the series extolls the virtues of slow speed, tight vehicle control and conservative driving habits, this short program, sponsored by Chevrolet shows the superiority of Chevy to other cars by showing a performance showcase of sorts where Chevy cars jump ramps spaced 65 feet apart.  It is surreal watching this officially sanctioned Chevy stunt show, especially since we now live in a litigious era where our car commercials are always stamped with the phrase “STUNT DRIVER ON CLOSED COURSE: DO NOT ATTEMPT whenever the vehicle is depicted onscreen performing an action no more provocative than changing gears while blaring guitar power chords play suggestively. This DATELINE TODAY footage is almost as absurd as a certain news story from NBC’s Dateline, a television news show that once admitted falsifying crash footage of GM truck accidents in 1993 by using the wrong sized gas caps and hidden model rocket fuses, doctoring the vehicles so they would catch fire in the dramatizations, reporting that GM trucks (falsely) had a propensity to catch fire. 

Why Take A Chance (195?)

This was an advertising short obviously designed by General Tires about their Nygen Tubeless radial. In it we see a series of field tests designed to show the superiority of this product over all other possible tires. There is a stopping test where four cars equipped with brand x tires stop too late and shatter a crosswalk filled with plywood children and another where a driverless car is thrown off a ten story building to emphasize the actual impact of a 70mph head on crash. An ambitious rubber companies rigorous “Willy Wonka-esque” product testing techniques that just come across as tired.

Split Second Decision (1974)

This is the most authentic everyday driving experience ever set to film and by that I mean it is largely joyless, tedious and feels like a drive across town to the mall, for that’s exactly what it is. For over twenty minutes you look out the driver’s window of a large automobile while traffic and accident situations happen. The unseen voiceover narrator keeps up a constant barrage of dictation, first warning you what to do in a certain driving situation and then how to keep yourself safe. At one point, the driver (you) is even involved in a slight accident, but of course your car is still drivable and eventually you get to your destination, no thanks to what sounds like the world’s most snobby, driving education obsessed passenger. Imagine playing Grand Theft Auto while a disembodied inner voice in your head (that you somehow must obey) tells you to drive all over Florida at the posted speed limit? While not nausea inducing (as all good driving education films should be), the floating “first person” POV camera angle did actually make me carsick so at least there is some sense of realism.  Chock full of late 70’s giant luxury cars traveling around a palm tree infested paradise if you turn off the sound it plays something like the Imax version of THE ROCKFORD FILES, only sadly “The Rockford turn” is not one of the driving tactics taught. At least it’s in color unlike all other films in this collection.

Teenicide (1950)

Sgt. Bruce is back and he is here to talk about traffic deaths. It seems our beloved highway cop is not just an incorruptible lawman, he is something of a wordsmith as well, single handedly inventing the word “teenicide” and making it part of the national consciousness in 1950. What first sounds like a type of repellant spray used by an exterminator to keep stray post-adolescent youths from congregating on your property actually is a noun meaning a noun meaning “death caused by an automobile driver under 20 years of age”. Between his charts, graphs and information regarding traffic fatalities among the youth of yesteryear, officer Bruce has successfully taken an emotional, passionate social issue from long ago and has made it boring; passionless rendering it into hard cold statistics that would more bore most insurance actuaries, let alone gore hounds.

Highway Driving (1950) 

Sgt. Bruce is back again and this time the emphasis is on excessive speed, as always he is chock full of platitudes and catch phrases which could seem less squarish if he would have backed them up with some lurid accident footage every now and then as in better drivers instruction videos. Everyone do what the nice policeman says and maybe he will go away for a film or two.

Left Turns (1950)

“Fuck you”, says Officer Bruce (at least this is what I imagine he might say) “Now I am going to teach you about left turns”. By pushing a series of tiny toy Matchbox cars across a tiny townscape, Officer Bruce is the type of man whose teaching methods would make little kids envious, teenagers bored and vintage drivers-ed movie collectors such as myself secretly hope he eats his nonexistent service revolver so starved are we for any sort of carnage thus far in VOLUME  5. Remember kids, “When two people make left turns, no one wins but the undertaker”.  That’s funny, Officer Bruce.  Not, ha-ha-ha funny. But more like ”Life is short and I am wasting it watching lame films like this” funny.  Thanks for that.

The Last Date 

Known as the first drivers ed film ever made THE LAST DATE starred a character named Nick (Dick York of Bewitched fame) as a young teen driver with hot rod convertible and a lead foot, neither of which he could ultimately master. The real victim here, however isn’t Nick, but Jeanne, a social climbing if not promiscuous young girl who skips out on her date with Larry to take fifteen minute rife with Larry on his  death sled. Of course, Nick pays the ultimate price for such bad actions behind the wheel but Jeanne is perhaps worse off yet as she is so disfigured she cannot even bear to show us, the viewer what she looks like at the conclusion. Sorry Jeanne, seems like you have had your “last date” indeed. 

Finally, in conclusion I have to say that this I the weakest edition thus far.  In all previous volumes there was at least one shocking Drivers-ed film worthy of the always garish cover art for this series.  There wasn’t one cringe worthy scene worth sitting through all of this black and white ancient footage, some of it over a half century old. Moreover, all of the films were rendered dramatically; artistically with little use of actual accident aftermath footage and were told almost exclusively through fictional dramatization if not Officer Bruce’s tiresome charts and graphs. The Drivers Education films from yesteryear are without equal in excessive, grisly content not before seen and never to again be used as part of an actual teaching curriculum to young high school students. To show only the tamest films possible makes volume 5 only of value to a completest such as me or to car enthusiasts who like dry educational films. Perhaps this series has run out of gas?  A crashing bore, if there ever was one.

As always, look for the review of volume 6 sometime next year.

Extras include nothing.

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