This October, I’m proud to present the latest entry in the EPHEMERA screenings: SAFETY FIRST! Featuring safety and instructional videos from the 1930s to the early 2000s, SAFETY FIRST is what happens when a pile of vitally important and boring information has to be shown to an audience who doesn’t want to hear it. There’s a few general approaches, including The Paternal Condescender, The Shock and Awe (aka The GoreFest or ‘You’ll Poke Your Eye Out’), and The America’s Funniest Home Videos, but today I’ll focus on The Goofus And Gallant.
(Oh, and if you’d like to see more stills from all the films, I’ve also created a Pinterest board where you can see all the shining weirdness of these ephemeral films for yourself.)
Goofus and Gallant films feature a ‘Gallant’ – a Johnny Do-Right who follows all the rules to a T and is rewarded with health and prosperity. He’s often accompanied by a Goofus, some slacker who heightens Gallant’s proper example with his oafish slacking and blatant disregard for the rules. If he gets injured (usually he just comes perilously close), the violence is cartoonish and silly. Sometimes the relationship is supernatural, with Gallant being a guardian angel-type who must continually rescue the dimwitted Goofus from certain harm.
First we have ‘Domestic Disturbance’, a training film for officers responding to domestic disturbance calls. In this case, the Gallants are in active danger from the Goofuses, and following the rules becomes doubly important as everyone’s safety is in the hands of the Gallants. The film acknowledges officers’ reluctance to respond to such calls – as one office says ‘at least with a standoff you know the situation…domestic disturbances are unpredictable’. ‘Domestic Disturbances’ was filmed in 1970s Minnesota, making for an unfortunate overlay of awkward clothing and accent distracting from the serious matter at hand.
‘Safety: In Danger, Out of Doors’ was also obviously filmed in the 70s and features Guardiana, a crossing-guard-turned-superhero. Guardiana must rescue the stupid children around her from danger, but not before lengthy voiceovers pointing out every stupid step they’re taking towards getting themselves killed.
‘Christmas Tree Harvest Safety’ (2002) seems to be made for a multilingual audience. Voices are dimly heard and mostly hidden behind loud ‘ding ding ding!’ noises when something’s done right, or a car-alarm when something’s done wrong. The Goofus of this film is a lanky white guy who takes every possible opportunity to chop his leg off with a chainsaw, and the Gallant, a middle-aged Hispanic man, is the one pointing and gesturing the proper steps to take. I’m going to say the film’s continuous use of The Mexican Hat Dance whenever the Gallant points out correct action is probably racist.
‘Hazards In Motion’ (2001) features an actual guardian angel, helping the film’s Goofus avoid certain death at the hands of mining equipment and his own blind confidence.
‘Hospital Safety’ is mostly neutral, showing people repeating actions done wrong immediately (except for the one time that guy caught everything on fire).
‘Hands In Motion’ is 90% a Shock-And-Awe film, avoiding gore by using an adorable abstract hand cutout to show the many, many, many ways you can mangle your fingers. Here we see a Gallant of a glamour shot – proper glove-wearing for handling molten metals.
From ‘Days of Our Years’, the most depressing and moralizing of the films (available as an MST3K short which helps it go down a bit easier), we see the RIGHT way to approach someone wielding a giant torch: using ‘gentle touch’. Of course the protagonist was too excited to do that and got blinded before he ever saw his first child, but that’s just the way this movie rolls.
‘Stairwell Safety’ takes a look inside the mind of the modern secretary pool. Featuring a bee woman instructing fellow ‘drones’ on how to not get killed on the stairs, the inspiration for this likely came from a whimsical Hallmark calendar sitting on someone’s desk.
I just included this image because office dress code is ok with ‘Big Dog’ t-shirts.
Oh, ‘Will You Be Here Tomorrow’. You are the violentest, most over-the-top safety film I have ever seen. Here is one of the brief moments in this short film where someone is not actively losing a fake limb and spattering blood everywhere.
The protagonist of ‘A Safe Day’ achieves a full 1000 days of safety, because he makes it his business to be safe. He’s the ultimate Gallant example, carefully thinking through every action and stopping potential injuries before they happen. Goofuses and their horrible manglings are bloodlessly shown through double exposure.