Parable (1964) – Film #0588

Directed by Rolf Forsberg & Tom Rook 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2012 
I first watched it on July 14th, 2020 

What It’s About:

Parable is a short Christian film where the world is represented as a travelling circus, and Jesus is depicted as a clown that goes around doing good deeds. 

My experience with the film:

This is the final entry in my unofficial trilogy of “entries for movies that I watched last summer, but never got around to writing about for some reason” (see parts one and two). Typically, when I watch movies for this project, I take notes in a notebook to help me remember various noteworthy aspects of a film. I don’t usually write a blow-by-blow summary of the film, but this one was odd enough that I did so. Below is a complete transcription of my summary in my notebook. (Enjoy the humorously informal way I write when I don’t intend to share my writing with an audience.)

“Carries some water for a dude, take another dude’s place in a dunk tank, ‘saves’ a woman that’s part of a sword act, interrupts a live marionette show to dust off the feet of the kids in attendance, ‘frees’ the three performers in the marionette show, then hooks himself up to the harness where he is attacked by: the man who was throwing balls at the dunk tank (and later stole several balls), the sword act guy, and the guy selling tickets just outside of the sword act (who had his roll of tickets accidentally(?) messed up by one of the clown’s followers), while the dude running the marionette show watches. Clown is killed as a result of the attack (lets out a loud cry of agony), then the marionette dude briefly plays with his dead body like a marionette. We later see the clown’s three followers … hanging out? While a dude who looks like the marionette dude starts to put on clown makeup? Then the clown is once again seen on a donkey following the circus as it departs? Is this the OG clown? Or the marionette guy with makeup? Also, the clown like genuinely disrupted the sword act and marionette act, and one of his followers messed up the dude’s ticket roll? And the sword lady and marionette performers weren’t in danger? And why clean the kids’ shoes? I get the biblical parallel, but why? It seems like the only genuinely good things the clown did was carry the water for the first dude and take the second dude’s place at the dunk tank.”

In defense of my less-than-charitable take, I realize that the film is meant to be symbolic. As I briefly pointed out, I recognized many (if not all) of the parallels between this film and the Bible (e.g., the Clown taking on the burden of the water-carrying guy and taking the place of the dunk tank guy and the marionette performers, his death at the hands of an angry mob and the fact that marionette controls were shaped like typical Christian crosses rather than an X, etc.) But just because I understand what everything was trying to symbolize, that doesn’t really answer: why? When I think of most of Christ’s parables in the Bible, the ones that readily come to mind (the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the talents, the seeds and four types of soil, the unjust steward, the ten virgins, etc.) make sense as a story, even if you aren’t aware of the underlying symbolism. Most of them, you could tell to a person without a religious background, and while not all of them are the most entertaining of stories on their own, they would still probably make logical sense as a story. If you were to show the film Parable (especially without the introductory narration) to someone without any knowledge of Christianity (even if they were perfectly knowledgeable about circuses), they’d probably be incredibly confused as to what was going on. 

Likewise, most of Christ’s parables are meant to make a lesson easier to understand. Consider the good Samaritan. When a man asks Jesus what is meant by “love thy neighbor”, rather than lecturing the man on the specifics of the commandment, Christ tells a story of a man who had been robbed and beaten who is later cared for by a Samaritan (his cultural enemy) after two of his countrymen (and religious leaders at that) pass him by. The story teaches that we should be kind to those who need our help, even if they are considered our enemy. 

The film parable on the other hand teaches … what exactly? Does it make the story of Jesus doing good and sacrificing Himself for others more understandable? Not really. If anything, it makes things more confusing. 

That said, maybe I feel this way because I’m approaching this film with too much of a modern sensibility, or not enough of an artistic sensibility. Or maybe it’s the fact that I just think circuses in general are weird. (Which would also explain why I didn’t enjoy Cecil B. DeMille’s Best Picture winning film “The Greatest Show on Earth”, or the more recent musical “The Greatest Showman”, … or any Marvel comic book containing the Circus of Crime). This film is considered highly influential (it apparently inspired the musical Godspell), and in a few different resources that I found while researching the film, multiple people mentioned that the film was very meaningful to them personally. So this could very well be a case where a film doesn’t resonate much with me despite it being widely regarded by many. 

Availability:

Parable is available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S95afVrh0AI 

To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:

For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory

Motion Painting No. 1 (1947) – Film #0214

Directed by Oskar Fischinger 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1997 
I first watched it on Aug. 8th, 2020 

[edits, including the removal of references to a low-quality version of the film that was uploaded to a popular video streaming site, have been made to this post at the request of the copyright holder]

What It’s About:

Motion Painting No. 1 is a short experimental film that was created by Oskar Fischinger. Created over a period of several months, Fischinger used oil paint on glass, and photographed his work after each individual brushstroke. The film is comprised of each photograph in order, creating the appearance of the painting happening before your eyes. It is accompanied by Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 3, BWV 1048. 

My experience with the film:

You know those times when you were bored in class, and you would start doodling random spirals, lines, and other patterns? Did you ever think to yourself, “I should make this into a movie, and throw in some classical music for good measure?” If so, you might be named Oskar Fischinger. 

I am underselling his work with that facetious comment, since if you read about his creative process at the links below, you’ll know that what he did is significantly more impressive than that. I’ve got to respect his hard work and his dedication to his craft. … But, in the end, this film really does feel like: “Notebook Doodles: In Living Color.” 

I first watched this back in August. Knowing that it was one of the more difficult-to-find NFR films, I was pleased to find that my university library had it on VHS … or so they thought. It turns out, they lost their copy, so I was able to put in a request for the DVD pictured above through their interlibrary loan system. I had originally hoped to obtain and watch this on my trip to campus earlier in the summer (mentioned here, here, and here), but it did not arrive in time for me to do so, requiring me to make one additional visit. (Since it was short, only 11 minutes, I watched it on campus and returned it immediately.) 

I meant to write this entry shortly after watching the film, but in the early days of my enthusiasm for this new project, I watched several NFR films more quickly than I had time to write about them, so I am just now getting around to this one (along with a few other films that I watched in that time, which I intend to write about soon.)

Availability:

You can buy it on DVD here: https://centerforvisualmusic.squarespace.com/cvmshop/dvd-oskar-fischinger-ten-films 

Or, as I mentioned, I was able to obtain the DVD through my university library’s interlibrary loan system, so that may be an option worth trying as well. (Regular public libraries often participate in interlibrary loan also.) 

To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:

For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory

Navajo Film Themselves (1966) – Film #0341

Directed by Al Clah, Susie Benally, Alta Kahn, Maxine Tsosie, Mary J. Tsosie, John Nelson, and Mike Anderson
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2002

Background

Navajo Film Themselves is a collection of seven short silent films. They were produced as part of a university research project. Two professors (one of communications, Sol Worth, and one of anthropology, John Adair), along with one of Worth’s former students (Richard Chalfen), wanted to learn how films made by individuals from the Navajo culture might differ from films of other cultures. Specifically, they were interested in what individuals within the Navajo culture would choose to document about themselves given the choice to document anything they wanted. In the past, when one culture would study another, it was typically the culture doing the studying that chose what to document. The researchers wanted agency to play a key role by allowing Navajo individuals to choose what they felt to be worth recording. They also emphasized that one purpose of this research was to preserve aspects of the culture, so that future generations of Navajo could know what Navajo culture was like at the time.

To do this, they taught a group of young adult Navajo students how to use filming equipment, and allowed them to make films about whatever they wanted. These seven films are what the students produced, and the researchers wrote a book entitled “Through Navajo Eyes” that discussed the experience. 

This project wasn’t without its problems. Sol Worth became frustrated that many of the students weren’t filming “correctly.” He seemed to be more concerned about learning how to teach technology use to aid communication between cultures rather than focusing on what could be learned about the Navajo culture based on their choice of filmmaking style. Indeed, there was tension between Worth and one of the Navajo students, Al Chah, because Chah was more interested in making an artistic-style film than a traditional documentary.

The films

The seven films that make up Navajo Film Themselves are:

The Intrepid Shadows (directed by Al Clah) is an art piece that depicts the movement of shadows, wheels, and a ceremonial mask. Like the other films in this series, it was recorded as a silent film, though Clah wrote a poem that was meant to accompany the film as a narration. 

A Navajo Weaver (directed by Susie Benally) captures the process of weaving a blanket—from tending the sheep, shearing the wool, cleaning and prepping the wool, making it into yarn and dyeing it, and finally the actual weaving process.

Second Weaver (directed by Alta Kahn) is similar to the previous film, and it depicts the process of weaving a woman’s belt.

The Spirit of Navajos (directed by Mary Jane and Maxine Tsosie) shows a medicine man preparing for a conducting a ceremony which includes a sand painting. 

Shallow Well Project (directed by Johnny Nelson) depicts the building of a well.

Navajo Silversmith (directed by Johnny Nelson) shows a silversmith collecting silver from a mine, creating a mold, and then using the mold to create small silver figurines. 

Old Antelope Lake (directed by Mike Anderson) first depicts the scenery surrounding a lake, and then it shows a boy collecting water from the lake and using it to wash some clothes.

Availability

Navajo Film Themselves is only available on DVD. I was able to find it in my university library. If you wish to watch it, you can check to see if your local library has it, of if they can get it through interlibrary loan. Otherwise, it’s available to purchase on this website: https://www.shopvisionmaker.org//product.asp?s=visionmaker&pf_id=NFTS%2D66%2DH&dept_id=23427 

Information sources and additional resources

One Froggy Evening (1955) – Film #0365

Directed by Charles M. Jones
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2003

What It’s About:

A construction worker discovers a box buried within a building that he is demolishing. Inside the box is a note from 60 years earlier, and a live frog. When the man discovers that the frog can sing and dance, he takes it home with dreams of becoming rich. However, the frog will only perform for him and no one else, which leads to disastrous (and hilarious) results when the man tries to attract a paying audience to see the frog. 

Context and Significance:

One Froggy Evening was inspired by the Cary Grant film “Once Upon a Time,” which was about a dancing caterpillar (yes, really; and no, you never actually see the caterpillar in the film). It was also supposedly inspired by “Ol’ Rip”—a lizard that was allegedly found alive after being buried in a time capsule in Texas for 31 years (while there really was a lizard named Ol’ Rip, many believe his time capsule origins to be a hoax). 

Stephen Spielberg has said that One Froggy Evening is “the Citizen Kane of animated shorts,” and animation historian Charles Solomon called it “one of the most perfect cartoons ever made.” Despite initially only appearing in this one cartoon, the singing frog character has become one of the more recognizable Looney Tunes characters. The frog had no name at first, but was briefly given the name “Enrico” in the 1960s. In the 70s, one of his original creators named him “Michigan J. Frog,” the name which has been used ever since. He was also the mascot for “The WB” channel for most of its existence (he was “retired” as a mascot about a year before the channel shut down.)

One notable aspect of this cartoon is that there is no spoken dialogue. The humans don’t speak at all (unless you count a single unified “boo!” from an off-screen audience at one point), and the frog only sings. 

My Thoughts:

There isn’t much that I can say that hasn’t already been said about this cartoon. It’s funny, and it works. I feel that you could show it to anyone from any culture and they’d probably find it funny as well (you don’t need to understand the English words that the frog is singing to appreciate the humor of the situation.) The animation looks great, and the songs are surprisingly catchy (I’ve had several of them stuck in my head for the last few days.) If you haven’t already seen this classic, you should seek it out. 

To see one-minute videos about each film on the National Film Registry, and to get previews of upcoming posts, be sure to follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Availability:

One Froggy Night is available to stream on HBO Max: https://play.hbomax.com/episode/urn:hbo:episode:GXo0CbAOd1rDCYwEAABQn?camp=Search&play=true 

I also found a low-resolution version on Vimeo, though the audio and video appear to be slightly out of sync with each other:

Hello, my baby! from sogooth on Vimeo.

Information sources and additional resources:

  • The History of Michigan J. Frog:

Jammin’ the Blues (1944) – Film #0162

Directed by Gjon Mili
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1995

What It’s About:

Jammin’ the Blues is a 1944 short film that features several acclaimed jazz musicians of the day performing three different songs. The film portrays the performances in a rather stylized way that is somewhat reminiscent of a modern music video. 

Context and Significance:

Jammin’ the Blues was nominated for the 1944 Oscar for “Best Live Action Short Subject, One-Reel.”

The audio for the music was recorded first, which was then played back for the musicians while their performance was captured on film. 

Since the film included a white guitarist (Barney Kessel) performing with an otherwise all-black cast of musicians, the producer of the film was worried that it would be controversial in the South, where many people favored segregation. However, the director (who openly opposed segregation) was insistent that Kessel (a talented guitarist) should be in the film. As a compromise, Kessel was allowed to be in the film, but he was kept in the shadows, so that it wasn’t clear that he was white.

The full list of performers in the film includes: Lester Young, Red Callender, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Marlowe Morris, “Big” Sid Catlett, Jo Jones, Barney Kessel, John Simmons, Illinois Jacquet, Marie Bryant, and Archie Savage.

My Thoughts:

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m incredibly unfamiliar with jazz music (both its history, and the genre in general). While I have nothing against it, it’s not one of my go-to music genres. That said, this was a fun film to watch. As I mentioned above, it feels like watching an old-timey music video. The shots alternate between light and dark backgrounds, the angle and placing of the camera varies throughout the film, we get a lot of extreme close-ups of the various musicians performing on their instruments mixed in with wider shots of the whole ensemble, and we even get some visual effects, as certain images are repeated multiple times on screen. In general, the visuals enhance the music, and provide for a better experience than just listening to the music alone (something that can’t be said about some modern music videos.) 

To see one-minute videos about each film on the National Film Registry, and to get previews of upcoming posts, be sure to follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Availability:

Jammin’ with the Blues is available on YouTube:

I initially hunted it down on a DVD though, since there seemed to be a discrepancy between sources about its length. The official website for the National Film Registry mentioned that it was 20 minutes long, but IMDb listed it as 10 minutes. I found a video of the film a few places online, and each video was 10 minutes, but since I knew that online uploads are often incomplete/unreliable, I decided to find one of the DVDs that it was included on, and watch it there. I can confirm that the NFR website seems to be in error, and that it is indeed 10 minutes. Should you prefer a physical copy for some reason, Wikipedia lists this film as being available on the following DVDs: Jammin’ With the Greats, Passage to Marseille (which is where I found it), Norman Granz: Improvisation, and Blues in the Night.

Information sources and additional resources:

To Fly! (1976) – Film #0173

Directed by Greg MacGillivray & Jim Freeman
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1995

What It’s About:

This documentary short covers the history of human flight—from hot air balloons to the first airplanes to war planes to modern jets to spaceflight. 

Context and Significance:

To Fly! was filmed and released in IMAX, back when that format was relatively new. It had a significant impact in increasing the awareness of the IMAX format for American audiences, and it was the highest grossing documentary of all time up until 2004. 

It still has daily showings at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. (The museum is the entity that initially commissioned the creation of this film.) Back in 1996, it held the record as the “longest running ticketed film in one location in history.” I have been unable to find out whether or not this is still true, but seeing as it is still showing in that location to this day, it seems likely that it still holds that record. 

My Thoughts:

This film probably looks spectacular in IMAX. Unfortunately, its only official home media release has been on VHS, which I had to hunt down on eBay. (Luckily, it was only $7.) It doesn’t look particularly great on VHS. Still, even with the low image quality, I could tell that the camerawork was stunning. This film has minimal narration, and is mostly just aerial footage. It starts with a (somewhat cheesy) re-enactment of one of the first hot air balloon flights, but it quickly moves on to showing many other aircraft in flight (as mentioned above.) It’s not difficult to imagine why this film may have helped to increase the popularity of the IMAX format.  

To see one-minute videos about each film on the National Film Registry, and to get previews of upcoming posts, be sure to follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Availability:

As mentioned above, this film’s only official home release has been on VHS, which can occasionally be found on Amazon or eBay. However, as I was writing this entry, I discovered that it had also been recently uploaded to YouTube. It appears that that video is just a digital transfer of the VHS, as its image quality is still not the best, though it also appears to be better than the rather blurry VHS that I got ahold of (which I’m guessing may have been slightly damaged, as my audio was wonky too.) Here it is on YouTube:

You can view a spreadsheet that details how you can find every film in the Registry (and also notes how you can help me, if you feel so inclined) here: https://tinyurl.com/NFRDirectory

These blog posts are being compiled into a (very much work-in-progress) book, which you can view here: https://tinyurl.com/NFRCompletistBook

Information sources and additional resources: