Category Archives: Ephemeral

The Harry and Reba Swiff Collection: Family Celebrations (1956-1958)

Watch on Texas Archive of the Moving Image

Institution: Texas Archive of the Moving Image
Collection: Harry and Reba Swiff Collection

Running time: 16m 30s
Source film:  color; silent
Year: 1956 – 1958
Camera: Harry Swiff


When I was young — particularly during adolescence — the holiday season from roughly October through January seemed to unfold as a series of discrete events, each celebration marked by its own sights, smells, sounds, and flavors. The rest periods between them (i.e., school) always crawled at a snail’s pace, allowing the anticipation for each to build to proper crescendo. In adulthood, though, that illusion has eroded with each passing year. These same holidays now occur as a blurry blob of celebratory activity, with beginnings and endings almost entirely indistinguishable if not for the correlating bank statements and smartphone images that neatly divide by monthly markers.

Continue reading The Harry and Reba Swiff Collection: Family Celebrations (1956-1958)

Christmas Rhapsody (1948)

Watch on Archive.org

Institution: Internet Archive
Collection: Prelinger Archives

Running time: 11m 00s
Source film:  16mm; b&w; sound
Year: 1948
Production: Encyclopaedia Britannica Films; Milan Herzog
Music: Charles Henry


Loneliness, sugar crashes, and increased alcohol consumption can all exacerbate the blue feelings that many people feel during the winter holiday season. As evidenced by the sad musings of the central character in the 1948 short Christmas Rhapsody, it can also be a real thing for at least one species of evergreen tree.

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Face Value (1981)

Distribution: A/V Geeks
Featured on: Temptations of a Christian Teenager

Running time: 09m 32s
Source film:  16mm; color; sound
Year: 1981
Director: Fred Carpenter
Production: Mars Hill Productions; Campus Life; Sterling Educational Films
Writer: Fred Carpenter
Photography/Camera: John Snavely
Location Sound: Lloyd Poe
Post Production Mix: Tim Himes
Editor: Fred Carpenter

Cast: Greg Guy, Steve Herrington, Nancy Houston, Brent Johnson, et al.


A cursory reading of the 1979 song, “Head Games,” by the rock band Foreigner, reveals vague relationship troubles between its narrator and a lover, expressed through the sort of tedious lyrics favored by the commercial rock radio of the era. The “answer” to these problems, the song states, is “nowhere in sight,” and the narrator’s daydreams are “haunting” and possibly “warning” him. Perhaps these specific allusions convinced director Fred Carpenter to use the song as a musical refrain in his 1981 moral behavior short, Face Value, but it’s an odd fit for a film that attempts to lecture teenagers about the futility of unscrupulous social behaviors. Did Carpenter have any idea about how many teenagers in the 1970s and 80s made out (and more) while ballads by Foreigner played in the background?

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Dr. Fox Animal Series: Cat Care (1987)

Distribution: Maier Group Communication
Collection: Private

Other titles: CAT; Dr. Fox Series: Cat Care; Cat care: a video guide to successful cat care;
Running time: 43m 00s
Source: VHS; color; sound
Year: 1987
Production: United Media Production; Selluloid Video
In Cooperation with: Actors and Others For Animals

Cast: Dr. Michael Fox


Before there were YouTube tutorials and Pets WebMD (yes, it’s a real thing) people had video guides (often produced on VHS) and could learn just about any skill in the comfort of their own living room in front of their trusty VCR. From swing dancing to gardening, odds are your local library was (and still is!) a treasure trove of analog-based know-how.

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The Boxing Cats (Prof. Welton’s) (1894)

Watch on Library of Congress

Institution: Library of Congress
Collection: Inventing Entertainment: The Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies

Other title: Boxing cats
Running time: 00m 22s
Source film: 35mm; b&w; silent
Year: 1894
Director: William K.L. Dickson
Cast: Henry Welton
Production: Thomas A. Edison; Edison Manufacturing Co., Black Maria Studio
Photography/Camera: William Heise


As far as inventor loyalties go, I’ve always considered myself part of Team Tesla rather than Camp Alva Edison, but one can’t argue the progress made at Edison’s Black Maria Studio in the early days of the moving image. (Ignore the fact that the earliest motion picture camera was likely engineered not by Edison, but by his employee, William K.L. Dickson; while you’re at it, strike Eadweard Muybridge from your memory too). In just a year’s time after the studio’s construction in West Orange, New Jersey, Edison and his cohorts were pumping out films of dancers, sneezes, and even cockfights, all of which clocked in at well under 60 seconds. Among these early films was 1894’s The Boxing Cats (Prof. Welton’s) — known more simply as Boxing Cats — which modern media outlets have come to recognize as “The Film Demonstrating That Our Freakish Obsession with Cat Videos Transcends Time and Space.”

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