I was born a few years too late for the "duck and cover" nuclear drills where grade-schoolers were urged to hide under their desks and cover their heads in the event of a nuclear attack. If you haven't seen them, the dutiful public service spots that encouraged these drills during the 50's and early 60's are brought back to life in The Atomic Cafe, a must-see documentary for all ages.
But we did have "filmstrips" and the occasional movie. I remember the latter most fondly, the film rolls delivered in light blue metallic cans, carefully pulled out using two hands and just as carefully threaded through the projector. One of the films I remember was the 1957 "Hemo The Magnificent," a film made by the AT&T Corporation for its "Bell Laboratory Science Series" and produced and directed by none other than Frank Capra (It's a Wonderful Life):
It details the workings of the circulatory system. Although Time magazine gave it an extremely negative review , calling it "condescending" and citing it as an example of how the scientific information was presumably "dumbed down" by including cute cartoon animals, it quickly became a classic of the genre, featuring incredibly detailed television animations for its time.Well I liked it anyway. A sixth grader likes any excuse to turn the lights out in class.
I found out that Capra wrote and produced a total of four films in the series, including one called "Meteora: The Unchained Goddess."
The Unchained Goddess examines what weather is and how it works. It was the fourth and last film in the series that was produced by Frank Capra, who wrote the screenplay with Jonathan Latimer. Unlike the first three of the films, this film was directed by Richard Carlson, who also appears in the film. The film was televised on February 12, 1958, with a disappointing audience share and many critical press reviews.The Unchained Goddess contains one of the earliest portrayals of man-made climate change:
In 1958, there weren't a lot of people talking about global warming. But director Frank Capra was, and made an educational film, "The Unchained Goddess" about exactly that.Here is the one-minute segment from "The Unchained Goddess" discussing the potential catastrophic effect of carbon dioxide emissions on our climate:
From the script:
Dr. Frank C. Baxter: "Extremely dangerous questions. Because with our present knowledge we have no idea what would happen? Even now, man may be unwittingly changing the worlds climate through the waste products of his civilization. Due to our release through factories and automobiles every year of more than 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide, which helps air absorb heat from the sun, our atmosphere seems to be getting warmer."
Richard Carlson: "This is bad?"
Dr. Frank C. Baxter: "Well, it's been calculated a few degrees rise in the earths temperature would melt the polar ice caps. And if this happens, an inland sea would fill a good portion of the Mississippi valley. Tourists in glass bottom boats would be viewing the drowned towers of Miami through 150 feet of tropical water. For in weather, were not only dealing with forces of a far greater variety than even the atomic physicist encounters, but with life itself."
A 1958 depiction of something we are now all too familiar with is a curiosity in and of itself. But there's another ironic twist, as explained in the Discovery News article linked above:
Now, here's the twist: Capra was a lifelong conservative, even getting involved in anti-communist activities during the era of McCarthyism. He would have no political home in today's world, where the rhetoric about global warming splits down party lines.
But that's exactly the point — in a time before global warming was a politically-charged topic, this dyed-in-the-wool Republican with a degree in chemical engineering saw what thousands of scientists around the world would later recognize as a threat to civilization itself: that carbon dioxide released due to human activity is piling up in the atmosphere and warming the planet.
Oh, how times have changed.