Why Take Chances?
November 8, 2006 10:18 PM   Subscribe

Sid Davis : April 1, 1916 - October 16, 2006.
posted by Tuwa (28 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Davis was a Hollywood stand-in, film producer, and mountain climber most known for his social guidance films. Most notorious among the films is probably Boys Beware, which confuses homosexuality with pederasty, (incorrectly) assumes strangers are more dangerous than friends and relatives, and prompts a range of readings taking it as gospel truth, unintentional parody, a cultural snapshot, hilarious, flat-out disturbing, and lastingly pernicious.

Davis moved to Hollywood with his family when he was 4 and got a job as an extra in Hollywood, eventually becoming the stand-in for John Wayne, which he served as from 1941 to 1952.

He got his start producing films in November 1949, when the news broke about the murder of six-year-old Linda Joyce Glucoft. Davis, convinced his six-year-old daughter was not paying enough attention to his warnings about strangers, got a $1,000 loan from The Duke to make his first film, the ten-minute The Dangerous Stranger. Later Fred Stroble turned himself in and the news broke that he was the grandfather of one of Glucoft's playmates, not a stranger at all, but the film--made for $1,000 and sold to schools across the nation--was both immensely popular and immensely profitable. Davis continued producing short educational films at $1,000 apiece, a budget that encouraged cutting corners wherever possible, including having a sexual predator drive the same car as one of the police, and having Davis himself stalk a boy down the beach.
posted by Tuwa at 10:18 PM on November 8, 2006

Davis' Girls Beware, warning girls about the dangers of dating older boys, gets nearly as diverse a reading as Boys Beware. Other Sid Davis Productions include The Strange Ones, again warning about pedophile strangers, Live and Learn, warning about the dangers of shooting bottles, running with scissors, or jumping off the roof; Alcohol Is Dynamite and The Bottle and the Throttle, both warning about drinking and driving; and The Terrible Truth and Seduction of the Innocent, both depicting marijuana as a gateway drug to heroin.

Sid Davis films favor scare tactics, delivering narration that's stern, patronizing, monotonously authoritarian, and grim, with an unrecognized film noir sensibility: as Mental Hygiene author Ken Smith says about The Dropout, [this] is Sid Davis at his most relentless.... Like teenagers in many Sid Davis teen films, Robert has made a fatal error -- he thinks he can Break the Rules. This film will serve as his river of destiny, carrying him irrevocably downstream to his doom....

Smith dubbed Davis the "King of Calamity" thanks to his narratives' reliance on exaggerated consequences to everyday actions, and while it's a common conception of Davis' work that danger always lurks in the placid Southern California landscapes of his films, Davis also produced films less grim than the most outrageous ones he's known for: films about the social consequences of gossiping, about the pain of ostracism and racism, and several about auto maintenance, hot rod hobbyists, and courteous driving.

And though they're not included in the Top 10 Sid Davis Classroom Scare Films from the 50's & 60's, two of Davis' most interesting films were written and directed by Art Swerdloff. In Gang Boy, warring Chicano and Anglo gangs negotiate a truce so that their younger brothers and sisters can grow up in a better environment, and in Age 13 (part one, part two), a young teen distraught by his mother's death lashes out at the people around him, endangering his fellow classmates before meeting a kindly and persistent counselor. Compared to Davis' other productions, Age 13 and Gang Boy are remarkably compassionate and forgiving, respecting the adolescent and young adult point of view while maintaining a hopeful tone and a nurturing message.

After decades of producing classroom films, Davis took an interest in mountain climbing, eventually leaving the business and setting a world record for Mt. San Jacinto, climbing it 643 times. (A passage from a post on a February 1970 climb: "We hit snow at about the 9,000 foot level, but not enough to get any ice axe practice.")

But Davis is most known for his films, that reflection of the anxieties of "a society whose rules were melting down, making way for the turbulence of the Sixties." Film archivist Rick Prelinger: He showed the dark underside of city life in the 1950s, the danger that lurks in the sunlight. I think it was a very honest response to seeing Los Angeles change into a troubled big city after World War II."
posted by Tuwa at 10:18 PM on November 8, 2006 [2 favorites]

Now there's ObitFilter done right. Nice job.
posted by Eideteker at 10:46 PM on November 8, 2006

Nice post, Tuwa.
posted by Brak at 10:47 PM on November 8, 2006

Superb post Tuwa. I've never heard of this guy or seen any of his films before, so thank you.
posted by tellurian at 10:48 PM on November 8, 2006

I used the movie "Boys Beware" in my play "The Older Gentleman." It is one of the most hideously homophobic things I have ever seen in my life.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:12 PM on November 8, 2006

he's not worthy.
but nice job, nonetheless.
posted by Busithoth at 11:32 PM on November 8, 2006

Ahh, so this is guy they make all the fake scare movies about. Interesting. I think my favorite is Futurama's "Don't Date Robots!"

But Sid, he spread alot of bullshit and lies. And profited nicely from it. Isn't that the American Dream?

Nice post too.
posted by fenriq at 11:47 PM on November 8, 2006

Oh yeah. Prelinger archives mentioned previously here, here, here, here, here ... well, it's something of a mefi tradition. I didn't see a post on Davis, in any case.

And I forgot the "[more inside]". Eh.

Thanks for the compliments, everyone. (And Astro Zombie, I'd be inclined to agree.)
posted by Tuwa at 12:38 AM on November 9, 2006

Dang dude, did it take you since 10/16 to compile these links?!

Well done. Though this Davis fellow seems a bad sort.
posted by mistermoore at 12:46 AM on November 9, 2006

Is everything italicised here? Or is it just me seeing things that way?
posted by bunglin jones at 12:48 AM on November 9, 2006

Great post. More of this sort of thing please chaps!
posted by Jofus at 1:09 AM on November 9, 2006

Wow, excellent post on someone I've never heard of. Good work - there's loads here to keep me reading for a while. This is how an obit should be done.
posted by TheDonF at 1:25 AM on November 9, 2006

Wow this is an impressive post. It's craftsmanship almost drowns out the content itself.
posted by Hicksu at 3:18 AM on November 9, 2006

Thank you for a great post and a boat-load of cultural references.
posted by Verdant at 4:23 AM on November 9, 2006

Another one link post! Sheesh.
Oh wait... nevermind. Well done, sir!
posted by hal9k at 4:54 AM on November 9, 2006

Almost didn't click through to the discussion after seeing just a wikipedia link as an obit, but this is great stuff. Can't wait to watch the film where 10 kids in ape masks ride bikes and die off one by one.

(tuwa, "more inside" is your friend!)
posted by mediareport at 5:41 AM on November 9, 2006

In Atlanta, Public Access TV plays a show called Channel Zero, which seems to be indy/punk rock videos seperated by clips of Sid Davis movies. I think I've seen parts of Seduction of the Innocent and maybe even The Dangerous Stranger. They definitely mix well with the music videos and are usually more entertaining.
posted by elkelk at 5:55 AM on November 9, 2006

LAist just gave you the well deserved whole damn hat Tuwa.
posted by tellurian at 6:24 AM on November 9, 2006

Interesting, but italicized.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:35 AM on November 9, 2006

mediareport: Skip has that film. In fact, he showed it at Kings not too long ago.
posted by NoMich at 6:36 AM on November 9, 2006

Excellent post.
posted by squidfartz at 6:58 AM on November 9, 2006

d'oh. the unended italics is after Boys Beware in the first comment and before the end href tag. Firefox doesn't show extraneous italics after that but IE does. Sorry about that.

Admin please hope me.
posted by Tuwa at 7:25 AM on November 9, 2006

people still use IE? i guess everyone has a loyal base.

back on topic: killer post.
posted by tsarfan at 7:36 AM on November 9, 2006

Sid Davis definitely set the tone for today's current paranoia about child predators. While I think that his message was often reactionary, he had a definite style which many folks identify with the genre of educational film - non-professional actors and no actual dialogue just cautionary narration with a melodramatic soundtrack and a semi-sick delight in placing the film's charactacters in peril.

BTW, he didn't do One Got Fat. Sid did do Bicycle Clown though.
posted by avgeeks at 7:45 AM on November 9, 2006

Whenever I see the title "Boys Beware", I always think of Beware of the boys.
posted by mike3k at 8:14 AM on November 9, 2006

Were all of his movies in italics?
posted by spicynuts at 8:24 AM on November 9, 2006

NPR runs a remembrance. I think their conclusion is exactly wrong; one of the things you could take from Davis' films and the history surrounding them is that the "good old days" weren't.
posted by Tuwa at 11:51 AM on November 10, 2006

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