One of the great pleasures of my life is watching old educational films. Recently, I curated a list of films for Reminisce magazine that I consider to be many of the quintessential titles from the Classroom genre. Though it's not one of the commonly noted ones, I made sure to include my personal favorite educational flick, a splendid featurette called Paper and I.
Here's my description:
"In this surreal pick from the Texas Forest Service, a brown paper sack comes to life and indoctrinates a young boy in the origins and value of paper. Watching the boy perplex his parents as he grows obsessed with the bag’s message is more entertaining than it should be. The film turns prophetic when it depicts a world without paper, where newspapers and books are a thing of the past."
The anthropomorphic mascot is such a common trope, but Paper and I takes it to a new plateau as the boy's relationship with the bag (which only he can hear) turns fanatical. The sack is quite literally a martyr for the paper industry. He describes the hellish process of being reduced to chips and getting cooked in the paper mill. Eventually he pleads with Billy to end his life, thus the climactic scene where father, mother and sack are gathered around Billy's bed, enthusiastically encouraging him to over-inflate and destroy his otherworldly friend.
The film has always been suspiciously missing from archive.org and Youtube, but as I researched my project I was thrilled to discover that it has been uploaded to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image! I urge you to experience it right away!...
Incidentally, I once used this film as the basis for a corporate skit of sorts. There was a period during my time as a greeting card designer when I was regularly called upon to provide humorous interludes for meetings, retreats, conferences and the like. Having created dozens of presentations year after year, I eventually decided that I wanted to produce just one with my own entertainment in mind.
One morning I stood before the company's artists, writers, marketers and managers and asked everyone to pay close attention to a film I'd found, with the pretense that it was somehow relevant to our business. Once I pressed "play" they understood the ruse right away, and after a few initial chuckles the crowd continued to politely watch.
As the captive audience gazed at the screen, I stepped back and gleefully watched their faces as I took inventory of that moment in time. I pridefully dwelled on the fact that I had orchestrated a scenario in which my colleagues, my boss, and my boss's boss all sat together in a darkened room on a Monday morning viewing an obscure, fifty-year-old depiction of a paper sack with a face.
Then, as the lights went up and the half-hearted clapping died, I announced that I had a special guest— paper sack himself! I revealed a brown bag that I had painted to match the star of the film (see photo below), and the crowed seemed to warm up, sensing a punchline to the whole bit. I thanked the bag for coming and asked him a simple question. All eyes looked to the sack, but he wasn't talking. I tried to convince him to speak, but he remained quiet. Unbeknownst to the group, this was my intention. After a few more fruitless pleas followed by uncomfortable silence, I apologized for the confusion, and concluded my presentation.
As the room mustered another round of reluctant applause I left the stage, stepped out of the building, and walked to my car. Once safely inside, I burst into a frenzy of laughter. The sack grinned from the passenger seat, reaffirming my success.