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High school horrors

Sid Davis, the Hitchcock of instructional films; Welcome to Durham, USA returns

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A dangerous moment in The Terrible Truth, a Sid Davis drama about the evils of marijuana - PHOTO COURTESY OF INTERNET ARCHIVE
  • Photo courtesy of Internet Archive
  • A dangerous moment in The Terrible Truth, a Sid Davis drama about the evils of marijuana

The world of Sid Davis is one where even the slightest infraction can result in injury, imprisonment or death. Davis, who passed away last October, was the dark god of educational cinema, producing countless modern-day fairy tales warning children of strangers, shoplifting, drug abuse, homosexuality and even running with scissors, with his daughter as the victim.

This is material tailor-made for the AV Geeks of Raleigh, who specialize in unearthing educational films both sublime and bizarre. The World According to Sid Davis, screening at 8 p.m. on Jan. 19 at the Duke Center for Documentary Studies, will feature a smattering of some of the best-known pieces of Davis dementia. The screening is free, with a suggested $5 donation.

AV Geeks' Skip Elsheimer says that he hasn't decided on the final selection, though such classics as Live and Learn, featuring the running-with-scissors sequence, and Moment of Decision are top contenders. He's still looking for Boys Beware, containing the infamous "homosexuality" warning. "I get a lot of requests for that one," Elsheimer says. "Mostly from gay people."

Elsheimer is fascinated with Davis' tendency to repeatedly show kids getting hurt or killed. "To show kids in peril like that, and to repeatedly do it over the decades—even though the intent is to warn kids about this stuff, there's something else that rises above that. Did he really have this sense that it was important for him to punish children and provide these nightmares?"

Though Davis wasn't the first filmmaker to show over-dramatic consequences for bad behavior (Reefer Madness, anyone?), he was one of the most prolific, and set the stage for countless horrific instructional films to come. "He's not crazy, but he's picking up on a lesson for kids, which is to show them what they can do to themselves," Elsheimer says. "And he certainly set the stage for a lot of films he didn't do himself, such as the Drivers Ed films with the bloody corpses in the wreckage of cars."

For more information, go to www.avgeeks.com.


Observers of the local film scene will recognize the film Welcome to Durham, USA, which is having a series of gala screenings this week. In fact, nearly three years ago this newspaper covered a highly publicized screening which was attended by a crowd that included numerous city officials. In ensuing years, more work went into the film, and director/ producer Christopher "Play" Martin (formerly of the hip-hop duo Kid 'n Play) came aboard the project. The film has traveled widely in recent years, winning Best Documentary at the New York International Film Festival and screening at the festivals in Amsterdam, Miami and Los Angeles, and this week in the Triangle, a series of screenings of the recut film will be used as a kickoff for the film and soundtrack's DVD release on Jan. 23.

Still, from the evidence of a recent preview screening, the film set to screen this week appears to be qualitatively similar to the film described in an Independent dispatch three years ago. The film's pleas for a solution to Durham's problems don't hide the fact that its long descriptions of gang activity and violence doesn't provide a clear picture as to the cause of these problems beyond some historical material at the start of the film. And, at two hours, the film is needlessly long. On the other hand, the film's footage does have its effective moments, particularly when it's dealing with the effects of violence (a subject called "Meat" memorably shows his shot-out eye, another displays a chest strewn with bullet wounds and a massive scar).

Mostly, though, there's the music. The soundtrack features tracks by Jozeemo, Kal Royale, Little Brother and Big Daddy Kane. This week will see a full slate of screenings, including ones at Broad Street Café in Durham on Wednesday, Jan. 17 at 9 p.m., American Tobacco Warehouse, Bay 7 on Thursday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. and The White Bar in Chapel Hill, Jan. 19 at 9 p.m. The Chapel Hill event is hosted by Brian Dawson of K97.5 and promises appearances by Martin, Little Brother, 9th Wonder and Big Daddy Kane.

The film and soundtrack of Welcome to Durham, USA will go on sale on Jan. 23. The DVD will be available through a wide variety of outlets, including Netflix and iTunes. The film's official Web site is www.welcometodurhamusa.com.

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