By Juan Barquin
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Relentless cataloguing of images is one of the hallmarks of recent history. The Florida Moving Image Archive's contribution to this year's aviation-themed Dade Heritage Days is a study in the historical value of images never intended for the history books. Comprising mainly home movies and television and movie advertisements, the free "Welcome to Miami" film series is a glimpse into the evolution of advertising and the weird societal tics never revealed in historical narratives, as well as South Florida's notable aviation history.
"It's sort of more interesting than obvious history, especially the home movies," says Florida Moving Image Archive curator Barron Sherer. "The home movies, especially, weren't ever intended for public consumption."
Early commercials -- from the 1940s and '50s -- feature earnest, Brylcreemed Chuck Zink cheerfully extolling the virtues of Eastern Airlines' new "airborne radar for a smoother, more comfortable flight." Jaunty flute and xylophone music plays while cheerful stewardesses explain how they're trained to balance trays of delicious, nutritious airline casserole. Zink, in particular, is a Fifties prototype; when he reclines in one of the "luxurious" seats onboard an Eastern plane, all he needs is a pipe and a newspaper to complete the image. Airline advertisers apparently decided to appeal to different consumer instincts by the 1960s, when a strident voiceover proclaims the skills of new security measures intended to curtail hijacking and drug smuggling, set to footage of metal detectors and bomb-sniffing German shepherds straining at their leashes.
A 1964 Eastern Airlines promo film falls into the "more things change, the more they stay the same" category, featuring a non sequitur celebrity endorsement along the lines of Method Man and Redman pitching deodorant. Sultry Brazilian crooner Astrud Gilberto smokes a cigarette and lip-synchs "Girl from Ipanema" under a spotlight, apparently symbolizing the new (sultry?) Eastern Airlines. "The girl from Ipanema is now the girl from Eastern Airlines," intones a smug announcer.
Miami My Love, a celluloid freakout sponsored by Pan Am, definitely stands out, in part because of the film's obvious difference from the other home movie and advertising fare, and in part because it represents an unfathomable advertising plan, the likes of which no company would approach these days. The folks at Pan Am, apparently having taken the brown acid, allowed local film legend Fred Frink to produce a sort of Miami montage. "He made really trippy travelogues in the '60s," Sherer says. "He tried to get extra-creative with this one, and filmed it in a bunch of clubs that used to be behind the Freedom Tower on NE Second Avenue." The idea behind the film (to be shown on Tuesday, April 22), presumably, was to promote travel to Miami. Why anyone would want to visit Miami after viewing the hallucinogenic blur of machete-wielding dancers, drag queens, and drunken bar encounters is a 1960s riddle on par with the Moody Blues' album sales.
The "Welcome to Miami" series is interesting for more than pure kitsch factor: Miami was headquarters for Eastern Airlines and National Airlines when air travel became affordable for the average family, a revolutionary development in travel that changed Miami's tourism industry drastically. Although a lot of the "Welcome to Miami" content is advertising, you can read between the lines and see the growth of the airline industry. The images of Miami through the years speak for themselves, a catalogue of rampant growth fed, in part, by the never-ending stream of human cargo disembarking at South Florida's airports.
The growth explosion in the airline industry also caused logistical problems reviewed in a 1968 WTVJ television special (to be shown Thursday, April 10). But have no fear: According to the special, airline officials had a plan to eliminate crowded airports and flight delays.
Sherer culled relevant images from thousands of home movies for an April 17 presentation called "Look Up! The Amateur Film and Aviation." The clips cover five decades, starting with the 1929 dedication of the Merle L. Fogg airport, now the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. "You find some great things in those old films," Sherer says. "You go through all that stuff and find some guy who's got a fetish for 707s and films them taking off and landing." Other footage shows an autogiro (an early helicopter prototype) at Bayfront Park in 1931, and a 1946 film of the American Airlines seaplane terminal at Dinner Key (now Miami City Hall).
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