Mantrap (1926)

A wilderness comedy starring Clara Bow, preserved by the Library of Congress and presented on the Treasures 5: The West DVD set.

The Field Guide to Sponsored Films

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2006, 140 pages. Appendices, indexes

From their very beginning, motion pictures were used to sell products, explain public programs, train employees, and argue social causes. With titles like Children Who Labor, Dial S for Service, Goodbye Mr. Germ, The Atom and Eve, and Philadelphia on the March, sponsored films brought the message of business, government, advocacy groups, and charities to millions through screenings at theaters, world’s fairs, and corporate events and in later distribution to schools, clubs, and churches. Often discarded after serving their purpose, the films are now a window into the past and world of their sponsors.

The Field Guide to Sponsored Films, produced by the NFPF in 2006, is the first attempt to put these message-driven motion pictures in context. The Field Guide surveys, through descriptive entries with production credits, 452 American sponsored films produced between 1897 and 1980 that are notable for their historical and cultural influence or artistic merit. Developed by industrial film expert Rick Prelinger, with a team of scholars, archivists, and collectors, the book includes bibliographic reference, indexes, repository information, and links to works viewable online.

While designed for researchers and archivists, The Field Guide also makes for a good read for all those fascinated by the breadth of American filmmaking. Writing for The Onion, reviewer Donna Bowman singled out “unexpected cultural conversation” revealed in films from such diverse groups as the National Right to Work Committee, the International Association of Machinists, the Roman Catholic Catechetical Guild, and the American Social Hygiene Association. She applauded the book as “an indispensable catalog” and “a near-irresistible browse.”

The Field Guide brings together the work of scores of individuals and organizations. We thank these contributors and our funder, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for making the publication possible.