Saturday, April 03, 2021

Busan Midnight Movie: The Narcotics Story (4/3/21)

It’s the month with the weed number, so we’re doing movies all about why you shouldn’t do drugs, and you certainly shouldn’t be high while watching them! First, it’s the police-training film The Narcotics Story! Learn from a very serious narrator how users of marijuana are potentially violent even though they never show any signs of violence in the very movie warning you about them!

Going back to the well a little bit for this one. Initially, I would stream movies live on Twitch, very quickly moving to themed weeks and months. The theme for November was paranoia and propaganda with weeks focused on Communism, Nazism, the atom bomb, and, of course, drugs. I’d make a poll on my Twitter account with three movies and let people vote for which one would be shown. To make the promos for each week, I’d watch all three movies on fast-forward to get a list of all the interesting visuals to pull. I wouldn’t have any audio, but I’d have a general sense of what happened.

For drug week, the options were Marihuana: The Devil’s Weed (which was shown), Assassin of Youth (which will be coming up), and The Narcotics Story. This was the only one in color and the one with the most interesting visuals. I was not aware at the time that it was almost completely narrated or so silly. Considering the nature of the narration, it’s a little surprising that it took me so long to come up with the bit I did for the intermission: gameplay footage of Animal Crossin narrated in this heated, over-the-top, and patently inaccurate way.

I avoided getting political in this script as best I could, but there is continuing fallout from police training films like this. I note in the script that the intended audience isn’t cops so much as the people who have to judge cops: city councils deciding on budgets and juries deciding on the legitimacy of police action. In Texas, juries who have to decide cases where police murder people are made to watch police training films that define every person as a potential threat. The point is to convince the jury that the officers were sincerely afraid for their lives when they murdered that unarmed child or the, and I am not making this example up, wheelchair-using triple-amputee who was wielding a pen. After all, he could have stabbed the officer with the pen if he wasn’t using his only limb, which was holding the pen, to wheel himself closer to them.

All of which points to the underlying grimness and cynicism of these films. We can look at them now through a camp lens, laugh at their over-the-top claims and outright lies, even enjoy the disconnect between what they are showing us and what they are telling us—things that they had complete control over!—but the reality is these lies are still being used to ruin people’s lives. Even as legalization and decriminalization proceeds, the structure of the lies continues. “I feared for my life when I met these people who were not a threat, so I had to kill them.”

Defund the police.

Wrap Up:

The Good: Stock footage repository. Since the audio is so often unrelated to what’s happening on screen, this becomes a great resource for stock footage plundering. It has lots of shots of real drugs and paraphernalia and it all has that patina of age that makes it a touch more dreamlike and removed. For being an anti-drug film, this ironically could give you all the material you need to make loads of acid-soaked music videos for stoner rock bands.

The Bad: Nothing proper bout your propaganda. I said it above, but it’s pretty sick the way they just lie, even about what’s happening on screen. The users are always described as violent and potential threats and, literally, not one of them ever does anything. In this movie you can see the structure of what became Cops—following a cop on their beat and explicitly lying about what you’re showing them do.

Production note: The copy of the film I’m using comes from a print released by Alpha Video, which means they put a little Alpha Video logo in the upper righthand corner during the title sequence. I had to find a program to remove the bug because with the bug, it’s a copywritten print. Without, it’s the public domain version.

And I don’t want to cast aspersion on Alpha Video: they do good work in making a lot of public domain material available in solid and affordable formats, but slipping their logo into the works, which Mill Creek does as well, is frustrating. Weirdly, I suspect their goal in doing so is less to prevent things like copies being uploaded to YouTube or the Internet Archive, but to prevent the movies from being copied and released by other public domain DVD publishers.

The Narcotics Story

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