1. Assignment from Howard:

8% Multimedia Programs (Short) Paper: Review a multimedia program and analyze it from at least one of the following perspectives: its language and structure, educational potential, user interface design, etc. Or you may design a multimedia program. Or you may plan for the set-up of a multimedia production center. With permission of instructor, you may substitute a paper on another topic.

2. What I Wrote:

A REVIEW OF EPHEMERAL FILMS, 1931-1960 , A MULTIMEDIA CD-ROM

"The prophetic insight of Fleischer that television might one day become a substitute for togetherness earns News Sketch a place on this program."

This sentence was part of the critique of the very last film that I viewed from Ephemeral Films. I was amazed to see that it serendipitously contained a statement that mirrors my empty feelings about ILS 609, and my wish that the Internet we're using as a communications medium would help me feel closer to my fellow students in Berkeley -- how perfectly perfect for a late night of CD-ROM interacting! I enjoyed Ephemeral Films so much that I've already made up my mind that I must purchase it immediately and own it forever, and this decision is not only based on this last line of text that I read from it. The short films it contains create a wonderful showcase of slices of American social history: portrayals of roles of families, workers, women ... or at least what corporate management, the entities that caused these ephemeral films to be produced, wanted us to believe that we were. I was interested to see that Michigan business was well-represented in the sponsorship and creation of many of the shorts -- from General Motors to Ford to even Kellogg cereal -- although I am not from this area, I have recently become fascinated with the city of Detroit and its images of yesteryear, and what life "used to be like" here years ago, in such contrast to the way it is now.

But Ephemeral Films, created by Rick Prelinger, is not a "classic" interactive CD-ROM, at least in the sense that the viewer is constantly deciding what to do next and using the mouse every five seconds; rather, it's a collection of short, "ephemeral" films that one can sit and watch. The films (or excerpts of them) last anywhere from thirty seconds to ten minutes, and were produced from 1931-1960 mostly for American industrial purposes. The CD-ROM arranges them on a multimedia platform that allows the viewer to pick and choose the ones s/he wishes to view in the order s/he wishes to view them. The films are divided into two chapters, "To New Horizons," (1931-1945) and "You Can't Get There From Here," (1946-1960), and from each chapter screen, using a list of contents, the viewer can navigate to any film. Each film appears in a small screen -- about 2 x 3 inches at the upper left-hand corner of the computer monitor, along with a page or two of text explaining the context in which it was made and the author's thoughts about the implications of the scenes it presents. It's possible to enlarge the film viewing screen to about 5 x 7", but the loss of resolution makes it nearly impossible to enjoy, and the accompanying text is removed as well.

The design of the CD-ROM is extremely simple to understand quickly, since navigation is limited and the program has only three main entry screens: the first title page and the two contents pages, from which the user may move to any one of some twenty short film pages for each period. Each film is listed in chronological order on the contents page with a one or two line description, the meaning of which is not always clear until the film is viewed, however. Each film page employs a consistent page design, with option and navigational buttons placed at the bottom of the screen. The viewer may page through the author's brief critique of the film, which is placed on the right hand side of the screen with arrow buttons. The background screen, or desktop on a computer, contains a few period photographs for the sake of interest, but they are set in pastel colors and remain constant from film to film so as not to distract from the text or the film.

Although there are relatively few films, one option I found interesting was the opportunity of the viewer to see "related movies" through the inclusion of a labeled button on the bottom of each film's page. A menu pops up, and the viewer can choose films of a similar theme. In this way, all the 1950's "dating tips" films, for example, can be viewed at once, although they are not grouped in such a way on the contents page, a strictly chronological arrangement. The only drawback is that the time periods are divided in such a way on the CD-ROM that one cannot view movies on a similar theme -- say, industrial views of the future -- from the other chapter.

I understand that Ephemeral Films is also viewable as a movie itself, and although an analysis of the content of the multimedia program was not part of this assignment, I must mention the fact that a great number of the films included descriptions and images of how technology has and will change lives of Americans for the better. These were the types of films I watched in elementary school ... the ones with gleaming automobiles, clean traffic patterns, polite sisters and brothers, and deep, calm voice-overs. It's amazing how orderly and acceptable the world was made out to be ... the wise people who know so much have made it that way, ready for us to enter. "It's only good common sense." (Two Ford Freedom, 1956)

Although Ephemeral Films may be seen as a "dull" multimedia product by those looking for used to constant bombardment with loud sounds, colors, and actions, the CD-ROM format suits its message very well. Films don't have to be viewed in a linear progression; they may be stopped and started again, and grouped as the viewer wishes them to be. The films are entertaining in their Cold War audacity, and make one wonder about and examine the subliminal messages that are surely being presented by industry and government today.