John Law and the Mississippi Bubble (Two Lessons For The Price Of One)

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Today I bring you another National Film Board of Canada short film. This one is new to me, but I absolutely love it’s treatment of history.  Kern and I had a conversation on the podcast about modern documentaries and how many of them have taken the reality TV approach to teaching science and history.  I think that reality TV has convinced show producers that people crave extreme emotion.  Thus when telling an historical tale, the dramatic elements must be exaggerated, and the narrator must make every event seem like the most dire and important occurrence in history.  Perhaps educational television is being made by those who sat at the back of history class and fell asleep. At least they assume that everyone else was that person.

This 1978 Richard Condie documentary takes a fairly obscure piece of French history (oddly appropriate now though), adds a delightful cartoon, and creates a compelling story.  Besides being a lesson in speculation and currency, it is also, in my opinion, a superior method of teaching history.  The story is not over-dramatized besides the occasional comic cartoon foible.  Instead the story is presented mostly as it occured (though simplification is always a part of any documentary story), and without any unnecessary appeals to extreme emotion.  I think many of today’s documentary filmmakers could learn from this and other NFB docs.

One more question, shouldn’t cartoons play a bigger role in our education system? This doc shows how using imaginative animation can liven up a bit of financial history.  Just a thought.

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One Response to “John Law and the Mississippi Bubble (Two Lessons For The Price Of One)”

  1. Dave Says:

    Great post, Peter. I agree with Kern and yourself on the state of documentaries today. With flashy editing and graphics, choice sound bytes and fast cut scenes it is very easy to make almost anything appear true and of the critical importance. Michael Moore has come under fire for his style of documentary film making because they are one-sided, sometimes contain falsities, they are flashy (trashy?) and make the necessary people look like villains by very carefully selecting the right sound bytes and video clips.

    I have to admit it is a powerful technique and sometimes after I finish watching one of his documentaries I have the urge to take action… but I never do. Perhaps the “extreme emotion” documentary is the best way to motivate or reach people today.

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