BOOTLEG FILES 301: “Drugs Are Like That” (1970s-era anti-drug educational film narrated by Anita Bryant).

LAST SEEN: It can be seen online at several web sites.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None that I am aware of.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It appears to be an orphan film with no copyright.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Nope, it is stuck in public domain hell.

It is a genuine shame that the majority of anti-drug films are either too dull or too sensationalist to make an effective educational point. It is easy to enjoy a fit of giggles watching the likes of “Reefer Madness” because it is obvious that no one involved in the production had any clue what drug addiction was really all about.

“Drugs Are Like That” has the extra added burden of being aimed squarely at an elementary school audience. Obviously, the harrowing excesses of drug addiction, such as the withdrawal sequence from the 1955 classic “The Man with the Golden Arm,” would have been too graphic for the still-naive 1970s audiences viewing “Drugs Are Like That.” Instead, the film’s creators – the Community Television Foundation of South Florida, working in cooperation with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Junior League of Miami – opted for a very curious approach that is heavy on conversation and totally evasive on the genuine dangers brought about by narcotic addiction.

Proper reference sources on the 16-minute “Drugs Are Like That” are scarce, and the film’s hazy history can be pieced together by unconfirmed recollections and statements from a number of web sites. The Internet Movie Database, for example, cites the film as a 1979 release. However, other unconfirmed sources state the film was actually a compilation of short public service announcements that aired in the early 1970s. This might make sense, considering the clothing and hairstyles in the film and the rickety nature of the film’s structure. Plus, there is a personality attached to the film who would clearly not be sought out for a 1979 recording session.

“Drugs Are Like That” takes place in a home where two young siblings – a surly boy with long hair and his bespectacled and hair-braided sister – take out a box of Lego pieces, emptying the contents on their living room floor. The camera rarely captures the children in close-up or even medium shot – most of their scenes finds the childrens’ hands on the Lego pieces in extreme close-up, with the kids speaking to each other off-camera in dull monotones.

The conversation involves drugs, with the girl repeatedly telling her brother about anti-drug information that “the lady” told her. Who’s the lady? She is not formally identified, but on the soundtrack she is the voice of Anita Bryant, who offers cheery-friendly reminders of how drug usage mirrors irresponsible personal behavior.

The sequences narrated by the lady are abruptly cut into the conversation. Each brief sequence uses a childhood act of excess as an analogy for what kids can expect from drug use. For instance, an infant is enraptured by a pacifier, but when he throws it from his crib and is unable to retrieve it, he bawls miserable. The lady happily notes “he really must have been hooked on that thing” as the baby cries. “Drugs are like that.”

Other drug-similar acts include being obsessed with silly hopscotch-style games (to the point of getting injured by not paying attention to the surrounding world); spinning wildly on a swing set, to the point of getting so dizzy that you can’t walk or think straight; breaking a cookie jar when trying to steal its contents; and drowning while going for a swim in a seemingly placid lake. With each catastrophe that happens to the careless and unwise, we are reminded that “drugs are like that, too.”

Eventually, the siblings build an “eternal motion machine” with their Lego set. It does nothing but spin a number of gears and turbines. But when the girl switches around one of the pieces, the machine starts smoking, spins wildly, and then collapses. The tinkering with the successful mechanism and the noisy debacle that follows is explained by the girl claiming, “I just did it for kicks.” Yup, drugs are like that, too.

As for the drugs themselves, they turn up between the sequences in a quickly montage of pills, joints and syringes falling in snowflake formation down the screen. The film never identifies the specific drugs or details how they are used.

There is online speculation that the Lego sequence originally belonged to another film and was recycled for “Drugs Are Like That.” This might make sense, since nearly all of the talk is off-camera and only a brief clip of the children’s personal addictions – nail-biting for the boy, fingering hair into curls for the girl – are shown in close-up. The drug talk could have easily been re-recorded here.

As an anti-drug film, this doesn’t really make any impact. It is too soft and too safe to get the point across about how drugs can wreck one’s life. For the most part, it often seems like a Lego commercial with an anti-drug soundtrack glued on.

But “Drugs Are Like That” is recalled today primarily for the narration by Anita Bryant, billed as “Miss Anita Bryant.” For those who barely recall her, Bryant was a former Miss Oklahoma and a second place runner up in the 1959 Miss America pageant. She possessed a decent voice and enjoyed mild recording success in the 1960s and early 1970s. Mostly, she was famous as a ubiquitous television presence through guest appearances on variety shows and as the orange juice-pouring celebrity spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission.

However, Bryant found religion – albeit a rigid, conservative fundamentalist brand – and used her celebrity status in 1977 to successfully campaign to repeal an ordinance in Dade County, Florida, that protected the civil rights of the gay community. Bryant won that local political fight but lost her career – the strident nature of her anti-gay campaign antagonized audiences that only knew her as a lightweight, cheerful singer. The Florida Citrus Commission dropped her from their advertising and other show biz offers dried up. Personal and financial problems plagued her for years to come, and attempted comebacks never took root, even among sympathetic right wing audiences.

Bryant was clearly such a hot potato by 1979 that it is surprising she was retained as the narrator for “Drugs Are Like That.” Perhaps it was cheaper to keep her on the soundtrack than to re-record her lines with another actress. After all, the kids watching the film probably didn’t know (or care) who she was.

The circulating prints for “Drugs Are Like That” don’t have a copyright on them, so the film is considered a public domain entity. Plenty of copies (most of them crummy) can be found on various web sites.

But, hey, maybe you should stay away from dopey educational films. Too many of them can be addictive – and, wouldn’t you know, drugs are like that, too!

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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  1. Jonah Falcon says:

    This was one of the funniest Rifftrax shorts.

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