in the suburbs 1957

in the suburbs is one of the most remarkable and unusual sponsored films ever made. this is the movie about suburbia as it is widely imagined in pop culture: a place where educated white middle-class couples moved after world war ii in an escape from crowded cities, seeking a patch of green and a better life for their children. and in the suburbs is in fact an accurate film about this singular place and time in american history, a particular breed of suburbia that existed only for a short period, is now extinct and lives only as a clicheŽ.

but in the suburbs is about much more. produced as an audiovisual aid for redbook magazine ad salespeople to convince national advertisers they could deliver them the suburban market, it's also a rich evocation of postwar affluence and the suburban "market-in-place." during world war ii, the national income rose and savings accounts ballooned with unspendable money. at the same time shortages of consumer goods and a housing shortage that dated back to 1928 created a huge, pent-up demand which exploded after the war. the first great consumer rush was into new housing. as quickly as possible, all those who could afford a house bought and moved, many into new suburban communities. then, in the mid-fifties, the housing market paused to breathe. the first wave of migrants had been rehoused. what now existed was a huge "market-in-place;" millions of new households, each in need of the same goods as their neighbors, ready to spend and buy. how could advertisers reach this market? in the suburbs celebrates this group and promotes redbook's "personal relationship" with young suburbanites.

in the suburbs escapes the triteness for which advertising films have ever been criticized, and its own values look a lot like those of the avant-garde. mixing color and black and white, handheld and tripod, sounds and silence, still photographs and moving images, photographic images with printed pages, it follows its own course playfully and pleasurably. even as it observes the habits, amusements and preoccupations of a homogeneous, button-down, exclusionary culture, it likens suburban life to a theme park, a dynamic place of constant amusement and visual variation. in such a landscape the residents are themselves in constant motion, shopping, dancing, partying and rollercoastering. a brief black-and-white documentary montage of fifties problems the korean war, mccarthyism, civil rights, strikes and the hungarian revolution fails to convince the viewer that suburbanites are as serious and thoughtful about the world outside as they are about home, children and shopping.

the combination of skills and playfulness, of hard-nosed analysis and formal innovation makes in the suburbs an uncommonly pleasurable film. it's also an unusually penetrating tour of a landscape that combines place with shared, self-conscious experience and pop culture. if you look at the fifties press, at literature, television and advertising of this period, you will see that suburban homes, trees, lawns and shopping centers were a major public preoccupation in this time. everyone wanted to look into the picture window. the families in in the suburbs knew this. they knew they were the cynosure of fifties media (that's in fact where most of them probably worked) and also knew that marketers were hustling to get a piece of their action. the surveillance-type footage shot through the rear-view mirror says it all; the quiet streets were under close observation for clues as to what lay below their surface.

targeted for advertisers by a production company well acquainted with advertisers' needs, in the suburbs is a freewheeling film with a hard core. there's no romance in its presentation, nor is there much mystification about suburbs and suburbanites. it was intended for an audience of realists that believed in market research and kept its eyes on the bottom line. this mandate enabled the makers to picture their subject with imagination and originality.

producer: on film, inc.
sponsor: redbook magazine

in the suburbs 1957