The Extreme Sport of Film Projection

Horrible scenes on the news yesterday of the beautiful Glasgow Art School in flames. The building was almost destroyed by fire after a projector exploded in the basement. For some reason that fills me with guilt, though it was honestly nothing to do with us and we were all miles away at the time! It’s just that we really like projectors and all the kit involved in showing the moving image.

Digital and analogue, we like them all. The wires and plugs. The cute little carrying cases with zipped pockets for this and that, or hefty wooden boxes with handles for old skool slide projectors and 16mm. Tiny bulbs that cost £250 a pop (though we pray that they won’t). The dust in the projector beam. The little red light changing to green and then back again at the end of the night. The whirr of the machinery and the rattle of old fashioned film as the reel comes to its end.

IMG_3511Once upon a time, film projection was something of an extreme sport. Lacing up a reel of film into a 35mm projector was quite a job. It was a tactile relationship between projectionist and the machine, and film was something delicate and volatile that you had to handle carefully. Get it wrong and you had half a ton of ripped cell speedily piling up on the floor by your feet. If that was the only copy of the film, you’d be in serious doo-doo. Now you just slot in a disc and press PLAY (or indeed, switch on your laptop and start the download).

We know these things can be temperamental (especially if you live in a building with wobbly wi-fi) but still, our relationship with them is different. We’ve come to take our machinery for granted. For one thing, it’s all so portable these days. It’s easy to swing it back in its little case and forget about it – which means it’s easier not to look after it as carefully, forget that it can overheat or get dusty or the lenses smeared or scratched.

But for people like us, small independent cinemas and film clubs whose projection equipment is our livelihood, we have to look after our kit like pampered pets, cosseting it all in soft blankets and protective cases, cleaning it all lovingly and making sure it’s ship shape. Even so, we have a digital projector and there’s no film to lace up or sprockets to clean. There are plenty of ways in which doing film club is like performing an extreme sport, and as a result we are very aware of how the equipment is performing, but luckily we don’t have to be technical engineers as well.

However, we do know a man who can do all this, and more! – and who knows all the complicated machinery of analogue film projection inside and out. We are proud to be regular collaborators with early film collector and historian Christopher Wibberley, whose screening of “Dracula” in  16mm entranced viewers in November. We don’t have a photo of that (naturally – there were vampires involved) but here’s a picture from our analogue/digital celebration of the moving image at Bloc space last summer – and a taster for Sheffield’s Chaplin festival this week.

IMG_3490Since we’re going back thematically in time with a black and white logo to celebrate 100 years of Charlie Chaplin, it seemed appropriate to invite Christopher to show a short film on 16mm before our screening of “Modern Times” next week. If you are a child of the digital age and have never seen a reel of film in an old fashioned can being looped into the mechanism, or heard the whirr of the reels going round, (or even if you have) you are in for a treat.

We can’t promise. But for Chris’ sake, we sincerely hope that there will be no explosions.

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