It’s Only a (Home) Movie

By Christopher Wibberley

If anyone can remember making home movies at all (as for the most part this has been abandoned in the last 30 years) they would probably have used Super 8mm.

But ever since the early days of cinema various film gauges have been used. As well as 35mm, which became the standard, there was also 17.5mm and 28mm. These days we might think of 70mm and 35mm as the “professional” gauges, 16mm semi-professional and 8mm for amateurs.

However, the 9.5mm film which was introduced by Pathe in 1922 had a tremendous impact on home movie making from the mid 1920s through to the late 1950s, and the majority of last century’s home movie making would most likely have been made in this gauge. The unique quality of 9.5mm was the perforations running down the centre, allowing almost the whole width of the film to be used for the image, resulting in a picture quality comparable to 16mm.

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The Pathescope company originated in France but had a factory at Cricklewood in North London, producing projectors, cameras and cut-downs of popular film titles right up to the 1960s  when the company finally dissolved. This would have seemed the end for 9.5mm in Britain at least, but a number of enthusiasts got together to try to preserve the medium. They formed an association that produced a quarterly “9.5mm” magazine that is still going today after 55 years.

Standard 8 was introduced in 1932 and was used as an alternative to 9.5mm, however the introduction of Super 8 in 1965 was such a big improvement that it was quickly embraced by home cinematographers. By the 1980s though, the high cost of the silver used in producing film stock and the rise of video effectively ended home movie making for the majority, at least in the analogue sense.

With the advent of video, its relative ease of use and cost effectiveness, it became apparent that those who would never have used real film could readily embrace this medium. Today, with the rapid advancement of hand held technology, everybody is a potential film maker.

What is the legacy of real film?

Real film, even when it has had years of neglect, can often be repaired and screened on a mechanical projector. Can  the same be said for video? Will a video cassette play after so many years (while VHS recorders are consigned to landfill sites) and what about DVD, where a single scratch can make the whole disc unplayable. By contrast, film has a longevity and will always have that special quality.

 

This is a transcript of Chris’s introduction to the technology used in our recent Home Movie Day. Chris is a collector, projectionist and archive format enthusiast and has a regular subscription to the 9.5mm magazine. Our analogue and 16mm screenings have always been popular and we look forward to working with Chris again soon.

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