Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to Make Good Movies (late 40's- early 50's)

Hello again, hello again! Boy, have a I got a book for you gals and guys this morning. Let me explain with a brief prologue.

If there's one thing I'm a monumental sucker for at estate sales, it's cameras. Cameras, cameras, cameras. Old snapshots are always of high interest, but to that same extent, flash attachments, projectors, slide viewers, editing machines... pretty much any items that fall under the heading "vintage photography" just sing out to the twentieth century shutterbug I am at heart. I have about 36 vintage cameras right now, picked up from antique stores and sales for less than $5 in most case, which range in age from the early 20's box cameras to mid 70's Polaroids. Anything with a lense, that I don't already have-- I will usually buy. Anything that GOES WITH something with a lense... be it a red Kodak 300 portable projector (pulled out of a garage at a sale in West Meade, $10), a Bell and Howell 16 mm Filmosound projector (courtesy of Babu's dad, complete with a stack of educational films from the St. Louis Public library), or a Panavue slide viewer... the amount of obsolete camera equipment in one house, that belongs to someone under 60, who is not a professional photography would make your head spin.

SO! You can imagine I was pleased as punch to come across this 1940's/1950's (not copyright dated, oddly) Kodak guide to movie making.

Yes! This could be you! Enjoying your homemade movies in full, late forties' style! This book serves as a primer for the weekend family filmmaker or "cinamateurs", as they're sportingly called in the first chapter. Unlike many mid century instructional texts, which can be as dry as Wheaties with regard to literary style, the writing in this manual is just as crisp and flip as you could ask. "Some descriptions of the mechanics of cameras and projectors... will be found within its covers. But all superfluous technicalities have been rigidly tabooed," reads the introduction. And well said!

Kodachrome film, of Paul Simon fame, was made by Kodak-Eastman from 1935 until 2009. Those super bright, popping, delicious hues from many slides and 8 or 16 mm home movies of the time were a product of that color reversal type film. Here, I strongly covet the mint green playsuit and red belt of the nicely coiffed brunette to the right, while being encouraged by the ad copy to take advantage of its "full, rich, and amazingly realistic color". Sign me up, sir.

Here are some examples of linear storylines you could add to your home movie, which, when you think of it, is kind of a good suggestion. 99% of other people's home movies I've ever seen are of the person's family (natch), awkwardly waving at the family documentarian, with one cut up maybe making some halfhearted attempt at physical humor, and then small children opening presents/hunting easter eggs/being small children (which makes for scintillating viewing). I like the idea of the early 50's man or woman staging out a narrative for her children and relatives to act out, so you wouldn't just see how pretty Grandma Florence used to be, but also see her in her first and only stage appearance as "Gypsy Woman 1". Right? Right.

One of many adorable features of the manual is the use of a narrative couple who spend all the time trying to verbally figure out how to use that chapter's material to better serve them as amateur filmmakers. For example, in the above illustration, Mr. and Mrs. Kodak plan to use the family dog as the star of their next small screen spectacle. Below, they continue to wonder about their roles as cinematographers in several different panels. The text encourages them to write out an outline or scenario to follow, THEN make a movie of Billy Kodak and his dog. Brilliant!

Some of the photos used as illustrations, as you would expect from film experts, are really breathtaking. All the photo on the left is missing is the name "Paramount" and the stars! At right, you're shown how to use close-up shots and editing to vary the interest of your film. I swear to goodness, before I started taking film classes in college, I never noticed the individual shot composition of movie making. We had to dissect a two minute scene from Goodfellas once for a project that had something like 200 individuals cuts in it. DEAR. LORD. See how even these three make what's probably twenty seconds of screen time into something far more interesting than a static shot.

The importance of tripods to steady camera movements, and lenses to sharpen focus, are stressed. The picture on the left reminds me so much of stills of Henry Hathaway or Joseph von Sternberg on set in the 30's... look how cool you look with a tripod and the right collar!

Things I've learned from the text:

1) When you buy a 25-foot reel of film, you actually get 33 feet, as no matter how carefully you load your film, some of the negative will be "light-exposed". In addition to this, you need a little wiggle room at the beginning and end of the reel to feed into the camera (the famous 4...3....2....1... you see at the beginning is to keep that first few seconds of actual film footage intact!), so the manufacturers throw in a few feet extra in light of these considerations.

2) Many, many people send their film, to Kodak development stations or through their dealers, with missing information, adding to a huge catalog of "homeless films". Every attempt, the text assures us, is made to find the film's owner, but often to little avail. Think how cool it would be to see this vast, family-less film archive in 2011! But, I'm sure, il n'existe plus. It's my hope most of them were eventually reunited with the people who made them. Write legibly and with complete information, 1950's people, or you may never see Timmy's birthday party footage! Come on.

3) Everyone wants use Kodachrome all the time! ALL THE TIME!

There's more, but let's keep moving.

The left hand photo was used to illustrate "focusing the camera"-- I prefer to focus on the gentleman's perfectly folded breast pocket handkerchief. Bravo! To the right, the SPITTING IMAGE of Joel McCrea takes a peek through the viewfinder. I wonder if it actually is him.

Two beautiful pieces of equipment, the CineKodak K-100 ( see a great manual for it scanned in HERE) and the Kodak Royal Projector (see an ad for this big hunk of gorgeous HERE). I don't have either one of these... YET.

Here, the Brownie Movie Projector and a device for editing your home movies... I love thinking of literally cutting and splicing film together with a rubber cement like film glue. Reminds me of accounts of Charlie Chaplin locking himself in a shack in upstate California to try and edit his early great movies without the interference of the studio... so "hands on"!

Above: A shot of the editing process in full swing. Get 'em, tiger.

Below: Two narrative films in action... how great are the comments that accompany each panel? Read them top to bottom, like a column.

Kodachrooooome. Look how beautiful the colors are here! I mean, they're actually BETTER than real life.

For this sequence, cue a soundtrack of "Town Without Pity" by Gene Pitney. Gritty nightclub nightlife looks GREAT in color!

And now for some decidedly wholesome Kodachrome fare:

Give me that dress... and let me grab those suspenders and plaid workshirt for Bab off the Gregory Peck-ish guy to the right.

Do you have any Kodak memorabilia lying around the house, either in pile or piecemeal? Do you collect any kind of vintage film paraphernalia? I know I'm not the only one.

LOTS of dresses to show you guys coming up. LOTS. Have a great Wednesday night!


  1. This is an awesome post! Many thanks for sharing this. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

    I don't have a Kodak movie camera but I do have this:

    And this:


  2. Kodachrome does look better than real life! It's a shame they stopped producing it. You're such an enabler--now I want an old movie camera. I also have a strange fondness for rubber cement. I must be part of the last generation to use it in school. I remember one year in elementary school we were all using rubber cement and Elmer's white glue and the next year, all of a sudden, all we had were glue sticks. I may have to go out and buy some rubber cement, just for the nostalgia. Do they still make it?

  3. GAH! I'm so in love with this post! I'm a video editor by trade and I eat this stuff up...big vintage camera fan too :D

  4. PS...I have one of those little film editing splicers, my boyfriend picked it up at $4 while thrifting :)

  5. "Mamma don't take my Kodachrome away!" I love this post! Although I am not a photographer in any way, I so have a vintage camera collection. They are cheap and everywhere, making it a fast growing collection too! Someday I'll do a post of my collection. As always, your posts are informative, fun & well written! Thanks for the vintage education!

  6. I am also a sucker for cameras...and I usually get the thing home and it doesn't work! or I just don't get how to use it fully. Pff! Haha!
    It would be fun to make a super 8 movie! They remind me of my dad, he made one when he was 17 and now it's just this great piece of history to my family. :)
    I wish you good luck in your filmings!!!



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