Sunday, June 21, 2009
Lights, camera, action!
The film is grainy and sometimes jumpy, frequently with artifact of dust, etc., crossing the screen, but the picture are priceless. They are silent home movies taken of my sister and me when we were growing up. Daddy not only took movies of the family; he also took movies of people at our church. He’d finish a roll, get his movies developed, come home with small reels, set the projector on the dining room table aimed at a white wall, and we’d get to see for the first time what he took. We’d laugh or be embarrassed as the case may be, then he’d spend some time with his little splicer machine, cutting from one reel and splicing it onto its appropriate big reel. He always liked to keep family movies separate from church movies, so “I won’t bore the church with family pictures or the family with church pictures.” This means we have wonderful documentation not only of our family but of our church from about 1957 until Daddy died in 1980.
We still have the original reels, but we transferred it all to several VHS tapes, and now will gradually shift to DVDs, trying to keep the movies current and viewable.
We have separate reel-to-reel audio tapes, of course. Daddy would sit us down after every vacation trip and we went over for posterity everything we did and saw on the trip. But we have no actual video with me or my sister talking when we were young.
Today, of course, kids are recorded for posterity from before they are born - starting with ultrasound, labor, birth, and going on from there. Almost every moment of their lives is documented, especially the highlights: Birthdays, holidays, learning to walk and talk, first day of school, learning to ride a bike, acting in plays, graduations, weddings - it’s all there with sound and pictures. Of course, to these kids, such as Caroline and Charlotte, this is something they will be used to. Even now, Rachel occasionally slips in a DVD of the girls when they were toddlers and the girls have fun watching themselves. She also makes a DVD of the highlights of each girl’s year on her birthday.
I remember when the VHS camera first came out. I asked Daddy if he was going to get one, and he said he’d just leave the "new stuff" to us. We got our first VHS camera in 1990, so our kids don’t have the “new stuff” documentation of their lives until they were about 7 and 12 years old.
Now technology has changed dramatically. There are no more reel-to-reels, no more tapes. In the new world, there are digital camcorders, digital cameras (even phones that take pictures!), DVDs, Blu-ray, and whatever else comes next (Matt thinks it will not be a “thing” at all, it will all be digital downloads) to both record and view our lives. Not only can we record the movies and photographs, we can edit them with a click of a mouse and even send them to friends and family digitally immediately. How I wish we had had this technology when my sister and I were growing up - to be able to see ourselves, of course, but to also have the ability to see our parents through the years.
Life was slower then. It had to be, because everything took longer. Daddy had to find a dark room to even take his film out of the movie camera or the film would be ruined. He then had to take it to a store to get developed, then had to pick it up a week or so later, decide how he wanted to edit it, and find time to sit down in the evening with his splicer in order to get the job done. Even viewing the movies took time. Fellow baby boomers can relate to the memories, I’m sure: Getting the screen out of the closet and setting it up. Finding something sturdy to set the projector on, making sure the projector was at the optimal distance from the screen. Getting the appropriate reel, threading the projector, turning the lights in the room out. Then sitting back and watching the silent show. The only good thing about its being silent is that anybody could talk aloud during the movie, laugh, cry, whatever, and no one says “Shhh...” The required darkness of the room came in handy when our faces turned beet red with personal embarrassment. There is a Family #2 reel in which my sister's pajama pants slid down as she was running from the room when she was a very little girl. It's infamous now, of course.
The documentation from those reels is all the product of our father, who scrimped and saved on other things so he could afford the expense. I can still see the flickering light and hear the loud whirring of the projector. Daddy didn’t realize it, but he made double memories for us - once when he took the movies, and again when we viewed them. They continue to bring us pleasure. I think he would be so proud today that we still cherish them and are still trying to update them in a form for future generations to enjoy.