Last September I got the urge to film both the Isle of Man steam and the Manx Electric , railways. I had filmed these on super 8 back in 1974, and on digging out my box of films from ages past, I was delighted to see that the colours on the old kodachrome /ektachrome footage were as good as ever.
Scanning the listings on ebay revealed a bell & Howell dual gauge (silent) projector on offer, which managed to find its way to me for a very reasonable sum . The colours on screen were great, but the sharpness seemed to have suffered a little in the intervening forty years and despite the overall quality of the the footage being acceptable, I felt an overwhelming need to return to the island to have another go .
My first thought was to use one of my unmentionable cameras. Undeniably the quality available from these is excellent and the running costs are minimal. But, truth to tell, I always feel that things are not quite right when viewing 'homegrown' HD footage on my large screen and much prefer the results obtained by switching in the 'old movies' filter, ( albeit set on its lowest setting ) when 'filming' . This also gives me a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which I love.
And at that point, it hit me. how stupid was it to buy a top-notch HD unmentionable and then switch it to cinema mode with an old movies filter to make it look like footage had been shot on real film. Why not just use real film?
The economics don't stack up, but the results are a real trip down memory lane. And what price the joy and satisfaction obtained from handling a real 16mm film camera and shooting real film?
It dawned on me that I would need a projector and so I purchased, from the only source other than ebay that I knew of, an old Elf RM1 that came with all the leads, a spare reel and a spare lamp- together with a cartoon to test it with.
The cartoon ran through the elf without any problems and the sound seemed reasonable enough. As my own footage is silent, and I only bought the machine to view my own footage, the sound capabilities didn't really seem important.
I ought to have known better though. At around this time I became aware of Umit Mesut and Cine Real - a group down Hackney way , keeping 16mm projection alive.
I also found Reel Magic. and before too long, the urge to find and screen 'proper' films manifested itself.
Scanning the forum topics and posts I came across a list of films for sale, furnished by David Guest. And on that list were several films of interest, but the one that sang out the most was a colour print of Seven Brides For Seven brothers.
Following the advice of various forum members ( thank you guys! ) I contacted David and purchased the film for a very reasonable sum indeed. The film arrived, beautifully and most securely packaged, a couple of days later. The print condition was excellent. The colours were stunning. The sound was very disappointing , with pops, crackles and muffles and all manner of weird noises.
I sent David a text telling him what was happening and he replied a few minutes later to say that my projector was at fault. The sound when he screened the film prior to sale and despatch, was very good on his machine. David gave me a list of things to check. Cleaning various things got rid of the crackles and pops but the sound was very top and bottom and very little middle. Seemed a little strange to me, given that I had purchased a 'fully serviced, excellent condition machine' ( their words, not mine) from a reputable source.
Intent on getting to the bottom of the problem I purchased a second film from David - Miracle on 34th street - and that must have arrived before my cheque even got to him. Again, beautifully and securely packaged. David described the quality as 'good'. But it wasn't good. It was what I would describe as superb. Apart from the odd very light lines at the very beginning of the first reel, there isn't a mark on it. And only one splice where reels have been joined. The contrast and sharpness are beyond reproach. BUT, the sound was all top and bottom again, and the volume levels had a mind of their own.
So, was it the films or was it the projector? after all, the bugs bunny cartoon seemed ok.
Still determined to solve the 'mystery', I bought a second projector - an Elf NT1 in lovely cosmetic condition and hardly any wear, hoping it would cure the sound problems.
It was no better. Not wanting to believe both machines were faulty , and having nothing to compare them to, I began to believe that optical sound on 16mm sucked, and resolved to live with it.
Further film purchases were made, Again from David, and all were much better than described and all with the usual superb service, and all with sound that sucked.
Then one day, on the forum, a post and a link from the man himself appeared ,telling us anyone wanting a mint projector would be daft not to go after 'this one'.
I duly won the 'Mint' elf and arranged with David to visit his place to pick up the projector and some more films.
Traffic on the M62 was heavy and I finally arrived at David's home mid-morning. After a very warm welcome and the best mug of tea I have had in years, David gave me a tour of his buildings.
What an Aladdin's cave!! Hundreds and hundreds of films and lots of projectors, reels, screens , brand new unmentionable machines, unmentionable silver discs, posters, books, memorabilia - the list goes on.
I was privileged to be shown a most magnificent fairground organ built in France in 1902 , I believe, and lovingly and beautifully restored to pristine condition by David himself. A demonstration of a smaller organ was a real treat but even that was eclipsed by his latest project - a large fairground organ, being built entirely from scratch by David himself. The project is coming along very nicely and the craftsmanship is nothing short of superb. Beautifully crafted frames, bellows, wind chests and home-made pipes. The craftsmanship is as good as that on any church pipe organ or cinema organ I have ever seen, be the builder Binns, Mander, Cavaille-coll , compton, conacher or even the great Father Willis himself.
The projector was everything David described it as. Not a mark on it. And no dust anywhere. Absolutley pristine.
To show his faith in its abilities David used it to screen a few minutes of his James Bond Gold Finger print. An absolutely breathtaking print with stunning colour and sound as sharp and as clear as a bell. Needless to say he had no intentions of parting with it. If poltergeist sold for a grand, this print would sell for twice/three times that. it was big screen cinema quality - the quality of print you would't hesitate to screen for paying customers because there would be no chance of any complaints or grumbles.
Browse through the films? no problem if you have a spare week! There are just so many of them. And some real gems if you look carefully.
I came away with a cracking showboat print, hindle wakes, the great rupert, make a wish, Tit-for-Tat, Harlow and Gentlemen prefer blondes.
All at very reasonable prices and all, with the exception of the Monroe/Russel film, in excellent condition, no mould, no vinegar.
The Marilyn Monroe print is in excellent condition, very sharp image and excellent sound, but it is going pink/red, hence the low, low price. Yellows and skin tones are still very good and there is still a little blue here and there. nevertheless, a very enjoyable film.
And of course, the sound on this projector is excellent. It produces an even tone across the range with plenty of 'power' if needed.
In the few days I have owned this machine I have screened show boat three times, 7Brides twice and all the rest once. And the sound has been very good or excellent on them all. It really has put the enjoyment back in viewing 16mm.
David says he will have all his films labelled, spooled and sorted in to various price categories in time for blackpool. All I can say, in the nicest possible way, is good luck with that David! I don't envy you that task!
In all, I spent five very enjoyable hours at David's home. What he doesn't know about films and projectors isn't worth knowing and with his permission, will be visiting again soon.
For your further dismay I shall post reviews and pictures of the films mentioned as soon as I have fathomed out how to get screen shots as good as the ones you guys post. ( assuming i haven't been banned for posting this epic tome.)