The Fall of Film




Autumn awakens the inner cinematographer in us all - so beware.Inspired by autumnal nostalgia, I made the mistake today of watching some home movies taken during my vacationing New Hampshire boyhood. For those of you too young to remember 8-mm movie-making (which feels like everyone these days), here's how it worked:

First, after loading the film (yes, FILM), you'd take a movie of your forehead. This happened because you had to turn the camera around and read a meter indicating when the film was beginning or ending. It also ensured that you'd have a cinematic record of your acne history.

Next, you'd crank the camera (yes, CRANK). Batteries were not only not included, you didn't need them. These were the days of a "spring-driven transport system," which I soon broke off, prompting Dad to jury-rig an icepick handle-driven transport one.

It's easy to tell his movies from mine. I filmed moving objects without moving; Dad shot stationary ones without standing still. Consequently, in the pre-ice-pick era, we see my White Mountain trains and canoes moving off-camera, while Dad captured the normally static Story Land sign or the stoic Old Man of the Mountain appearing to be stalked.

Sometimes he'd stand still and shoot a fixed object, but would then speed-pan an inert historical marker from every compass point. Imagine a jerky, side-scrolling Endicott Rock inscription. No extra charge for the headache.

This was all done before home movie cameras recorded sound. Sad, because when I watch our Mt. Washington Cog Railway revisited, I wouldn't mind hearing the hiss-chug of that Waumbek locomotive just before it dissolved into a forehead.

My favorites were Dad's painfully panoramic interior shots of birthday parties or new furniture, but I still don't know why he felt the need to film a Hoosier cabinet like it was the key evidence in a murder trial.

Shooting indoors also required a lighting rack that could've illuminated a night game at Fenway. Thus, there are several exposures of us simulating shocked deer on chairs.

A moment of silent movie respect, please, for the extinction of living room movie screens and bulky projectors, though a tacked-up bed sheet substituted for our roll-up screen that was permanently jammed in rolled-down mode and had gone far beyond any simple ice pick remedy.

Look! There's my little brother starring and staring in Attack of the Killer Potato! He'd just finished digging up and was proudly displaying his first spud from the victory garden. Watch as Dad attempts to capture the event from a potato's perspective! See six angles of the thing rolling away and my sibling nowhere in sight! Today, my brother still swears that HE was the object rolling away.

Lastly, there's my head-on shot of Dad coming down a Gunstock Mountain playground slide. I'd precisely planted myself at the bottom, ready to capture a motionless view of a plummeting papa.

Yes, you're way ahead of me. Add the nine stitches I later received, and it was the only time my forehead close-up from the Sherman family home movie vault made sense.

One tip: As you tour our spectacular autumnal foliage, there's still time to capture those video keepsakes. Lights! Camera!

Now, move over and hold that pose. NH

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