Classic movie site with rare images (no web grabs!), original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Your Best Choice in 1929 Home Entertainment

Next time you fire up the home theatre with HD-DVD, or Blu-Ray, or whatever technical marvel you might have access to, think of those humble beginnings in movie collecting, as illustrated here. The 16mm projector and turntable unit above was introduced in 1929. It was a sort of crude Vitaphone set-up wherein you could synchronize your own record pictures on the living room screen. There were later experiments along these lines. A company called Americom offered 8mm subjects along with a record to be played on a turntable and (hopefully) in tandem with images on your wall. Take it from me, it seldom worked. You had to play the film at precisely 16 frames per second and set your needle down at exactly the right moment to have any hope of a properly synchronized show. One out of twenty times, it might work, and even then, the voices and images would drift away from each other as the 200-foot reel ran down. The competing Castle films, with their magnetic sound tracks, were much to be preferred. What frustrated lives we 8mm collectors led!

At least the content was good on the Americom offerings. They had things like Horror Of Dracula, Curse Of Frankenstein, Fox Laurel and Hardy highlights, and the Fu Manchu reel shown here. All you had to do was listen to the record first, then run the movie and transport your consciousness back to the experience of hearing the record, merging the two in a sort of out-of-body viewing experience. This kind of heightened Zen state achieved perfect synchronization every time, and no doubt prepared many young collectors for 70’s drug experiences to come. Parental warnings might well have been issued on those 8mm boxes, for I suspect there are consumers to this day still spinning in that alternate universe Americom introduced us to …


Anonymous Scott MacGillivray said...

You were REALLY living if you had an Americom movie that ran twice as long. Americom issued a deluxe version of "When Comedy Was King" (300 feet) and I remember wondering how the film would address the inevitable moment when the phonograph record had to be turned over. I can still see the first half irising out, followed by a bold, white-on-black title card on the screen:

I N T E R M I S S I O N .

This was followed by more title footage explaining that you should proceed as before and "start projector on tone."

There was something very novel and exciting about the Americom experience. Every Laurel & Hardy film collector I know bought one or more Americom prints 35 or 40 years ago... and none of us has ever parted with them.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

I thank a merciful Providence that I didn't know about these Americom products 40 years ago, when I made my first halting baby-steps into collecting; it would have tortured me that I couldn't quite afford them. As it was, I had to make do with an ancient rattling Kodak 8mm projector that I picked up at a thrift store for fifteen bucks, a far steeper price than it sounds now. It came in a plywood carrying case and must have been one of the very first 8mms on the market. I think the serial no. was about 12, and in operation it would heat up to approximately 6,000 degrees Kelvin; people sitting twenty feet from it would be sweating like stevedores halfway through the evening.

My first prints were two 8mm silent features from the venerable Griggs Moviedrome, The Lost World and The Phantom of the Opera. For music I simply dropped the needle on a more-or-less appropriate LP and hoped for the best; I still cherish the memory of one night when the unmasking scene from Phantom came off to a gloriously thundering instrumental Puccini crescendo. For Lost World, the soundtrack album to How the West Was Won did very nicely.

Sentimental me, I still have those prints packed away somewhere, even though both titles are also in my collection in sparkling new DVDs -- Phantom complete with Technicolor inserts and World restored to 93 min., both with full orchestral scores in 5.1-channel stereo. Of course, I couldn't get a dime for the 8mms on eBay, but I don't think I could ever let them go in any case; they got me through some pretty lean times.

11:45 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Scott and Jim --- Wonderful collecting memories from you both. Thanks for sharing them.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

"You had to play the film at precisely 16 frames per second and set your needle down at exactly the right moment to have any hope of a properly synchronized show."

I'd seen the Americom titles in my 8mm past, but I always avoided them - not because I didn't think I'd be able to synch 'em up, but because I figured it'd never work due to my projector's speed. I just assumed the film would have to travel at 24fps, same as any talkie. Based on your comment quoted above, that's apparently not true - so my question is: what did these things SOUND like?

When I'd buy Atlas Films' 200-foot adaptations of Laurel & Hardy two-reelers, the silent versions of sound shorts always moved at a funereal pace - because I was running them at 16fps, and they were transferred at 24.

If Americoms were designed to run at 16fps with sound, then I imagine either the transfer managed to eliminate 8fps (and how is that done without making the action seem jerky?), or the soundtrack was terribly slow.

Inquiring minds... well, you know.

3:47 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Michael --- As I recall, the records played s-l-o-w. They never sounded natural to me, but the novelty of sound movies overcame some of that --- what really killed the experience for me was the virtual impossibility of getting the things to synch up.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Scott MacGillivray said...

The Americom soundtracks were stretched to accommodate the 18-fps 8mm speed. They somehow inserted nanoseconds of blank space throughout the track, so while the picture played 25% slower, the voices were still recognizable. (It wasn't like playing a 45-rpm record at 33, for example.) Boy, with these dated techno references, are we dating ourselves or what?

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Spencer Gill ( said...

Boy oh boy … talk about a trip down memory lane. I never knew about the WHEN COMEDY WAS KING Americom release. I got the four part VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and all the Hammer stuff. They actually did a few sound-on-film releases (I got the 8mm HORROR OF DRACULA but it was on back-order for a year and a half. I should've just gone to 16mm for all the money I flushed down the toilet on 8mm/Super-8 crap. Geeze-Louise! And yet I'm awash with nostalgia anyway. What the hell is wrong with me?

2:27 PM  
Blogger Smartt said...

Excellent. You have a great page, man.

12:05 PM  
Blogger mel said...

I bought several of those Americom 8mm movies and applied magnetic sound stripe to them with the aid of a home striper.

Using my Eumig 8mm sound projector for recording the sound from the disc, after many attempts at erasing and re-recording or stopping and starting I eventually managed to get reasonably good results, which were mainly achieved by manually speeding up or retarding the turntable to keep the sound in synch with the picture. Very frustrating work. My wife used to hate it because they were the only occasions that I ever lost my patience.

Those were the days...

4:12 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019