This in-depth report from Liz Coffey, on two Home Movie Day events in New England:
Albert Steg & I did two events this year: Boston on HMD proper and Providence, RI August 12 and 19th. Both events had about 30 attendees, all enthusiastic, but the crowds were quite different.
The Boston event was a the Boston Public Library. A crack team from New England Archivists came to help out, bringing with them a display about preserving paper materials. We had 3 projectors (super 8, 8mm, 16mm) and a record player with a variety of choices for music. We
broke out the HMD Bingo, showed someone how to use the projector he brought in, and inspected film for an hour before the show began.
We had a lot of people show up who had come previous years and who showed films each time. Many of these were new films shot on super 8 within the past few years. Generally the crowd was young, a lot of artist types. The favorite film was brought in by an area projectionist. It was 16mm Kodachrome of himself as a small child in the 1950s. His dad was an enthusiastic amateur home movie maker. The following paragraph is from Peter, who stars in the film.
“My dad (Phil) took his home movies seriously and hauled that heavy 16mm Kodak camera (which I still have) around with him on a lot of family outings. I have tons more of stuff like that. His secret: use a tripod if you can, and edit for continuity. He had a book called How to Make Good Home Movies, and picked up a lot of tips, so you get things like establishing shots of signs or newspapers. He even experimented with recording sound with a tape recorder, which turned out to be very hard to sync, so that kind of didn’t work out. Maybe next year I’ll bring one of those attempts and we can give it a try.”
The crowd favorite scene was a 4th of July parade in which Peter is dressed up in an adorable leopard outfit and pulled around in a little cage on wheels. Beautiful stuff. I encouraged him to will his film to an archive, since I can’t imagine he’ll part with it in his lifetime.
Albert (my co-presenter) brought some great 16mm amateur stuff he’s picked up here and there, including topless ladies at the 1931 World’s Fair (in color!) which scandalized and delighted everyone (including my parents), and a film in which people got seasick on a boat and then later someone mimed the scene for absent friends. Last year’s star of HMD brought in another 1970s film which showed, in a quick scene, some hash smoking. That’s two for two on the drug use films in Boston!
I showed my Leaning Tower of Pisa film, a comedic crowd pleaser, and a road race starring my dad and sister, who were in attendance. We ran a 3 minute reduction of Rodan on 8mm which had a million frame burns but ran fine. The hilarious and inspirational owner of this film, new to the world of collecting and showing films, wanted to know if he could have his super 8 film transferred to 8mm, since he didn’t have a super 8 projector.
No equipment problems this year, and almost the entire audience stayed for the whole event. Another BPL HMD success.
Unlike the Boston show, we actually had some press and promotion for the Providence show. I put it on at the RI Historical Society where I work. Our PR man sent out 1200 postcards to the members, we got a blurb on the front page of the local section on Wednesday, and Albert & I were interviewed on a local weekend show on station WJAR-TV Providence the morning of the show. We had about 2-3 minutes of airtime talking about the event, which was a pretty funny and not as scary as I expected experience. Our story was followed by a weekly animal shelter segment featuring a dog who needed to be adopted.
I was accepting film the week prior to the event, so I could inspect it ahead of time, and about 10 people, including the executive director of the Historical Society brought in film.
In contrast to the Boston show, most of the people who brought stuff in were over 50 and the film was also older. We had a number of films from the 1920s & 30s, with the youngest (aside from mine from last year) being from the mid-1970s. Did I mention a couple weeks later I
got asked out via mail by one of the attendees? Read on for my friend Brittany’s scene by scene recording of the event. She is a hilarious note-taker.
August 19 2006: Home Movie Day Providence Starring, once again, Liz Coffey & Albert Steg
Providence’s first home movie day is held in a stately manse – headquarters of the RIHS – a much more high-class affair than last weekend’s Boston Public Library experience. The grayish stained carpets and flickering fluorescent lights gave way to hardwood floors (with wooden nails, mind you), wall tapestries and chandeliers. It smelled like the church of my youth and probably held the same amount of older-type folk. But enough with the ambiance… Bernard of the
RIHS introduced the day and Liz Coffey who had even dressed in a more conservative manner for this one, I noticed. Of course I guess she was also on TV – oh, I’m still digressing….
16mm: 1927 HOME MOVIE FROM EDWARD SMITH
This b&w treat started off with kids riding a pony so you knew it had to be good. According to Edward, this pony was brought in and people paid to ride it. They rode Silver on Quincy St near Providence College. These kids were wearing knickers and long socks with cute striped hats. And these same tykes went on down to Plum Beach – jumping off a low diving board onto the sands of low tide. And a few years later, riding around in a 1929 Chevrolet – although you could
make someone out in the background riding in a horse-drawn carriage. Edward said the roads had only recently been paved. Then it was Christmas and much snow. The highlight here was an incredible little snow house they built, and for some reason, one kid would walk out of it and shake the person’s hand who was waiting outside. I don’t know what it meant, but it got a lot of laughs. There were many Xmas scenes that were lovely: the boy and his new bike, the other one with his drum set, and a cute shot of the brother & sister by the window. By the time dinner rolled around, Edward wondered aloud whether they were drinking wine during Prohibition & I was wondering if during Prohibition kids could still drink wine. I guess I’ll never know. Finally, the boys slide down the sidewalks in a homemade sled-on-wheels (not like those kind you find in the stores these days) and the little girl shows off a fancy miniature baby carriage.
SUPER 8: LIZ COFFEY GOES TO SPAIN
Shot on Kodachrome 2 years ago, we witness Liz’s visit to Avila, Spain and the imposing Roman aqueducts of yore. Stony arches frame the blue skies and tiny cars fit into the lower archways. The giant structure leaves long shadows and we welcome the sight of a pigeon resting on the wall.
COLOR SUPER 8: THE TRIA’S WEDDING, 1973
The first of many remarkable moments like this today, this was the first time they had seen this footage of their own wedding. (They didn’t have the right projector for it.) First we see the men and the ladies preparing for the day; getting help putting their corsages and ties on. Side-burns and dramatic parts prevail. They film the drive from the parents’ house over to the church: pretty cute. And in Reel 2, we witness parts of the actual wedding, although some shots are cloaked in under-exposure. We can still make out much dancing during the reception and the backs of various balding heads. Finally, they are in their civilian clothes, leaving to go on the honeymoon amidst a few tears and emotions. The last shot is the newlyweds walking down the street to the car: totally sweet.
16MM RUTH GOLDSTEIN
Once more, footage she had never seen taken by a cousin in the Air Force. This was shot from the ground of tons of planes in formation. According to Ruth, it was post-WWII. They do some fancy stuff in front of very large clouds.
SUPER 8 LIZ’S FILM OF JASON SANFORD PLEIN AIR PAINTING
This is also a recent film by Liz, although it has a dated beatnik quality to it. Jason leisurely painting a boat in the water while an idle friend sits nearby. The boat bobs to the rhythm of this slow, summer day. A dead dragonfly’s wings flutter in the breeze and the artists inspects his dirtied hands – dirtied with the product of his own vision. A vision that he meditates on in the last show: is he happy with the finished painting?
REG 8MM 1950 HOME MOVIE BY MEL
In the tradition of the day, this man had also never set his eyes upon this footage. Shot by an uncle who filmed “anything and everything.” It is in North Attleboro on his dad’s poultry farm. Many fifties folks and fifties cars – weird since it’s the 1950s. A wedding and outdoor reception features a lot of eating and tailgating of sorts. Then we are transported to a lovely landscape in New Hampshire, perhaps? It features a view from on height of town & water. The next scenes are of falls somewhere – Quebec is suggested and he finds the concept not unreasonable. Quickly, we see a stony mill structure and a white church in North Attleboro, and then Longfellows Wayside Inn” and a statue that everyone decides is in Lexington, MA. We are treated to another wedding & the bride boasts nice Betty Page-style bangs. More outdoor seating, great colors (it’s like everyone’s dressed for the Kodachrome) and some slow-motion 3-legged racing. The finale here is an aerial view of a quaint seaside town.
(A sort of intermission…Liz turns on the Peggy Lee and Albert promptly turns it off. As soon as Liz is out of hearing range, he begins his film preservation 101 lecture. Uh-oh. Here comes the vinegar syndrome manifesto. Some people get so horrified by the mere mention of vinegar that they run out. Liz comes in steaming mad and punches Albert. An old fashioned ballroom brawl ensues.)
REG. 8MM: 1951 OR 1952 COLOR
Bernard of RIHS fame is featured in these great-looking flicks with his photogenic parents in Riverdale, NY. Whether he is out in the yard with a sailor hat on, wearing an extra-stylish jacket & hat, or being pushed around in a special basket stroller, Bernard prevails in his endless adventures. His mom (looking fabulous in her bright red lipstick, dark hair and pale skin) puts him to work on a tricycle that’s too big for his toddler-sized legs & tries to get him interested in something in a mysterious box. Generally, Bernard turns up his nose at much of these shenanigans. Thus, perhaps, his dad takes this time to gently pan the inside of their house and all of its little still lives of photos and what not. Then all the relatives come over for some civilized eating and getting together (they eat their honeydew slices with small spoons – I feel like a savage). After some fun with putting a giant hat on Bernard’s tiny head, it is bath time,
and here the little baby is bathed, as it were, in a golden light that turns this banal experience into an impressionist masterpiece. The peek-a-boo under the blanket gets everyone laughing, but it’s only a mild reaction compared to what’s next…at this point for me, a home movie first: on-the-potty shot!
REG 8MM – ANOTHER ONE FROM BERNARD! 1954 COMPANY FISHING TRIP
Either his dad’s or granddad’s – a bunch of guys fishing off the coast of Long Island. In one shot, this dude is lying down & fishing – nice. They wind up catching a little shark and some flounder. Bets are paid off.
8MM – BERNARD & SUMMER CAMP IN MAINE, 1960
The adventures of Bernard continue in this lakeside romp. A bunch of kids go for a swim, but the best scene is when this little kid gets mad and walks off.
B&W 16MM JOANNA’S HOME MOVIES: Summer & Christmas 1927.
Another gem of a film that has lain unseen by its owner for decades. Apparently, Joanna figured out, the filmmaker was a member of friends of her family’s family rather than her own family (I should have really thought about that more before saying it). You get the gist. Somehow, she inherited the can. The first shots are of the Lincoln Zoo in Chicago. A Dusty polar bear eats some leaves and wanders around while perky grizzly-types ham it up for the cam. One shows his belly & the older holds his feet in a funny baby pose in order to get some food tossed in his mouth. It works. The zoo visitors are very fancy, the ladies wearing long fur coats (like the bears) and a young man wearing F. Scott Fitzgerald style suit. The little girl featured in the film holds tightly onto a stuffed toy dog for the camera and kisses it. What’s really nice is the following section featuring a series of little “portraits” of each of the zoo guests; they parade in
front of the camera in med-close shots so you get a sense of them and get lost in their precious 1920s style. Joanna’s older brother must have been the cutest boy around back then – he looks like a children’s book illustration. Maybe none of this is real. They ice skate on metal skates in crunchy-looking ice and then do some serious sledding down a hill. And then we’re back in the Chicago hood, no longer on the ice or in the winter…but roller skating on the sidewalks! The best is when the older sister makes all of these funny faces and facial exercises at the camera. The younger girl (aka dog-kissing girl) is much more restrained. Maybe she secretly knows that in 2006 a bunch of yahoos in Providence will be watching and laughing. In REEL 2 we see our famous crew getting into an old-fashioned car which I bet wasn’t old-fashioned at all at the time. Then there’s this great part where it seems like the camera person is encouraging every shop owner on the street to come out for some 16mm face time. In the background lurks a “Kodak Film Finishing” sign as various guys and gals come out of different shops to look cool in front of the camera. Delightful. Now it’s onto the beach – Pallisades Park on the shores of Lake Michigan – and two little girls take the long path in cute bathing suits. We get to see inside someone’s beach hut or house where a baby in a crib lives. It’s funny & bouncy. They leave this abode and pass an umbrella advertising “Stag Trousers” on their way to the water. A giant boat aka ship frightens me in an unusual head-on shot. If they had filmed this in 3D it would have been serious heart-attack time. Thankfully, the ship turns out to be a ferry it looks like the
Illini take to visit their neighboring state of Michigan. One can presume that they can take this great ship for a day at the beach – and back to the beach we go with a funny little girl sitting in the water & slapping it, and probably the best bathing suit seen so far today: a striped short-style full-piece. Then there’s a canoe and crazy swimming – some more car travels during which geese and a dog are spotted. And there’s the inevitable ship again. The water reflects
onto it gracefully. Bon voyage!
Super 8: Edward Smith & the Kilarney Galway Gap of 1965
I forgot to mention how happy everyone was/is in the previous film, but they aren’t exactly sad in Edward’s footage of a tour of Ireland taken by both horse-drawn carriage and later, fun bus. We see rolling farmlands, castle ruins, billions of tiny yellow flowers, and a gorgeous sea and shore scene. The water is all icy glow. Edward says it’s the North Sea. Finally, tons of sheep and a creek.
Super 8: 1965 Boston & London
Edward is back with some location shots that seem all-too-familiar to those Beantownians in the group. The Prudential Center? Newbury Street? The Boston Architectural Center? Impossible! Edward tells us that his son graduated from that fine establishment around this time & they left for London from Boston. So then quickly we are plunged into stereotypical London scenery along the Thames and whatnot. Many of the requisite tourist attractions including the changing of the guard. What’s really cool is a sign for a Francis Bacon show up at the local
B&W 16mm woman’s “Unknown” film from 1952
Here we go again: “I’ve never seen this before, etc. etc….it was lying wherever…etc, etc….I don’t know how I acquired it…” Listen Lady, I’m beginning to think that all Rhode Islanders are a bunch of mindless automatons that just like store stuff…but she seems really nice and not automated or chipmunk like in any way so I stop thinking this immediately. Let’s face it: I’m not so great. And the little girl with the doll and little boy in his toy fire engine are pretty great. He also keeps his pistol in the truck with him and has a totally dirty butt so that seals the deal for me. This film takes on another magical dimension via decomposition. The silver is apparently oxidizing and leaves these little orange spots of happiness in the more heavily exposed spaces. At one point, the little girl walks down a sunlit sidewalk and in the surrounding shrubbery things sparkle and dance. Sometimes the spots outline things and sometimes they end up in the crotch area of a man, causing some awkwardness among the audience. Most, though, they are amazing almost distracting me from this kid having a tantrum and a mom holding up a baby by the hands so it can pretend to walk.
16mm color Albert’s Found Film of a Canada Fishing Trip
A bunch of men are off in hydroplane style to the beauty and isolation of San Jovite, Montreal. They load everything into a little silvery
seaplane and land on a pretty tree-lined land featuring a cabin on a lake. There’s a lot of plaid in the logging sense and much fishing much fish. They compare catches and one guy holds up his five fingers to communicate to us that his particular fish is a five pounder. Then it’s time for a fish fry and eating off bark plates. mmm…mmmm. Between fish fries and boozin’ there happens a patch of snow, a ball of which is tossed at the camera guy. The additionally caught fish are
laid out on the planks and a the end is a cute, but unfortunately dead, rodent of some sort. One of the men pets it. Amidst more fishing shots and a handsome sweater vest, we get to enjoy a happy man “shaving” with a machete-type blade. It succeeds in getting laughs all around. Mission accomplished, and then it’s time to go home.
B&W 16mm from the RIHS vault: Rhode Island in 1938
The Providence Parades! Right away, I notice the streetcar wires now missing from modern-day Providence – not to mention the jaunty horses,marching bands, and Red Cross float present in this very popular parade. Gloucester, RI: a bunch of military – type guys washing post and pans
for the camera. They have a lot of guns for some reason. More of the parade in color! As they continue to march along their merry Providence way, I catch what’s playing at the local movie theater: “The Postman Always Rings Twice” with Lana Turner and John Garfield.
Color & B&W 16mm: More from the illustrious RIHS vault! Cady Collection
Roger Williams Park 1937: Monkeys and bears and ice skating but not monkeys and bears ice skating. A kid-size Christmas Village. “Water-front scenes:” industrial ship-yard. “Farewell fire station!” they demolish an old fire station, making way for the new post office. We see Market Square before and after 1938 but these go by way too quickly for me to really investigate the subtleties. We then see a quick montage of many important constructions, reconstructions, scenes and tableaux from Good Old Providence. There’s Old Market House, General Edwards Viaduct, Snow Scenes 1940 and everyone digging out after the Blizzard of ‘35 (here we get to witness the bizarre steam shovel in action). Finally: “Hindenburg Visits Providence”! The
humanity….. The change to color doesn’t change the continual de/con/reconstruction: “School of Design Auditorium 1940,” snow sculptures by art students, “Wendell Wilkie Visits Providence,” Christmas trees for sale, dedication of Roger Williams memorial & unveiling the statue, Union Station destroyed by fire & the aftermath. Apparently, the filmmaker missed getting to shoot the actual fire, so he tricks us by burning up a photo and then showing the steaming remains. The wrecking ball scene is long and gruesome.
8mm Mr. Smith Again (but not Edward – I know, I know, I’ve gotten
We’ve got another medley on our hands here: Mt. Hope Bridge (some conjecture – suddenly everyone’s a geographer), more pans of a lake this time over kerchiefed heads, sitting in wooden chairs on a boat, adark dark Christmas indoors with strange dolls and an icicled tree. Finally, the featured kids have some fun on bouncing rocking horse and a tricycle, then they move onto a chalkboard (a tiny one) and baby girl enjoys a big-headed doll in a moving scene that gets everyone oooing and awwing. Now for some B&W: ah the aftermath of the ‘cane of ‘38. Giant trees uprooted, roofs taken off, and this guy in a suit happily chopping away at a tree that fell into his house. His legs swing off the side of the house. Now back to color: an outdoor party with lots of people in hats. Just as everyone agrees its a graduation, it switches to someone’s
confirmation and folks are posing for the camera like you would for a photo. The weirdest thing is this kid all dressed up anachronistically – velvet knickers and a cape.
Now comes the endless parade of birthday’s (all Mr. Smith’s aunt) but the transfer lab put the rolls together, so they are all out of chronological order. She and the surrounding party-goers grow older and younger and older again. They eat cake after cake after cake and drink punch and open presents endlessly. There’s playing, crying, drooling, and lots of eating. The kid with the bandaged eye makes a cameo appearance, and they all seem to generally be worried about
birthdays the younger they are. At this point the final footage of Holy Cross and West Warwick is a virtual blur to me, we’ve all been through so much back & forth & in & out of time…..
ANOTHER HOME MOVIE DAY COMES TO A CLOSE….