Monday, May 13, 2013

The Projector - or How I Got The Movie Bug.

A few weeks ago the major movie studios announced that they are not going to make and deliver 35mm prints of their movies to theaters in the U.S. and Canada. Instead movies now will be sent via digital means and eventually will come from "the cloud". The projectors above were similar to those used in my home town. 

There are two of them because a feature-length film of around 100 minutes wasn't one single reel. Often it took 6 reels or more, depending on the length. Each reel weighed maybe around 10 lbs.  Running was basically simple, reel 1 and reel 2 were loaded on their projector. Then when reel 1 was ending reel 2 was ready to take over . That's when the projectionist would have to shut off projector one and turn on projector two.

The trick was to never see the screen go black for even a second and thus it took a steady hand and a lot of practice. Projectors were used from the very start of the movie business and lasted just around 100 years. A pair of these projectors and a projectionist were, to my thinking, the inspiration to my love of movies. And it began with me screaming.

I was about 4 or 5 when my parents took me to see a movie, apparently because they couldn't find a babysitter. The movie was "The Living Desert", a Disney documentary about the desert.

All went well until a rattlesnake appeared on the screen, magnified to the size of a house. It seemed to leap out at me and I yelled like hell. I wanted out. My mom immediately took me out to the lobby and calmed me down. But I was not going back. No way.

Then she took me upstairs to the projection room. Since my town was pretty small, everyone knew everyone else and the projectionist, Leonard Kaminski, sat me down near the projectors and my mom went back to sit with dad. I remember some theaters used to have a room at the back of the theater with windows so moms with babies could watch a movie without having to annoy the audience. But ours didn't have that feature. 

It was wintertime and the projection room was warm and cozy and I soon became relaxed. I watched Leonard expertly switch the projectors then take the used reel of film and rewind it. It became hypnotic to me. There was the warmth from the projectors and something else.

The click-clack sound of the film going through the projector.

It was soothing and I  had the feeling that I was safe. The sound was much like the sound of a train clicking along the tracks. And I was totally mesmerized by this new world that seemed to protect me.  It was the beginning of a long friendship with those projectors and it led to a life in the movies. 

Ironically I had the chance to meet Leonard several years ago before he passed away and he remembered me just like I remembered him. I told him what I did for a living and he said he figured I would because he noticed how I studied every aspect of what he and the projectors did. Once in a while and as I was older, Leonard would let me sneak in and sit with him, with me watching the screen through a small window.

But now, the projectors are gone and many of the older theaters in small towns are having to close down due to the costs of buying digital projectors. Some small towns have used to solicit funds from the locals and many now have digital. Yet I'm sure that many don't.

And what about my theater back in northern Manitoba?

I have been assured that they have installed brand new digital projectors ready for the next kid who falls under the lure of movies. And I think Leonard, somewhere in projectionist heaven, also agrees.