Eight is Enough.


My mum has always said that if her house was on fire the only thing she’d run back in to get would be the home movies. Actually she didn’t call them “home movies” they were always called the “cine films”.

Not long after my parents were married, their house was burgled and my father’s still camera was stolen. With the insurance money he bought the latest must-have gizmo, at the time, an 8mm cine camera. This was the early 1960s, 8mm cine film had been around since 1935 and was popular for families to capture those special moments. If he’d waited a few years he would have been able to use a new format, “Super 8” but if he’d waited, he wouldn’t have been able to record so many of our family’s special moments.

imagesThe camera was a Meopta Admira 8F, and was made in Czechoslovakia. It didn’t take a battery, it was clockwork. A three inch spool of 16mm film was loaded into it. When you wound it up and pushed the button, the camera made a wonderfully precise gentle whirring noise as it exposed one half of the film (8mm). The twenty-five feet of film on the spool shot 18 frames per second and ran for up to 90 seconds. When all of the film had run through the camera and onto the take-up spool, you took it out, turned
that over, put the now empty spool where the take-up spool had been and shot another 90 seconds onto the other side of the film. When you sent the exposed film away to be processed (which took three weeks), Kodak split the film down the middle and spliced the two 8mm halves back together. They then posted you a spool of 8mm film, fifty feet long that ran in your projector for three minutes.

Eumig projector

From just after I was born up until I was sixteen, Dad shot three minutes of silent colour film of our family every year. We watched these films in the dark, in the living room, projected onto a large screen that extended out of a six foot long metal tube and stood on an unsteady stand that blocked the door to the kitchen.

Every few years, he spliced the films together onto 400 ft spools. Eventually, there was a two part, silent documentary of the first sixteen years of my life. The first shot is of me as a baby in my mother’s arms outside Liverpool Maternity Hospital in 1964, there’s the move to our new house in 1966, the arrival of my sister in 1968, my fifth birthday party and most of our holidays throughout the 70s. The final shot is of mum, my sister and my dad climbing the steps of a plane at the end of our last family holiday together in Italy. I’m not in that shot because I filmed it.

In the 80s, he had the cine films transferred to VHS tape. He sent me one of those tapes and about ten years ago I transferred it to DVD. I found that DVD about a week ago and decided to transfer it to my computer. I was always disappointed by the 80s VHS version because the company that did the conversion added some very cheesy organ music, so I found the sound of a cine projector in an internet sound effects library and replaced the soundtrack. It’s still not the same as sitting on the couch in the dark with the family as a projected beam of smoke filled light (the smoke from my dad’s cigarette) casts the images onto the wobbly screen, but it’s closer.

Most of it is just family history like grandparents, uncles and aunties that aren’t alive any more, our old house in Liverpool and the new house in Great Sankey. But there’s broader history on there too, a record of what it was like to grow up in England in the 60s and 70s. My Dad couldn’t have known at the time how unusual it would look now to see pigeons in Trafalgar Square or people walking along Downing Street (I held up the brown leather cine camera case at the front door of number 10 mimicking the chancellor). At Stonehenge you can see us all touching the stones. In the shot of the Isle of Wight ferry, all of the cars driving off are British made.

What I’ve ended up with is nowhere near perfect. The opening shots are out of focus (I blame the VHS transfer), shots of babies in prams go on way too long (even though my sister and I were extremely cute babies), some of it is under exposed and some of it is washed out. Eventually I’ll ask my mother if I can borrow the Quality Street tin that contains the original films, find a way to transfer them in HD and edit them down a bit. For now, like my father’s unconscious decision not to wait for ‘Super 8’, the history and the memories are saved and that really is super.

At least I know my mother won’t be running into any burning buildings.


Update (6-7-15)

I should get my mother to record a “director’s commentary”!

That was the thought I had when I watched those old cine films again. Most DVDs come with “special features” and “extras”, why not our films?

On Saturday I managed to get mum to sit with me for an hour and recorded her talking about what she saw on the screen.

Now those silent movies have a soundtrack.

Craic on!

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