Monday, November 18, 2013

A letter from a Photodrama operative


In the 1970s I used to do a slide and motion picture talk on the history of the Watch Tower Society – doing a balancing act with a slide projector, cassette tape recorder, and eventually cine projector, plus microphone and my own voice. It was somewhat fraught, but the Photodrama of Creation played a big part in this.
Initially my “slides” were actually photographs of the 40 plus postcards of the Photodrama that I had obtained via another hobby. Later, copies of slides became available. But some odd frames of film of CTR were in circulation – often stuck on cards as souvenir bookmarks. I managed to track down their source and in the early 1970s visited an elderly JW who had been a projectionist in 1914. I managed to retrieve from his attic a roll of film of CTR, and to cut a long story short, that piece of film now features in the reconstructed Photodrama videos available online. (The person who put it all together with extreme dedication has subsequently managed to complete the sequence, adding the bits that my source had sadly already cut off the roll for souvenirs)
My source, who had the initials HR, told tales of being imprisoned in a metal projection box at some places. Because most commercial film was nitrate stock – although surprisingly the Photodrama films weren’t – they were highly inflammable, and after some disasters with picture houses burning down, in the UK at least it was customary for the projectionist to be buried in a metal box. If the film caught fire – well, he could trust in the resurrection – but the audience could get out. HR told tales of working in his under garments, it was so hot in the box at times.
There were about half a dozen who were trained at the same time, he did the work for about six months, and met CTR in person at the London opening. (He also knew Jesse Hemery, Paul Johnson and others of that era, but that’s another story).
In 1974 I wrote him for some further information – asking about such matters as how many staff were needed for a full performance, how many films of Pastor Russell were shown, how the heralded synchronized sound was achieved (or not as the case may be), and how the Eureka Drama worked? I don’t have a copy of my original letter – these were pre-computer days – but I do have his reply, in very neat handwriting for someone who was then in his late eighties – and still travelled around by motorised bicycle (moped).
I am reproducing his reply here – and the questions I must have asked him initially will be fairly obvious.

Dear ....
Thank you for your letter. I am very pleased to have been able to contribute something towards the picture.
It is going back nearly to the “Dark Ages” to try and recall what happened.
Now to your five questions:
1.      Floor manager, operator, sister on gramophones (2 of them), 4 to 8 sisters acting as ushers, complete with torch light – dressed in black frocks, with white frilled aprons.

No. required according to size of Hall.

Sometimes the projector operator would see all 4 parts through – other times he took his part 1,2,3, or 4, to another exhibition.

There was one part shown each night.

2.      Film of Bro Russell opened each part.

The “Hallelujah Chorus” was played just preceding, and as it stopped, the film of CTR came on screen.

3.      The synchronization of the films with the talking record was achieved by the skill of the operator – one controlled the film according to the voice and movement of CTR’s hands.

As one example in part three, there was a Frenchman (I think) singing “La Rameau” which also had to be synchronized.

If you were too quick (not understanding French) he would walk off – while song was still on!!!

The variable speed of the m/c (machine) was only the skill of the operator. Machines had a “Maltese Cross” which jerked the picture down each revolution to the next.

4.      No such thing as sound track was even heard of in those days – but music was played with films.

5.      The ‘Eureka’ was an entirely different matter, and only used, as far as I know, where no electricity was available – such as country villages – I did six of them – I cannot remember now if any music was used with these.

Re: no. 1 addition – 2 gramophones were used where it was possible to get them (on loan from local shop)

Trust this information, to the best of recollection, will fill in some details.

The films gradually wore out, particularly part 3, where Jesus in coloured robe, required more light and thus heat, so the films tended to cockle, resulting in broken sprockets – most machines would not take such film – the Guilbert machine, with a little coaxing, would pass it – hence No 3 part had to have that machine, which incidentally, I got stuck on quite a bit, latterly.

I enjoyed the work, and to this day the sound of the “Hallelujah Chorus” will quicken my pulse.

I can’t think of anything else, but a question from you may jog the memory, so write if you wish too (sic)

Best wishes, I am sure your effort will be much appreciated.



roberto said...

Thanks Jerome.

Ton Hollander said...

So Interesting! We miss those eyewitnesses nowadays.

Miquel Angel Plaza-Navas said...

At my thesis I included Appendix IV with general information about The Photo-Drama... may be someone else can find it interesting for this purpose or, of couse, can give me some info about errors I included.
Miquel Angel Plaza-Navas

Miquel Angel Plaza-Navas said...

And a second mail. I am interested about the presence of the Photo-Drama in Spain. There is really few information. For example, a well known canadian Bible Student called George Young was in charge Bible Student work in Spain between 1925 and 1928 and it seems that he used The Photo-Drama in this country. I suppose it was the Eureka edition... but I do not know. Can anybody add any information about this? Can anyone have access to personal info about George Young and if he used the Photo-Drama in Spain?
Miquel Angel Plaza-Navas