Friday, February 19, 2016

Home Movies

by Jerome

For some time I have been working my way through a visual search of the St Paul Enterprise newspaper (later named the New Era Enterprise) for Rachael. Some of the published life stories (and obituaries) in this paper take us back as far as the 1880s, and in a few cases even link up with early letters in ZWT. As a spin-off though, there is a lot of other interesting material to be found. Although more recent than the general timeframe of this blog, I found the following item which certainly interested ME.

The Cedar Point, Ohio, convention of 1922 is an historical milestone for the Bible Students who later adopted the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. What is not generally known is that a short “home movie” was produced of the proceedings and sold commercially thereafter.

Above is an advertisement that appeared in the New Era Enterprise newspaper on October 3, 1922. According to the pitch, anyone could purchase the film for home viewing, and perhaps see if they could spot themselves amongst the audience.

The film was made to be shown for home audiences with the Kinemo equipment. We know that the first three films made for this system - basically travelogs linked to J R Rutherford’s visit to Egypt and the Holy Land - have survived, even if currently unavailable. But has anyone out there still got a reel of film about Cedar Point, Ohio, in 1922?

There is an element of good news and bad news about these kinds of film. The good news is that film produced to be shown in private homes was generally not on nitrate stock. Unless stored under very specific conditions, nitrate tends to crumble to dust, unless it goes up in flames first. But safety film, although not having the translucent properties of nitrate, can survive a lot longer.

The bad news is that the Kinemo system used one of the very first “amateur” film sizes - 17.5 mm. Basically this film size started life as 35 mm stock split down the middle, and even then, different manufacturers had different ways of organizing the sprocket holes. It was only commercially available for a short time and was soon superseded when Kodak popularised 16mm and Pathé 9.5 mm. Ultimately 8 mm became the standard amateur gauge for home viewing.

So even if someone had the film, they would have great difficulty projecting it without very ancient equipment - and probably not just any 17.5 equipment, but specific Kinemo equipment. That is assuming Kinemo equipment still existed in working order and wouldn’t automatically chew up the product and spit it out in bits.

But back to the good news - many of the classics of the silent screen have only survived to our day because someone had the forethought to produce copies for these smaller sized film stocks that had the capacity for survival. In many cases, film archives have re-photographed them frame by frame to preserve them for modern audiences.

No-one is going to say that Cedar Point, Ohio, is a classic lost film. But does ANYONE know if it is still out there? Somewhere? The Instructo Cinema Service Company of Chicago must have sold a few at the time.


Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Bruce tells me he made a concerted search about 15 years ago with no result. But more resources are available today. Check the library of congress for a paper roll copyright submission.

Chris G. said...

This is a revelation Jerome!! To think this event was filmed has never even been a thought of mine until now, Amazing what comes up from simply thumbing thru the St Paul Enterprise.