Sit back, put your feet up, and enjoy this repository of online articles from The Reel Image! These were swept off the Home Page by fastidious online editor/curator/custodian Alfred E. Osborne in the hopes that our portal page would load a tad faster. To best enjoy this archive (and simulate a real magazine reading experience), we recommend that you commandeer a tablet or laptop and read on the john at your leisure!...
Here we have what must rank as the great, great grandaddy of the iPod, or the 1st portable media player ever: the Melton Movie Viewer! Just imagine the unparalleled thrill of watching your favorite Castle Films 8mm Headline movie "ANYWHERE, without a projector!" Such modern, jet-age convenience even came at the then not unreasonable price of just $4.95! We imagine you would be the undisputed life of the party if you were to arrive with your Melton Movie Viewer threaded up with such exotic Castle Films fare as: Wing, Claw and Fang ("a kitten, a raven, a penguin and a lion are the astonishing stars"),the "riot of fun" that was The Chimp's Vacation, or --dare we even mention it? --those "exotic beauties of Samoa" or the "enchantresses of Tahiti" who afforded 50-foot glimpses of the "wondrous rhythmic dances, odd customs and strange sights" of Belles of the South Seas!...
There can be no doubt that the marvelous Melton Movie Viewer was the coveted geek gadget of 1951! And be sure to check out our other 8mm Memories on display at our updated Castle & Ken Films Tribute page!
Like many film collectors, I started the hobby when I was still in school (5th grade), with my first projector being a battery-operated model that I’d spotted in the Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog. Capable of showing both Super 8 and Regular 8, that little two-tone grey toy with the removable cover that doubled as a screen never let me down, even after endless hours of use. It may have only handled a 50' reel, but to me it was the doorway to another dimension in those pre-cable/pre-video/pre-Internet days. Yet whenever I saw that ad for the "Thunderbird" projector in the back of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, a machine that could show an entire 200’ film, I could only imagine watching such an amazing amount of movie on a single reel. As a kid, with my film funds limited to allowance and lawn-mowing money, that $29.95 price tag on the Thunderbird seemed like a king's ransom in the mid-Seventies. While I still loved my little plastic projector, the first signs of "50' Frustration" were beginning to appear.
Adding to the agony of only being able to run a 50' film was the fact that many newer releases, such as PLANET OF THE APES (an Easter gift from my Mom), were available exclusively as 200' digests, as were some of the classic creature features, such as 1931’s FRANKENSTEIN and 1941’s THE WOLF MAN, or some of the Ray Harryhausen digests from Columbia. Fortunately, I discovered that my toy projector could be made to handle a 200' reel...sort of. If I took off the plastic cover over the projection lamp (actually a small bulb like you would find in a bicycle headlight), I could just barely fit a 200' reel of film onto the machine. Unfortunately, there was no room to also attach a 200' take-up reel once this had been done. Steadfast (or stubborn) film fan that I am, I rigged a 200' take-up reel on a rod from an Erector set, and hand-cranked the film onto the reel as it came out of the projector (ignoring the strained whines of the little battery-operated motor as it struggled with the weight of the larger reel.)
This makeshift approach to projection went on for the next few years until, on another Christmas Eve, I received a real projector—an Airequipt 2100 Z Dual 8 projector with zoom lens, 400' capacity and no batteries required! The zoom lens meant bigger, brighter and sharper images. (Although with this came the gradual realization that, unlike with my toy projector, replacement bulbs would no longer cost a quarter!) I would actually be able to sit back, relax and watch my 200’ prints of PLANET OF THE APES and the Little Rascals in SPOOKY HOOKY without the risk of spraining my wrist as I cranked the take-up reel.
In the wake of this latest piece of "hardware" came a shift in focus with the "software" of my collection. Nearly every film purchase from that point on was a 200' digest or short subject, with an occasional 400' extravaganza (a major cause for celebration). As the larger reel capacity became increasingly common, those sad little 50' reels that had once been the core of my collection started to become more and more neglected, with the observation being made that they took almost as long to thread through the projector as they did to watch. In the late Seventies, as sound digests gained in both length and popularity, it seemed as if the 50' format had become a thing of the past; a bastard child that few collectors continued to acknowledge. Even the companies releasing 8mm and Super 8 began to abandon them, although Castle Films/Universal 8 gave certain 50’ titles new life with an unusual approach: Realizing the classic monster movies and Abbott & Costello comedies had long been the cornerstone of their company, they grouped a number of the 50’ digests from those franchises into silent 400’ volumes. There were two horror compilations and at least one Abbott & Costello collection.
With the arrival of home video came numerous changes in the home movie market...with many companies going out of business. Blackhawk's catalog began listing huge close-out sales on Super 8 Disney and Columbia product to make room for VHS releases, while department stores and camera shops slashed prices to clear out their racks. I was able to grab up 200' reels at almost 50' prices, and 400' reels at 200' prices. This sudden surge in my collection saw the old movie screen getting the most use it had in years. I even took advantage of the mark downs to pick up a Chinon Whisper Dual 8 projector, as the old Airequipt was showing signs of wear and tear after all the miles of film ran through it over the years. Meanwhile, Super 8 Kodachrome and Ektrachrome film stock and prepaid processing mailers from Kodak were starting to appear in the bargain bins of some stores (which came in handy during a trip to the Bahamas over spring break). But eventually my Super 8 spending spree slowed down again. Actually, it came to a grinding halt.
Except for a couple of girlfriends who expressed interest in experiencing "sofa cinema," the projector spent most of the Eighties in the closet. Then, almost a decade later, without warning I found myself in the midst of a "Reel Renaissance." I took a job as an audio-visual consultant at a public library, working with both film (16mm) and video equipment. Around that same time, a friend and fellow collector from my high school days decided his projector's only function would be to show his family’s home movies about once a year, and that if he wanted to see a "real" movie he would run down to the local Video Towne or Blockbuster store. Knowing I sometimes still indulged in 8mm matinees, he offered me his collection of Blackhawk, Castle, Columbia and Ken Films digests.
Soon after this, I discovered a place in Ohio called Trader's World, where just about every kind of new and used item imaginable could be found in the dozens of dealers’ booths that filled the facility...including some very familiar square cartons of cartoons and other "reel" treats. Holding that battered box from Blackhawk in my hands on the threshold of my 30th birthday brought back the same excitement that, at age 13, I had felt the first time I saw a rack of Castle Films at K-Mart. My sense of nostalgia just got jump-started as Super 8 sentiment set in, especially as visits to Trader’s World unearthed films I’d long heard about, read about, dreamed about, but had never been able to track down. I was now able to get, and combine, double digests taken from the same film, such as DOOM OF DRACULA/HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN; TRIAL OF FRANKENSTEIN/FRANKENSTEIN’S NEW BRAIN; HOUSE OF DRACULA/THE WOLF MAN’S CURE, and; BATTLE OF THE GIANTS/ONE MILLION B.C.
Once again I began adding "new" titles to the celluloid library, and found myself going back and watching those very first films I ever owned. It was like visiting old friends, but it still seemed as if those tiny 50' reels were more labor-intensive than their running time was worth. Not willing to part with my little 8mm amigos, I began to think about how to make them more user-friendly. Maybe these could become “selected short subjects,” so if a 50’ reel had a theme similar to that of a 200' or 400' title, it could be used as an opening act by simply splicing it onto the longer film. But that only took care of a few of the reels. If I could have found some of those dayset reels of footage that announced "Coming Soon" or “Our Next Attraction,” I might have been able to use some of the 50' reels as previews to accompany longer digests, such as tacking that 50’ FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN onto the 200’ WOLF MAN reel. However, you can't use what you don't have....
Taking a cue from short story collections, I decided a nice set of anthology reels could be compiled from the 50' digests, each built around a particular genre or character. Certain subjects immediately came to mind, such as "Creature Features: The Black Lagoon Trilogy," or "The Mummy Movie Marathon." Turning from chills to thrills, a number of those Republic serials digests from Ken Films could be compiled into a "Classic Cliffhangers" reel or, for the kid in all of us, “A Celebration of Animation” could collect select cartoons from Walt Disney, Max Fleischer or Walter Lantz. Sadly, not all digests are created equal, and picture quality could vary considerably from company to company. As a result, it was usually best not to mix Castle Films and Ken Films titles on the same reel.
The line of 50’ compilations started the ball rolling, and I began to branch out, pairing up 200’ digests into 400’ “double features.” 1967’s PLANET OF THE APES had kicked off the first big-budget, big-screen sci-fi series for 20th Century Fox. Ten years later, STAR WARS launched an even more lucrative fantasy franchise for the studio. Mounted on a 400' reel, these two 200’ digests became the first in a series of Super 8 "Blockbusters of Science Fiction" compilations I started to put together. (Although the 200’ digests of STAR WARS and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK would make an impressive pair of titles, too.) That would be followed by a double bill of George Pal’s WAR OF THE WORLDS and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE and a Hammer Films "Jurassic Classics" presentation of ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. and WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH. And with all those drive-in delights from AIP that Ken Films put out, there are a long list of titles to tackle in the future: THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT and AT THE EARTH’S CORE, Roger Corman’s THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM and THE RAVEN, Herman Cohen’s I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF and I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN…well, you get the idea.
Just as my toy projector had given way to a silent projector with 200’ and 400’ capacity, eventually Super 8 sound projectors with 600’ and 800’ capabilities would come into the collection. As a result, I began exploring the possibilities of sound “triple features.” ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, MEET DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE and MEET THE MUMMY became an “Abbott & Costello Meet the Monsters” reel. Then came my “Karloff Frankenstein Trilogy” of FRANKENSTEIN, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, while my “Legend of the Wolf Man” delivered three times the terror with THE WOLF MAN, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN and HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. But I felt like I was still playing Little League after a friend of mine trotted out a 45 minute long reel of the 16mm digests of Castle Films’ DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY, THE INVISIBLE MAN, THE WOLF MAN and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.
Although we were working on different scales with different gauges, we both found it was as much fun putting these programs together as it was sharing them with others. And while it may be easier to just toss a tape or disc into the video machine to watch a movie, there is something more intimate and interactive about film…you become a part of the process. Don’t let your imagination be limited by the size of reel your projector can handle, or if you’re working with silent or sound, or with 8mm, Super 8 or 16mm. Break out the splicer, grab a box of Sno-Caps and pop open a Dr. Pepper…it’s time to create some movie magic!
...Keep those projector bulbs burning!
The summer of 1977. While most of us Super 8 Spielbergs and K-Mart Kubricks were turning our cameras to the stars in an effort to make our own 8mm space epics, one amongst us had both feet firmly on the ground...even if his head was still in the clouds. In the wake of STAR WARS, and in anticipation of the soon-to-be-released CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, Ken Thomas was not alongside best friend Gerald Cox and myself as we raided hobby store shelves for rockets, robots and ray guns to use as props for our own productions. Instead, Ken wanted to tell the more dramatic tale of a burnt-out musician torn between his commercial success as a rock star and his desire to branch out into other types of music, even at the risk of alienating himself from his fans. The venture would combine Ken's love of music and his interest in photography, as well as give him a crack at writing. The end result was a 20 minute short called BEAUTIFUL NOISE.
A good song writer and piano player (keen with a keyboard since grade school), Ken was always more into music than movies. In spite of his own preferences, he was always there to help out when one of us had a “Super 8 Super Spectacular” in production. But now the filmmaking bug had bitten him, and Ken was determined his directorial debut would be well thought out and carefully crafted. That was pretty much how Ken—"K.T." as classmates called him—handled everything. When something caught his interest, he examined and explored every aspect of it until he knew the subject inside and out. To finance his film, Ken spent his weeks of summer vacation from high school towing a gas-powered push mower behind his bike around our small Midwestern hometown, mowing yards from early morning to early evening, and supplementing that income by teaching piano in his "spare time." (It was this methodical approach to everything he did that would eventually help him get his break as a professional studio musician in New York. Sometimes adopting an alias, he would go on to work on television commercials and motion picture soundtracks!)
Ken had put together a script, he had put together a cast and had recruited me as a "production assistant," but there was one slight hitch...all of our film equipment was silent! Unfortunately, our rural community did not have any place that rented sound gear in the mid- to late 1970s. And while there were camera shops in the surrounding cities that sold sound motion picture equipment, it was a bit beyond the budget...especially for a filmmaker who really only wanted to make this one film. But once Ken had made up his mind to do something, nothing would get in his way; even if he had to piece together a system from scratch using discarded parts. Fortunately, a more practical solution presented itself.
During his preproduction research, Ken had read that professional filmmakers often did not shoot sound on film, but recorded the sound separately, with the soundtrack being physically added to the celluloid strip in post-production. This seemed to be "a sound idea" for us, as well. We would shoot and edit the film, work on the soundtrack, and once it was all finished have the film striped so that the music and dialogue could actually be attached to the picture. Now we had to determine how compatible and practical our equipment would be....
An early experiment involved first filming a clock with a second hand on it in a tight close-up for a few minutes, then projecting the processed film while timing the onscreen clock with its real-life counterpart to make sure both projector and camera operated at the same rate of frames per second. As it turned out, the projector did not show the film at the exact same speed at which it had been photographed. Although not a noticeable difference in speed to the human eye, it was off enough that sound recorded during filming would eventually no longer be in synch with the projected image.
Although dejected by the discovery, we decided to double-check our findings with a second test: A fifty foot Kodak cartridge of silent Kodachrome 40 was used to film a conversation between Ken and I while a cassette deck recorded the sound. When the film came back from the lab, we played the tape and film together. Everything started out fine but, by the end of the reel, sound and picture no longer matched up. However, we did have one hope: Find a projector with a rheostat control for the motor, to subtly speed up or slow down the film as needed during the course of projection to keep everything synchronized. Unfortunately a search of the camera shops, pawn shops and garage sales in the area failed to turn up such an elusive piece of equipment. (Although, during the course of our hunt, I did find a second-hand copy of the Beatles' White Album for fifty cents!)
In the end, it was decided the problem could best be solved by careful camera angles and lighting, so that the actors speaking were not filmed straight on, allowing for some leeway in the attempt to synchronize sight and sound. Scenes that featured our leading man singing were aided by his hand-held microphone, which obscured enough of his mouth to cover any mismatched musical moments. (Believe it or not, the technique worked out well enough that the final film didn’t look like a badly-dubbed Toho movie.)
After viewing the (then) recent remake of A STAR IS BORN with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, Ken wanted some really impressive concert scenes for his movie. Since a couple of our high school teachers were very supportive of our endeavors, they arranged for us to use the school auditorium to film the concert footage…a generous gesture considering the school was closed for the summer! Having been lighting director for a number of school productions, I found myself once again manning the light board for the auditorium’s stage, the banks of multi-colored lights overhead allowing us to give a strong sense of energy to these sequences.
To give us plenty of footage to work with in the editing room, Ken decided to take a tip from the pros and cover the concert scenes with three cameras (his own, mine and another filmmaking friend's), giving the camera operators pretty much a free hand to run all over the place during the band's performance. This provided plenty of great shots when we went to cut the film, capturing a sense of spontaneity we could not have achieved with a single camera and/or pre-planned angles. There was a slight downside to this situation, however: A) Three times the film = three times the cost, and B) It was very difficult to decide, at times, what material to use and what to discard. (Ultimately, the excess footage actually saved us: Ken later decided he wanted to use a different piece of music for this opening concert sequence, but we couldn't afford to go back and re-shoot the thing from scratch. Because we had so much material from different angles, we were actually able to re-cut the sequence to the new music without anyone being able to tell they were originally playing a different song!)
When it came time to put all the pieces together, out came my editing gear since I was one of the few people to have an editor/viewer. (Each of us had equipment that the rest did not, allowing us to form an unofficial film co-op. Unlike some of my fellow student filmmakers, I was someone who loved the editing process, occasionally getting asked to help others with post-production.) Having worked on numerous Standard 8 and Super 8 silent films, I had put a lot of miles on my splicer, but I was used to editing for myself. Now I found myself co-editing someone else's film...a situation enhanced by the challenge of cutting the silent film to a separate soundtrack using a stop watch and frame counter to insure everything was in synch. It took several sessions, but we were seeing it all come together. Surprisingly, the film and the cassette matched convincingly during test projections.
Except for adding an epilogue, BEAUTIFUL NOISE was almost finished when our leading lady, Linda, suddenly moved away. (The new school year was just a couple of weeks away and her father had been transferred to another city, so their family wanted to get settled into their new home before classes started.) There was another girl who lived close by who resembled the “lost” Linda enough that, if photographed carefully, could pass for her for the closing sequence, although the voices would not match. After some debate, it was decided the film worked well enough without that final scene. With little visual cues hidden in some scenes so that the projectionist could make sure the picture and soundtrack were still properly lined up, the film had its local premiere with success.
Having proved to himself he could do it, Ken never attempted making another movie of his own (although he has recently drifted away from songwriting to try his hand at screenwriting), but was always on hand to help any of us out as needed. And in spite of overcoming the odds that he did to make BEAUTIFUL NOISE, it took a lot of coaxing to get him to show it for us from time to time after those initial screenings. (Since none of us actually owned a sound projector back then, the movie was never striped.)
As the years passed and we all moved on (and away), Ken, Gerald and I still kept in touch. One day, during a phone conversation in 1991, Ken asked me about transferring some of his family's old home movies onto video for him, which I said I would take care of. In exchange for doing this, he offered me his small, long-unused collection of Blackhawk Films’ Charlie Chaplin comedies. A few days later, the package of films arrived. In addition to the home movies and Chaplin shorts was another set of reels with a note attached to them—it was BEAUTIFUL NOISE! Not just the film itself, but all the outtakes, alternate takes...every piece of used and unused footage exposed for the project!!! Ken had watched the film recently and decided that, while an ambitious effort, he had no need of it and decided to pass it on to me to do with as I saw fit.
There was a rush of adrenalin as I thought about how this little film could benefit from the modern miracle of video. No more trying to juggle a cassette deck and movie projector; I could have the print transferred to VHS tape, do an audio dub of the soundtrack cassettes onto the video and finally, over a decade after it was made, have sight and sound perfectly matched together once and for all! Then I noticed something; the package did not contain the cassettes. A quick call to Ken confirmed my worst fears: The tapes had either been lost during one of the many moves made over the years, or had been recycled for use as demo tapes when he and his old band were trying to get gigs. In short, I now owned the world’s only silent musical.
In the years since the initial shock and disappointment of that moment, I have dusted off the film cans and started running BEAUTIFUL NOISE again, making notes on the short subject and all the unused footage. (Unfortunately, no copies of the script seem to have survived for me to refresh my memory on the exact dialogue.) Having been given Ken's blessing to either salvage or scrap the picture (making it clear the latter is probably the best option), I can't help but feel that somehow, in that little sea of celluloid, there is a way to still make the movie work. It might mean re-cutting the film into an even shorter short subject and using intertitles for the dialogue (like we did for the rest of our other 8mm silent efforts), but there is still a solid story there. (Then again, if anyone out there is interested in stock footage of a '70s rock band in concert….)
...Keep those projector bulbs burning!
Like most normal boomer kids of the 1960's, we grew up lusting over the mail order offerings afforded by Captain Company in the back pages of Forrest J. Ackerman and James Warren's Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine! The fact that the ads were riddled with hyperbole and that the prices pretty much resembled a king's ransom to their intended audience of 12-year-old consumers did little to diminish the allure of these products! After all, what self-respecting Monster Kid wouldn't aspire to own "3 Very Important Collector's Films," or fail to see the necessity of securing "The Weirdest 8mm Movie Ever Made!"? And, of course, all of us scholarly Monster Kids just knew that Uncle Forry hadn't really meant to imply that Max Schrek (pictured as Nosferatu) had actually appeared in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari!...
Of course, film ownership demanded the tandem necessity of a film projector to properly enjoy one's acquisition. And Captain Company had you covered, offering no less than three 8mm projector models for your consideration!
At first glance, the ad to the left might have seemed like the obvious choice: an 8mm projector PLUS Lon Chaney ("Mr. Monster" himself!) in "The Most Frightening Horror Movie Scene Ever Made!" for just under $12 bucks (before the Captain's obligatory "handling" fees)! However, you might have incurred a red flag when you read that the $4.95 Phantom movie was only 50-feet in length (and similar "headline" editions cost only $1.95 to $2.25 back in the day, even if they didn't rate as being the "most frightening" scene ever!). Or maybe the real deal breaker here was that the fact that the $6.95 projector was hand-cranked (no motor!) and the lamp was powered by flashlight batteries!
No, in the final analysis, the most worthy considerations were the "100% electric!" $9.98 unit ("not a toy, but a high-quality, precision projector!") or, that cadillac of all Captain Company projector offerings, the top-of-the-line $29.95 full-featured Thunderbird model!...
Although the $10 price sticker of the Fantastic Low-Cost 8mm Movie Projector was mighty tempting, we see that this unit was limited to showing maximum capacity 50-foot reels. The "showman" in our 12 year-old collector's heart aspired to the robust 200-ft. reel capacity of the mighty Thunderbird! Besides, we harbored secret ambitions to eventually acquire that dual 200-ft. reeler, The Human Monster, and breathlessly exclaim: "Bela! Bela! At Last We Have You On Film!"...
Of course, Captain Company knew of the deep, dark secret that enticed all us Monster Kids: that we all fell prey to the allure of "gorilla exploitation"! In other words, when stricken with this unique brand of "jungle fever," we were perilously susceptible to purchasing the likes of "Jungle Witch" (Nabonga) or "Blonde Gorilla" (White Pongo), when cooler heads might have opted for the likes of The Lost World (or even the Invisible Woman)!
It was the editors of DC comics that noted the inclusion of a gorilla on the cover of any of their periodicals of that era (no matter how incongruous), drove sales up appreciably for that issue -- a phenomenon that was seemingly not lost on Messrs. Warren and Ackerman at Captain Company, either!
The most blatant example of Captain Company's affinity for gorilla exploitation was their perennial offering of Killer Gorilla! Despite the Captain Co.'s claim that it was "truly a classic of the motion picture screen," this Castle Films title proved not to be an extract from some conventional Hollywood production, but rather a "newsreel" offering of some sort.
At this point, we feel the necessity to clarify that all Monster Kids prefer their gorillas to be either men in monkey suits (a la Crash Corrigan), or stop motion puppets (a la Willis O'Brien). In no wise, do they particularly care for real gorillas, especially the grisly spectacle of one being felled by a mortal gunshot wound to the gut and its carcass being manipulated like a giant puppet by hunter tribesmen! More disturbing (by far) than King Kong's demise from the Empire State building -- it's a real mystery how this title endured for so many years in the Captain Company inventory!
We leave you with this quote from the "CEO" of Captain Company, James Warren:
"I remember as a kid how much I loved the old Johnson-Smith mail order catalog. I loved sending away for things—loved it. I thought, 'I'm going to find the items that appeal to me. I know I'm 29 but I also know I'm a supreme case of retarded development, so I can think down to an 11-year-old, and I know what I would like if I were 11...
"So I spent a lot of time—a couple of months—searching for things I thought would be right for our audience. FM was a horror/monster magazine, so I looked for the horror/ monster items they couldn't readily find or see in their local stores—the monster nails, Frankenstein mask, Horrible Herman in the box, spy camera, shrunken head, the Venus Flytrap...
"Stephen King, Stevie Spielberg, Georgie Lucas —here they are!...
"And please enclose 25¢ for postage and handling."
Jedi Master Film Handler, Janice, from the 8mm Forum, was gracious enough to share her video review of the Brumberger 1503, which appears to be an exact doppelgänger of Captain Company's "Thunderbird" unit! She states that the Brumberger company hailed from Brooklyn, which was certainly within the stomping grounds of Famous Monsters of Filmland in NYC (if not the actual Captain Company site in Philly)!
Thanks for your Jedi insight, Janet!
"Bijou Bob" Statzer deposited some photos in our email today that gave us pause for some warm fuzzy recollections! Remember those coupons that would be enclosed in Disney Home Movie reels (as well as Bell & Howell Super 8 equipment), back in the day? In exchange for a small postage fee these could be redeemed for select FREE premiums, including this collection of illustrated cards to "make professional-like home movie titles easy," as the envelope proclaims. And whose Super 8 production couldn't benefit from Disney bullpen artists boosting his production values a few notches? We bet even Spielberg implemented a few of these titles in his earliest "Super 8 Super Spectaculars"!...
Two days ago, on May 7, 2013, we lost a legend. For many of us, it’s hard to imagine a time when there was no Ray Harryhausen. Most of us grew up with his films, either at the cinema or on TV. Even before ever hearing of French writer Jules Verne, I had seen Harryhausen’s version of the author’s MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. (Due to my single-digit age at the time, I didn’t know anything about Captain Nemo. All I could tell my grade school pals was “it’s a film with giant crabs, bees and chickens.”) A few years later, a local TV station began the tradition of showing THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD on Thanksgiving, which my cousins and I watched while the adults chatted and readied the holiday dinner. Older and wiser, I knew who Captain Sinbad was, having been given a copy of Tales From the Arabian Nights by an aunt one Christmas. But I had not yet started to study or appreciate the people behind the movie magic known as special effects. I knew how animated cartoons were made, but had no idea about stop-motion animation (or “model animation,” as it is known overseas).
One day, I think I was in either 5th or 6th grade, while trying to find the latest issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, I stumbled across another monster mag that I had never heard of; Castle of Frankenstein. Issue #19, to be exact. There, glaring out at me from the cover, was the Cyclops from THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD. But there were a bunch of other monsters, and even dinosaurs, as well. Glancing inside, I was introduced to Ray Harryhausen, the man behind so many of the films I’d seen on TV. Little did I realize just how many films I admired had come from his talent and imagination. (I recalled having seen FIRST MEN IN THE MOON prior to finding the magazine, and knew some of the creatures moved in a way reminiscent of the monsters from Sinbad, but never suspected they came from the same source.) The cover story in that issue of Castle of Frankenstein was the first half of a two-part and very in-depth interview. Not only did this introduce me to Ray Harryhausen, but explained the process of model animation well enough that I would borrow my uncle’s old 8mm movie camera and try some stop-motion experiments of my own. (Little did I know that afternoon back in 1972, as I shelled out my 60 cents for the magazine, that I would one day correspond with Ray while doing a series of articles on his career.)
My being inspired by Ray Harryhausen to pick up a movie camera and experiment with special effects is not a unique story by any means. There were a great many kids with cameras before and after me to do the very same thing (and more than a handful of them are now working in the motion picture industry). Ironically, that’s just the way Ray started out. Having seen the original 1933 KING KONG upon its initial release (at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre no less), the 13 year-old future filmmaker was blown away by the special effects epic. (As were most audiences. Even in the midst of the Great Depression, the turnout to see KING KONG was so tremendous that some theaters started showing the film around the clock.) Ray’s enthusiasm for KONG was such that he eventually contacted Willis O’Brien, the stop-motion pioneer who had been responsible for bringing the prehistoric ape to life on the screen. “O’Bie” (as O’Brien’s friends called him) encouraged the young man and, over time, a friendship was formed between them. It would not be long before the two of them even worked together briefly, on George Pal’s PUPPETOON shorts.
The advent of World War II brought an abrupt halt to Ray Harryhausen’s embryonic career. But after the war, Willis O’Brien—and Hollywood—would again come calling when the team behind KING KONG launched a new giant gorilla picture, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG. Although he was technically O’Brien’s assistant, Ray would do the majority of the animation on the Academy Award-winning adventure/fantasy. Even on that first feature film assignment, it was noted that the young man worked quickly and had a natural knack for instilling life in inanimate objects.
Initially brought on board as a “gun for hire” on such fare as THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, Ray’s contributions quickly rose from merely visual effects to story development and, ultimately, even producer. An artist, animator, sculptor and writer, Ray Harryhausen was a 20th Century Renaissance Man. No other person in field of special effects in general, or stop-motion animation in particular, has had such influence or creative control over their work. For fantasy film fans, he was as much a brand name as Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas or Steven Spielberg.
Probably many here reading these words grew up collecting highlights of your favorite films in 8mm and Super 8. In those pre-cable/pre-VCR/pre-Internet days, it was about the only way to relive cherished movie memories. Fortunately, a great many of Ray Harryhausen’s films were available to us in the home movie format. How many miles did we put on those digests and projectors as we played and replayed them, either for the sheer thrill of the film or to try to figure out “how’d he do that?” And, in those days before the invention of big screen TVs, the home movie projector allowed us to see our monsters on a L-A-R-G-E screen. Just as there is something more intimate about the creations of Ray Harryhausen when compared to the CGI creatures of today, there was something a bit more interactive about threading up the projector than there is in dropping a video disc into a machine. The hands-on experience seemed to draw us in and make us feel like we were a part of the action. Many of us here still fire up the old projector, the “magic lantern” guiding our way to back to the Never-Never Land of optimistic youth. For those of us 8mm and Super 8 showmen, the passing of Ray Harryhausen marks the end of an era.
Ray, as Bob Hope would say, “Thanks for the memories!”
May 9, 2013
It was 1983 and a relatively young man named Steven Osborne from Tipp City, Ohio was rocking a mullet and a 'stache -- as well as an unbridled passion for all things Super 8! Armed with a handful of "celebrity" endorsements solicited from the likes of Roger Corman B-film alumnus Ed Nelson, "Howdy Doody" (and consort Buffalo Bob Smith), and Dinah ("See the USA in your Chevrolet!") Shore, as well as equal portions of rubber cement and a lot of heart, Steve braved the publishing unknown and turned out issue #1 of the cut-and-paste classic, Coming Attractions! 50 issues later (and nearly as many late deadlines!), found Steve migrated south to Kettering, Ohio -- where he expelled the family car from the garage and converted the structure into a functional cinema! This action no doubt gave pause for concern to his neighbors, especially after he was written up in the local paper!
There ensued another relocation within Kettering that enabled Steve to upgrade his garage cinema to one of the basement variety! It also gave Steve the impetus to rename his magazine, The Reel Image! Thanks to the phenomenal archival efforts of Dino Everette, you can now re-live those wild and woolly days of Super 8 film making and collecting at the dawn of the dread VHS video era that threatened to exterminate it! Dino has lovingly scanned surviving copies of issues 1-50 of Coming Attractions and issues 1-32 of The Reel Image into PDF files that can now be read on your computer with Adobe Reader, a free app that probably already resides on your PC. What's more, he has made all the text search friendly so that you could, for instance, search all issues for mentions of "Derann" or "Blackhawk," at the click of a mouse! Adobe Reader also has a "snapshot" function that enables you to "grab" any portion that you would like to paste into a document or print out!
I think that I'm in no small company to admit that I, like a lot of boys of my generation, developed my first crush on her as the most captivating of all of the Mouseketeers: "Annette"! Yes, she was my first crush, and now the news of her recent demise has produced yet another crush of a very different nature -- both events of which have impacted my life pretty significantly, but at polar ends of the age spectrum!
Like "Garbo" before her, she didn't need the extra baggage of a 2nd name, as there was no other personage who could possibly be summoned to a young man's consciousness of that era than she, at the mention of that magical given name! No less a visionary (and marketing genius) than Walt Disney recognized this and seized upon it, always billing her simply and sweetly as "Annette" (you knew who he was talking about -- and Uncle Walt knew that you knew!). It was only later at AIP when the usually canny marketing geniuses Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson felt compelled to somewhat hamfistedly tack on her surname, Funicello. I guess we can all just be thankful they refrained from billing her as "I Was a Teenage Annette"!
Reflecting on her indelible impact upon pop culture during her Beach Party period, Bijou Bob 8mm Statzer is on record as saying and, I think, most profoundly:
"You know, while the AIP beach movies may not have ever been to everyone's taste, if you saw them at the right age (be it at the drive-in or on TV), there was a certain comfortable charm to them. They may not have reflected reality, but it was kind of the way you hoped your teen years might be. (No satellite TV, no Internet -- what else was there but bikinis, bands and the beach?)
To dear Annette, we bid you adieu -- and we find the words of the Mickey Mouse song to be very appropos:
Now it's time to say goodbye
to all our comp-an-y...
M- I - C... ( "C" ya real soon!... )
K - E - Y... ("Y"? Because we like you! )
M - O - U - S - E!
Just a quick note to acknowledge all my fellow film enthusiasts who have championed this new website! I especially wish to make a special shout out to all the well-wishers at 8mm Forum, which I highly recommend as the "go-to" cyberspace cantina for all celluloid discussion!
As you may know, I have always remained a bit of a Fred Flintstone in the encroaching world of technology (e.g., I still wilt in terror at the prospects of carrying a cellphone, and cling bitterly to my rotary landline!). Please know that I am in receipt of all your film wants and comments, but that it may take me awhile to respond because (as always), I function a bit like the proverbial "decapitated" chicken -- attempting to juggle the dueling duties of both my regular day job and The Reel Image (the latter, of course, being mostly a labor of love).
So please know that your film wants/comments are both acknowledged and embraced!
P.S. ~ By way of introduction to any new acquaintances I may meet through this site, my webmeister has elected to paste this small biographical detail here:
Steve Osborne has been keeping the candle burning for Super 8 for over 30 years, publishing The Reel Image magazine (formerly known as Coming Attractions), for the film format faithful! Along the way he turned his basement into a very sweet home cinema, complete with theater seats on risers and a full-service snack bar, where he regularly screens Super 8 & 16mm features and shorts on his B-I-G screen (that converts to Cinemascope on the fly!), to the utter astonishment of all wayfarers who are lucky enough to stumble upon it! Did we mention his basement also serves duty as a film memorabilia museum, a film vault and a mail order office? Fortunately, his longsuffering wife, Jo, seems content with this arrangement (she has somehow managed to cling to a small corner of the basement for her laundry -- next to Steve's jukebox, of course!), and she wholeheartedly supports him in all his obsessive celluloid pursuits. Also supportive is daughter, Natalie, who assists her father in his daffy dotage with his myriad magazine publishing duties.