Super 8

History of motion pictures dates back to the second part of the 19th century with photographers like Étienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge who among others were the first to take several images per second in one effort - all in scientific purpose back then - to study locomotion of birds, animals and humans. For example, Muybridge was the first who took series of photographs of a galloping horse in order to prove that in one single instant of time all four horse legs are not touching the ground. More or less in the same time on another continent, Marey created a shotgun shaped camera capable with one trigger pull to capture 12 images in a row within one single second and store them all on the single 90mm film. He used his gun to study various motion of animals, fish and insects within his so called 'animated zoo', including dropped cats from different heights and filming them always landing on their feet.

ELMO Super 106, 8mm movie camera

It was not long after initial chronophotography efforts and enthusiasm in 19th century, that 'evolution' of motion pictures diverted heavily into entertainment and cinematography. History of films and fun started almost with start of 20th century, but in the spirit of today title, 'domesticating' films within ordinary people and human homes waited another 65 years for the invention of Super 8, or to be precise, improvement of Kodak's standard 8mm film from 1932 into more efficient surface with bigger width for the frame itself and significantly smaller perforation on the film right edge. After they introduced it at the 1964-65 World's Fair, Super 8 instantly became the very first home video format with light cameras capable of filming 18 frames per second and more than 3 minutes of the movie per one, also small in dimension, film cartridge.

To say that my father was a film enthusiast in the second part of sixties and entire seventies would be understatement. It was natural for him to go the step further and in addition to the several analog SLR cameras and darkroom equipment for developing photos, to invest into home movies. Spending time in darkroom and hanging photos on the wire were one of the most thrilling experiences from my childhood, but when Super 8 came, another world opened. I was too young to operate the camera but on the occasion or two I remember I did hold it and pressed the red button especially during our vacations in Greece. Well, aside from those rare moments, most of the time my job, with being a kid and all, was to be in front of the camera and not behind it.

Tondo Super 8 Projector and LG Nexus 5 in action

But to cut the story short, this month I did something I was delaying for a long time. During last two weeks, every night I was descending into my own customized darkroom equipped with tiny Super 8 projector and digitalizing our family films. Twenty of those survived over time and with a speed of two per day I projected them on the wall and filmed them all with my smartphone. It was far from being ideal setting but this was the best I could do. I tried different approaches, filming from different distances, different settings and with using my dSLR Nikon in the beginning. I even tried to project the film directly into dSLR but all my efforts failed due to not having proper lenses and objectives and in the end the smartphone was the chosen solution and it did better job in the dark than Nikon.

With more expensive equipment I am sure the results would be much better and probably the weakest link was the cute and old Italian Tondo projector - which was my father's portable cinematic projector. I did try with a bigger 'player' first, but despite all my efforts I couldn't manage to repair the old and superb Crown Optical Co Ltd - Auto-P, a silent Standard and Super 8 film projector, our primary projector capable of displaying big and crisp screens on the large walls and with much better quality. To be honest it's more than half a century old and built with nowadays rare parts, especially the missing lamp, that is hard to find these days, but I didn't give up and perhaps in the future if I stumble to some solution (read it ebay sort of solution) I will repeat the effort, at least for those videos filmed indoors.


Nevertheless, all twenty rolls now comes with twenty MP4s and for this occasion I decided to create two movie collages with six movies per each. They are all filmed in late sixties, during seventies and early eighties, with ELMO Super 106 camera from the first image. First one, embedded above contains six films from our early vacations in Greece and in chronological order they are filmed in Acropolis of Athens, Zeitenlik, World War I memorial park in Thessaloniki, vacation resorts in Kamena Vourla, Asprovalta, Katerini Paralia and two vacations in near vicinity of the port city of Volos.

Second collage is from our home and village in Niš and Guševac in Serbia. Mostly it focuses to my sister's and mine babyhood and early childhood, birthday parties, family gathering and excursions. Also our old house that is now gone and old shape of our country village frontyard. This video also contains one of rare black and white films from our collection that probably originate from different camera and settings.


This entire effort triggered lots of memories and emotions from almost forty years ago and seeing people live, especially those that are not alive today are something extraordinary that regular photography cannot induce. Perhaps we today, with all of our pocket gadgets, are taking video clips and home photography for granted, but before, in the Super 8 era this was completely different experience. What we today do with just two taps on the screen, before you had to do in more complex manner, including purchasing film cartridge, carefully plan (directing) filming sequences for a 3 minutes film, sending it to developing, organize cinematic sessions...

One thing is for sure, Super 8 was the origin of what we have now in our homes. It was eventually replaced with VHS tapes in 80-ies, but in the dawn of the 21st century analog period came to its end and home old fashion gadgets are replaced with home digital camcorders first and in the very last decade with smartphones. To tell you the truth, it is nice to have a camera in your back pocket, it is, but somehow, with me, as I witnessed the origin of the entire process in my early childhood, the nostalgia for the analog days gave me another layer of the entire experience. Something special and extraordinary for sure.

'Super 8', Sci-Fi movie by J.J.Abrams

Perhaps for the best conclusion for this post, it would be not fair not to mention one of the greatest J.J.Abrams' movies from 2011. Simply named 'Super 8' it tells a main sci-fi story about alien encounter, but everything perfectly wrapped within a background story of school kids trying to film a short movie for a super 8 festival. It was really a great movie and if you liked E.T. before, this is definitely a decent sequel and one of my favorites.

Refs:
http://www.kodak.com/id/en/consumer/products/super8/default.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_film_formats
http://www.retrothing.com/2009/09/tondo-super-8-projector
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/super-8-jj-abrams-says-194908