My Super 8 memories

My Super 8 memories

I’m looking forward to  Super 8, the new movie opening tomorrow (produced by Stephen Spielberg and directed and written by J. J. Abrams).

However, it also has me looking backward…backward to my own days as a kid with a Super 8 camera.

No, I didn’t have a fancy one with a pistol grip, like they show in the movie.  Mine was pretty simple…it did have a shutter release, though, so I could take one frame at a time.

That meant we had a lot of fun.  We would shoot pixilation: people moving a bit between each frame.  I remember us shooting a car race, with no cars.  You just sat down, held your hands like you were holding a steering wheel, and scootched forward between each frame:

Click! Scootch! Click! Scootch!

It would take a whole afternoon at the playground to shoot a minute or so of movie.

The reels, by the way, were only three minutes long…so we shot a lot of shorts.  🙂

We even did claymation, playing around with modeling clay.  I remember making a Richard Nixon head (I might not have been the one molding, I can’t remember) and had it turn into a bug (because he bugged his office…heavy social satire, huh?). 😉

We also shot with actual people…I remember an epic that was called The Black and White Ax (I think).

We also took some footage I shot in a class of the teacher, and edited it into scenes of green army men and tanks getting melted…literally by fireworks.   It was as if the teacher was a powerful wizard…take that, Harry Potter!  🙂

Yes, edited…I had an editing machine.  It was a little illuminated screen, and you hand-cranked the movie through it.  That allowed you to snip it exactly where you wanted, so you could literally glue the two pieces of movie together.  We even made silent movie style title cards, to add some dialog (we didn’t have any sound).

My parents were nice enough to let me have a small storage room, like a closet, that I could set up as my film studio.  I remember taping strips of film to the wall, and numbering the tape so I could figure out how to put it together.

Physical film is very different from digital, of course.  One time, a piece of film accidentally folded back on itself, and ran through the projector that way.  That was one of the coolest things ever, because it gave us a superimposition….and it happened to be of a “dead body” over the scene of his killing, as I recall.  I glued it that way to show it to people.  🙂

I also remember trying to do the transporter effect from Star Trek by scratching on a film.

Speaking of scratches, films would get dirty…and that was actually dangerous.  I was working with film cleaner one time…which was really chloroform, as I recall.  You were supposed to use it in a well-ventilated area, but, um…I didn’t.  I was okay…but my dog, who would lay at my feet when I edited, got knocked cold.  She was okay, but I found out later (accurately or not, I don’t know) that chloroform falls to the floor…it’s heavier than air.  So, while I was okay, she was laying in a fog of it.

I say “remember” on a lot of this, because once the projector bulbs died, I had not way to watch them.  I suppose I could find something online nowadays, but that wasn’t an option back then.

We sent some family movies to be converted to DVD for my mother…that wasn’t cheap, but the weirdest thing was getting several of these three minute films back all spliced into one giant reel.  If I’d known that, I’m not sure I would have sent them in: I liked the little plastic reels…and I don’t think that giant reel would have fit on my projector even if I got it running.

Not all the movies we watched were ones we made.  You could also buy Super 8 versions of famous movies.  I remember having The Giant Claw, a really hokey monster movie with this completely unbelievable giant bird puppet.  At least, that’s how I remember it.

Now, of course, you can watch the trailer on YouTube:

The Giant Claw trailer

That’s just not the same, although I’m not going to say it’s not better.

I had a lot of fun with that camera…I don’t expect the movie to match the memory, but it’s going to give it a bit more meaning for me that for those who have grown up in the digital age.

How about you?  Do you have any Super 8 memories? Feel free to comment on this post and let me know.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.


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