By Tim Hayes
It must have been a birthday party. Whether one of mine, or that of one of my sisters, it really didn’t matter. We all had the same experience.
Staring into a set of blazing, blaring, iridescent super-bright white lights – eyes watering, squinting, pleading for help that remained an eternity away – we got the command from off-camera to smile and wave and pretend that this familial torture happened every day.
As if staring into a car’s high-beam headlights from three feet away was a daily occurrence. What about lights so intensely hot that I could feel my rayon polyester shirt melting, bonding to my flesh, as the icing on the birthday cake slid onto the tablecloth from sitting too close to the solar-like temperature? Oh, ha-ha, just another day in the living room, everybody! Happens all the time. Nothing off-kilter here, gang. Not to worry! All is well!
My folks had a great old Bell & Howell 8mm camera, way back when. The thing weighed a ton, encased in a metal housing that could withstand a nuclear blast. In those early days of home movies, unless you happened to be outside on a sunny day, it required a bank of heat-probe bulbs to properly illuminate the subjects, as described above. Lucky us.
Now that I think of it, Dad usually operated the camera, positioned safely back where the temperature and foot-candle count could sustain human life. Hmmm. I always knew he was really smart.
Every now and then, I got sent upstairs to pull the projection screen out of the hall closet and get it ready for a show. Dad would spool the little reel of developed film through the sprockets of the projector – another steel-encased piece of indestructible equipment – flip the switch, and away we went.
In between extended shots of little kids – girls in frilly dresses, boys in white shirts, each child squinting and trying not to go blind from the eclipse-like visual assault – we got treated to extended shots of adults gathered in our living room, waving off the camera, mouthing things like, “Oh, get out of here,” or “No, not me!” You had to lip-read, since the camera had no way to record sound. The colors came through nice and bright, though, thanks to those unforgiving lights, no doubt.
Nowadays, everyone has a video camera in his or her pocket or purse. It weighs mere ounces. It records sound and creates an amazingly rich picture. You can edit it however you want, while walking down the street, riding a bus, playing bridge, whatever. And then you can touch a button and anyone on planet earth with a smartphone can see it within seconds.
Such a video competes with the 1 billion-plus videos already on YouTube, and the 300,000 new videos posted every day. So there’s no way your little masterpiece could possibly be missed or lost in the crowd, right? Ain’t technology something?
As a father to my own family, I took plenty of videos as the kids grew up. But my era as a cameraman still preceded the smartphone, so our memories remain locked on VHS tapes of various sizes. We’ll have to get them transferred onto a digital platform someday, when we have the considerable funds required. Maybe I can knock over a 7-Eleven or two and pick up some quick cash. Barring that, the tapes sit in our basement, awaiting the day when they can spring back to Technicolor life.
Recalling the old 8mm days, though, for all the discomfort endured in creating those old movies of birthdays and vacations and picnics and Sunday dinners at Grandma’s, they sure age well. Technology’s great, but 300,000 videos created each day seems to suck a lot of the romance out of recorded family history. Give me the old steel-plated Bell & Howell days.
I’d love to pull that old screen out of the closet one more time, load the film into the projector, flip the switch, and share some funny moments of when I was a kid with my kids today. My guess is, they’d get a kick out of watching a rayon shirt molecularly bond to their squinting, fake-smiling, perspiration-soaked old man when he was seven or eight.
All is well.
Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes