Film Catlogs



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Just one random catalogue out of hundreds, maybe thousands, but what a wealth of memories, reflections and questions it evokes.

One of the basic reflections is just what we were prepared to tolerate. In the earliest days, all that could be gotten was odd scraps torn out of cinema films, shown on a tinplate toy lit by an oil lamp. Then, maybe, began something of a golden age when Pathintroduced their KOK; good quality films, on safety stock, with a range of subjects to suit all and, increasingly, full length feature films, particularly in the USA. It is hard now to judge the extent to which 28mm created the Home movie hobby and paved the way for 9.5mm and 16mm. Certainly, in the USA, it looks to me as though 16mm simply took over the distribution and rental network established for 28mm, all the more easily as the 28mm rental-only model meant few copies of films existed so there was little investment wasted and little extra new investment to be made, as there was anyway a constant demand then as now for new films.

In Europe, WWI and then 9.5 brought a swift end to 28mm, but 9.5 opened a much cheaper form of the hobby to a wider public. Some of the early 9.5 silent releases were of stunning quality, that still shows thru today. But the overriding advantage all these various approaches to home cinema had was the silent movie. Once the public had heard the talkies, silent films, with their fundamentally different style of acting, were passand the golden age came to an end. But there was no way to bring sound into your home cinema until 16mm sound-on-film (was this 1932?), but, even then, 16mm had become something of a semi-professional gauge. Despite 17.5 sound, from 1934, real home sound had to await 9.5 in 1938 or, if you wanted to do it yourself, mag stripe after the war.

Sound started the unravelling of home movies in more than one way. Whilst it was fairly easy to edit down silent films of moderate length to something affordable to the masses, the ever-increasing length of films and the addition of sound made it harder, more obvious and more expensive to edit them. (Prolonged exchanges between Pathand their customers on this vexed issue are covered in the History of 9.5). One approach Path adopted was to cut out musical numbers, or parts of them (although until the arrival of 9.5 sound, 17.5 sound releases tended to be full length tho' it appears, curiously, that this was not true of 17.5 silent). In a later age, we saw the exact opposite with cut-down versions on Super 8 consisting almost exclusively of musical numbers, omitting all that boring plot. And the short, cheap 50 ft silent reel for the juvenile market was one thing when there was no sound, and quite another when there was. So we entered into a long period when only films degraded to some degree, whether by abbreviation or lack of sound, were available to the masses, without whom new machinery etc. could not be commercially viable. An industry is not built on small cliques of nerds watching ghastly copies of aged silents. Even when full-length films were available on Super 8, the price was too high for many, and video was just starting to take hold. The mass market for cine ended with the first cheap video cameras, and it now seems even the showing of film is to be relegated to a fringe eccentricity by DVD's and digital projectors.

One thing the DVD revolution has helped considerably is film quality - more and more films are being dredged from the archives (and from the newly-open East European archives) and restored to something of their former glory. Even so, this does not seem to have prevented some people from producing bad DVD copies.

But just think of what we once had to put up with. 9.5 had obvious inherent limitations, compounded by the damage wrought by cheap nasty projectors, by it's smaller sound picture but most of all by the utter indifference of Path(along with virtually everyone else, it must be said) to print quality. Even 16mm fell away from the standard of the old amber prints, which were themselves copied to death in huge quantities of ever-worsening prints for the 16mm and standard 8mm markets. I have little experience of 16mm silent, but when it comes to sound, my impression is that for every good, original print, there are a dozen dupes or other bad prints. I don't really collect 16mm, basically because it is just so disappointing. And as for standard 8, some of what passed in the 60's and 70's was atrocious, little better than moving blobs on an under-illuminated screen, requiring great imagination and faith to relate to the purported topic. I don't expect miracles fromStd 8, but I do expect something a bit closer to what I know can be achieved. I suppose it's because I expect so much from 16mm that I find it so disappointing.

In my view, for most of the history of our hobby, the truly good print has been the exception rather than the rule, rare enough to excite comment, even after allowing for the inherent restraints of the various film gauges This is all the more infuriating when you see what can be achieved - the early 9.5 notched films, Kodak amber prints and, in more modern times, some Derann prints - my copy of The Lion King is stunning, almost inviting comparison with 16mm on a smallish screen. And I have some commercially-produced Standard 8 that exceeds in quality anything else I have ever seen on the gauge, tho' some amateur first-generation material is very good. And it remains as true for DVD as for film - without a good master and care in the process, quality is simply not achievable. Why did we put up with such crap for so long?

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And another thing; why on earth were (and are) so many crap films made? I see lists of films for sale, especially 16mm, and it is pretty infrequent that I come across a film I have even heard of, let alone want to see at all, much less several times, which is the implication if you actually buy a film. The very occasional really good film attracts such a premium that I cannot afford many of them. Who on earth is it who a) comes up with the idea for such films? b) provides the money? c) wishes to be associated with the making of such a film? d) goes to watch it in the cinema? e) decides it would be a really good idea to issue it in narrow-gauge? f) buys a copy? g) buys a second-hand copy? h) buys a bad second-hand copy? Please tell me there aren't that many loonies in the world!

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Coming back to the 9.5 stuff (not Baby catalogues, which are elsewhere), this much later catalogue was very difficult to make presentable.

Getting rid of the coloured background, which I am assuming is all due to fade, also knocks holes in the letters. 1951.

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Bit of an experiment here. John Fisher has sent a copy of a GB film catalogue from 1952 in four PDF sections. No idea if this will work.......


GB Catlog 1

GB Catlog 2

GB Catlog 3

GB Catlog 4

If this doesn't work for you, I'll try the individual pages as usual.


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