Northeast Historic Film thinks about the aesthetics of nontheatrical film
Excerpted from the illustrated talk, A Brief History of Amateur Film Gauges, by Alan Kattelle, Author of Home Movies: A History of the American Industry, 1899-1979. Presented at the 2003 Northeast Historic Film Symposium.
Pathé 28mm Safety Film System, 1912
Both Pathé Freres and George Eastman experimented with non-flammable cellulose acetate film. As early as 1905 Eastman had produced some for professional use, but neither exhibitors nor distributors liked it, complaining that it was not as strong as nitrate, and it was soon withdrawn. Pathé however introduced this system in Europe for the amateur, the film having one perforation per frame on one side and three on the other. At first the amateur was expected to buy reduction prints of Pathé’s commercial films, but soon a handsome camera was also offered.
Safety Standard 28mm Film, 1918
The next non-theatrical or small gauge film to appear was a derivative of Pathé’s 1912 28mm film. Alexander Victor, the Swedish/American inventor had long felt the need for standardization of non-theatrical films, used by schools, churches and fraternal organizations, as well as amateurs. Largely through his efforts, in 1918 the Society of Motion Picture Engineers adopted this format, called 28mm Safety Standard. It was simply Pathé ‘s 1912 film except that it has three perforations on each edge. About 1930 Pathescope of America introduced a camera for this format.
9.5mm Safety Film, 1922
Pathé found that their 28mm system was not selling as well as hoped, chiefly because the film was nearly as expensive as 35mm, so in 1922 they introduced this greatly reduced gauge and a projector to go with it. The intent was still to have the amateur show reduction prints of commercial films, in perfect safety. The film was 9.5mm wide with one rectangular perforation in the center on the frame line. The following year they introduced a camera for this gauge, and the new gauge and equipment quickly became very popular in Europe, and has remained so to this day.
Eastman Kodak 16mm Safety film System, 1923
On January 28, 1923, Dr. D. E. K. Mees, Eastman Kodak’s Director of Research, announced the arrival of what is arguably the most important single advance in the history of amateur motion pictures. The new gauge gave an image size adequate for home projection and yet the film width was small enough to permit relatively small light-weight cameras; the cellulose acetate base eliminated the fire hazard of cellulose nitrate, and the direct reversal emulsion ended the need for two pieces of film, the original and the print. The public’s acceptance is apparent in the fact that within months of its introduction, film processing stations had been opened across the country, even appeared on several transatlantic liners. Just to be sure that the buyer got good results, Mr. Eastman insisted (at first) on selling the system as a package, including tripod, projector, screen and splicer, which sold for $325.
Not to be confused with a later print film also called Kodacolor, this 16mm film achieved color motion pictures with the use of a process first devised in 1908 by Albert Keller-Dorian, improved by Berthon, thence know as the KDB process. The system used film with minute cylindrical ridges, 22 per millimeter, molded on the back of the film base; a tri-color filter for the camera, and a similar filter for the projector. In practice, the film is placed in the camera with the base facing the camera lens. The light rays from the scene being photographed pass through the filter and are focused on the emulsion by the cylindrical lenses, which register the predominant color transmitted by each ray from each spot in the scene. When the developed film is placed in the projector, which is equipped with an identical 3-color filter, the colors of the original scene are reproduced.
Eastman Kodak’s 8mm System, 1932
Kodak engineers and scientists had also been working to reduce film cost, and in1932 double page ads proclaimed “Kodak cuts the cost of film nearly 2/3”. The system used 8mm film, provided to the consumer as spools of 16mm film, to be exposed on one half of the film at a time, the spool then turned over and the other half exposed. Thus a 25 foot spool of 16mm yielded 50 ft of finished film. The first Kodak 8mm camera was priced at $29.50; the least expensive 16mm camera offered by Kodak at that time cost $75.
Eastman Kodak Kodachrome, 1935
In 1935 came perhaps the greatest advance in photography since Eastman’s flexible film; the advent of a method of photography which permitted the rawest amateur to take brilliant, natural color pictures, a goal that photographic scientists had been working toward almost from the first days of photography itself. Kodachrome was the ultimate product of dozens of research scientists at Kodak Research Laboratories, brought to fruition largely by the work of two most unusual men, Leopold Godowsky and Leopold Mannes, scientists, and also both professional musicians of the first rank. While the Kodachrome process was simplicity itself for the user, the manufacture and subsequent development of the exposed film required dozens of intricate manipulations, physical and chemical. At first only available as 16mm movie film, it was soon available in 8mm movie film and then as transparency film for still cameras, and in that form was a huge success in the graphic arts field. Kodachrome has been vastly improved over the years, but the original Kodachrome has retained its colors very well over the last sixty plus years.