Home movies date back to those far off pioneering days of the motion picture industry during the nineteenth century. But as the years passed, it soon became apparent that most families found it far cheaper to hire or buy commercially made films, rather than make their own. So although amateur film making continued, local film libraries were created. It was Eastman Kodak who introduced the first standard film gauge in 1923. This was the 16mm size that is still used today, but in an attempt to bring down the cost of film during the American Depression, the Standard 8 film was developed by Kodak in 1932. This was 25 feet of 16mm film that ran through the cine camera twice and was exposed on alternate sides. During its processing, the laboratory would then split the film lengthwise down the centre, then splice one end to another, forming 50 feet of 8mm film allowing approximately 3 minutes of film time.
It was as early as 1932 that Walt Disney licensed Hollywood Film Enterprises to produce 16mm and 8mm shortened versions of his very popular cartoon films and in December 1934 Bell and Howell produced their first 8mm film projectors. In the same year, Disney began selling 25ft. (one minute) 16mm films for hand cranked toy projectors for children. But by the early 1940’s Disney had switched to the now popular 8mm size and continued to release various titles up until 1950.
So in the 1950’s middle class families were able to record memorable moments in their lives on celluloid or watch shortened versions of some of their favourite classic movies, ordered specially through glossy catalogues, in the comfort of their own home.
Often these home movies were silent and in black and white. This made versions of the early slapstick comedies of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy very popular. But major companies like Universal Pictures soon allowed manufacturers like Castle Films to release in two versions, a 50ft. Reel (3-4 minutes) or 200ft. Reel (12-16 minutes) excerpts of popular cartoons like Woody Woodpecker or the classic horror features like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Werewolf. During the early sixties it was Abbot and Costello that became Castle Films top-selling home movie stars. Meanwhile, in the 1960’s Walt Disney Home Movies were releasing favourite excerpts from some of its classics like Snow White, Bambi and Peter Pan. This meant there was no longer the need to wait the seven years for the next re-issue of the Disney feature length films at the local cinemas, which was the policy of the studio at that time.
In April 1965 Kodak introduced Super 8 film for home movies. This gave an improved quality of image which not only became extremely popular with amateur film makers, but helped boost the home movie industry as they continued to package condensed one reel versions of major feature films. By the mid sixties the introduction of sound home movie projectors prompted more 200ft and 400ft reel versions with magnetic audio tracks.
As a youngster I had always been fascinated by the cinema and can remember vividly my first toy Standard 8 film projector that I was given one Christmas in the late 1960’s. With the projector came a couple of Laurel and Hardy silent 50ft films (Let ‘Em Rip and Grave Heroes). Those little films were quite expensive and if my memory is correct, they used to cost about nineteen shillings and sixpence!
But after excitedly unpacking my new toy and giving a couple of showings to my younger brother, the plastic handle broke off halfway through a film premier for my parents, leaving me unable to crank the film. That was it! I burst into tears! My poor Dad tried desperately to glue it back on, but alas it took a fortnight before he managed to get the projector replaced. I was heartbroken.
Many years later, I saved up and bought a far more sturdy, electric projector from a local camera shop in my home town. It was when the shop assistant asked me if would like to chose any movies to go with it, that I noticed sitting on the shelf a 50 ft colour version of Disney’s Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest by Walt Disney Home Movies. A silent excerpt from the original movie The Story of Robin Hood released in 1952. I couldn’t believe my luck. My bus home that Saturday could not go fast enough!
© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007