A little cinematic perspective

About five years ago, I bought a pile of old Super 8mm Filmmaking magazines from eBay. I thought it would be fun to take a nostalgic look at the by-gone days of moviedom, just as I love browsing through old Sears catalogs on the rare chance that I happen to see one. Well, being a busy guy, I never got around to actually reading the magazines after I bought them, but I came across the stack in my closet today while packing for the move. Feeling that I had earned a bit of a break, I sat down, propped my feet up, and spent an hour reading the January 1980 issue of Super 8mm Filmmaking from cover to cover, including the ads.

Wow. This experience has convinced me more than ever that we’re all horribly, horribly spoiled.

Case in point: A full page advertisement for something called the Mountain View Movie Club. This was apparantly a Columbia House-type service for cinema lovers. Now remember, this was 1980, so the format of choice was not VHS but Super 8mm film prints, to be watched on your private projector and screen.

Seems the old Mountain View Movie Club had a heck of a deal going! After paying a one-time, non-expiring, upfront membership fee of $100.00, you could then spend an *additional* $99.99 (plus shipping) to purchase your very own COMPLETE, UNCUT, COLOR Super 8mm film print of (your choice) SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, GREASE, or BARBARELLA (limit one per customer, please). In the fine print, we learn that the standard prices of these three films were, respectively, $495.00, $418.00, and $395.00. And great news: your membership allowed you to purchase additional film prints at the club’s “regular” price! (Remember, those are 1980 dollars.)

I just bought my wife a remastered copy of GREASE on DVD last week, with surround sound and bonus supplements, for $4. I’m just saying.

Still, at least you could get the FULL version! Remember the heyday of Super 8, when you could buy a 10 or 15-minute “digest” print of a film, featuring only the most famous scenes? In the same issue of the magazine, the staff reviewed the abridged editions of several movies, including ALIEN and SUPERMAN. Fantastic reading! (The SUPERMAN digest apparantly used creative dissolves to alleviate the choppiness often found in these cut-down versions, while ALIEN reportedly retained none of the suspense but all of the gore… which pretty makes the film a pointless viewing experience, as far as I’m concerned.)

The staff also announced that a new digest version of “the smash sci-fi film” THE BLACK HOLE would soon be released, and they promised to review it as soon as they got their hands on a copy. (Trivia tidbit: I owned that very digest back in the day! Yep… I had a hacked-up edition of THE BLACK HOLE on Super 8mm. I also owned the STAR WARS Super 8mm digest too! My copy was black and white, silent, and subtitled. Not quite the same experience.)

Some of the articles were mesmerizing as well… tips on how to achieve clean cement splices that won’t break or tear; a sneak peek at some of the forthcoming Super 8mm projectors with “cinema-like” stereo sound capabilities, and other anachronisms.

An entertaining read, but a bittersweet one. I can’t believe how good modern filmmakers have it… but there was something so *pure* and *intense* about this publication’s love of the Super 8mm medium that just hasn’t transfered over to modern equipment. I am thankful for 3-CCD 24p video cameras and HD rigs. And yes, I’m thankful for Final Cut Pro and portable desktop editing. But I miss the *passion* and the *ingenuity* that was so integral to these earlier productions.

Which is why I’d rather watch, say, Nosferatu than almost any modern film.

Your thoughts?


ADDENDUM: I looked through another issue of Super 8mm Filmmaking a bit later, and found that the Mountain View Movie Club upgraded its service shortly after the first ad appeared. In addition to the three films mentioned above, two more titles were added to the $99.99 list: CHINATOWN and MARATHON MAN. Also, all retail prices in the second ad had been slashed by 50%. Not too many takers of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER for $495.00, one must assume.

But even though I’m a confirmed DVD addict, I can’t shake the thought that owning a complete film print of CHINATOWN would rock my world.

Forget it, Jake… it’s movie envy.



3 responses to “A little cinematic perspective

  1. Wow… $100.00 membership fee to spend another $100. Amazing. We are truly, truly spoiled these days. As I never had any Super 8 equipment my filmmaking days didn’t start until VHS, but I can still remember the times when VHS first broke in and Tapes were priced astonmically high. When you owned a movie it was huge. Like owning a game system. Today Movies might as well be free they are so easy to come by.

    ..we are truly blessed today to have what we ahve. It is the BESt time in history to be a film devotee.

  2. Unfortunately, I’m too young to remember Super8, but it’s an interesting historical perspective. But I can totally relate to your desire to watch Nosferatu over anything coming out these days. There’s definitely something to be said for a film that’s still scary after 85 years and silent!

    P.S. Kino just came out with a 2-disc of Nosferatu with the original score from 1922. Check it out.

  3. I took filmaking classes in 1980 at the University of Utah. We used super 8 cameras and film. Had a subscription to super 8 filmaker. and lol…joined mountain view movie club..bought Saturday Night fever. Still have it! now collect film in super 8 and 16mm. Am currently bidding on the film “Sunrise”, 1927 silent, wtih music. Have copies of The Best Years of Our Lives, Its a Wonderful Life, The Philadelphia Story. and yes, you can get Nosferatu in Super 8. Still love film. Each new film is an aquisition. Sure, still like dvd, but owning prints is something else.

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