Friday, June 10, 2011

Super 8

I took my son to the movies today to see "Super 8".  If you're unfamiliar with the movie, it's set in 1979 and is in the genre of such 80's movies as The Goonies and Stand By Me.  In case you're not quite sure of when the movie is set, writer-director J. J. Abrams not so subtly reminds, and in some cases, hits you over the head with this fact.  Less than 5 minutes into the movie, you've been treated to E.L.O.'s "Don't Bring Me Down" and Wings' "Silly Love Songs" along with a potpourri of 70's product placement.

The movie revolves around a boy obsessed with winning a film contest by filming his own monster movie on super 8 film starring his friends.  While filming a pivotal scene at a train station, the boys, and camera, witness a train derailment that unleashes....well, I won't spoil it for you.

I have to admit, one of the reasons I wanted to see this film was my own devotion to the super 8 format.

When I was child, about once a year, my parents would borrow a super 8 projector from friends or relatives and we would drag out our own collection of films chronicling past vacations.  Years later, I decided I wanted to shoot some of my own super 8 film and document some of my own family's adventures.

Back in 2005, I found a Sankyo Sound XL-40S super 8 camera at a garage sale for $10.  It was originally produced in 1975.

I promptly joined 8mm forum and learned where to buy and develop super 8 film.  Unfortunately, I also learned you could no longer buy sound film.  But buying silent film is fairly easy, your choices spanning eBay, private sellers, or directly from Kodak.  Getting it developed was a little trickier.  As it turns out, there is only one place left in the United States that develops super 8 film, Dwayne's Photo in Kansas. 

I ordered 1 roll of film.  After all, I had no idea if the camera worked and at $15 for a 3-minute cartridge, I wasn't going gamble any more.  As it turned out, the camera worked perfectly and I shot my kids in many summer activities -- playing in the sprinkler, the pool, and camping.  But I didn't know whether I had captured anything until I sent the cartridge to Dwayne's for development.  When it came back, I immediately got out my Elmo ST-600M super 8 projector I picked up on eBay years before and threaded it up.  I was very pleased with the results and ordered more film with the intent of filming those scenes that I felt played best on super 8 film -- Halloween, Christmas, vacations, all those events typically filmed when this camera was state of the art.  It costs another $15 to develop, so the costs average out to $10 per minute.  Not a cheap investement, but a fun one.

J. J. Abrams clearly wanted to accomplish 2 things -- he wanted desperately to create a movie in the 80's style of Steven Spielberg and he wanted to create a movie that kids today would remember years from now.  I can't say I was blown away by the movie, and to me, it missed it's mark matching E.T. or Raiders of the Lost Ark.  But while on the surface it might seem it was aimed at my generation, I think it was aimed at the kids of today and for what it's worth, my son said he loved it and wanted to see it again.

I'd love to see a revival of super 8 film as a result of this movie and I suspect there might be a little bump in the sales of cameras.  It remains to be seen whether the interest, and the movie, will be lasting.

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