Film Collecting Basics(I. HIS

Chapter Six





In my Introduction, all too many words ago, I alluded my "bible at the time" – the "Handbook of Projection" by F. H. Richardson.

Who was Frank Herbert Richardson? I did some research to learn more about the author of my "bible," and I learned that he is indeed the grandfather of modern projection, having literally grown up with the emerging industry. He was active with the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (SMPE), the predecessor of today’s Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), from its founding in 1916 until his death in 1943. He wrote defining technical papers and articles concerning all aspects of then cutting-edge motion picture projection and equipment, with emphasis on quality of presentation and faithful representation of the cinematographer’s art. He was a regular columnist for the trade magazine "Moving Picture World."

Some years ago I acquired copies of the Fifth Edition (1927) and the Sixth Edition (1935), and, most recently, the Seventh (last) Edition. In re-reading these excellent textbooks, I was struck with the depth of Mr. Richardson’s treatment of the subject material, from electrical and optical fundamentals through booth equipment installation, maintenance and operation. The early projectionists who took the time to read and digest Mr. Richardson’s wisdom were equipped to handle most everything they would ever encounter, a far cry from today’s megaplex staff for whom threading in frame is often a mind-boggling challenge.

Mr. Richardson’s dedication in the Sixth Edition gives a glimpse of the spirit of his time:

"I happily dedicate this 1935 edition of my BLUEBOOK OF PROJECTION to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Motion Picture Machine Operators of the United States and Canada in the hope that it will aid its members to further improve the efficiency and quality of their work, thereby giving substantial aid to the motion picture industry and doing honor to themselves."

What a change 65 years has wrought! Yet, new quality incentives such as THX certification, along with substantial investment in new and improved venues that feature fewer, but better, screens, may herald a renaissance of exhibitors "doing honor to themselves."

As a collector, perhaps by now imbued with a desire to screen your films the very best possible way, you may be developing an interest in learning more about the art and science of projection. If so, I could make no better recommendation than to encourage you to find a copy of the Sixth or Seventh Edition of the "Bluebook of Projection" in your local library or purchase a copy from a purveyor of used books.

Finally, the Sixth Edition has a forward by no less a film legend than Adolph Zukor, then Chairman of Paramount Pictures, who summarized the art and honored the author. His are words well worth reading.

"There comes in the career of every motion picture that final occasion when all the artistry, all the earnest constructive endeavor of all the man-power and genius of the industry, and all the capital investment, too, must pour through the narrow gate of the projector on its way to the fulfillment of its purpose, the final delivery to the public.

"That delivery is a constant miracle of men and mechanism in the projection rooms of the world’s fifty thousand theatres. That narrow ribbon, thirty-five millimeters, flowing at twenty-four frames a second through the scintillating blaze of the spot at the picture aperture and coursing by at an exactingly-precise 90 feet a minute past the light slit of the sound system, demands a quality of skill and faithful, unfailing attention upon which the whole great industry depends.

"The projector lens is the neck in the bottle through which all must pass. The projectionist presiding over that mechanism is responsible for the ultimate performance upon which we must all depend.

"The projector must not fail, and more importantly still, the man must not fail or permit it to waiver in its performance. It is to the tremendous credit of the skill of the modern projectionist that perfect presentation of the motion picture upon the screen is today a commonplace, a perfection that is taken as a matter of course.

"For more than a quarter of a century now F. H. Richardson, author of this and the Bluebooks that have gone before, has been the philosopher, friend and guide of the projectionists. He began in the nickelodeon days when the two-pin Edison projector was considered a wonderful machine, and he has continued, becoming himself an institution along with the developing art, into this day of the amazing complexities and large responsibilities of the modern projection room, with its maze of machinery and all the delicate, intricate devices that are involved in sound picture reproduction.

"It is appropriate that here in this place one who has shared and experienced these years of the building of the screen into its world dominion as an amusement medium should record the industry’s recognition of Mr. Richardson’s long and diligent service and his valued contributions to the progress of the motion picture art."




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