I have spoken on many occasions about my personal love for the imagery, creativity and aesthetics of the decade in which I was born and (partially) grew up. Friend and colleague Peter Silverton once said to me of my obsession, that it was because I remember it as a decade in which I was happy. He may be right. The 1960s was a period of ‘what could be’ before the 1970s arrived and put a stop to all of that free-thinking, optimistic experimentation, by adding a cynical bitterness borne of disappointment. Well at least that’s my take on it.
This obsession with the Sixties led me recently to embark on a journey into the darker corners of eBay, in search of magazines from the period focused on filmmaking. A few clicks in and I discovered exactly what I had been looking for: the self-proclaimed ‘Britain’s best-selling home cine magazine’ titled 8mm. I immediately clicked to buy four copies at the knockdown price of £2.99 each, based purely on the covers, which seemed to promise the most-awaited delivery.
Sadly, on arrival, they proved not to offer as much as expected, or promised. What they did achieve, however, was to get me thinking. The magazines were low in pages, quality of writing and images, but filled with advice as to how the enthusiast could make, edit, present and archive films; and make a wooden box to keep them in. They had a wonderful ‘build it yourself’ quality to creative problem solving and a ‘make do and mend’ approach to what would today be called a ‘workflow process’. But the two elements within 8mm Magazine, which began the thought process that I want to explore with you here, were the advertisements and the classified advertisements.
The advertisements, as you would expect, were primarily for cine cameras manufactured by some recognisable and some not so recognisable names: Canon, Kodak, Hanimex, Eumig, Agfa, Bolex and Fujica all featured repeatedly. Obviously these advertisements extolled the virtues of each camera they were promoting, but they also included the prices of the cameras they were promoting, and the prices were high; as were the prices of the projectors, screens and everything else involved with being an enthusiast filmmaker in 1969. A good-quality family camera, such as a Super 8 Bauer, for example, was retailing at a considerable £96 10s 0d, which would be equivalent to approximately £1,150 today.
If you wanted to raise your game and invest in one of the top-of-the-range Canons at the time, then you would have to have found £399 16s 3d; a staggering £5,010 in today’s money. And remember, these cameras were not for professionals, they were for enthusiasts. In short, you had to be extremely committed to even consider entering the filmmaking world. And yet a quick flick to the classified advertisement section at the back of the magazine reveals three pages of information on local filmmaking clubs nationwide.
Filmmaking was a thriving hobby. From Croydon to Edinburgh, from Gosport to Leeds, people were making films, sharing knowledge and putting on club film shows; despite the costs involved and the technical difficulties of working with the technology of the day. “Enough, enough of the past,” I hear you say. “What has this got to do with today and with me?” Well, hold on one moment, as I want to stay in the golden days of cutting and splicing by hand for just a little longer.
Looking at these club pages reminded me of a BBC children’s television programme that I used to watch once a week, every week, on returning home from school. It was called Screen Test and was presented by a filmmaking enthusiast called the encouraging Michael Rodd. It comprised a general film quiz aimed at 11 year olds, a film clip made by the Children’s Film Foundation and a regular segment where films were shown which had been made by its young viewers. The show rapidly grew in popularity and spawned a young filmmakers’ competition, which in turn produced a number of professional filmmakers and one Oscar winner. Screen Test ran on BBC1 from 1970 to 1984.
Not to be outdone, ITV had its own film show for the young, Clapperboard, whichwas presented by the laconic Chris Kelly. Clapperboard was more of a film review programme with an educational element to it, with episodes covering such adult film information as the film music of Ron Goodwin and the set design of Ken Adam (the set designer of the Bond films). It also profiled the cinematographer Freddie Young and looked at the work of Jacques Tati. It was an intelligent film series which ran from 1972 to 1982. Both of these TV series promoted the history of film and the excitement of filmmaking to the young, and both died with the advent of video film technology.
Now back to 2012. I was recently made aware of a short film titled This is Brighton. It’s a time-lapse short created from more than 45,000 stills on a Sony DSLR-A230 over a 10-month period by Caleb Yule. Caleb added a tilt-shift effect in post-production and edited the footage to some well-chosen music by the Cinematic Orchestra. Nothing that unusual so far then; Vimeo and YouTube are filled with films like this. Caleb’s film, however, is a particularly good example of the genre; and he is only 13 years of age. This is Brighton has gone viral. Caleb has become a local celebrity and his film is now developing a commercial life of its own, way beyond Caleb’s initial expectations. But Caleb is not as unusual as you might think. He is however becoming a high-profile flag-bearer for a new generation of very young filmmakers. Filmmakers that today do not have the limitations placed upon them that the readers of 8mm Magazine and the viewers of Screen Test and Clapperboard had. Their platforms for sharing are now free, digital and international, and the local film club has been replaced by social media and online forums. What has not changed, however, is the desire to tell stories and experiment with the moving image.
Another major difference today is that the young filmmakers of 2012 are being visually educated by the moving image as the dominant factor. The still image is a secondary creative option to them. This was not the case back in 1969. What does this all mean? Well my belief is that we are on the cusp of the most exciting era of image making that we have ever known. An era in which image making will be at its most available, democratic and achievable; and this is something that we should all be very excited about.
It means that we will all have to reassess how, where and why we exist within this new landscape of image makers. Those of us with long careers within the professional world as both filmmakers and photographers have to accept that things have changed and embrace what is now possible. My discovery of the forgotten world of 8mm Magazine and my remembrance of both Screen Test and Clapperboard, only go to show that the passion for filmmaking which was once so prevalent has remained dormant for too long, and that thanks to technological advancements it is now rising like a phoenix from the flames. Unfortunately, I have been able to find clips from either of these series online, but issues of 8mm Magazine are still available on eBay if you want to pick up a copy. If you do, you just may end up thinking and feeling how I do: that we all love telling stories with the moving image, with dialogue and with creativity, and that now that it’s so easy to do so, it would be wrong not to.
© Grant Scott 2012