Saturday, December 15, 2007

Life on Film

Forty years ago tonight, my father brought home our family's first Super-8 millimeter movie camera.

December 15, 1967, was a Friday, and it was the night of my Cub Scout pack's Christmas meeting, which included a mini-pageant of sorts. (Imagine a bunch of 8- and 9-year-old boys in blue and gold uniforms, wearing reindeer antlers, and you've got a picture of the night's festivities.)

I would like to say that I have the ability to post the film-to-video transfer of that first night's product, but -- unfortunately -- the film remains in the can and has never been put on VHS or any other form of video.

Over the next 15 years, however, my family and I put hundreds of events on thousands of feet of film. (A roll of Super-8 film was about four minutes long.) The bulk of these reels of silent film is typical family fare: birthdays, holidays, visits to the zoo, vacation trips, drunken barbecues.

Once I reached junior high, I appropriated the camera (and its successors -- we upgraded more than once) for school projects.

My favorite of those projects was posted to YouTube earlier this year, but I never bothered to bring it here to share it with this blog's audience.

In my junior year of high school, I took an English class called "Humorous Literature," which was taught by Mr. Gregory Meuler, who later became principal of Marquette University High School and, at the 150th anniversary celebration this year, was given a distinguished alumnus award.

Several of us Webster Club members took the class at the same time (Mr. Meuler was an assistant debate and oratory coach) and undertook a film project which, for reasons that will become obvious to viewers who watch through the end, is entitled "A Brief Encounter" -- alluding to the great David Lean film, although the real inspiration came from Monty Python's Flying Circus, which was then the most popular public television program among adolescent boys. (Not the only public TV program favored by that demographic, however: Benny Hill was carried by PBS affiliates in those days, too, although his work never really appealed to me -- too many scantily clad women, I suppose.) The allusion also anticipated Alan Bennett's The History Boys by 30 years.

The "screenplay" (such as it was) was co-written by myself and Dan Barboriak; we also shared directorial responsibilities. The cast included our classmates Steve Illa, John Jansky, Scott Murphy, and Tim Schally. We shot the film, guerrilla-style, on the MUHS campus, on the grounds of the Veterans' Administration hospital in Wood, and on the parking lot of Milwaukee County Stadium (the predecessor of Miller Park and once the home of the Braves and the Brewers).

So, in honor of four decades of holding a moving picture camera in my hand, I give you "A Brief Encounter."

Part I:

Part II:

By the way, although this video recording has a soundtrack derived from Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," I discovered early on, while showing the original Super-8mm film to various audiences, that the soundtrack from Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon has a near-perfect overlay to the action in "A Brief Encounter." Sort of like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz.

Try it for yourself. You may be surprised by the coincidence of image and sound.


T. F. Stern said...

I'd almost forgotten about those kind of cameras until you posted this article.

My wife and I had one and used it in our sports car to see if one reel of film could document a trip into town on a nice curvy road going full out. The trip was a blast but the camera, even when anchored as best we could, the images were just a mess to look at.

Semi said...

Wow, thank you, Rick. I really enjoyed watching this. Somewhere in a box, I've got a Super-8 film that I shot with some friends while in Jr. High. I need to search that thing up and see if I can post it on my own site. Good job! --Sean McCord