Taking in the Trash with New Hampshire’s Chris Nichols & The Trash Pile

By John Campopiano

Back in 2010, Chris Nichols, originally from Massachusetts but now residing with his wife in New Hampshire, was searching for a new way to satiate his appetite for creative output after his days performing in local Boston area bands had come to an end. As an enthusiast for not just music but also film, specifically cult, horror, and genre films, Nichols launched The Trash Pile–a blog dedicated to finding, reviewing, and in some cases re-releasing obscure and forgotten films. But Chris isn’t all that keen or interested in releasing hard-to-find weirdo gems on digital platforms like YouTube (though he isn’t against other people doing it). Instead, Chris’ allegiances lie with a format that holds much sentimental value to hoards of likeminded collectors (including the founder of this blog): the VHS tape.

NEMMC spoke with Nichols earlier this autumn and asked him to rewind for us the story of The Trash Pile–the idea idea turned web show turned blog/podcast–and to share with us what motivates him to act as one of many faithful believers in the VHS format.

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NEMMC: While getting to know you over this past year it’s evident that the VHS format holds a great deal of meaning for you. Can you talk about how being an advocate and podcast figure within the niche community of VHS collectors has impacted you?

Chris Nichols: For years the VHS format was something my father and I shared and spent time enjoying together (although going to the theater was just as important to us). I started collecting VHS around 1991 and for years in my neighborhood the kids and families would ask if they could “rent” the movies I owned. Back in the early days of Excel, I would print out spreadsheets with details about what was my VHS inventory. I suppose that’s what led to me searching out more and more movies that I hadn’t seen before–this is also where the podcast came into play a couple of years ago. The podcast (and our old web show) were all about starting a dialogue around movies that had somehow skated under the radar of fandom or had never received a proper release here in the states.

NEMMC: This web show sounds intriguing. What was that all about?

CN: The show was done online and it followed the format of the podcast with the addition of covering new releases on DVD and Blu-ray (as well as comic books).
We didn’t really have any guests to speak of–just likeminded friends. Mark Anastasio from Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre called in once to hype their annual Halloween Horror Marathon.

NEMMC: The Trash Pile has had some stops and starts over the years. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in keeping it going?

CN: The biggest challenge I’ve faced in the last six years of doing The Trash Pile is maintaining my own drive–having the will to do it. I’ve experienced instances of bad luck, I guess, in my personal life that has left me feeling depleted creatively.  The co-host of the podcast, Jason, moved from Massachusetts to Georgia late last year, so having the ability to sync up and to record has been tricky. Really, it’s all bullshit excuses because I should just write to write, or podcast to podcast–for the enjoyment of it.

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Chris Nichols, left; Jason Potter (right)

NEMMC: Can you talk about some of The Trash Pile’s limited edition VHS releases? Have you encountered any rights hurdles with talent or production/distribution houses? If so, how have you navigated those hurdles?

CN: Most of what I do is on the grey market [unofficial buying/selling/trading areas that exist outside the perimeters of authorized manufacturing channels] and my re-edits and re-releases are always of films that are not available for purchase in the States. If something has been released here [the United States] and is currently in print, I don’t touch it. In terms of the titles I’ve done small batches of, it really just comes down to if it’s a title I, personally, enjoy. The whole idea of the grey market was something that fueled my love of international and genre films. When I was in high school my friend, Jason, and I would attend comic conventions in Boston every few months in order to search for and pick up new movies. Without those conventions we wouldn’t have been able to see a lot of these films that never made it to the States by that point (e.g., VERSUS, BATTLE ROYALE, etc.) or special edits of films that were very hard to come by (e.g., the x-rated version of ROBOCOP). Of course the distribution arena has changed dramatically over the years and a lot of these once hard-to-find titles are now popping up on sites, like YouTube, for free.

NEMMC: Has the increased availability of rare and offbeat titles on places like YouTube and via other grey market retailers that are flooding the bootleg scene making your work harder and/or is it changing the focus and scope of The Trash Pile?

CN: For me, it’s all about increasing the exposure of these films. So, if there’s a rival way for people to view it (YouTube, other grey market outlets, etc.) that’s all the better. The Trash Pile was never a money or business orientated venture, but instead a way to share fun movies with people interested in seeing them.

NEMMC: I’m fascinated by your work involved with the release of THE MURDER OF SGT. MACKLIN (1993). Can you talk about the experience of both discovering and, ultimately, releasing it on VHS?

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VHS release of THE MURDER OF SGT. MACKLIN courtesy of The Trash Pile

CN: Like a lot of video collectors, I try and visit weird thrift stores and yard sales, year round. You’re never guaranteed a hit every time, but it’s all about the thrill of the hunt. As far as finding THE MURDER OF SGT. MACKLIN, I was visiting a church book sale in southern New Hampshire when I saw the film while poking through any banana boxes stuffed with analog. I had never heard of it before, though that wasn’t a new thing as there’s always going to be something you’ve never seen before–but MACKLIN was different.

I’m a sucker for ghost stories, so, the film seemed like one that was worth the .75 cents. After taking the film home I looked for whatever information was available about it online, but couldn’t find a damned thing. I then looked up information on the director, Bob DuBois, and learned he was still around and living in the same Colorado town where he shot the film. I sent him an email and began a back and forth with him about how much I enjoyed his subtle little ghost story. I’ve always believed that no film should be lost and forgotten, so I asked Bob if I could do a small batch release of the film, and he agreed.

NEMMC: What do you think the value is in chasing down and re-releasing films considered by some to be lowbrow or trashy? What excites you about this flavor of cinema?

CN: It all comes down to one thing for me: entertainment. As I said before, I don’t think any media should be lost or forgotten, so a lot of what I’m doing (reviewing, watching, re-releasing) is an effort to not let a movie be forgotten. Believe me, there are a plethora of titles that I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on, but I know that there is an audience for each and every one of those films regardless of whether or not I like them all.

NEMMC: Jumping off my last question, what is the value for you of collecting and distributing films on the VHS format?

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Composite print VHS release of ALLIGATOR courtesy of The Trash Pile

CN: There will always be a new movie waiting if you continue to dig into past releases that may have missed the digital boat. There are a lot of solid digital distributors putting out titles for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray. However, there are still thousands of films that haven’t seen the light of a commerce shelf in decades and unless there is a push from fans a lot of these movies could cease to be. That’s really what collecting/distributing is all about to me; making sure that the right entertainment finds the right person. Life’s too short not to be entertained.

NEMMC: Do you think the VHS format will ever experience a resurgence the way vinyl has been experiencing over the last decade?

CN: That’s a tough question as a big part of the modern renaissance in vinyl can be attributed to, in my opinion, the fact that production of turntables never really stopped altogether. Manufacturers like Denon, Pioneer, Yamaha and Sony never ceased production on their turntables. It wasn’t long after VHS stopped being produced that the production of VCRs slowed. For a few years the DVD/VCR combo sold moderately well, but finding that option in stores is not an easy task nowadays. A VHS resurgence would require a company to start manufacturing new players, similar to what Crosley is doing with turntables. If we get to that point I believe you’ll see VHS again.

NEMMC: What does the future hold for The Trash Pile? What are some of your goals going forward?

CN: Honestly, I’m not sure. 2016 has been a ridiculous year for me due to a number of life-changing events, so, doing anything creative like podcasting and generating more VHS output seems like a real challenge for me emotionally. I have been focusing on doing some manufacturing of VHS for directors and distributors who want their titles on an analog format. For example, I just did a batch of VHS for an awesome indie film currently hitting the festival circuit called, MUTE, by A Color Green–a production company out of New York. And I’ve also had directors ask me to give their films a VHS release, like Jason Stephenson, who ask me to release his film STRIP CLUB SLASHER earlier this year. His film is now part of The Trash Pile catalog. That was a really fun project because I had the chance to reuse ‘Strawberry Shortcake’ pink clamshell cases for the release.

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VHS limited release of THE LAMP courtesy of The Trash Pile

Chris Nichols and The Trash Pile project are a fun and creative insight into one of the many different ways in which collectors and VHS enthusiasts are keeping the format alive while simultaneously introducing or re-introducing the public to a variety of largely forgotten films of yesterday. Those of us who share their passion hope that Nichols can keep the creative juices flowing and continue to expose us to more analog craziness in 2017 and beyond!

All For One (Continued)

By Eric Gulliver

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AgX Film Collective in Waltham, MA. Photo: Eric Gulliver

The Start

Filmmakers of all walks of art in Boston are coalescing around a single desire: to launch a broader conversation about our wants and needs as artists. Recently, at the 2016 Independent Film Festival Boston, there was a panel entitled All For One: Film Co-Ops and Collectives convened by the LEF Foundation. The panel was recorded and can be viewed here. It was held in the Somerville Theater micro-cinema, an instrumental location for many film related organizations. The panelists were Liane Brandon (Co-Founder of New Day Films) Jesse Epstein (Founding Member of the Film Fatales Boston Chapter), Eric Gulliver (Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the The Non-Fiction Cartel) Robert Todd (Founding Member of the AgX Film Collective and Artist-Run Film Lab) with moderation by Anne Marie Stein (Dean of Professional and Continuing Education at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and former Executive Director of the Boston Film and Video Foundation). That last part of Anne’s title is important – as it became fodder for the discussion as example of prior times Boston has tried to come together on this front. It was a lively discussion that touched on broader points about what motivated each group, how to sustain oneself, and ultimately why Boston is a tough town to organize.

The panel discussion evolved into a lively discussion with the audience. Helpful suggestions emerged along with fruitful recommendations. There was an energy in the room; one could sense the topic resonated with many attendees and panelists. At the end of the event, the conversation was far from over. Inspired by the Film Fatales meeting format, a potluck was suggested for a follow-up to the panel. The new analogue film collective AgX would host and all invitees would bring the food. Rob Todd of AgX (and also of Emerson College, perhaps the most tireless filmmaker I’ve ever encountered) took the initiative and organized the details.

The First Potluck

The first potluck to continue the conversation was held in Waltham at AgX’s Moody Street warehouse space and was open for anyone who wanted to attend. 15-20 attendees sat for a group dinner, surrounded by classic film equipment perched like spectres. One forgets how large equipment used to be! The revived detritus was a warm encouragement towards the spirit of meeting: we were trying to repurpose something also. Filmmakers, media makers, educators, curators and interested parties came to voice input and participate.

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All of the excited voices joined in this single conversation that reiterated a larger message: we need more conversations like this. There are many efforts happening across the Boston media landscape, but they’re all happening separately. Indeed, the word “silos” kept being repeated. I heard numerous group names I didn’t even know existed. This night was mainly an introduction and brainstorming session, and a helpful one at that. The potlucks are an attempt to formalize some efforts that might overlap (i.e. with screenings, resources, or networking opportunities). Genevieve Carmel of the LEF Foundation, AgX, and The Non-Fiction Cartel had this to say about the night:

“…Saturday was a really meaningful first gathering…that set some basic needs and shared some initial ideas about creating more common forums of sharing information and getting a wider circle of filmmakers together regularly.”

I was glad that former members of the Boston Film and Video Foundation were there. Being the founder of one of these local collectives means that I’m curious as to what came before and what was beneficial about it. Sure enough, the consensus weighed in that media equipment is cheaper these days, information is more decentralized and physical spaces may not be as important as they used to be. There was agreement, however, that face-to-face interaction is paramount. This meeting of strangers and friends, a nascent community, seems to benefit from organic growth. Perhaps in formalizing something new in the digital wilderness it will, in fact, require it.

The next potluck to continue the conversation will be happening on 8/11/2016 in Jamaica Plain. Contact Gulliver.eric@gmail.com for more details.

A Walk Down Vampire Lane

By John Campopiano

As a horror fan and overall film nut, I know firsthand how exciting it can be to visit the filming locations from your favorite movies. From Martha’s Vineyard, where JAWS was filmed, to the alleyways of Georgetown, where much of THE EXORCIST took place, to the original Michael Myers house in South Pasadena, CA, these movie locations have and will likely always be popular destinations for film fanatics.

With all of the recent buzz about the NOSFERATU remake (with David Lee Fisher in the director’s chair and monster regular Doug Jones slated to play Count Orlok himself), I thought it might be fun to give Dread Central readers a glimpse into my own history and fascination with NOSFERATU (including the 1979 Werner Herzog remake, NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE). And what better way to talk about a film than to journey to where it was made.

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I first saw F. W. Murnau’s 1922 German Expressionist horror film Nosferatu (aka NOSFERATU, EINE SYMPHONIE DES GRAUENS) with my mother back in the early 2000s. The copy we had at that time was the remastered DVD edition hosted by David Carradine with music by Type O Negative(!). Admittedly, I’m not much of a metal fan, but no doubt the booming sounds from Type O Negative (particularly the vocals by late frontman, Peter Steele) helped to burn a lasting visual and audible impression on me.

During and since those first viewings, I’ve dreamed of visiting the land where the film was shot so I could walk in the steps of Count Orlok himself and surround myself in what has always felt to me like an otherworldly place – something out of a dark and twisted fairy tale. Finally, in late 2015, I got my chance…and it was an unforgettable experience.

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The majority of NOSFERATU was filmed throughout Germany – though Murnau did shoot several scenes in what is now Slovakia. (The Slovakian exteriors were supposed to represent the Transylvanian countryside). Within Germany the production spent much of its time in the far north, specifically the towns of Lübeck and Wismar – both of which are gorgeous Hanseatic cities nestled along the Baltic Sea.

While traveling through Germany this past November, I spent two days in Lübeck tracking down the places seen in this iconic, German rendition of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA (much has been written on the history of the conflict between Murnau and Stoker’s estate) – from the Salzspeicher, or salt houses (buildings used to portray  Count Orlok’s home in the fictional town of Wisbourg), to the historic home of Hutter and Ellen, the film’s supporting actors. Thankfully, during my trip I was able to hunt down more than just these two locations, all the while fulfilling a dream I’ve had since those days of first experiencing the film with my mother and, of course, Peter Steele!

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Inside the Booth

By Steph Pixley

I recently had the opportunity to catch the theatrical premier of a new film by director Peter Flynn, THE DYING OF THE LIGHT, at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, MA. No, this wasn’t the 2004 Nicholas Cage film of the same title, instead it was a thoughtful, beautifully shot, and timely documentary. It dug into the transition of movie houses across the country from film to digital projection, told through the eyes of the people who arguably know the subject most intimately, the projectionists themselves.

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Ivy Moylan, executive director of the Brattle Theater, watches the film from the projection room. (photo by Jesse Costa/WBUR)

To show the evolution of movie theaters and film projection over the past half century, the film gives viewers a personal tour of a few movie houses around the country with the projectionists who used to work there as our guides. We see the ruins of the Michigan Theater, a movie palace turned parking lot in Detroit, the struggling but still opulent Lansdowne Theater in Pennsylvania, and even the digital setup at the Coolidge. Seeing these old and abandoned movie houses is like looking through a time machine. You can easily imagine families dressed in their finest being ushered to their seats to see the weekly show. These movie houses were built to be a destination and not a casual venue as we think of them today. Projectionists were trained in the art of the perfect show: opening and closing the curtain with perfect timing so that the audience never saw the white screen and transitioning reels flawlessly so no one ever knew there was a man behind the curtain were both key to ensuring the film ran without a hitch. By these standards, in some ways the digital transition has provided the ultimate movie going experience: today when you arrive at a theater, the show is already playing in the form of trailers and advertisements that have been preprogrammed, even before the show really starts. The audience will never get a chance to see the blank white screen.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the film was the unearthing of forgotten projectionist booths across the country. Most booths were and continue to be hidden from view, at the back of the house (or even hidden behind the screen as is the case at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, MA), and behind unassuming doors. Most moviegoers will never even notice them, aside from the flickering light over their heads while seated or the small windows along the back wall of the theater, so in some ways it’s unsurprising that when the filmmakers trekked their way up the flights of stairs at the ruins of the Victory Theater in Holyoke, MA, they found the projectionist booth largely untouched, aside from some animal carcasses and a thick layer of dust. It’s not all gloom and doom for the art of film projecting however. With last winter’s release of, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, on 70mm film, the local Boston Light & Sound suddenly had an order for hundreds of 70mm film projectors. To fill their order, co-founders Chapin Cutler and Larry Shaw resurrected and restored projectors that were headed for the landfill.

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Victory Theater in Holyoke, MA (photo by Tony Mateus)

The projectionists themselves seemed to be split about the future of their profession with the dawn of the digital age. Some embraced the transition as just another advancement in film, much like sound and then color were in their dawn, while others viewed digital film as a threat to their livelihood and that of small-scale movie houses. Unsurprisingly, digital film doesn’t require any hands on work during projection, so movie houses can grow exponentially and play more and more films without the need to hire more projectionists. Meanwhile, nostalgic projectionists mourn the loss of the tactile experience of projecting a film and film geeks worry about the loss of quality in the transition from 70mm film to digital.

Regardless of their outlook, all projectionists seemed to mourn the loss of the presence of the hulking body of the projector itself in their booths. For the time being it seems that theaters are making a compromise of sorts, by investing in new technology and retaining film projectors for special screenings. So, the next time you decide to see a movie pay attention to how its being projected, and thank the projectionist on the way out!

Providence Has a Film Society: The Arkham Film Society

by John Campopiano

There aren’t many film buffs left in the New England area who are as passionate about print film and getting eyeballs in front of movies as Josh Thomas Gravel and the Arkham Film Society – a Providence, RI, based film group dedicated to, at their core, showing movies. As a film lover myself as well as a native of Rhode Island, I knew sitting down with Josh and picking his brain for an NEMMC post was a must. Thankfully, Josh found some time amidst his busy schedule of programming and penning film reviews to answer some questions for NEMMC.

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New England Media & Memory Coalition: What is the Arkham Film Society and when did it start?
Arkham Film Society: The Arkham Film Society is basically me – independently booking and hosting screenings of cult, horror, exploitation, or otherwise just strange movies with the help of a couple friends. The events are held around Rhode Island and occasionally Massachusetts and we try to present these movies on actual film whenever possible. We have gotten to the point where we are hosting (almost) monthly screenings as well as occasionally collaborating with film festivals. At the moment most of our events in Providence are being held at The Black Box Theater. They were attendees of our events prior to us working together and they have been extremely  helpful and generous with their space.
Our current screenings are a mix of 16mm and digital (when a particular title either isn’t available or would be overly cost prohibitive to screen via film). We have not had the pleasure of sharing any of our 35mm prints with an audience in quite some time due to many cinemas going digital and the higher premium placed on those who haven’t, but we are currently in talks with a couple of potential venues to bring back our 35mm screenings.

As to the A.F.S.’s origin story it is fairly simple: I worked on the Rhode Island International Horror Film Festival as a programmer for a number of years with my friends, Ric and Scott, and when it became obvious that our abilities were being limited within the festival organization we sought a way to continue programming outside of the festival.

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MANIAC poster from the Alamo Drafthouse/William Lustig poster series

The first Arkham event proper was in February of 2007 and it was a double feature of MANIAC (1980) and THE REDSIN TOWER (2006). Over the years both Ric and Scott have scaled back their involvement but are both still involved and still help out.

 

NEMMC: What kinds of films does the AFS have in its collection? With respect to collecting does the AFS focus on any particular format or genre? AFS: The film print collection is a small but varied grouping of films on both 16mm and 35mm. We have classics, comedies, documentaries, dramas, and of course horror…lots of horror. As for focus I am not focusing solely on a single format as that would limit our screening potential, but when purchasing new films for the collection I do tend to stick with the popular sub-genres within the cult film world such as horror, exploitation, and action, but in the case of someone donating film to the collection we take whatever is offered. We are always open to accepting any donations of film that come our way and are working to properly catalog everything and store it the best we can.

NEMMC: Does the AFS specialize in showing certain film genres?
AFS: I like to say that we present “cult films of all genres”, because every genre has their unsung gems and cult oddities. Admittedly when looking at our schedule we are definitely horror heavy – especially European horror heavy – but in the past we have branched into classics such as, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) and YOJIMBO (1961), more mainstream cult fare like JURASSIC PARK (1993), and even once co-presented a couple of classic musicals on film with an organization from Brown University screening THE RED SHOES (1948) and SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952). Overall I am open to showing anything that I enjoy and that people should see in a theatrical setting. However, since my main interests lie in horror we tend to show a lot of horror.

NEMMC: Why physical film in the first place? Where did that interest originate?
AFS: I can’t fully explain why film but it probably has to do with the fact that I grew up going to the movies practically every weekend and then gravitated to programming and then actual film projection. I guess it’s partially a nostalgia thing as I grew up watching movies projected on film, and in all honesty digital can not exactly replicate that viewing experience. It isn’t even a matter of having a flawless film print because sometimes when you watch a scratched and possibly faded 30 year old film print there is a certain sense of history there that isn’t replicated with a Blu-ray or digital film. It’s probably an interest I have always had which has just come to the forefront since I’ve been working with films.
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Arkham Film Society storage
NEMMC: Does the AFS have a larger mission aside from exposing people to the films themselves?
AFS: At the moment no. It would be fantastic to someday have a larger organization and potentially a venue that we could use for both programming and educational purposes such as screenings for schools and lectures about film history. But currently the A.F.S is essentially just an expensive hobby.

NEMMC: To date what sorts of New England-based collaborations has the AFS been involved with?
AFS: We have worked with a number of film festivals such as SENE, The Providence French Film Festival, and of course we program the Rock and Shock Film Festival held at the Rock and Shock convention in Worcester, MA, every October. We have also collaborated with other organizations such as All Things Horror for a Boston Strong charity screening of RE-ANIMATOR (1985), the Coolidge Corner’s @fter Midnite series with a screening of BRAIN DAMAGE (1988), and we have helped source films for the NecronomiCon convention in Providence.

NEMMC: Can you tell us about some of the more memorable acquisitions the AFS has received over the years?
AFS: I’ve had a few fun adventures in film hunting. A couple memorable moments include a time Scott and I drove out to Poughkeepsie and rummaged through the garage of a guy who had some films. We ended up leaving with six feature films that day including the cult slasher film MADMAN (1982).

A more recent experience was when my friend and fellow projectionist, Taylor, spent some time assessing the projection booth in an old theater in East Greenwich ,RI, which is now a performing arts space. There was some hope of getting the projection equipment up and running again since most of it was still in the booth. Unfortunately there were issues with the power running to the equipment which would have put the cost of the project way over the interest level of the organization involved (which I don’t blame them for as it started as a small project and quickly ballooned into a major renovation).

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35mm print of BIGFOOT…MAN OR BEAST

The fun part of that day, though, was going through the booth and storage area finding old film reels and shorts such as the short documentary BIGFOOT…MAN OR BEAST (1972).

NEMMC: How extensive is the film collecting community? 

AFS: It is actually pretty big but also a bit private; while there are many high profile film collectors such as Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino there is also a huge number of film collectors who are projectionists and theater owners with a passion for the medium.  But it certainly is a welcoming and truly international community once you start to communicate with and learn from other collectors.

 

NEMMC: Are there any inherent risks with collecting film? What are some of the logistical challenges (financial or otherwise) in collecting film?
AFS: As for what we are doing there aren’t any real risks. If we had any pre-1952 prints on nitrate stock that would be a fire hazard and I’ve heard of people having legal troubles if they have a large studio title, but we have neither so we should be good.
There are numerous logistical problems when collecting film and first and foremost is space. Film prints take up a sizable amount of space and when you get into the double digits of prints you have to start dedicating space to storing them properly. Films need to be stored in a low heat and low humidity environment or the film itself can fade and degrade, so it’s best to have a storage space with heavy duty shelving, temperature control, and a dehumidifier running – which all adds up.
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Josh Thomas Gravel
NEMMC: What does the future hold for the AFS?
AFS: As of now we will continue our regular screenings in Providence, RI, and we hope to both get back to presenting films on 35mm again and do more events in the Boston area. If anyone has a theatrical venue that would be interested in having us host an event or wants more info on what we do feel free to contact me through our website Arkhamfilmsociety.com.

Crate Diggers Part 1: A Man & His Projector

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Box of films inherited by Andrew Bobola from his maternal grandfather, Donald Tyler.

If you’re one of those people who visit thrift stores and flea markets on a regular or even semi-regular basis, you know it’s not always easy to be amazed by what you find. Classic rock vinyl, outdated cooking books, clothing, antique hardware, and forgotten electronics almost always litter the shelves, boxes, and tables. So, when Andrew Bobola of Pawtucket, RI — a seasoned secondhand crate digger — stumbled upon a vintage Revere 85 8mm home projector in a local Pawtucket Salvation Army, it really caught his eye. NEMMC recently sat down with Andrew to learn more about his unique discovery, his patience and determination to bring the projector back to life, and how his somewhat impulse decision to bring the projector home has opened up a new way for he and his family to connect with their family’s past.

NEMMC: Walk us through your experience of first finding the vintage Revere 85 8mm home projector.

Andrew Bobola: A few years ago I was shopping at the local Salvation Army looking for the usual VHS and vinyl records and stumbled on a case (priced for $20). My curiosity got the best of me, so I popped it open and saw a projector in (what I thought was) perfect condition.

NEMMC: Did you decide to buy it right then and there? If so, why?

AB: Yes. I really liked the style and look of the projector. I had never seen anything like it before (in person) and the price was right. I knew if I didn’t buy it it would definitely not be there if I waiting and came back for it. Originally I thought it would just be a nice display piece…  

NEMMC: How did you make sense of what you had found and what to do next?

AB: Once I got it home I made a few Google searches to see what I could find. I discovered that it was a Revere 85 home projector and that it was actually missing a few pieces (a power cord, etc).

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Bobola’s Revere 85 8mm projector.

In my excitement of actually finding it at the store I overlooked the fact that it was somewhat incomplete. I also reached out to a few friends in Boston who know about film (Film Conservator at the Harvard Film Archive, Liz Coffey) to inquire about what exactly I had and what to do next with it. I also took to eBay to see if I had found something rare (I had NO intentions of flipping the project to make a profit, but rather to learn a little more and see what sorts of options I might have). It was after finding a few other projectors like mine I was able to figure out what kind of power cord I was going to need to make it fully functional.

First, I found an owner’s manual and ordered it with the hopes of learning all of the ins and outs about how it worked and what missing parts I had to track down. I also began reading a few message boards where other people also looking for projector power cords were sharing a lot of helpful information about what I would need (I didn’t want to just use any cord and risk damaging the projector.) I was also concerned about spending a lot of money to get it working again (not knowing what, if any, internal damage there might be) so my focus was definitely on finding a good deal.

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Revere 85 8mm Projector Manual.

Eventually I found and ordered a cord. After receiving it I set everything up, got it to power up, ran the motor, everything seemed good…until I attempted to flip on the light. The bulb was totally blown out. I went back to the Internet with the hope of finding the correct replacement (I needed a specific size, wattage, etc.) but it proved a lot harder to find than the cord. After a while, still with no luck, I had to sideline my little project.

After about of year I stumbled on a few of my mom’s 8mm home movies that were originally part of my grandfather’s collection and thought how cool it would be to be able to watch them in their original format. But how? I thought — if I could find that bulb — my projector might be the answer I was looking for. (At this point the projector was sitting in storage waiting for a place to be displayed.)

Once again I took to the Internet but this time I found what I needed! Once the bulb came arrived I watched a video on YouTube about how to properly load it into the projector.

NEMMC: What was the experience like watching these home movies for the first time?

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Tyler home movie: Bobola’s mother, Sandra, celebrates her 1st birthday, ca. 1965, 8mm.

AB: I really enjoyed being able to watch these films. After I got the projector working fully I immediately began viewing the films: my mom’s 1st birthday party, Thanksgiving Day, and other random shots of their neighborhood at the time.

I had seen pictures from my mom’s childhood but to see this was much cooler. I waited for her to come home from work and surprised her with the films. In the near future we plan to have my grandmother over to watch them with us so she can give us a play by play of who exactly is in them and to share any other stories about what was happening at the time.

 

Brattle Theater Archives Open House: A Recap

By Steph Pixley

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What used to be a Police Gymnasium, survived a fire, has housed both live performances and projected films, and came out on top after a fight with Massachusetts blue laws in 1955?

Program from the first show at the Brattle in May of 1890.
Program from the first show at the Brattle in May of 1890. Photo by Steph Pixley.

Surprisingly, the unassuming Brattle Theater in Cambridge and the Greater Boston area.

Originally established as a social union hall and live performance theater in 1890, the hall was transformed in 1953 with the installation of a rear screen projection system, permanently converting the Brattle into a destination for film lovers in Cambridge. Even in the early days of the theater, the goal of the Brattle was not to simply entertain the masses. Instead, the early founders were influenced by the European model of art house cinema, and dedicated the theater’s programming to educate and inspire, as well as entertain.

While this mission was probably unintentional in the beginning (the theater was originally founded by Harvard acting club rejects), these days the mission has taken on a more purposeful direction under the guise of the Brattle Film Foundation. Founded as a nonprofit 15 years ago, the Foundation has promised to provide something other than just another place to watch the latest blockbuster. Instead, the Foundation has created a community of active filmgoers by curating programming that teaches, engages, and enriches its audience.

Original posters from the Brattle Theater archives.
Original posters from the Brattle Theater archives.

As part of its 15-year celebration, the Foundation opened up its archives to give the neighborhood a glimpse into its varied history.

The various owners over the years have maintained an extensive collection of monthly screening calendars, newspaper clippings, and programs, dating back to the first play performed in the Brattle in May of 1890.

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Brattle Theater manager log book, July 1995 – May 1996.

Two versions of their original sign, original movie posters (my particular favorite was the brightly colored poster from Visconti’s 1967 film “The Stranger”), and even an exhibit of the different types of film that are (and used to be) delivered to the Brattle over the years were on display. Small groups were even given tours of the projection room, one of the only rear-screen projection booths still in operation in the United States.

Brattle Theater projection.
Brattle Theater projection room. Photo by Steph Pixley.

What was missing from the archives was just as interesting, however: After an unfortunate bankruptcy the Brattle passed hands to new owners who took little interest in preserving programs, posters, and the like. In fact, the late 1960s through the early 1980s are referred to as the “lost years” in the Brattle archives. Reassuringly, Ned Hinkle, the Creative Director of the Brattle, has expressed interest in an archival investigation into these missing years.

…A project for local archivists and film buffs, perhaps?!

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