Luke Brodarick As I make my way to my seat, the room darkens amid the murmur of a packed theater. It’s a Sunday evening, but the atmosphere and the rowdy energy from the crowd make it feel like a midnight movie. The projector flickers to life and reminds the audience, and myself, why we came: to see a of 2016 love letter to 1960s Technicolor melodramas,. The audience seems immediately taken by the crackles and pops from the audio, which translate to the texture and grain of the image on-screen. There are imperfections: vertical lines and specks that appear for fleeting instances while the first reel and the audience get situated.
This is the experience we all came for, and it’s one that is slowly making waves in cinephile communities throughout the nation. Ragtag is one of the many independent theaters going back to its roots with 35mm screenings.
With the rise of digital cinema package, or DCP, many independent theaters were forced to get rid of their 35mm projection systems in favor of digital. Others folded because they couldn’t afford the upgrade. But in 2016, a theater called opened in New York. This was the first new independent theater in 10 years to open in the city, and it primarily screens films, old and new, on 35mm. Its success brings to mind other theaters that deal specifically in 35mm, such as the with in Miami and the in Los Angeles. There are entire states, such as Arkansas and Iowa, that do not currently have any theaters screening films on 35mm, but a city of around 117,000 people in the heart of Missouri does. Before the feature presentation starts, a young woman in cat-eye glasses stands at the front of the theater to introduce the film.
Decorated with many antiques and retro items (think the old box like CRT television sets, old radios, clocks, and even an old film projector), One Chun serves delicious Thai-Chinese cuisine at very reasonable prices. It was very popular, not only with the tourists, but with locals as well. A sure sign of a good restaurant! Explore Projector People's board 'Just For Fun' on Pinterest. Lamp from old movie projector. Tons of OLD memories on those reels.
She is Ashley Nagel, one of the two Ragtag projectionists trained to screen 35mm films. In the case of The Love Witch, Nagel excitedly explains that the film was shipped in “full-frame,” meaning that a special adaptor needed to be inserted for the projector to screen the film correctly.
After her introduction, she disappears into the projection room at the back of the theater. Nagel says she was trained so that someone other than, the technical director and head projectionist at Ragtag, could do 35mm screenings. Ruffin started Nagel out on segments of trailer reels to teach her how to feed the projector correctly. She learned to thread the projector with a 15-second clip of Mark Wahlberg blowing something up and someone’s butt. “I don’t think I even turned on the machine for the first two or three weeks of training,” Nagel says. She soon graduated to full trailers, running a reel on each of the projectors.
Then, after observing Ruffin project a film and a few more weeks of training, Nagel screened one of Ragtag’s spare films for an audience of her friends. About 10 minutes into the The Love Witch, I notice the cue marks, which look like two little burn holes, flash at the top corner of the screen. Also known as cigarette marks, they serve as a reminder to Nagel that it is time to change reels, it also lets savvy filmgoers know there is someone in control of the film. There can be a slight margin of error in these reel changes, Nagel says. During a screening of that she was running, she had to unspool and respool an entire reel after it got caught in a crack in the projector’s platter. She just barely missed her cue to changeover the reels, and for an instant, the screen turned white. “I was freaking out up in the booth,” Nagel says.
“It was a race against the clock, and I didn’t beat the clock.” Thankfully moments later, the film started playing again to light cheers from the audience. The situation could have blown up in Nagel’s face a lot more literally, though. The lamp inside the projector runs so hot that it could severely damage the film. Modern film is not nearly as volatile as silver nitrate film, which ceased production in the early ’50s and was known for starting fires like in the explosive ending of.
She and Ruffin have a table in their small projection room specifically for repairing, reattaching and splicing film reels. Inside it is a drawer brimming with pairs of white gloves, which Nagel says are important for rewinding the film. Because many of these reels are lent from archives or distributors, fear of damaging the film is very real. Ruffin and Nagel take all of the necessary precautions. As The Love Witch continues, I am struck by the way its aesthetic recalls a heyday for 35mm film. The grain and texture of the stock highlights Biller’s use of bright colors and dreamlike lighting. Dating back to the beginnings of film, 35mm was the standard for shooting and the theatrical aspect ratio at which it screened.
For the better part of film’s history, it was one of the few ways people could watch movies. Screenings were the sort of thing that brought people together. On nice nights, my grandfather, who was a projectionist for in St. Louis in the ’60s and ’70s, would bring home films from work, gather the neighbors and show 35mm films on a big sheet in his backyard.
Until the mid-2000s, 35mm was also the lifeblood of independent theaters such as Ragtag. When Ragtag Film Society began in 1997, the group first screened the movie on a cobbled-together 35mm projector. After moving into a single-theater space on Tenth Street, programmer says they had a “platter system.” This required reels to be spliced together before they were run through a single projector, which had the potential of causing long-term damage to the film.
This reliance on film also meant screenings were more limited.
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