Methods of Projection

Projecting 35mm motion picture film is a violent, potentially dangerous act. (Dangerous for the film. Not, thankfully–for the humans involved, although it was before acetate film replaced nitrate more than 50 years ago.) Every minute, 90 feet of expensive artwork passes through a complicated, gear-and-sprocket machine. For the purposes of sound, it must move at an even, steady clip; for the image, it must stop and start 24 times every second. During this journey, it’s exposed to dirt, metal, and very bright light. It’s a wonder any prints survive.

There are two standard ways to project films: platters and changeover. Platters are much cheaper to operate and therefore far more common. But they also do more damage.

Before the 1970’s, changeover was pretty much the only way movies were professionally projected–at least in the United States. Each screen required two projectors and one full-time projectionist. While reel 1 ran on projector A, the projectionist would thread reel 2 onto projector B (then as now, feature films were generally shipped on 2,000-foot, approximately 20-minute reels). Cue marks in the upper-right corner of the screen would tell him (or on rare occasions, her) when to change over to the other projector. Once reel 2 was running, he could prepare reel 3 on projector A.

The birth of the multiplex brought platter projection. An entire feature, plus trailers and commercials, are spliced together on one enormous platter, from which it can be projected from an unattended booth. One overworked projectionist can handle a 16-screen multiplex, making multiple small theaters as cheap to run as one big one.

There’s some controversy as to whether platter projection is innately more damaging to film, or whether the damage is entirely the result of less human interaction. Whatever the cause, studios don’t mind their new movies running on platters, or even extremely popular classics like Casablanca. But if you want to show a rare, archival print, you better have two projectors in that booth and someone who knows how to use them.

Of the theaters regularly listed in Bayflicks, at least the Balboa, the Castro, the Pacific Film Archive, the Rafael, and the Stanford have changeover projection. Some others probably do, to. We’re lucky to have theaters in the area that can show rare prints, and projectionists who know how to show them.

Speaking of changeovers, I’ve given this site one. Click a Recommend () or Noteworthy () icon in the listings, and my comments will pop up in a small window. (The ,, and icons remain as they were before; hover your mouse pointer over them for a second and you’ll get pop-up details.) And I’m going to be more selective about what comments I include here in The Lincoln Log; if the same movie keeps turning up in different theaters week after week (let’s call these movies Marching Penguins), I won’t keep adding my comments to the blog.

But here are a few movies that are worth describing here:

Recommended: Harry Potter the Goblet of Fire, 4 Star, ongoing engagement. Like the book it was based on, the fourth Harry Potter film takes the series to a new level, both scarier and emotionally deeper than its predecessors. In his fourth year at Hogwarts, Harry must contend with Lord Voldemort’s growing power, a very dangerous tournament, and the most horrible fear to ever strike a 14-year-old boy: girls. Kudos go to long-time Potter screenwriter Steven Kloves for his willingness to leave out subplots, first-time Potter director Mike Newell for putting the people ahead of the special effects, Warner Brothers for okaying a PG-13 Harry Potter movie, and J. K. Rowling for the wonderful books.

Noteworthy: Gone With the Wind, Spangenberg Theatre, Friday and Saturday, 7:00. I have a weakness for big historical epics, but the biggest of them all just leaves me flat. And no, it’s not because it’s “politically incorrect.”  The first part is okay, but boredom sets in after the intermission. In fact, the post-war part of the movie is not unlike a slasher flick; you soon realize that x number of characters will have to die before the movie ends and you can go home. This is the last presentation at the Spangenberg Theatre before it closes its doors as a movie theater and becomes just a high school auditorium.

Recommended: Sahara, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Sunday, 6:00. Humphrey Bogart leads a ragtag group of American and British soldiers, plus two POWs, across the desert in a tank. They have very little water, and the German platoon on their tails is getting thirsty, as well. One of the best American war movies made during World War II, and perhaps the only one with a black, African, Muslim British soldier amongst the heroes. Part of the Jewish Film Festival‘s Jews and the Hollywood Blacklist series.