Tuesday, September 21, 2010  
   Volume 80 - Issue 38 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
“We’ve talked about it for quite awhile. We know that we’re not convenient to a lot of people.”
- Dr. Alan Garbutt  
- on a new walk-in clinic   
   

 

Looking Back - John KinnearIt seems like a very long time ago that I sat ,wide eyed, on the edge of a front row theatre seat on a Saturday afternoon , popcorn in hand, waiting for the next episode of the Three Stooges to burst onto the screen. For a young boy entertainment was pretty simple back then. You played guns, hiked in the bush, shot marbles, rode bike and on Saturday afternoon you lined up at the old Roxy theatre for the "show". Two bits got you in with 10 cents leftover for popcorn or an ice cold orange crush right out of a bottle slide cooler. Sometimes I opted for a Cherry Blossom or a Turkish Delight chocolate bar which were monstrous by today’s standards.
The front row was the only place to be, goofin' off with the rest of the gang until the show started. Besides, when that gorilla came after the Stooges and everyone screamed, you were real close to those dimly lit back exits. My memories of the Roxy are rich and varied and include the fact that we were so unruly they used ushers to stay on top of us. If we chose to ignore their repeated warnings then Mrs. Ferschweiller would turn up the lights, shut down the projector and walk down the aisles with her hands folded. She was all business and you could hear a pin drop as she menaced us randy show goers.
With rare exception the show generally ran smoothly with only the occasional glitch on the screen courteousy of that mysterious man way up behind you peering out of the small window next to the projector. You never saw him because he was up there before you came in and left long after you did; but he always did his job, bringing us yet another wonderful new adventure.
His job was a lot more technical than we kids realized and as it turns out a lot more dangerous. The average movie has 5 to 7 reels to it and in the old days running a movie was a juggling act using two synchronized projectors and required good timing. Older projectors were equipped with a carbon arc lighting system that generated a tremendously bright light as long as those carbon rods were set just right. Switching projectors as one reel ran out was a real knack and if you weren't too absorbed in the movie you could spot the changeover. There would be a brightening of the screen as the second projector was powered up and sometimes a blip or flicker would betray the switch.
The dangerous part was the fact that older movie film contained nitrate, a compound that had a high heat tolerance but was incredibly flammable, almost explosive. I recall several times being in the theatre when the film jammed and watching a famous actor or actress burn up slowly on the screen as the operator scrambled to shut down the carbon arcs.
Projectionists had to apprentice for quite some time before they were qualified to handle film and the reels and the rewinder were generally kept in a separate room with 8 inch concrete floors and walls. That rewinder was like an old milk separator in that it had a gear system in it that really let you get things rolling.
I was curious enough about 50 years ago to ask the Roxy projectionist (Mr. Sekella) if I could see how it all worked and got to see the two projector, carbon arc system in action
What stuck in my mind then was how he knew exactly when each reel was about to finish
 
It wasn't a visual thing; it was a special bell and counterweight rigged to the top reel of the projector that would start to ding as the end of the reel approached. Exactly how it worked escapes me but at just the right moment he would shut down one projector and activate the other ensuring a continuous, almost undetectable flow of reels.
Recently my curiosity got the best of me again and I went to see Becky Fabro at the Orpheum to see what changes if any had occurred in movie playing. What I saw was an amazingly innovative projection system that has virtually eliminated one of the two projectors. The system is unlike anything you'd expect to see and allows the theatre to run the movie each night without all that tedious rewinding and switching of the past. Adjacent to the one projector which is run by a 1000 watt Xenon quartz bulb you will find a stand that holds three finely balanced metal platters which are about five feet in diameter.
The movies, which are still shipped on from 5 to 9 reels, are all unwound and temporarily spiced together on one platter. The lead from those 7 reels is fed over to a platter stand tower, through a series of rollers, then over to the projector and its complicated collection of rollers and clips that have to be setup just so. Once through the projector the film is run back to the platter stand tower, through more rollers and onto a second platter either above or below the first. This allows the movie to run, once started, through to its end uninterrupted. It is taken up on the second platter in such a way that the movie is ready to be rerun again the next night once that night's movie is finished. What could be simpler than that? The only tedious and time consuming part comes every Thursday night when the movie's run is finished. All individually spliced reels have to be separated and rewound back onto the shipping reels, a job that generally keeps the projectionist up till 2 or 3 in the morning.
And that is exactly where I found Becky Fabro last Thursday night. Unsplicing her latest offering on the screen. Becky bought the Orpheum from John Dobek in 1992 and has run it ever since. John ran all three theatres in the Pass at one time. The Rex, the Roxy and the Orpheum. John was a lovely man who kept all three theatres going for over 35 years. He passed away recently but will always be remembered by us old time movie goers.
Becky tells me that she will be going 3D sometime in January. I am a romanticist at heart and the big screen is a wonderfully larger than life escape to adventure, excitement and drama that I hope is never lost. As convenient and cheap as video rentals are they will never replace for me the visual experience of the big screen. The tradition of a family night out at the movies complete with a giant box of Orville's best and a fistful of liquorice should not be allowed to die. I saw the remake of King Kong in her theatre and I am still having gorilla nightmares four years later.
From those of us who still love the big screen's ability to sweep us away with the myriad of creative stories Hollywood cranks out we say: "Long live the Orpheum."
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