Reflecting on Projecting
In early 1982, at the age of 19, I asked the manager of the ABCinema+D if I could be trained as a projectionist. He knew of my interest in 70mm and instead called the manager of 3 Falke Bio, Copenhagen’s original Todd-AO theatre. When I started as a trainee projectionist (Filmoperatør) at the 975-seater ‘3 Falke Bio’, it was a dream come true for me. In those days, you had to have at least 400 hours of training before going on your own, so I kept a record of my hours at the 3 Falke. I wasn’t paid anything for being there – it was all done after school in my free time.
In November 1983, after the permanent closure of the 3 Falke, I got the best job I could imagine: a full time job projecting films at the 4-plex ABCinema+D, right in the middle of the city, on town hall square. At the same time, I was also alternating with the Cinema 1-8 across the square for a day or two during the week. For six years, I had my hands full with a lot of work, good colleagues, the audience and a lot of films. One favourite was Amadeus, which we ran for 16 months.
Being in my early 20s, I also matured enough to realize that I needed a ‘proper’ education. I didn’t see myself projecting films for the rest of my life. Sitting in the cinema, often in the box office, waiting for the last show to finish, was simply too boring. Except one evening when Donald Sutherland suddenly showed up to see a film. He was in town filming Oviri. Personally projecting a film for a prominent member of the Hollywood community was quite a thrill. With the level of automation, however, projecting films was the perfect job for doing my schoolwork at the same time. On occasion, colleagues or friends came by for beer and a chat when I had to do a print rehearsal of a new film after midnight. Not everyone could cope with the loneliness of being a projectionist, however. Unfortunately I have had colleagues who had serious drinking problems and who had to leave the profession. The dark side of being a projectionist, I assume.
I love to watch movies. I have always enjoyed going to the cinema, sitting down and watching the film. Oddly, this often took place at Copenhagen’s majestic Imperial Bio in the early 1970s, a place with 1521 seats, a curved screen, 70mm and beautiful 6-track sound. Twenty years later, in 1994, my projectionist career ended at the very same Imperial Bio. I had seven good years with the Philips DP70s at the Imperial and I felt it was a privilege to be entrusted with this beautiful cinema. Some of my fondest memories are meeting my future wife in the box office, having the director of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert thank me for the best performance of his film he’d ever seen, and projecting my favourite film, Lawrence of Arabia, twelve times in 70mm on the curve.
Most of my time, however, I was associated with small shoe-box cinemas – single projector installations with non-rewind systems. Typical multiplex cinemas, and very successful too. German Bauer machines, ISCO lenses, Japanese anamorphics and mono sound were the standard where I worked. A few had Dolby Stereo, one even Dolby mono. None of the cinemas had particularly good sound. It wasn’t bad; it was just unimpressive considering the possibilities being made possible by Dolby Laboratories at the time. It simply wasn’t good enough I felt. In those days, 70mm Dolby 6-track mag was on its way up, together with optimizing sound and movie theatre design. All that seemed to bypass Danish cinemas completely – much to my frustration.
A colleague and I made a report to the management and proposed that we upgrade all our cinemas to modern standards. We felt we could do a much better presentations with curved screens, better seating, the latest sound systems and top of the line projection – all things necessary to keep our audience from going elsewhere with their money. I firmly believe that high impact cinemas will always attract the audience, and any film will look spectacular in such a cinema. Our report was well received . . . and then forgotten. A few years later all ‘my’ cinemas were closed instead. Another missed opportunity for the cinema business I guess.
The audience is the most important factor. Without them, there is no cinema. As a projectionist I had my golden moments. Like at the climax of Fatal Attraction, cranking the volume up at the very end when Glenn Close comes out of the bath, and the whole house is screaming with fear. Just a few seconds with increased volume made a lot of difference. Or when Timothy Dalton first appeared as James Bond, I had 1521 guests roaring and cheering. It was like the roof lifted. I had goose bumps enjoying those moments. A premiere audience is different from a regular audience. Their anticipation needs special care and I felt I did make their evening very special. It’s showmanship, and that is why a projectionist is necessary. If everything is automated, you might as well stay home and see the film on another medium. Cinema will become a fake plastic experience.
I welcome digital projection technology with increasing resolution in 4, 8 and 16K and full multi-channel PCM sound. Finally, high quality pictures are available to everyone. Movies are available everywhere for more people than ever before. From cinemas to cell phones and from discs to internet, it’s exciting to follow the development of this wonderful and crazy medium.
I decided to quit while it was still fun, and on my last day at work, some great colleagues awarded me the Golden Sprocket award for my ultimate projectionism over the years. A memorable gesture, which I appreciated a lot. Much has changed with projection technology since I left, and I have tried to keep up after I resigned, but I never showed films again – except for the odd occasion, on my DP70 at home.
© copyright caboose 2012