Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No More Projectionists

Slate has an interesting article on the dying art of the projectionist, what used to be a skilled, technical position.

"Before, you used to have to take a 100-question exam to become a licensed projectionist," Ramos says. "And you had to know electricity, you had to know your currents and your storage and so forth, and you also took a practical exam. But they dumbed it down to a 40-question exam, and the department of consumer affairs took over testing rather than the bureau of gas and electricity. So managers were able to get their license and run the theater, run the box office, run everything, for ten bucks an hour."

"Most guys will say the problems started with platters, but I would argue it was xenon bulbs. Before that, it was a reel-to-reel system, and it was labor intensive because you had to change the film every 20 minutes, and you had to change the carbon. Once they were able to get over that hurdle and get a dependable, inexpensive bright white light, they could come up with a system to feed the film forever."

And they did. Platters appeared in the mid-'70s and, suddenly, instead of two projectors showing individual 20-minute reels of film, projectionists were taking all the individual reels and building them into one monster reel that lay on its side on a spinning platter, and the entire film would feed through a single projector. Films would still have to be built—assembled from individual reels into platters—but with no need for reel changes and a consistent light source, projectionists were no longer needed to run the movies. The unions tried to hold back the inevitable, but chain theaters wanted to get away from expensive union contracts, and the first thing to go were licensing standards.
Read the rest of the article here. And here, one of my favorite projectionists (if not my favorite) from the movies. Cinema, if you will:

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