10/18/2007

Vintage: Motiograph and Seat Covers

Posted in Vintage at 1:10 pm by Sam

There is no inherent link between the Motiograph, a type of camera we’ll look at here, and seat covers for use in movie theaters, except that interesting articles about both appeared on the same page of The Film Daily Yearbook 1928. So we might as well cover them at the same time.

Motiograph and Seat Covers

First, seat covers. I don’t have a whole lot of commentary about this, except that it just goes to show how the level of service patrons expected of businesses then as now. In 80 years, we’ve resigned ourselves to our theaters looking like little boxes with sticky floors and unmanned projection booths. There’s no atmosphere in most movie houses. Many of the ones that have it cut costs in other ways, like the quality of the equipment. The ones that have both are establishments of great note. Last year, we had a thread on this site about great movie houses, and many of us described our favorites with enthusiasm. It is unlikely that anyone of 1927 would be impressed, except by the technological advancements that have occurred since then.

So, yeah. Seat covers. What a bargain! You only have to launder them once a year! I’m not entirely sure what increased level of comfort and attraction is achieved with seat covers, but I can’t imagine any multiplex owner today deigning to consider it. Cover up those scarred, dipalidated seats with torn upholstery? Humbug! You’ll sit in that mess and like it!

Motiograph and Seat Covers

Instead, modern theater owners minimize the wear and tear on their upholstery by charging exorbitant prices for popcorn and soda. If you pay six dollars for something you can get out of a vending machine for fifty cents, you’re more likely to be careful with it and not spill it.

The Motiograph was a film camera used in the 1920s. This article talks about improvements made to the Motiograph camera during 1927. One interesting thing about this analysis of technological progress is how the opening paragraph discusses how older cameras weighed only 16 pounds, while modern cameras weigh as much as 600. Hey, they’re stronger, more feature-rich…in short, better, and that is reflected in the increased weight. Today, and for the last few decades, the trend has been exactly the opposite. Things get smaller, lighter. “Turning back the pages to 25 years ago,” I might once have written, “we find that the first computer weighted 600 pounds and was hardly more than an efficient magic abacus. Compare that with the standard computer of today (the Apple II weighs approximately 16 pounds) and one is amazed to note the development in this type of machinery in so short a time.” (Note: these numbers aren’t correct for the analogy, but they convey the right idea.) The rest of that opening paragraph fits the analogy as well. Today, of course, cameras weigh all different amounts. Digital cameras can be light as a feather.

Motiograph

The rest of the article discusses mechanical improvements to the camera. I found the last to be most interesting — using a hand-cranked wheel instead of a lever to adjust the framing. Today, we have automated ways of panning and tilting that ensure smoothness, but if you are confined to manual controls, it’s easy to imagine that a wheel would be more conducive to smooth movements than a lever.

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