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My Life in a Rocky Horror Picture Show



For 50 years my working life has been involved with motion pictures...on film.

It is therefore not without some sense of nostalgia that I saw the headlines about Kodak filing for bankruptcy.

I knew when I came out of retirement late last year that the cinema I am working at would succumb to the deadline, in about 18 months, when all new movies will only be available for digital projection - no more movies on film. From what I can see all cinemas including large screen format theatres will be digital within a year or so.

To my eye digital projection is at about the same stage as the Compact Disc was when it was first released; not as good as the analogue in some areas, but better in others and with more convenience. Undoubtedly, further development will render further improvements for digital projection in cinemas and for home.

I was lucky, very lucky. My experience in the industry spanned the era from the early 1950's through to the present. Most notable were the large screen presenttions in Cinerama, CinemaScope, TODDAO, and the other 70mm large screen procesess including IMAX.

From a performance art point of view there was nothing like seeing 1-2 thousand people sitting in a theatre waiting for that magic moment when the lights dimmed and the curtains parted to reveal a spectacle that would transport the audience to another world, time, space, or all three.

Sadly most of the cinemas of today have no sense of showmanship, being forced to survive commercially by selling foul popcorn and ice cream at exorbitant prices. My current cinema is a real joy, as it has one of the largest Wurlitzer organs in the Southern hemisphere.

It's great fun to watch the organ rise out of its concealed pit with the organist playing away for all he or she is worth, whilst I dim the lights to set the mood.

Last Friday night, at midnight, we screened Rocky Horror Picture Show to 400 screaming fans. The manager, organist and I decided to do a presentation at the start with me playing Riff Raff. I really didn't need any makeup, but I decided to gild the Lily anyway.

Here is an atmospheric photo of your trusty orang-utan made up to look like an aging Riff Raff. I think I look more like a zombie. And yes, that is my own hair, I didn't need the Riff Raff wig.


During the screening, I wandered around the theatre and sat alongside members of the audience as they threw rice and toast etc., at each other. Some of the expressions on their faces were priceless. We had a great fun night and the evening raised a huge amount of money, so we are going to do it again on the next Friday 13th with some different antics.

I should add that the theatre is a non-profit organisation run by volunteers of the Theatre Organ Society who owns the theatre, with the projectionist and manager being the only paid employees. Naturally I didn't charge them for my performance as Riff Raff. (I wasn't projectionist for the show that night.)

I managed to tell the audience about one of our currently screening movies, The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher who was just a jump to the Right. :spank:


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You have that lean but not hungry for brains look. A couple of theaters where I live have very high res DLP projectors--impressive but almost too perfect. I keep looking for the little blobs that warn the projectionist that a reel change is coming.

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If that came and sat next to me in a dark theater, I woudn't be throwing popcorn at it! I hope there were no young kids around!

You didn't mention if they paid the projectionist, too, but they must if you came out of retirement for the job.


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bi_janus, the little blobs, you refer to, are the motor and changeover cues for when we had to change from one projector to the other every 20 minutes. (The spools of film were around 20 minutes in length.) They have been phasing them out for a number of years now, but are still visible on older prints.

Interestingly in the days prior to the invention of acetate safety film which was slow to burn, the highly flammable nitrate base film was shipped in ten minute reels so that if it caught fire it would minimise the amount of damage it did.

Digital projection is unnerving for some people because it lacks that small movement that comes from the projector, and just happens to coincide with our own internal human jitter as we perceive the real world. This is similar, again, to the imperfections in vinyl audio discs which suffered from a background noise that many people became accustomed to hearing. Digital recording can be deathly silent and that silence is worrisome to those people who are used to hearing the reference hiss from vinyl or the optical soundtrack on film.

For a long time the digital image lacked resolution in the blacks, making it difficult for viewers to discern shadows in dark images.

A lot of effort was put into achieving high contrast rates that would overcome this problem. It is now very reasonable. However the whites 'shimmering' is a dead give-away of a digital image, even if it is released as on film. Also look for the night sky scenes in which the sky has a certain luminescence almost impossible to capture on film stock without great care.

Many of the older generation of film-makers, technical artists, and projectionists find the digital image lacking in film's ability to diversify the director's artistic 'vision'. I have little doubt that this will be met, in time, with an even greater range of aestheticism, but for the moment both digital sound and image do suffer from being neutered in the artistic emotional sense when compared with the heights achieved in analogue recording.

Expect to see rich vibrant colors back in the movies (near you) as soon as they can do it.

Cole, yeah they pay the projectionist, the manager, and the cleaner.

I scare small children even without the costume and the makeup, - no charge.

I'm not sure what you would throw at me if I sat with you in the darkened theatre, but I am sure we can shock the patrons sitting either side of us with little effort.

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I'm a science fiction fan, but I led a very sheltered life. I have never (yet) been to a theatre screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show to get the full effect. I'm told I should bring a raincoat. I believe this involves liquid, probably during the finale.

I have, however, been to a few scifi conventions, and they have been mostly great fun. -- Friends at a couple of forums would get a huge thrill out of seeing your picture in costume, above. -- I missed out on recording myself for inclusion in a Time Warp video, but there's hope for future videos. -- Des, that photo is awesome!

It's been too long since I last went to the movies. I'm trying to get back into the swing of things this year, despite budget freak outs. -- I've been to only one IMAX presentation, the Fantasia 2000 showing. -- But there's something cool about going to the movies that you don't get at home. And no, I'm not referring to the need to sweep and mop the theatre floor, haha, from all the sodas and popcorn. Your TV and couch at home aren't quite the same as that big silver screen and sharing a movie with a live audience.

How cool, I know Riff Raff! Well, sort of.

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