It Is I

I’ve been working at paying down the project debt incurred over the digitizing of my family’s home movies. I’ve done the projection-against-the-sheet approach and found the results dissatisfying. Working with one of my siblings, who bought a WorkPrinter, am trying to achieve significantly improved results.

It starts with cleaning and conditioning the film, which must dry thoroughly afterwards. Then, all of the broken sprocket holes and bad splices have to be repaired. At that point, the telecine stage can begin.

This is a lot more project debt than I anticipated when I signed on. This happens a lot. My sister thought she could handle most of the work but no, she can’t. It reminds me of an evening I spent at my parent’s house several decades ago. I cooked dinner for some of the children of this sister. One of the kids asked my father, “Why does this taste so much better than Mom’s food?” Dad said, “Because your uncle wants it to be the best.” My sister doesn’t care about quality, she doesn’t have the need for excellence in, well, much of anything really.

I try to use an ever-more-stringent standard of excellence in the things I do without, I hope, allowing it to become an excuse to avoid doing things.

Why, then, am I throwing my time into this project? These are films dating back to the 50’s, at least. They’ve been around and will still be here (barring catastrophe) next year.

The Swedes have a beautifully elegant idiom for admitting that a piece of work is one’s own. They say, “Det är jag.” In English we would say, “It is I.”

There, in those frames of captured photons, am I. Some have me directly, but all of them have me in that everyone there contributed to the making of me. By seeing those who influenced, directed, controlled, what-have-you, my life you can see where I came from. Parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts & uncles, dear family friends, and those ever-present siblings. They are me.

But those frames are unusable as they are. Once, they were the staple of weekend family activities, with everybody trying to name all of the faces. Gradually, they fell out of favor as entertainment until the lonely box of celluloid was handed from closet to closet. Not unwanted but unmanageable. I still have an 8mm projector but not many do and nobody cares to sit through the endless reels anymore.

To give these moving images new life they need to give their light to the digital age. Once digitized, they can be improved, edited, recut, remixed, whatever. In their present format: useless. Digitized: they can become anything.

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