Life, camera, action: Home movies capture past

June 10, 2000|By JACQUES KELLY

I ONCE DREADED the ordeal of the home movie camera, but I've come to appreciate its power.

Sometime in the middle 1950s, my parents acquired a camera and light bar from Service Photo, a Greenmount Avenue store that had a candy jar with free samples. From that day forward, we were good customers.

The camera -- I think we tortured two models -- became a guest at all the requisite family events, the Christmas mornings, the snow storms, the First Communions and family outings. It's all pretty tame stuff, interesting only if you knew the cast.

The characters were pretty much the six children: my four sisters, my brother and me. My parents (the photo takers) or grandparents and aunts rarely got into camera range. That was their choice, but for reasons of family history, I would have loved to have had a shot of Aunt Cora in her Sunday finest or grandmother Lily Rose at one of her rare church appearances at a confirmation. Alas, they shunned the lens.

Aside from passing shots of the corner of Guilford Avenue and 29th Street in the great snows of 1958, there is not too much local landscaqpe either. My parents were not interested in recording the sights of 1950s Baltimore. They wanted their children's first 15 years saved in a permanent medium.

The home movies were silent, and their quality depended upon lighting conditions. Anything shot outside was better than the interior scenes, which required the use of the blinding light bar. The inside shots are usually too dark or too light, but I'm still glad we have them.

All this said, I am amazed at how the movie camera records the events of a time in Baltimore -- the birthday parties at Fort McHenry, the gatherings at my father's friend Snowden Carter's place in Butler the visits to Bertha Hollander in Beach Haven, N.J.

By family tradition, we reshow the movies at family get-togethers, such as the Thanksgiving evenings when it's too early to go home and leave the old house. These reruns often make for embarrassing nights. We all roared at how silly someone looked in a red Hochschild Kohn coat or how much weight I carried in the summer of 1960. That's part of family survival. And as many times as we watch the old scenes, we watch them again. EPI am also amazed at how the family home movie has come to play a role in history. Often while watching show on the History Channel on cable television, there are numerous instances when the most compelling account of an event was a home movie. Forget the slick, big-budget film productions shot by professionals.

The casual, anyday shots taken by the amateurs on lazy Sunday afternoons reveal the past in a way that no rehearsed and edited version can.

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