creature

Scratchy Movie Theater: an Appreciation

Back in my formative years—or my movie watching formative years at least—there was a local independent TV station in Raleigh, NC called Channel 22.  It was my constant friend and companion, the venue by which I discovered and/or cemented my passion for such a wide range of movie genres, filmmakers, and specific oddball pictures.

As I remember it, all they did was show movies (if they ran any other kind of programming, I never watched it).  Their selections were a curious mix of seemingly arbitrary choices, with the occasionally carefully curated selections.

For example, I remember how sometime in the early 1980s they made this big deal about showing Creature From the Black Lagoon in 3-D.  This was pretty cool.

Mind you, on its original run, Creature From the Black Lagoon achieved its 3-D effects using polarized light, and so viewers without the polarized lenses would just see a flat image.  But for the TV broadcast, an anaglyph print was used—so you either needed to get your blue and red 3-D glasses from somewhere ahead of time or consign yourself to watching the thing with weird overlapping colors.

You had to go to a local convenience store (ours was a place called Fast Fare) to pick up your 3-D glasses.  When you did, they gave out a line drawing of the Creature you were supposed to color and return as part of the promotional coloring contest.  Well, I took it on myself to study how 3-D worked, and I painstakingly colored my entry in only blue and red to produce a proper 3-D effect.  If you looked at it using the very glasses they handed out at Fast Fare, you’d see the monster popping out of the page at you.

The winner of the contest got a tour of the TV station.  I got “Runner Up,” which came with a bumper sticker.  “Runner Up” indeed, the haven for cowards and scoundrels.  Bah!

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Anyway, Channel 22 ran a wild variety of films.  I remember my parents being dismayed/confused when I insisted on shaping our vacation plans to make sure I was home to see The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze.  Why?  Because it was so clearly going to be a train wreck and who wouldn’t want to see that?  Channel 22’s loving primetime treatment of Godzilla 1985 was a defining moment in the development of my enduring love of Godzilla movies.  They did a cycle of 70s disaster movies including the gloriously ludicrous and ludicrously glorious Towering Inferno.  I was first introduced to Alfred Hitchcock by Channel 22, although their screenings of Vertigo, Rear Window, and Dial M For Murder led me to believe all three films were B&W shown with a red tint for some mysterious reason.

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And this gets at the other, and most memorable, aspect of Channel 22’s movie lineup—the complete incompetence and/or indifference shown to quality of presentation.  I wish I had won that tour, because it would have been so fascinatingly disappointing to discover the sad truth behind the veneer.  This TV station certainly consisted of nothing more than a second-hand 16mm filmchain machine and a warehouse full of decaying prints.

The filmchain was just a projector with a camera attached to it, so the projectionist could run a 16mm print and relay the results out on TV.  The damaged prints and shoddy mechanics of the device often conspired to cause sprockets to tear, the image to jump and roll, and highlights to blow out like a miniature nuclear explosion on the screen.  Colors were never reliable or even marginally acceptable.  My friends and I took to calling Channel 22 “Scratchy Movie Theater,” or alternately “Yellow Movie Theater.”

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This was the early 1980s, so terms like “letterbox” and “pan and scan” were not yet in the lexicon.  We didn’t have a framework to understand why so many movies looked so wrong on this channel, but somehow Channel 22 made that situation worse than anywhere else did.  Most of the time when a widescreen movie was shown on TV, a pan-and-scan broadcast master would have been prepared ahead of time by a professional telecine operator who did his or her best to capture the best possible version of any given shot, on a shot by shot basis.  Sure, some especially widescreen ‘scope pictures might prove too challenging to even the best telecine jock, but by and large TV audiences didn’t really notice that they were only ever seeing a fraction of the screen.

Not so at ole’ Channel 22, where apparently they let teenage interns run the filmchain.  Why work out the pan and scan ahead of time when you can randomly jerk the camera around while the thing is being broadcast?

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I remember their screening of Return of the Pink Panther, in which numerous scenes in their version contain no visible action at all because the camera is focused on the wrong side of the frame.  There were several moments where all that was visible was Inspector Clouseau’s nose.

The weird thing, though, was that these gross errors in presentation didn’t impede my enjoyment.  I recognized Return of the Pink Panther as the best of the Pink Panther cycle even despite not being able to see some of it.  I became an instant Hitchcock convert on the strength of Rear Window alone, still my favorite Hitchcock, despite thinking it was black and white and red all over.

18 Responses Scratchy Movie Theater: an Appreciation
Posted By swac44 : May 28, 2016 6:53 pm

I’d be surprised if they didn’t run some of those 16mm films in what I call “squish-o-vision” where the anamorphic image is projected without the appropriate lens to stretch it back out again.

I saw many titles on 16mm film in this format in a school gym/auditorium, including Superman, Waterloo, Julius Caesar and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

I remember seeing the second Gill-Man movie Revenge of the Creature (the one with Clint Eastwood as a lab assistant) shown in anaglyphic 3D, only the station was in Bangor, ME and we were in Canada, so there was no way to get the glasses in advance. Luckily, I had a World Book Encyclopedia Year Book that included a section on 3D microscopic photography, so there was one pair of red/green glasses to share between me and my two friends, and there was a bit of fighting every time a cool scene came on. Turned out the colour on the TV wasn’t that great to begin with, so the effect only worked a handful of times.

Posted By swac44 : May 28, 2016 6:54 pm

Meanwhile, last night I watched Kiss Me Kate in a gorgeous 3D blu-ray presentation on a 60-inch plasma flatscreen. What a difference!

Posted By George : May 28, 2016 7:10 pm

In the mid-1980s, a Memphis TV station aired a print of THE SAND PEBBLES that was so washed out, the only visible color was pink. Looked like someone had poured Pepto Bismol over the film.

I understand this happened to a lot of Fox films of the ’50s and ’60s made in their DeLuxe color process. Eastmancolor wasn’t meant to last, either.

Less than 5 years ago, a museum here in Nashville tried to show a 16mm print of De Palma’s BLOW OUT. The colors were so faded they ended up projecting a DVD instead.

Posted By swac44 : May 28, 2016 7:21 pm

Suddenly reminded of one of my least favourite moviegoing experiences, seeing Gone With the Wind in a faded 35mm reissue print (probably Eastmancolor) in a theatre where the heater was broken during the winter. I stuck it out for some strange reason (guess I thought this might be my only chance to see GWTW on a big screen), but I should have cut my losses and bolted. It was a shame, since a few months previously, they’d shown a great-looking scope print of Ben Hur with the colours intact. I’m assuming that was an older IB Technicolor print which, while older than the GWTW copy, was still vibrant.

Posted By robbushblog : May 31, 2016 4:24 am

Technicolor prints have held up much better over the years than have their lesser and inferior follow-ups. Kalmus’s method is still the best, after all of these years.

I lived in Lewisville, NC from ’82 to ’83, which is about 2 hours from Raleigh. I remember wanting so bad to get 3-D glasses from our local Fast Fare as well. I went there as often as I could for Bazooka candy, Tidal Wave gum, and issues of Marvel Team-Up or one of the other Spider-Man comics. Our local independent channel, the number and call letters escape me now, was going to show THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON in 3-D as well. Kids at school were talking about it excitedly. The big night came and I completely missed it. I couldn’t get it to come through clearly on the little black and white set in the kitchen.

Posted By Autist : May 31, 2016 10:42 am

robbushblog : “I couldn’t get it to come through clearly on the little black and white set in the kitchen.”

Well, even if you had done so, you wouldn’t have been able to see it in 3D even with the glasses since you need a color TV for anaglyph.

I too remember 3D showings of both Creature and Revenge of the Creature from this time period. There was a brief 3D fad which included Jaws 3D and some others, and some old 3D movies were re-released or shown on TV in anaglyph. I saw Arch Oboler’s The Bubble in the theater, a little-known movie which was ripped off by Stephen King for the TV series Under the Dome.

Posted By robbushblog : May 31, 2016 2:56 pm

I know. I wasn’t able to get any glasses. I guess I didn’t make that clear in my comment.

Posted By artfrankmiami : May 31, 2016 7:49 pm

Just before the reemergence of 3D in the theater with the Italian “Raiders of the Lost Ark” ripoff “Com’in at Ya!”, my film literature class talked about the old 3D movies and I just happened to have a Super8 17 minute sound digest print in blue red 3D of Creature from the Black Lagoon. I brought it to class and bought extra 3D glasses for everyone and had a great time and the students learned what the 3D experience was like years before its return.

I don’t recall though that Creature was in any 3D format other than red/blue. I did see a reissue of house of wax using polarized glasses.

Posted By swac44 : May 31, 2016 7:57 pm

I thought all major studio 3D movies released in the 1950s were in the polarized format?

3D movie guru Bob Furmanek says yes! (To polarized movies, I mean.)

“Some films (Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, The Maze, Robot Monster, Spooks, The Mad Magician) were converted to anaglyphic 3-D in the 1970′s for re-issue. Others (Miss Sadie Thompson, Bwana Devil, Gorilla at Large, Revenge of the Creature, Hondo) were converted in the 1980′s for television broadcast. All were originally shown theatrically in Polaroid 3-D.”

Posted By swac44 : May 31, 2016 8:01 pm

I would love to see Gorilla at Large in 3D, I have the flat version on DVD; great cast, dopey fun. Mel Brooks used to tease his wife Anne Bancroft about it every time they were on a talk show together. Besides Mrs. Robinson, the film also features Cameron Mitchell, Lee J. Cobb, Raymond Burr and Lee Marvin!

Posted By Autist : May 31, 2016 9:41 pm

I saw Gorilla at Large on TV back in the ’80s. I think it was in the awful color-anaglyph process, but I don’t remember much about it–it’s not a very memorable movie. I also saw The Mask on TV and Comin’ at Ya in the theater.

Posted By ValleyDave : June 7, 2016 7:36 am

I’ve lived in Raleigh for many years and fondly remember many
of the old movies on WLFL.

You are too critical. The pan and scan of any film would have
been done by the distributor from some kind of master print.
At the station, the editors would only do 3 things: 1.check the
print for scratches, tears and bad splices (if necessary, many
distribs would send a better print); 2. edit for time; and 3.
mark the film for commercial breaks.

If they took out film, they were supposed to put it back in
before they bicycled it to the next station.

My memory is that by the late 80′s most film prints had been
transferred to video tape before being sent to the stations.

Posted By Nonton Movie : July 9, 2016 4:57 am

robbushblog : “I couldn’t get it to come through clearly on the little black and white set in the kitchen.”

Well, even if you had done so, you wouldn’t have been able to see it in 3D even with the glasses since you need a color TV for anaglyph.

I too remember 3D showings of both Creature and Revenge of the Creature from this time period. There was a brief 3D fad which included Jaws 3D and some others, and some old 3D movies were re-released or shown on TV in anaglyph. I saw Arch Oboler’s The Bubble in the theater, a little-known movie which was ripped off by Stephen King for the TV series Under the Dome.

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Posted By Agen Poker : July 27, 2016 12:22 pm

I too remember 3D showings of both Creature and Revenge of the Creature from this time period. There was a brief 3D fad which included Jaws 3D and some others, and some old 3D movies were re-released or shown on TV in anaglyph. I saw Arch Oboler’s The Bubble in the theater, a little-known movie which was ripped off by Stephen King for the TV series Under the Dome.

Posted By Autist : July 27, 2016 3:36 pm

Hey, Agen Poker, how come you’re just quoting from my post above without using quotation marks?

Posted By robbushblog : July 27, 2016 6:32 pm

Plagiarism? Dun dun dun!

Posted By Autist : July 27, 2016 8:29 pm

Posted By robbushblog : July 27, 2016 6:32 pm
“Plagiarism? Dun dun dun!”

I don’t know if it rises to the level of plagiarism. It’s just weird.

Posted By robbushblog : July 27, 2016 11:58 pm

I wouldn’t say so. Not in this forum. We ain’t formal er nuthin’.

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