One of the earliest memories I have, and certainly one of the most vivid, is watching my grandfather's cartoons in his living room. Though this, in and of itself, is not a unique experience amongst the world's population, in fact, I dare say a great many have similar memories of watching Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote in their grandparents' living room laughing and smiling as a family.
What might be unique about my experience was perhaps the sounds that I remember so distinctly. In addition to the music, the banter, the sproooing, or the splat, I distinctly remember the clackety-clackety-clack or Chuck's old, blue Bell & Howell 16mm projector adding a constant pillow of support to the frivolity that played out on the five foot floor-standing pull-up screen that adorned the corner of the room.
On regular occasion we would descend upon their home, if lucky with a friend in tow, to find a seat cross-legged on the floor front and center to witness the productions being shown on our own little silver stage.
The only question would be who would have the honor of playing projectionist for the evening. If I were lucky (and I am regularly lucky), I would be the one to decide the order of the films taken out one at a time from their rectangular shaped film case placed below the side table which made for the makeshift projector stand.
I learned how to conduct a Bell & Howell before I could ride a bike.
First, turn the play knob only one notch so the bulb won't shine during the feed. Depress the top feed button until it clicks. Then gently feed the leading edge of the film into the tiny slit until the sprockets catch and rapidly draw the acetate into its belly. Watching carefully as it makes its way through the gearing, down and around toward the back and eventually through, it's imperative to watch its escape to only allow a foot or two to dangle out its aft before switching the play knob back to off. Then there's a gentle tug on the film to release the feed button followed by a gingerly fed loop over the spring-loaded final gearing before inserting the film's edge into the take up reel's opening slit with a few turns to remove the slack.
Only at that point would the lights be dimmed and the projector placed into its active play position igniting the brightest, and hottest, bulb in the house to flicker the 12 frames per second across the room.
I, as a responsible projectionist, would remain seated next to the projector to minimize the duration of the rhythmic slapping of the film's final tail as it exited its captor and continued to spin and hit the back casing.
The lights then would come up and the film was rewound, at surprisingly dramatic speed, only to find more staccato slapping as it slowed to a stop upon its completion.
I loved those film nights and any ensuing discussion about a character, a scene, or an inspiration during each mini-intermission. But my most vivid memories from those evenings were the sounds of Chuck, the director, the creator of these films, laughing and enjoying them as if they were being seen for the very first time.
I know most of us have these wonderful memories of enjoying the cartoons again and again (for the very first time), but for me, these few sounds permeate mine more than anything else.
(A lucky guy…)