It used to be that the mere mention of watching home movies would elicit inward groans. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as having friends set up the projector screen to show you slides from their most recent vacation, but it came pretty close. The joy of home movies was definitely confined to those people involved in them, and once you saw the movie once, the reels were often put in a drawer not to see the light of day for years.
Now, I look at old home movies in an entirely different light.
My parents recently had taken their 45 or so reels of Super 8 movies to a local A/V expert to have them transferred to a digital format. The short films spanned more than 25 years, from 1956 to the early 1980s.
Yes, most of the films were taken during holidays and vacations. No, none of them contained anything earth-shatteringly historic or unexpected. You might ask yourself, as I initially did, how interesting is it to see a kid open a gift Christmas morning? Or wonder, is the view of those trees and mountains all that exciting? And you’ll undoubtedly query, was it really normal for people to wave to the camera all the time or are these people unusually friendly? I have come to the conclusion that these qualities may even add to the value of home movies.
As a matter of fact, I will now argue that despite the fact that the movies were fairly mundane—or maybe because of that—they are now a goldmine of history.
For general history and popular culture purposes, they show how life was lived in America 40, 50, or even 60 years ago. The films display ugly station wagons, wacky ‘70s fashion, and feathered hairstyles of the 1980s. Christmas gifts show popular toys like Etch-a-Sketch, the game Stratego, and a plethora of dolls popular throughout the years.
But home movies are even more valuable for family history. Even without sound, as I was watching my family’s movies, I could practically taste the cake at my older brother’s first birthday party or feel the coolness of the water in the wading pool when he was a toddler, splashing around one summer day. I could hear my mother’s cautionary words as my brother and I, then just seven and five years old, got in the face of my cute little sister when she was a baby, telling us that if we continued to push her nose, it might stay that way. I could see the faces, the smiles of people I haven’t seen in years, and those we lost long ago. I laughed at the goofiness of people hamming it up in front of the camera. And I simply couldn’t take my eyes off the images of my then 18-year-old father, who is now 84, doing the twist at a party, or my parents, who have now been married for more than 55 years, walking out of the church, shielding themselves from the rice being thrown all around them, while sheer happiness beams from their grins. That, my friends, is pure gold.
I’ll have more suggestions on specific dos and don’ts of home movie preservation in subsequent posts, but suffice it to say, if you have the opportunity to preserve the images from home movies, do it. Run, don’t walk, to your local video expert and have them digitize the moving pictures captured on 50 or 100 feet of celluloid. Then, sit back and enjoy the priceless family history treasures found within those flickering images.