Bell & Howell 2709

How to Capture Life: Examining Gazes

Bell & Howell 2709

There are several film recordings of the "" (Türkenbefreiungsfeier), which was held in Vienna by the Austrian Homeland Protection (Heimatschutz) on May 14, 1933. They were included in the Jahresschau 1933, an annual newsreel produced by the Federal Police Headquarters in Vienna that is preserved at the Filmarchiv Austria, in the form of two independent reports, one silent and one sound film, both of them in black and white. 

The silent film, which was evidently produced by police employees, is about five minutes long and shows the Home Guard (Heimwehr) members' arrival by train, the rally in the , and the parade into the city center to According to the introductory intertitle, the slightly longer sound film is part of a Fox Tönende Wochenschau newsreel, which not only contains audiovisual recordings of the celebration in Schönbrunn but also visualizes and audibilizes the protests against the subsequent Home Guard parade: National Socialists sing the and whistle and boo at the marching Homeland Protectors. 

From the perspective of film technique, the recordings of the upper Mariahilfer Strasse are interesting because the camera travels ahead of the parade, panning to the protestors on the sidewalk and then back to the Homeland Protectors.  A photograph taken around noon near Vienna's Westbahnhof station 

shows the head of the parade at the beginning of this film sequence.  On the right edge of the picture, a cameraman is visible on the roof of a car, wearing a coat and suit complete with necktie, his hair tousled by the motion of the vehicle. In this moment he appears to be the focus of everyone's attention: the gaze of many spectators, even of the Home Guard leader Richard Steidle, who is marching alongside and Emil Fey at the forefront of the parade, is aimed at him and his camera.

The vehicle is too small to be a professional recording van and also does not bear the name of a production company. Instead, it looks as though a stand had been affixed onto an ordinary sedan car in order for the camera, its operator, and equipment to be able to sit on the roof. It is highly likely that it was this cameraman who took the recordings contained in the Jahresschau 1933 by the Viennese police. As mentioned above, there they feature the intertitle of the Fox Tönende Wochenschau, which had been the German-language version of the American Fox Movietone News since 1929.  According to contemporary film magazines, the following week it was not only Fox that released "pictures of the Turks Deliverance Celebration in Vienna," but also Paramount in their newsreel. 

Furthermore, several photographic and filmic documents reveal that the Viennese Selenophon Licht- und Tonbild GmbH  was present in the gardens of Schönbrunn with their recording van.  However, the sound film they recorded, which might have been publsihed in the Austrian Engel-Woche, has not survived. Selenophon also produced the "patriotic newsreel" Österreich in Bild und Ton ("Austria in Image and Sound") on commission from the Federal Chancellery, which played in movie theaters from June 1933 but which did not contain a piece on the "Turks Deliverance Celebration" of May 14. 

The cameraman was presumably a freelancer and sold his recordings to film companies like Fox or Paramount. Further evidence of this is the camera, which can be seen in the photograph.  Although the model cannot be identified with complete certainty even after looking at the picture under a magnifying glass, the metal frame, the lens turret, the double-compartment film magazine, and the side viewfinder clearly point to the standard model by the American manufacturer Bell & Howell, with the type number 2709. 

The camera is mounted on a tripod and was obviously operated using a synchronous motor, which is attached on the right-hand side. This uniform drive made it possible to record not only twenty-four frames per second, but also synchronous optical sound, the equipment for which must have been located inside the car. In any case, the film preserved at the Filmarchiv Austria contains audio recorded on a variable-density track. 
That means that the film reel, which is thirty-five millimeters wide and perforated at the edges, has photographic images on the right and the corresponding soundtrack—with uniform area but variable density—next to it on the left.  For this reason, this sound-recording technology came to be known as variable-density recording systems, in contrast to variable-area systems in which the density of the soundtrack remains the same but its width changes, giving rise to a track with a jagged appearance. 

The film camera documented in the photograph was not state of the art around 1933. At this time, much lighter 35 mm cameras were available, which had been specially developed for newsreels and outdoor recordings, e.g., the spring-driven, just over three-kilo Eyemo by Bell & Howell, which had been on the market since 1925.  Despite dating back to 1912 and—with its film magazine, lenses, and additional motor—weighing some twenty kilos, the 2709 model was known for its reliability and longevity. 

For this cameraman, it may have been more cost-effective to upgrade the older, heavy camera with a motor and sound system than to buy the latest model used by the leading newsreel producers. Moreover, the Bell & Howell 2709 was a complete studio camera and hence more versatile than a device specially developed for mobile recordings like the aforementioned Eyemo, an upgraded version of which was released with an electric drive motor in 1932. 

Founded in Chicago in 1907, the Bell & Howell company carried the 2709 as its "standard camera," and in the course of a decade the model did in fact become established as the standard camera in American film studios. 

However, this description does not refer to its commercial success, but rather the 35 mm format it used, the standardization of which as the "standard film" size was in no small part due to this camera and other equipment made by Bell & Howell. The first roll films produced by George Eastman for his Kodak cameras in 1888 were almost seventy millimeters wide. Edison had the 70 mm film halved and used the 35 mm format for his Kinetoscope, a motion picture exhibition device with a peephole for an individual viewer patented in 1893.  However, the wide range of projectors in use around 1900 meant that film widths varied greatly. Donald J. Bell's experience as a projectionist in Chicago made him familiar with the disadvantages of the various formats and perforations. 
Even in the instances when a film reel fitted the projector available for the respective screening—the exception rather than the rule—it was to be expected that the reel would repeatedly fall out of the film advance mechanism while cranking. The result in most cases was not the impression of fluid movement, which arises with a constant speed of at least sixteen frames per second. Instead, the projected events ran at an irregular speed; the pictures flickered and jumped around on the screen.

In well-planned events, apparatuses like the Cinématographe by the Lumière brothers,  the Bioscop by the Skladanowsky brothers, or Edison's Vitascope, which were launched in the mid-1890s, may have lived up to the promise of their names and indeed presented life as movement, as conceived by modern biology in the nineteenth century. 

In everyday film screenings, however, this illusion could only be enjoyed by those audience members whose concept of life admitted more phenomena than met their eyes. Donald Bell was aware of the problem due to his work as a projectionist, and the mechanical engineer Albert S. Howell, whom he met in a film workshop, presented a solution with a series of technical innovations that led to the first products of their joint company, Bell & Howell: a contraption to frame images—known as a "rotary framer"—for the 35 mm film projector Kinodrome; a perforator to standardize the perforations in 35 mm film; a camera that transported 35 mm film over fixed pilot pins; and a printer that could copy 35 mm film with the same transport mechanism. 
In other words, the newly founded company focused entirely on the 35 mm format and its technical solutions ensured that film would pass through recording and projection devices reliably and at a uniform speed.

The first camera produced by Bell & Howell was already equipped with the innovative film movement mechanism for stable exposure, but it was still clad in wood and leather. This was followed in 1912 by the 2709 model, whose mechanics and casing—in contrast to all movie cameras developed until that point—were made entirely of metal.  Two magazines were mounted on the camera, one for unexposed and one for exposed film.  Another feature of the camera was the turret for four lenses, which not only simplified the cameraperson's job, but was also essential for focusing.  In order to get a subject in focus, the camera had to be shifted from right to left on a metal base attached to a tripod and the lens turret turned 180 degrees. Then the cameraperson could adjust the lens without exposing the film.  It was also the only opportunity to see precisely what would later be filmed, because the viewfinder mounted on the left side of the camera showed the respective subject from a perspective laterally offset from the recording lens—a so-called "parallax error," which had not yet been corrected at that time.  Also worth mentioning is the fact that the hand crank in the 2709 model was supported by ball bearings, which made the drive easier and also added to the image quality. Bell & Howell's standard camera would be manufactured until 1958. 

The film camera photographed at the beginning of the upper Mariahilfer Strasse in Vienna at noon on May 14, 1933, was in all probability the 2709-B1 model by Bell & Howell. This version could record up to twenty-six frames per second and was not sound insulated. 

The operating sound of the camera, comparable to a sewing machine, only became a problem with the general in the late 1920s. While the film studios had developed sound-absorbing cases known as "blimps," the manufacturers worked on making quieter cameras. With the models NC (1932) and BNC (1934), Mitchell responded better to this technological challenge than Bell & Howell, who concentrated more and more on the amateur film business with cameras and projectors for the 16 mm format. 
  However, sound film necessitated not only a reduction in camera sounds, but also a constant recording speed of twenty-four frames per second in order to synchronize sound and image. There had been an electric drive motor for the 2709 model since 1919, which was mounted on the back and considerably smaller than the solid synchronous motor used by the cameraman at the "Turks Deliverance Celebration."  In the photograph, he is grasping it with his right hand, presumably to pan the camera back to the parade, though deliberate focusing would not have been possible. Whether the recordings could be used would only become clear once the film had been developed.

In this case, despite having filmed from the roof of a moving sedan, the cameraman appears to have captured his subject well enough to present the recordings in the subsequent edition of the Fox Tönende Wochenschau. They captured the movement of the parade in twenty-four frames per second (and in a soundtrack recorded using variable-density technology) on a 35 mm film. His "fondest hope" for the movie industry had always been standardization, wrote Donald Bell in a letter to the magazine International Photographer in 1930. 

In the three decades since he had left his job as a projectionist in Chicago, the 35 mm format, promoted by the company he had founded with Albert Howell, had become established around the world. From a formal perspective, there was now barely any difference between the pictures on the professional film market, and neither during recording nor projection was it possible to manually influence how quickly the film reel passed through the equipment. This is why on May 14, 1933, not only the Austrian Home Guard members, but also the pictures that document their "," moved in lockstep. Thus the film's format mirrored the uniformity of its subject.

Mariahilfer Strasse 124
Filming of Home Guard parade
2 km 530 m from the start
49 min before the end

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