The last picture show
On Monday, April 27, at 7 pm, the West Tisbury Free Public Library will show its last 16mm film. The long-standing Monday Night Movie Program, with a tradition of showing 16mm films, will change its format to a DVD projector starting in May. In January, the library received a letter from our supplier, Boston Public Library Audio-Visual Collection Services, stating that they were no longer able to house, care for, and ship the older style films.
The earliest records of motion pictures date back to the 1800s. Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Edison did not invent the first motion picture projector. There are many contenders depending on how "motion picture" is defined. Edison did patent a movie projector in 1893 with the assistance of a young protégé, William Dickson.
Several widths of film have been used, but the 16mm variety remained the most popular. There is evidence that projectors have been around since the 1860s and possibly earlier.
After several phone calls to former library staff and much perusal through Annual Reports and Trustee Minutes, it was discovered that in October of 1977 under head librarian Nancy Whiting, the assistant librarian, Deborah Carr, initiated the idea of showing films for school children as a regular library program. Her plan was to borrow films from the Vineyard Haven Library and use the projector from the West Tisbury School.
As the program grew and became more successful, more movie selections were in demand and the film choices from the Vineyard Haven Library became exhausted. The library borrowed films from other sources including the Fitchburg Library, the Central Massachusetts Regional Library System Audio Visual Center, and lastly the Boston Public Library. This cinematic traveling feast has been held upstairs on Music Street, downstairs at the Howes House, and in the reading room in the library's present location on State Road.
Keeping this tradition afloat was no small feat. Ebba Hierta, former assistant librarian, recalls a stormy Halloween of 2005 when she reserved the 1922 silent vampire film, "Nosferatu." The film case arrived salty and dripping wet inside and out, with a note of apology attached. Apparently, while loading it aboard the Patriot from Falmouth, someone tossed the case to the deck hand who slipped and dropped it overboard. The case was fished out with a boat hook before it sank to the bottom. Ms. Hierta unwound the film around the Music Street Reading Room and set up a fan to dry it out. And she prevailed: "Although the film was coated in salt, it ran through the 'Old Clacky' just fine."
This program is colored by many instances of the projector breaking, film breaking, miss-threads, bulbs burning out, needing to make popcorn, and even pretending to be the actors' voice on the screen when the sound mechanism dies (thank you, Al Hurwitz).