News From The Woods - June, 2006

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published June 19, 2006


"This Is Your Town, Part One"


Back during the winter months of 1955 some local businessmen here formed a small group of friends who referred to themselves as the "Good Ol' Boys Club". The purpose of this club was to assist Mountain Home residents and businessmen in promoting our little slice of the Ozarks. They would pool their resources and pocketbooks whenever a "worthwhile" promotional idea popped up which might benefit the area. They took up a collection and acquired the funds to hire the services of a professional filmmaker to travel to Mountain Home and document the community's commerce and business professionals. Most of the prominent businesses of the day were featured in the 16mm film, along with churches, schools, and city government. Banks, car lots, the movie theater, the radio station, newspaper, telephone company, grocery and furniture stores, and other areas of interest such as utility companies, trucking lines, and city offices all had screen time. Lions Club and Rotary luncheons were filmed. School children of all ages were paraded out for the camera. Several sequences showing "typical" movie theater audiences were shot at the Baxter Theater. Produced by the Dixie Films Production Company, the black and white silent film was entitled "This Is Your Town". It was an amazing in depth look at life in Mountain Home in the mid 50's.

I caught my first glimpse of this film back in the 80's when someone asked me to convert it to video. The leading home video format at the time was Sony's Betamax VCR (remember those?). Cameras were crude by today's standards and as I recall the transfer from film to video was an ugly affair. I do not remember much more of that chance encounter than the thought that I probably did the job while busying myself with some other chore and missed actually seeing much of the film after the first five minutes. It just didn't interest me at the time and I soon forgot about it completely until it popped up again in 2004. I was visiting with old friends at the 40 year reunion of the Mountain Home High School class of 1964 when a former classmate, Judi Ramey, mentioned that she had discovered an old film in her parent's closet, and she asked if I could transfer the footage to video for her. I casually shrugged it off with a "sure" and then forgot about it until a week later when she called me to say she had the film with her and wanted to drop it off at the studio. When she arrived she was carrying a large can of film. I instantly recognized it as 16mm film and was immediately intrigued with its contents. When I loaded it on my 16mm film projector (yes, I STILL have one!) those old memories came flooding back to me. This was the SAME FILM I had seen 20 years prior. All of a sudden I was pumped! Here was my own hometown in all its 1950's glory! I immediately wondered how many people I might recognize. I didn't have long to wait……. Faces without names steadily paraded through my projector for over an hour as I spotted old school chums, former teachers, and all the pillars of the business community. I gasped during a section documenting a Rotary Club luncheon as I spied my dad sitting there casually stirring a cup of coffee with a lit cigarette in his hand. Everyone was smoking cigarettes! I had forgotten how times had changed so drastically in 40 short (to me) years.

And then an extraordinary thing happened: I was taking in all the faces of a hundred people seated in the movie theater as the camera panned the audience, and what to my amazed eyes did appear but ME….. Calmly sitting next to my mom and dad in a packed movie theater. Let me tell you the hairs on my arms stood straight up! For the life of me I do not remember sitting in the theater with my parents (and just about everyone else in Mountain Home) and being filmed by anyone. You'd think I would remember sitting there with no movie showing, house lights up, and a guy at the end of the aisle with a camera on a tripod and movie lights glaring so brightly that many theater patrons were shielding their eyes with their hands. It was almost as if I was watching someone else who looked incredibly like me (and my mom and dad). I ran it over and over but there was no mistaking it. I can only recall that feeling one other time, and that was twenty years ago when I was transferring some home movie film footage over to video for a customer who lived and was brought up in Gainsville, Missouri, some 20 miles away. He brought me his family home movies to convert and during the course of the transfer, while I watched, I recognized the Mountain Home town square. "Wow!" I thought, "It's home movies of a parade in Mountain Home"… and as I continued to watch I saw myself driving by the camera in my dad's Lincoln Continental convertible with Miss Merry Christmas sitting up on the back deck! But at least I remembered doing that! I STILL do not recall that evening at the theater in 1955. It's a strange feeling.

I asked for and got permission from the current possessor/owner of the film to use the film in any way I saw fit. They already had their DVD of the film and fortunately they liked the idea of possibly allowing more people in town to see the way things were 40 years ago. I had an idea to work on the film, which by now was in a very sad state. The film seemed to be in its original filmed sequence. There were very few splices in it. Also, it appeared that it was edited together chronologically and in a hurry. Several scenes look as if the camera was under cranked, resulting it everything looking like it was moving a little too fast (typical of older film projects). Some clips were backward and one scene even played upside down! Almost no effort was made on the film after the shooting. Opening and ending titles (which looked like stock graphics) were hastily spliced onto the film and that was about it. The original film running at nominal projector speed was around an hour, but by the time I slowed it down to what would appear to be real time to the audience it was running at about an hour and twelve minutes. I also fixed the ill-placed scenes and did a lot of digital restoration techniques using today's technology and video software. Color loss issues were non existent as it was in black and white, and the sepia toned brown look appealed to me. Of course it was silent, so as I worked on the project over the next few months I placed a temporary music track, consisting of classic "oldies" of the mid 50's. It made a good accompaniment to the project. More on this later….

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