MAX GIBSON: THE MAN BEHIND THE MAGIC

So what have you done for the Edinburgh Film Festival>
Well that’s because I worked in the Regal at the time. We got a lot of premieres…one year we must have done most of the blooming Festival because we had three shows per day to make up and split down on one projector, for 16mm and 35mm. Mostly premieres, that’s where I met folk like John Cleese, Richard Attenborough, and so on and so on. A lot of people were actually technicians, etc., and Japanese filmmakers, temperamental Italians. I’ve shown films where a naked man jumps out of the screen and run up the cinema…

(Laughing) What was that for?
Oh, I can’t remember, it was a chase – it was pretty well done actually and they had pinched the Cinerama screen of course. Ideal with louvres – the Cinerama screen was not a solid screen, it was a louvred screen. And they had this man getting chased, and he was losing his clothes as he went until he was naked. He ran towards the camera and the editing cut him out of it. And the real person, who was the same size as he was on the screen by this time, leapt out of the louvre and ran up through the cinema, and the audience was shouting “BRAVO! BRAVO!”

There was another one with hammers and nails and I couldn’t understand what was going on. They put a solid screen up in front of our screen. And I thought, “What in the hell’s this for.” At the end of the film there was about ten minutes of clear film and the director kept insisting I didn’t shut it off, I just leave the white light. I said, “I’ll leave the white light, yep,” thinking to myself, “Pal, if you crack this lens, you’ll be paying for it.” And he kept coming in “don’t shut off, don’t shut off” and I’m like “I won’t shut it off”. I didn’t know what was going on. Come the end of the film – there’s a soundtrack still on the film right enough, playing music – and this white light hitting the screen. And the next thing, the entire audience was up on the stage battering nails into the screen. I still haven’t quite figured out what the meaning was behind it, but everybody had a good time.

Sounds fun. Is it a disappointment to you that a lot of the people behind the scenes, like the ushers and usherettes and yourself, don’t get the recognition they deserve?
Well that’s always been the thorn in your flesh you might say over the years, the projectionist…and the viewer at the other end of the production line. And of course we were paid low wages and worked long hours…some of the guys were a bit scatterbrained, y’know? But every one of them loved the job. And they were never really given full recognition; they certainly weren’t given the treatment or the wages that they really deserved. If they’d done that they would have had full technicians even in the old days, more-or-less as they’re getting now once a person is fully trained. There was always a thought that you could spend millions making a film and everybody making that film was doing the absolute best they could, even to the girl who was brushing the bits of fluff off the costumes and so on, they were all doing their best. And then they hand the finished product to a cinema. And here, at the other end of this production line, is a projectionist. And if you had projectionists that couldn’t care less – which I never really met any of, they were all pretty dedicated – but they used to get hounded and some of them used to get treated really badly. They don’t get the recognition…it’s part of the film, this is the forum being presented to the paying public. However, when the Cinema Museum opens

I intend to rectify that, because projectionists are becoming a thing of the past with the digital age coming on. They’re not really projectionists now as they were in the past because they physically presented the film and they physically opened the curtains and changed the colors of the lights, etc., and they made the show. The light show in the cinema was all part of the performance that was done by the projectionist; it wasn’t done by motors or computers. He was the one who had the eye for the colors, etc. I remember in the Rio Cinema in Kirkcaldy, I think at the time it was the biggest cinema stage in Scotland, it had three prosceniums and two curtains. And people used to come from all over Fife to watch the light show before the film started. And they talk about discos nowadays? Sorry, it’s all been done. When this Cinema Museum opens, I intend to put a plaque on the wall for all the projectionists over the hundred years for physically projecting films and thanking them for showing us the magic.

Would you say that the thing with the nails and the hammer is your most unusual presentation? I read in your CV that there was a 56-projector presentation…
That wasn’t moving film, that was audio-visual. I can’t remember what it was; it was something to do with Scotland. I used to work at Calton Studios, which is no longer there, down in Calton Road, and I think they had 18 projectors, I can’t remember…or was it 50-odd…I can’t just remember. I needed them with the audio-visual stuff. The slides were shooting through so fast that the film was actually moving. You were presenting slides at literally 24 a second so you were having moving pictures. It was quite incredible, and the heat and the noise was something else.

The story continues in part eight of MAX GIBSON: THE MAN BEHIND THE MAGIC>>>




Posted on March 3, 2004 in Interviews by

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