Super 8

I was handed an old cardboard box after his funeral. It was full of Super-8 and Standard-8 film canisters.

The wax cardboard had started to go soft and there was grit and dust settled throughout.

Some of the small reels were in orange Kodak envelopes. Others were loose. Some were unravelling. The handwriting so recognizable and messy. A numbering scheme, but no key to decipher the numbers.

Super-8 is film. You can hold it up to the light and see the frames. It does not diminish like later day magnetic-based Video formats.

With trepidation I asked the family for contributions to the cost of converting the collection. Trepidation that asking family members for money is fraught, but also trepidation for what I might find on the tapes.

I’m assured when I pick up the DVD conversions that there is 4.5 hours of “excellent” footage. The cardboard box is gone though. Apparently it was full of little bugs and had been banished.

Dad’s camera did not record audio. Sitting in silence, I felt like some time traveling voyeur. The constantly changing focus and quality of the images made my eyes work hard.

All the gardens look so neat. Dead relatives appear restored to youth, smiling and limber. Wedding dresses. Flared pants. Vinyl. Children everywhere. Happy young faces.

And it’s seeing the guy who was not in frame but who did the filming.

You see the reactions of the people who are looking at him. You see that that your parents’ relationship wasn’t always beaten down by life and unrealised expectations. You see his attention to strange details, like two dogs fighting on a hotel balcony. You understand when the camera lingers slightly as a pretty, young woman enters frame. You see his commitment to recording birthdays, weddings and births.

You see a collection that runs some 15-20 years and you take it in in a few hours.

You see that he was fastidious and constant with his camera work, disciplined and learned. Something you’ve never seen before.

You wonder why some things only get revealed after death.

And you feel shame for how you let your own adolescent aloofness and your parent’s failed marriage diminish your father like a cheap VHS cassette.

But you also take pride in seeing that he was like you, he endured, left a legacy, and that he was great behind a camera but for too short a time.

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