A Speech from a Super 8 Fanatic
Stepping inside Ümit and Son is like walking into one of those tat shops owned by cat ladies, except it doesn't smell like schizophrenic piss and the shelves aren't lined with moth-bitten Beanie Babies and tupperware. What I'm trying to say is that it's full of lots of weird stuff: 2,000 plus feature-length films and more shorts than the owner, Ümit Mesut, can count.
Ümit has owned the shop in Clapton for over twenty years and is one of Europe's biggest collectors of Super 8. And 8mm. And 9mm. And 16mm. And 35mm. And angry signs. We asked him to tell us about his collection and why it's so important to keep film (real film) alive.
Ümit: This all started because of my dad. He was a projectionist. When I was a little boy, say, seven or eight years old, I used to sneak into the projection room with him when he'd taken me to work. I became fascinated with all the machinery, and now, well, for me, it's love.
I have loads of favourite films. The original King Kong from 1932, I'd say though. It was probably the first proper film I ever saw and will always stay with me. I love Ray Harryhausen. He was only fifteen or sixteen when he worked on that. It pioneered stop-motion animation. Even with all that crap you've got today you can't beat it. It's time consuming, it takes bloody forever but it's worth it. I was lucky enough to find someone selling it on 16mm and bought it. Cinema Paradiso is another favourite, of more recent years. It's about a young boy and his passion for film, which I suppose I associate with.
My most prized possession is a Super 8 copy of Enter The Dragon. There are only twenty in the whole world, and I have one of them right here. It's worth about three grand, probably more. I know where some of the others are. It's obviously worth a lot, but it's also quite an important film to me. One of my first jobs was as a projectionist at a cinema in Dalston, and we used to do a Chinese film night. We showed Enter The Dragon one evening and it really stuck with me.
I've been selling DVD for five or six years, but I'm all about film. Blu-ray, DVD, VHS – that stuff is disposable. I'm just not convinced with digital. It will come and go. Film hasn't changed in a hundred and twenty years. It's magic. It's organic. HDD can't even begin to give you a similar quality and probably won't for a very long time. Film has got heart and soul.
One of the only bonuses of digital is that it enables everyone to have a go. You can go get a mini DV tape for 99p or something, and take an hour of footage. Three minutes on Super 8 will set you back about forty quid and you have to get it right first go. But now that it's so easy, the term "filmmaker" tends to be used very loosely. Everyone is like, "I made a film, I'm a filmmaker!", then you find out they shot it on Betamax.
Of course, with a shop like this, it's about love, not money. Most of my actual customers are people in the industry, you know, people from the BBC or Warner Brothers. Or someone buying sweets. Sadly a lot of the general public just don't seem to understand what I'm doing. I do screenings from time to time to educate people about the benefits of film and they're always amazed at the quality. I have a mobile forty ft screen and I go around wherever people will have me. I don't have a space of my own that I can show in. I did a 3D screening the other day. Proper 3D, none of that digital nonsense. Everyone loved it.
Film works. It's not broken. I was so upset when BFI shut the museum. They say they'll reopen but we've been hearing that for years. It's just sad because it was the only museum of its kind in the world. Even in Hollywood you don't get places like that. It was paid for by tax payers and then shut down because their weren't big enough crowds, but things shouldn't always be about crowds, they should very often be about preservation. The oldest cinema in London, the Curzon in Wood Green shut down a few years ago. Friends of mine tried to rescue it but couldn't raise the money. It only sold for 140 grand and now it's a church or something. Sure, let's have a church, but let's not destroy the oldest arts centre in London.
We humans keep making wonderful things only to destroy them, and when they're gone, they're gone. These things will come and go. Your mini DVs, your DVD your Blu-ray, they're all fine, but they'll go. I can bring out a projector that's over a hundred years old here and it will still work fine, if you go and buy an HD camcorder you won't be able to get spare parts a couple of years later.
They don't make TVs like they used to, or cars, or houses for that matter. They used to be built to last and didn't require much maintenance. But I suppose its good for me if I can pick up some stuff relatively cheaply because no one else wants it. Projectors are half as cheap as they used to be in the sixties. I remember saving for months and months and months to get my first, and it was very basic. It broke my back, but I was so happy when I got it. And I didn't go and just throw it away. Film, to me, is magic, and why would you throw that away?
Ümit & Son is located at 35 Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, E5 0NS.
- Vice Blog