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Vice Blog


by VICE Staff
07 January 2010, 12:34pm
My dad 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 take me to work. I became fascinated with all the machinery, and now it's a love.

I have loads of favorite films. The original King Kong from 1932, I'd say though. It was the first proper film I ever saw and will always stay with me. I love Ray Harryhausen. He was only 15 or 16 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.

My most prized possession is a Super 8 copy of Enter the Dragon. There are only 20 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 DVDs 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 120 years. It's organic. HDD can't even begin to give you a similar quality, and probably won't for a very long time.

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 a 99p or something, and take an hour of footage. Three minutes on Super 8 will set you back about 40 pounds and you have to get it right on the 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 40-foot 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 there 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 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 100 years old here and it will still work fine; if you 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 it's good for me if I can pick up some stuff relatively cheaply because no one else wants it. Projectors cost half as much as they used to be in the 60s. 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. Why would you throw that away?

Ümit Mesut is the owner of Ümit & Son (35 Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, E5 0NS), a maddeningly cluttered film and candy store that boasts 2,000-plus feature films as well as one of Europe's largest collections of Super 8, 8mm, 9mm, 16mm, and 25mm. And angry signs.