Sunday, October 09, 2005
Castle Film: King of 8mm Movies
Before DVD, before VHS, if you wanted to own a piece of Hollywood in your home, you bought the Castle Film version of your favorite Hollywood movie or cartoon. Did you, or your family, own a Castle Film? Mine did. Rummaging through an antique store in Vermont this weekend, I stumbled across a Castle Film of a World Series from the 1940s. For a time, Castle Film was the leading manufacturer of 8mm movies. Then I remembered, when I was a boy -- after my family would watch home movies flickering on the small movie screen from our 8mm projector -- my mother would thread through a silent, 12-minute version of a classic Abbott & Costello film. This was always a treat -- even though, on Sunday mornings, I could (and would) watch an entire Abbott & Costello film (complete with sound) on TV. Castle Film was founded in 1924 by Eugene Castle and originally distributed 16mm movies -- mostly newsreels and sports highlights -- by mail order and in photography stores. In the 1930s and early 1940s, the main Castle product was "soundies" -- kind of the music videos of its day. In select bars and restaurants, for a dime, a customer could, for example, view a soundie of Glenn Miller's orchestra playing its latest hit. In 1947, and very successful by then, Castle sold his company to United World Films. Soon after this deal was inked, another company stole the rights to the "soundies" and Castle Film needed to scramble for content. The new owners soon made a deal with Universal Studios to release scenes from some of their movie musicals on 16mm, and excerpts from other Universal movies including Abbott & Costello films, classic monster movies, and Walter Lantz (Woody Woodpecker, etc) cartoons on 8mm. In addition, Castle continued to produce newsreels and travelogues. A Castle Film came in two versions: the 50-foot reel (which was 3-4 minutes long) and the 200-foot reel (which was 12-16 minutes). The concept of the Castle Film was kind of antiquated to begin with: full length features were being edited down into silent shorts (complete with dialogue cards)! Still, families around the country gobbled them up and hit its peak in the 1960s. By the 1970s, demand for this type of home entertainment waned as 8mm equipment sales were in sharp decline. Soon, the advent of home video (in the early 1980s), and now DVD, completely overshadowed this quaint form of home entertainment.