Standard 8

Photo of Whaling Station Bay, Hornby Island
Whaling Station Bay in 1962 – Photo by George McLachlan

From the album Call It Home (2016)

Bolex camera ad from 1962
Bolex camera ad from 1962

Film now seems quaint. Hard to believe it was once a vital recording medium for the 20th century and one we thought would always be. My dad owned a Bolex movie camera that he bought in 1962. I have it now and, it still works. It used 8mm film and was the pre-curser to “Super-8” which became popular starting in the mid-60s.

A Standard 8 film roll was 25 feet long with sprocket holes on both long sides. You’d run the film through to the end which was two minutes of time and then flip the film over and run it the other way, exposing that side to the light coming through the shutter. When it was processed, it would be cut down the centre and joined at the half-way point. When it was run through a projector, a short flash would occur after two minutes where the two pieces of film joined.

Film was never “cheap” and when compared to the virtually costless digital storage of today, it makes it seem outrageously expensive. You had to be very careful when shooting because you couldn’t just hit delete and shoot something again because you didn’t like how it came out. You didn’t even see your footage until weeks later when it had been processed. It was a big deal to shoot movie film.

Compared to most families of the time, my dad shot a lot of home movies. They are very precious to have now as they captured a slice of life. I treasure this “footage” (remember that word?) very much because it is so precious. The song is from my dad’s point of view. I wonder if he realized the full significance of what he was capturing when he shot it all back then?

Several scenes used in the song are from actual footage including one from 1962 when my brother, mother, and I are at Whaling Station Bay on Hornby Island. Another is of my grandfather waving goodbye from the ferry as it pulls away.

Standard 8

Snap the cover, wind and roll
Capture light through a tiny hole
Lay down action in your view
Catch your life passing through

There goes Rob and there goes John
Hat flies in the wind and it’s gone
Look at Nancy standing there
Waving wind back from her hair

Yesterday is gone, yesterday took flight
Sprockets spinnin’ film captures the light
Taking it all in before it’s too late
Saving time in Standard 8

Flip the film in the shadow
Twenty-five feet, two minutes to go
Frame your shots so carefully
They become your memory

Ferry pulls out of the bay
Pop stands on deck and gives a wave
A vision caught and made to last
For the day when he has passed


[ Instrumental ]

To capture time is a foolish game
Makes you think life stays the same
Days grow old that once were new
Film runs out like I will too

But in the meantime here I stand
With this Bolex in my hand
It is a witness to my life
My two sons and my dear wife


© John McLachlan (SOCAN)

Whaling Station Bay Painting
Whaling Station Bay – Painting by George McLachlan