Mail-Order Netflix – in 1912

Several decades before Netflix offered home viewers of Hollywood films the opportunity to order-rent them by mail on DVD, the same opportunity existed. 16mm versions of movies shown in theaters were offered in the 1920s and 1930s by the Kodascope Library, the Universal Show-At-Home LIbrary and others. There was another home-use format that preceded those that most people don’t know about.

The 28mm home movie format premiered in 1912. Yes, I said 28mm, and I also said 1912. The projectors were about as complicated and cumbersome as some of the 16mm classroom projectors made by Eiki or Elmo or Kodak that film collectors still use. The movies were on safety film, and you could get a decent image about 3 or 4 feet wide, at a short throw in your living room. If you could afford the equipment.

A 28mm projector made by Victor. Image sourced from Grahame Newnham’s 28mm site pathefilm.uk

As was the case with 16mm and 9.5mm film which hit the market in the early 1920s, many silent films only exist because copies of them were made available to the home use market on 28mm. In particular, films from the ‘teens. The new Blu-ray of Harold Lloyd’s The Kid Brother includes a couple of Lloyd’s early “glasses character” one-reelers that only survive on 28mm.

While the format did not last very long in the US, it continued to have a life in Canada, and there are some 1920s films that only survive because prints of them were made for the Canadian 28mm market. One of those prints was shown — on 28mm — at the Library of Congress’ “Mostly Lost ” workshop in 2016. It was one of two films presented by Dino Everett, head archivist at the USC Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive.

Dino graciously allowed me to shoot video of him setting up and to interview him about the format and his process, which I later edited into a 9-minute mini-doc, which you can watch here. You can find out more about Dino and where to watch more rare silent film on 28mm in the links below the video.

  • The IU Moving Image Libraries Blog has a great post on Dino Everett, “The Punk Rock Archivist”.
  • There’s more information about the USC Hefner archive at their website.
  • You can buy a DVD of Whispering Shadows, the silent film seen in my doc, with a score by Andrew Simpson and released on my Undercrank Productions label on Amazon and elsewhere.
  • There’s more info about the 28mm format on www.pathefilm.uk.

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