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35mm Vintage Movie Projectors and Screens: Old-School Entertainment

Long before digital cinema projection dominated movie theaters and the hearts of moviegoers the world over, 35 mm film projection was the king of cinema. During its time, it provided theaters with a method for displaying relatively high-resolution wide screen pictures that flowed smoothly through a projector. It allowed memorable flicks such as Bonnie and Clyde, The 400 Blows, and A Streetcar Named Desire to become well-known.

What Is a 35 mm Movie Projector?

  • 35 mm Film: This was the most common size of film in cinema projectors and photography during the 20th century. It was first intended for use as film stock for performing test shots by movie directors and cinematographers. It is run vertically through the projector or camera and contains color images on each frame. At one edge of the film near the perforations is the stereophonic analog soundtrack recorded as sound waves, which was the dominant method for sound-on-film output. Run time is usually 11 minutes per 1,000 feet of film.
  • Mechanism: Film projectors are extremely complicated electro-mechanical devices that contain many moving parts synchronized to operate seamlessly. The film runs from the supply reel and winds down to the projector head and lamp that throws the image at the screen. Then, the film runs down toward the sound drum, which contains a small lamp that projects the analog soundtrack at the edge of the film and is interpreted by the photosensor and turned into electrical signals for the speakers. 
  • Vintage: The film projector was predominant in the 20th century and was popular even during the mid-2010s. While digital projectors have overtaken 35 mm projectors, cinema enthusiasts still look for ways to repair old vintage projectors like Simplex units as a hobby and to commemorate one of the biggest technological advances in film.

What Are Some Parts that May Need Replacement?

  • Projector Head: The projector head assembly is a major part of a 35 mm projector and consists of the many sprockets and moving parts that allow the film to flow smoothly. Replacing the entire Simplex projector head should be a last resort because it serves as the housing for all the individual components that allow for proper film projection, such as the lens, lamp, sound drum, shuttle, and shutter. 
  • Shutter: The shutter is responsible for reaching the flicker fusion threshold that fools the human brain into thinking that the film screen is moving at a smooth rate. Without the shutter, the film would appear very blurry. 
  • Shuttle: The shuttle is another important component that moves the 35 mm film along the lamp and lens assembly. It has teeth on both sides that fit right into the sprocket holes on each end of the film. Its role is to move the film down the lens after the first blade of the shutter blocks the frame to maintain the illusion of movement.

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