By Scott Jacobs

I have to beg your indulgence. The topic of the week is summer fun. And I would like to illustrate it with home movies of my 4-year-old on vacation.

Seeing my son catch a fish will be of little interest to anyone except myself. But one of the roles of a father is to keep the memories, and for that we have the ubiquitous video camcorder and an ever-improving set of editing software that works on a laptop computer.

50 Years of Home Movies

The cover photo on this story is a split screen of two photos from home movies in our family archive. The first is from a 16mm film of me fishing in northern Wisconsin that my father recorded in the 1950’s; the second is a still frame from a video I shot last month of my own son on the same lake, staying at the same cottage, doing the same thing –– although I’m pretty sure it’s a different fish.

What’s remarkable is how similar our home movies are––right down to the same shots, taken in the same location. Maybe that’s because there’s a continuity in families that home movies subtly reveal; or maybe it’s because there’s actually not much to do on a family vacation––swim, fish, run in the woods, ride in a boat––that merits cinematic treatment.

For your edification and enjoyment, I am posting up both home movies as embedded videos.

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This is the same home movie recorded 50 years ago by my father.

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Better Pictures . . . and Sound!

The technical differences are readily apparent. The video picture resolution stands out, as does the shift these days to the new widescreen aspect ratio. The most striking difference, however, is the presence of sound, or at least the potential for it. Hearing people talk in home movies can be a wonderful way to flesh out their stories. But it turns out––in my case, at least––the chances of having a long conversation with a four-year-old are hit or miss. (And they’re not that much better when you put an adult in front of the camcorder.)

What I also notice comparing my home movies from the 50’s and today is a sort of laissez faire attitude on the part of the filmmaker. When we make our home movies, we don’t really have a story in mind. We just sort of want to capture the moment. So we wind up stringing together our best shots, and if the battery goes dead, or the film runs out, that’s the end. Fade the music. In that sense, making home movies is like life.

A Parade is a Parade

Here’s another example from my home movie archive that astounds me. Fifty years ago, my father shot a home movie of the 1961 Memorial Day Parade in our hometown of Elm Grove, Wisconsin.

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This July 4, we took my son to Winnebago, Illinois, and I shot a video of my son watching their 4th of July Parade with his cousins.

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The footage is a rich display of the cars, clothing, and other cultural artifacts of the different eras. But it is, essentially, the same parade. And the same home movie––right down to the fact both movies go straight from the parade to a backyard pool party.

Now, I know home movies make for fabulous dust collectors in the closets of America. All fathers want to record the highlights of their kids growing up, but their ardor quickly fades when they confront the daunting task of editing them. Although computer-editing programs (and YouTube uploads) have made this considerably easier, it’s not easy getting back to the old tapes. The rolling migration of camcorder formats from VHS to Hi8, DV, HDV, and now SD cards makes it hard to find playback machines that even plug into a computer.

But that doesn’t keep us from hauling out the camcorder every time the vacation whistle blows. Just as our fathers did before us, we capture these special moments, shaky as they may be, because damn, that kid is cute.

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