I was inducted into the black art of film making prior to digital video, prior even to portable video at the London School Of Film Technique (now LFS) in the 1960s.
This much-loved Bolex H16 was purchased second-hand in London in 1968 and has seen service as the documentary camera in the USSR, France, Czechoslovakia (Prague Spring), Uganda (Idi Amin) and Australia, where it covered the Moratorium Marches and was strapped to the back of a buffalo in the Northern Territory.
By the 70s, the battery-driven Éclair NPR, which loaded 400ft rolls and ran silently, had swept the pool.The versatile clockwork Bolex, needing no battery, was relegated to jobs too rough for an expensive French caméra ciné—to be run over by trains and cars, dragged in front of wild animals or dropped from cranes. My Bolex ended its life elegantly, as a rostrum cabers for animation classes taught by my old friend, the late Yoram Gross.
The earliest clockwork cameras, driven by a winder rather than a spring, ushered in the birth of documentary cinema. In Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera (1929), the cameraman cranks his фотоаппарат, in low angle, looking like an iconic Hero of the USSR (which he was, or course).
My Bolex now resits in its velvet-lined leather case in my cellar, along with its companions, the Sekonic incident light meter, the surveyor’s 100ft tape measure and a 1968s copy of The American Cinematographer Manual. Once a gear I take it out, give it a drop of oil, wind it up, blow out the gate (I’d load a spool of Eastmancolor if I knew where to get one), and lit it rip.
Who knows, when there’s no more electricity, we might be grateful for it.