In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • 3MMThe Smallest Gauge
  • Marsha Gordon (bio) and Dino Everett (bio)

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Figure 1.

Eric Berndt (left), an unidentified woman holding a very small Cine-System 3 camera above a 35mm camera for contrast, and an unidentified man, circa 1960s. Courtesy of the Frank Mt. Pleasant Library of Special Collections and Archives, Chapman University.

When film scholars and archivists refer to "small-gauge" film, they are specifying film more diminutive than what was, before the digital age, the 35mm width that was standard for theatrical production and exhibition. In the United States, "small gauge" typically refers to 16mm film, which was the medium of choice for nontheatrical filmmaking and distribution throughout the greater part of the twentieth century, or to 8mm and Super 8mm, the two formats used most frequently by home movie makers. Although these are by far the most common film gauges, film sizes and perforations were never uniform or standardized. As historian Kemp Niver has amply demonstrated, 70mm, 62mm, 50mm, 28mm, 24mm, 22mm, 17.5mm, 17mm, 13mm, 9.5mm, and other variations were all employed at various times, some more widely than others.1

Some of these commercially available formats were quite small. Take, for example, that used by Edison in his Home Kinetoscope, which made its commercial debut in 1912.2 Home Kinetoscope film was 22mm wide, but the frame was closer in size to that of standard 8mm (which contains an image size of 3.3mm × 4.5mm) because there [End Page 2] were three rows of images across the width of the 22mm film. Billed as a space-saving format, "a single foot" of Home Kinetoscope film contained "210 pictures, seventy in each row," making "eighty feet of film" equivalent to "a thousand feet of commercial film."3 A decade after Home Kinetoscopes hit the market, 1922 saw the release of Vitalux, which was a circular band of film 125mm tall and 440mm wide with twenty-three stacked rows of 6mm × 9mm images. In 1956, Pathé's Monoplex 4.75mm film was introduced in an attempt to cash in on the widescreen phenomenon. The width was created by cutting standard 9.5mm film vertically down the middle and projecting it horizontally, not unlike the method used by Paramount with its significantly larger VistaVision widescreen format. In the case of Pathé, creating a widescreen image from such a small original source resulted in a grainy and unimpressive projected image. Cutting the film down the center also resulted in a 1.51:1 aspect ratio, which was hardly the widescreen that was promised.4 All of these small formats were commercial failures.


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Figure 2.

Eric Berndt (center) demonstrating his Cine-System 3 camera, circa 1960s. The man on the right has a badge that reads "Patrick Pfeiffer, Texas Instruments." Courtesy of the Frank Mt. Pleasant Library of Special Collections and Archives, Chapman University.

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These formats were also far from small in comparison to what we believe to be the smallest film gauge of all, about which (perhaps appropriately!) little is known and still less survives: 3mm film, which is more precisely 3.2mm wide, and the equipment used to manufacture, develop, and project it. Such small-gauge film formats as these deserve our attention not only because of their uniqueness but because they are a reminder that so much of film history—and the men and women who often made significant contributions to that history—remains inadequately documented. What follows explores the short but fascinating life of 3mm film and gives details about its inventor, Eric M. Berndt, now a forgotten but key figure in film history, especially of the nontheatrical variety. His tiny invention represents a lost chapter in film's vast material history.

This article is part media archeology of a forgotten film format and part documentation of one way archivists might explore the paths taken by many film tinkerers, engineers, and experimenters of the past who, like Berndt, created film formats and equipment that failed to gain traction in the marketplace but that are justifiably part of film's complicated, unruly, and largely unwritten...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1542-4235
Print ISSN
1532-3978
Pages
pp. 1-20
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-03
Open Access
No
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