Henry L. Buckingham, Widescreen Pioneer

Henry L. Buckingham, Widescreen Pioneer

You may remember my post  “Who Invented Super-16 ?”  in which I described Ian Smith’s  16mm widescreen VariScope system:   http://filmisfine.co/who-invented-super-16/             Well, I recently got a comment from Steve Buckingham in Australia,  saying that he thought his late father had invented Variscope.   And way back in the early 1950s !  I was naturally incredulous about this. However, read on.

Henry Laurie Buckingham only died last December.  He was 92.   Steve has begun going through his dad’s film gear, and  he kindly sent me a video giving a taste of what he had achieved.  It shows an impressive array of projection apparatus and sound recorders.  As for Variscope,  Steve believes that the American Cinematographer magazine, no less,  published an article about Henry’s  system. It probably dates from the 1950s because…. click here  Variscope   (it may take some time to load up) and you will see an actual film clip taken in 1953/4.   That little chap sitting on Henry’s  knee is son Steve !

As you see,  the widescreen  image extends between the 16mm perforations just like Ian Smith’s  system.  Steve has written an account of  H.L.B’s  work  on this and other amazing projects….    Here are some quotes:

Dad was an engineer who ran his own small business L.B. Products in Mordialloc, but spent a lifetime making equipment and gadgets for his passion, cinematography, mainly 16mm.

As a child he was fascinated by film, and his earliest experimentation was to try to make a simple projector in his bedroom. He had obtained a length of film (nitrate in those days), a candle and, I’m not sure, possibly a lens. Without an understanding of the requirement for intermittent movement, simply passing the film in front of a light source produced no results of course. He did learn one thing however viz. nitrate and open flames don’t mix;  in no time there was a mini bedroom fire, but fortunately no substantial damage!

About twenty years ago, before the modern cinema digital era made 3D commonplace and a bit of a yawn, dad built his own Variscope  16mm 3D rig comprising twin Bolex cameras and twin polarised Eiki projectors, all converted by himself. All this equipment is still in tact at his theatrette but in later years he adopted miniDV because the 16mm system was not only very cumbersome to shoot, edit and handle, but when Kodak eventually stopped processing here in Australia the film had to be sent to the US, involving weeks turnaround.

Long before the steadicam era, dad designed and built a gyroscopic stabiliser unit for his Bolex camera. It weighed about 1kg with a battery pack worn separately. It gave very good results, I would guess similar to steadicam, although I ‘ve never tried the latter. The (one and only) Mk 1 would not have been suitable for sound work however as it produced a low-level whine from the gyros.

In the carbon-arc era before Xenons and other compact discharge lamps, he designed and built a mirrorless compact 8 x 6 x 4 inch 65amp, self-feeding, self-striking lamphouse for his 16mm projector. It used 5 and 7mm copper clad carbons and employed an innovative rotating feed system for the positive carbon. (H.L.B. tried to get it commercially manufactured, was unsuccessful, but it’s possible his invention may have been copied later,  Steve thinks.   Doug)

He spent years developing a superb, compact, lightweight, self-blimped 35mm Techniscope-format camera, initially for his own use but later made cursory attempts to see if anyone would want to make it under licence. After his experience with the lamphouse people dad was very secretive with this camera. I accompanied him to Sydney to have the camera evaluated by an industry expert so as to support any negotiations with prospective licencees. The report was generally excellent; the only negative I recall was that the film transport design would not accommodate reverse film direction, something I don’t think dad had ever considered in design, but a feature sometimes used for dissolves and other effects. In conjunction with the Techniscope project he made a 35mm B&W developer/processor (mainly I think for processing the miles of film he shot in developing the camera), an optical reduction printer (35mm Techniscope to 16mm anamorphic) for his own editing purposes and also a 16mm contact printer, with correction, for his own use .

In his account,  Steve tells more about H.L.B’s  achievements and experiments, such as the tape deck that had a blob of mercury for reading special holes in the tape !  25 times a second. Ask if you’d like to see whole account.

Thanks, Steve for letting us know about your amazing father.  And hope you find that elusive ‘AC’ article soon.  Can anyone help please on this ?   Whatever any of us folks think….   ‘The truth is out there !’

This entry was posted in Miscellany, Photo Movie Notes and tagged 16mm, anamorphic, Techniscope, variscope, widescreen. Bookmark the permalink.

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