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The Richard Bartel Collection of Historic Motion Picture Cameras & Projectors
Donated to the Museum of the City of San Francisco

The Richard Bartel Collection of Motion Picture Cameras & Projectors, the most comprehensive of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, was formally donated to the Museum of the City of San Francisco by its Bay Area owner, Richard Bartel. Mr. Bartel has spent almost sixty years assembling his priceless treasure trove of rare cameras, movie projectors and other pieces of cinematic technology.

The collection of historic motion picture projectors in The Bartel Collection is one of the most comprehensive in existence, and is probably only exceeded by that of the German Film Museum (Deutsches Filmmuseum) in Frankfurt-am-Main. It embraces everything from the crude, but innovative, magic lanterns of the 1880s, to the massive projection machines that were introduced in the 1950s and 1960s to throw a large, super-wide image on the movie screens. These newer projectors used formats like CinemaScope, VistaVision, Panavision, and Todd/AO, while Cinerama, introduced in 1956, used multiple projectors to produce the effect.

The Bartel Collection also includes an operating Mechau projector, arguably both the rarest and most technically sophisticated of all motion picture projectors ever produced,” reports Mr. Bartel. “It was first invented by the German optician, Emil Mechau, back in 1910. He saw that the intermittent method of projection, the technique used both back then and today, sometimes had trouble throwing a rock-solid, steady image, especially if it was only slightly out of adjustment. So Mechau developed a projector that allowed the film to run smoothly through without any interruption shutter. Instead, as the film spun from the reel, a constantly rotating series of mirrors ran around in the opposite direction. Each mirror captured a frame, which was then projected out through a prism. Instead of flashing one frame at a time on the screen in quick succession, each frame seamlessly dissolves from one to another in a rapid series. Being an optician, Mechau knew that both methods trick the eye into perceiving movement, but his process of utilizing rapid dissolves provided a more realistic illusion. Unfortunately, his projectors were very expensive and mechanically complicated, so only a few hundred were made between 1914 and 1934. The latter models, though extremely complex, were very reliable if properly taken care of.” Bartel’s Mechau projector is one of the very few still in existence, and probably the only one in operating condition outside of Europe.

“The Bartel Collection is incredible, I don’t know anything like it,” said screenwriter Robert Courland, a self-described “film-techno junkie.” Courland said that Bartel “has one collection of original Edison Kinetoscopes, another that follows the evolution of sound technology, another featuring wide-screen, another on the so-called “portable” 35mm projectors of the 1930s and 1940s, it just goes on and on. I can’t think of a manufacturer whose projectors isn’t represented—and he usually has a comprehensive collection for each company, whether it be Simplex, Motiograph, Powers, DeVry, Century, Victor, you name it. Hey, you want to see an original, functioning VitaPhone equipped projector that used a synchronized record for sound? Want to see a collection of the various 35mm projectors used aboard ships by the U.S. Navy? Dick (Richard Bartel) has ‘em.”

Courland speaks of Bartel’s camera collection with the same awe. “I knew he (Bartel) also had some motion picture cameras, but when he took me into the storage room to look at them, my jaw dropped—there were Mitchells, ArriFlexes, the old 35mm Bell and Howells, and other classics, all in perfect operating condition. Also, his collection of 8mm and 16mm cameras is the best I know about, including almost all of the Kodak, Bolex, and Bell & Howell models. Of course, the professional 16mm cameras are also there. These were used for movies, newsreels and TV news coverage. Many movies are actually filmed in 16mm, then blown up and transferred to 35mm. Leaving Las Vegas, which starred Nicholas Cage and Elizabeth Shue, is one recent example of a major motion picture that was filmed in 16mm.”

Naturally, Bartel’s collection of smaller format cameras and projectors takes up far less space than the 35mm and 70mm behemoths. “The trouble with collecting film equipment, especially the large projectors, is that they weigh so much, said Bartel with a smile. Bartel estimates that his entire assemblage collectively amounts to “between many, and many-more, tons.” “Forklift time,” chips in Richard Hansen, son of Gladys Hansen.

Museum of Film Technology Planned
“The goal of the Museum of the City of San Francisco is to not only exhibit the fine equipment in the Bartel Collection, but to use them as well,” says Richard Hansen. “Let me give just one example: the oldest early silent films that we see in theater revivals or in documentaries are not seen as they were originally viewed. They used ‘lime light’ and thus there was a light green color to the projections the audiences saw. The same holds true to the sound as we hear it from most of the versions of “The Jazz Singer” we see. We don’t hear it as it sounded on the original VitaPhone disks, but as it was transcribed to audiotape or celluloid. Most of these machines are in fine operating order, and it would be a shame to let them just gather dust and not serve their original function. We will also have a small theater to screen period movies as well.”

Hansen also has greater ambitions: “Not only will we document the technical aspects and history behind each piece of equipment, and but eventually we would like to also compile a definitive history of motion picture projection, which, strange to say, hasn’t been done so far.” Hansen also wants to also expand the collection of movie cameras in the Bartel Collection and do a reference compendium for these as well.

The Bartel Collection will form the core of a vast and comprehensive assortment of motion picture equipment to occupy one wing of the Museum of the City of San Francisco, and which is to be called the Museum of Film Technology. The collection will help fulfill the museum’s stated goal of providing a public institution where “History, the Arts, and Sciences unite.”

For further information, please contact:

Richard Frick
Director of Media Relations
Museum of the City of San Francisco
945 Taraval Street, PMB 423
San Francisco, CA 94116