Bell and Howell was formed by two projectionists in 1907, presumably named, Bell, and Howell. Basically these two dudes were sweating their ass off in a dark projection booth and a conversation started like this:
Bell “Yo, Summers, you know what I think?”
Howell “No whatcha thinking DJ?”
Bell “I’m thinking this is bullshit. I can make these stupid machines. I don’t need to be some fool in the dark cranking this crap. I’m an entrepreneur.”
Howell “Yo know what I think DJ?”
Bell “What you thinking Summers?”
Howell “I think I’m thinking what you thinking dawg.” *(see below)
After this conversation they started a company that made film equipment in a town called Wheeling, Illinois, which is more than just fun to say, they also have the Worsham College of Mortuary Science there. Yeah, I didn’t know that was a thing either. (I also would wager this is the first, and only, hyperlink to a college of mortuary sciences)
Anyway it must have been a good move, because not only is the company still around (more than I can say for Kodak) but they also produced some of the most memorable, popular, and interesting photographic devices in the last century.
Oh they also invented the beloved overhead projector. 80’s kids rejoice.
My little gem is affectionately called the Filmo 70C. Man, I love they called it the “Filmo” … it’s something out of a Coen Bros. Film (Im thinking Hudsucker Proxy here, not Miller’s Crossing). The 70C is special because it feature a sweet three lens turret that allowed filmmakers to quickly and easily change lenses without having to mess with caps, dust in the camera, or the problem of even having to carry extra glass. Think about this for a second; today, in 2019, we can shoot 3D on our cell phones, but we still have to change lenses on our cameras. Damn DJ and Summers, you dudes were ahead of your times.
When you put the ol’ Filmo in your hands for the first time, you quickly realize how absolutely weak you are, as you feel all 326 lbs. of it immediately. It’s solid metal construction can basically take a bullet which is why it was the go to choice for Military war news correspondents and soldiers alike up through the Viet-Nam war. It is by far the heaviest camera for it’s size that I have ever held in my hands, and considering it can hold only 100 feet of film (@40 frames a foot/16 frames a second) you get only 4 minutes of film per load, which is longer than any human on Earth could realistically hold this camera for.
Just over 7 lbs. you say? Try more like 27. Here is a badass shot of Robert Capra filming the Spanish Civil war in 1937 with the sexy Filmo 70C. He is demonstrating the correct way to hold the camera, that being it mounted with a steel rod to your forehead so that your neck and back muscles could assist in you holding the near 25 lbs. of portable camera up for 4 minutes of shooting. I learned later that the “70C” stood for “70 Curse-words” which is the minimum number said by any person that ever picked up this camera and attempted to use it.
As I’ve said before, a camera is only as good as it’s manuals (I’ve never actually said that before but it sounds like something one could say). I have a very soft side for camera manuals and camera propaganda, and boy does the ol’ B&H Filmo deliver! First lets take a quick look at perhaps the most perfectly named magazine, Yank Down, which, I feel is more fitting for a specialty porn mag, not a magazine about Combat Cameramen in the Air Force. Perhaps I am wrong though.
Inside is another great illustration showing an airman shooting on the ol’ 70C documenting the complete and total destruction of humanity from his bombing run. America! I love the caption, “What he sees… he GETS!” Which definitely wouldn’t fly in the current #metoo movement. It should be noted that B&H produced many specialty photographic cameras for the military including one that would fire a frame every time a bullet was released from an aircrafts guns so they could confirm kills. Wow.
I do love this small anvil of a camera, with it’s wind up giant watch like mechanism and little mini turret viewfinder. I love thinking of a war correspondent taking one right to the face, only to be saved by this half ton brick of lead. Depressing its smooth, cold shutter release unleashes a steady stream of clockwork ticks that ping down the back of my neck like a metallic cat purring.
She’s a cool one the ol’ 70C and hats off to DJ and Summers for sticking it to the man and doing their own thing. America!
PS! I just came across this SWEET commercial for Bell and Howell that is blowing my mind. It’s for the Model 200, definitely after the 70C but absolutely encapsulates the bonkers ad-crazed 50’s to perfection. . . take a peek… there is a part where a daughter knocks over the camera to show it’s “durability” and the father calmly picks it up and sets it straight … as if he wouldn’t be screaming bloody murder and slowly taking his belt off. I mean Hollywood really did fabricate the American Dream didn’t they.
*Their names were Donald Joseph Bell and Albert Summers Howell. Obviously I think they went by DJ and Summers cause that’s tight.
The Vintage Camera Quest is an adventure through vintage cameras by director Roberto Serrini who records his adventures in word, photography and film. . Check him out on instagram @vintagecameraquest or twitter @oldcameraquest or subscribe to his blog www.vintagecameraquest.com – thanks for reading!