The Magnaphonic 35mm Projector at ACMI - Personal Response by Tim Woodward
Photographed by Egmont Contreras, ACMI
Stories & Ideas

Mon 15 Nov 2021

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Tim Woodward

Visitor Experience Guide

On seeing this magnificent contraption, a former projectionist reflects on the surprisingly anachronistic ways by which films were shown on cinema screens in the not-too-distant past.

In a past life I was employed to work the evening box-office shift at a suburban multiplex cinema. I remember the day I was invited to learn the trade of the projectionist. At this time, 35mm film remained the industry standard (it wasn’t that long ago, I promise). Even so, the projection booth – or ‘Bio Box’ – felt like a powerfully anachronistic space. Entering that darkened room was entering a space of technological defiance, a time warp towards arc lamps and oiler cans.

As if in keeping with this air of antiquity, the head projectionist chose to begin my first day of training with a quick pencil drawing. It was a “mud map for lacing up” she explained, an image featuring all the important cogs and sprockets, reels and rollers. Her diagram showed the 'film path' – the correct pattern for weaving a piece of film through a 35mm projector. It was rendered like a completed children’s puzzle, one of those mazes where you start under the pig’s tail and work your way out through the snout. I studied it hard for a few minutes and stuffed it in my pocket.

Composite Film Thread Path by Adrianne Jorge from the 'Projectionists Draw Projectors' series by the Chicago Film Society

An example of a film path diagram. Composite Film Thread Path by Adrianne Jorge from the 'Projectionists Draw Projectors' series by the Chicago Film Society (

With the film projectors I operated daily, I soon learned to ‘lace up’ with the speed and precision of a switchboard worker. Sense memory takes over, but each projector had its unique quirks to be wary of. It’s nice to imagine the quirks of the projectors and early film equipment on display at ACMI’s centrepiece exhibition, The Story of the Moving Image. I sometimes stop at the Magnaphonic 35mm Projector to trace a film path by eye, imagining a length of celluloid moving up and over sprockets and under clasps. The hushed flickering of film passing through the aperture gate. The smooth respooling onto a take up reel. A steady frame rate through an obstacle course of once moving parts.

– Tim Woodward, Visitor Experience Guide

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See the Magnaphonic 35mm Projector in our centrepiece exhibition

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