Reel Entertaining

Have fun watching other people's home movies at the Missouri History Museum. No, really!

Aug 11, 2004 at 4:00 am
Somewhere in St. Louis a group of fourteen-year-olds are filming themselves with a digital camcorder while they skate the benches in front of school. They don't know it, but they're making history, and not just because this is the first time Tyler's gone switch blunt successfully. These unknown teenagers are capturing a St. Louis that exists only for them; wait a decade or three, and this footage will be important as a record of everyday life in the early part of the 21st century.

But that's 30 years in the future. Today historians comb footage made by the eight- and sixteen-millimeter cameras that were once state of the art to discover these glimpses of what once was. And the Missouri Historical Society wants to see your home movies, as unbelievable as that sounds.

Go ahead, make the joke about how you don't even want to see your own home movies, how you can't endure another post-Thanksgiving screening of Mom's three-minute short documenting Dad's maiden voyage on the brand-new Sears tractor. According to Donn Johnson, director of communications for the Missouri History Museum (Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue), this is exactly the sort of footage the historical society is hoping you'll bring. "That's what we're looking for: people's everyday experiences and places. People don't realize the value you have [in these films]," Johnson says. "While you're looking at film of little Johnnie or Julie, in the background are 1947 Chryslers and DeSotos, or [street] corners that no longer look the same. These things have real value when you're trying to document what was and wasn't here."

The purpose of Home Movie Day (Saturday, August 14; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) is to uncover these vignettes of St. Louis' past. And while the footage you bring to the museum (no DVD or videotapes, please; eight- or sixteen-millimeter film only) doesn't necessarily have to be of St. Louis scenes, Johnson says the historical society is definitely hoping "to get a few surprises, a few events we forgot about or didn't know happened here."

"What if somebody had shots of the old ball park, where [the Negro League baseball team] the St. Louis Stars played?" Johnson asks. "Or on that same corner, where All-American Shows used to come -- it was the carnival that used to come here every year in the '50s and '60s. That whole corner around Saint Louis University has changed dramatically."

Regardless of your film's content, you can register for a free screening time at the museum by calling 314-367-9017 or sending an e-mail to [email protected]. All movies will be viewed by a staff member to ensure that no films with nudity, violence or obscenity will be projected. ("We don't mind if you've got baby's bare bottom; we're not that prudish," says Johnson. "But obviously we don't want Baby to be twenty years old.") Films may be no longer than ten minutes in duration, and curators will be available to explain the best way to preserve your film for future generations. Concessions will also be available, so even if you're not bringing Mom's tractor opus, you can still enjoy other people's pasts, which probably aren't all that different from your own.