The Moviola was the essential tool of the film editor
from its inception in 1919
through the 1980's. Although it is still in use in Hollywood
and around the world,
it has largely been supplanted by computer non-linear editing systems
In the early days of cinema
, the editor
skillfully shuttled the raw film
through his fingers to estimate the best place to
make a cut. The first moviola was little more than a magnifying glass
with a light behind it on a stand with a sprocketed
allowed the picture to travel through the viewer at film speed, 24 frames
or 90 feet per minute.
Soon it became comparable to a small projector
, with the light being
directed to a rectangular ground glass four to six inches across.
Eventually, a magnetic
sound head was added, along with an interlock
device that permitted the sound track
to run with--or separately
There were pedals that let the editor view the film backwards and forwards
and at slow or high speed, and a hand brake that stopped the
The moviola--hand-crafted of aluminum and steel--was at first painted black,
but eventually it was finished in a soothing
shade of pear-green. It stood waist-high on four wheeled legs. The editor stood,
or sat in a chair on wheels, behind it. The picture and sound track were
deployed from small
rolls comprising each shot--wound congruently
, by hand--or alternatively from
1000 foot reels on spindled
rewind devices on a bench on the editor's left.
The film was placed into a hinged
gate below the viewer on the machine's right side which, when closed,
aligned the film's sprocket holes with the moviola's sprockets.
The sound track fed smoothly across
the left side of the machine over the sound head, exactly like a videotape player,
or cassette recorder.
There was no intermittent movement for the sound side of the moviola,
as this would have obviously resulted in an annoying, jerky quality.
The film and track ran clattering past the editor's
flank and through his hands into the machine.
It was a dangerous process requiring a lot of practice. Virtually every apprentice
editor who ever tried to run a moviola destroyed the film. Repairing the damage
was an essential rite of passage, one at which all assistant editors became
adept. There were also take-up moviolas, with their own reels mounted on arms,
but they were used more for running edited film, since they took away the machine's great
advantage--nonlinearity. One could not change picture and soundtrack easily,
because it was threaded into the take-up moviola in the same manner
as a projector.
The moviola was a quirky machine and easily fell out of adjustment.
The spinning shutter
that was part of the intermittent mechanism frequently became misaligned, causing
in the picture. The prism and mirror arrangement that directed the
light from the projection bulb to the ground-glass screen would loosen creating
shadows and hotspots.
The transport mechanism was always cause for concern. Editors who were
fortunate to work with low-maintenance moviolas guarded them assiduously
There were repairmen at all the major studios who did nothing but maintain
Every film from the late silent era to the golden age of the
70's--and even many since then--was edited on a Moviola.
On Hollywood and filmmaking:
Below the Line
sex drugs and divorce
a little life, interrupted
- Hecho en Mejico
- Sam's Song
- Hemingway and Fortuna
- Hummingbird on the Left
- The Long and Drunken Afternoon
- Safe in the Lap of the Gods
- Quetzal Birds in Love
- Angela in Paradise
- And the machine ran backwards
a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon
I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind
Below the Line
Final Cut Pro
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Apocalypse Now Redux
The Jazz Singer
We Were Soldiers