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The Big And The Little Image

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in70mm.com
The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Bill Cobbs (Dr. William Walton Cobbs II) Date: October 28, 2003
Sometime in 1958, the Chairman of the Board of Prentice Hall publishing company summoned me, the Foreign Language editor, to a 7 a.m. Board Meeting as they were to consider whether or not to finance a 10,000,000 dollar project, the filming of the French language for small children and for classroom projection and television. 

The presentation was made by Francis Borden Mace, a young and vibrant motion picture innovator, and he was turned down by conservative PH, but hired me as a gofer researcher while recrossing the parking lot of PH to his car. I was given the impressive title of DIRECTOR OF EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMMING and probably my best qualification was that I spoke and wrote and read adequate French, having an advanced degree from Paris, where I had recently worked as Courier for Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and simultaneously for the intelligence section of the Economic Cooperation Administration. I was thirty-two years old. 

Borden Mace had just finished the Cinemiracle "Windjammer" and there was great competition with other forms of large screen projection. He was also filming "The Roman Spring Of Mrs Stone" for Warner with Vivien Leigh in 35mm. As I remember it, his mind had encompassed what was the initial pioneering in the presentation of huge images in the theatre in 70mm projection and he had in compensation been approached by Graham Winslow of the MASSACHUSETTS MODERN LANGUAGE PROJECT and they had conceived (and eventually got sputnik-excited government financing) for doing sixty-five short film programs under the aegis of the Modern Language Project in Massachusetts but produced by Louis De Rochemont Associates. Though Mr. De Rochemont was alive and active, he had only a French family interest in the filming which was solely Mr. Mace's baby. 

It was unheard of to think of the amateur film size 8mm as having any value other than amateur home movies, but Mr. Mace was convinced that the addition of sound would make the medium inexpensive and easy to implement. He had contacted many sources of already available research into 8mm sound and Eastman, Bell and Howell, and Fairchild were the main large corporations involved in seeking a good sound system. Columbia Pictures came up with a double 8mm sound system. Eventually they all settled for a magnetic strip alongside the 8mm frame. Meanwhile, Borden had hired Mike Roemer, a young experimental director, to head up the shooting, and Lothar Wolf and Pete Raskovitch were involved as editors and advisers. Louis De Rochemont Jr. with a French wife and a background in films and French culture was very much interested in the project.

An Algerian Frenchwoman married to a Boston engineer, Mrs. Anne Slack, was engaged as the screen teacher and the major image to be presented to the children from the 8mm screen and the 25 inch maximum (black and white) screen of the day. The films were shot in color and Color Lab of NYC did the internegatives. 

The creativeness of Mike Roemer made the films unique...Marcel Marceau did a sequence as did the heroine of Zazi Dans Le Metro, Catherine DeMongeot at that time 13 years of age. The Paris sequences were shot by LES FILMS VERTS a small company with a great deal of skill. 

The language content was largely controlled by the Modern Language Project in Massachussetts, and their conservatism in language teaching was a difficulty but one that was over come. 

Finally the films were done and the 16 and 35mm sequences put onto one inch black and white videotape and on 8mm internegatives. Schoolroom sets were packaged with films and projector and books to accompany them. There were nine teacher training films and many records, those fine projects being supervised by French musician Simone Oudot. 

The premier of the films was attended by the French Ambassador and was held at the UN where my three Paris-born children took the response positions of children watching the films and responding to the lips and finger movements of Anne Slack and the story lines of the sequences. It was a success and Cannaday of the New York TIMES reported it as such. It was he who said Borden Mace had got to the large and the small of it with Cinemiracle, 70mm and 8 mm film. 

Soon NET and 81 stations across the nation were airing the programs and millions of American children were learning an adequate basic French...it attracted the attention of D.C. Heath and Company and of Raytheon Corporation who bought the Company and the rights... 

Borden and I were free to do other things...he went first as an officer of TANDY CORPORATION and then on to other brilliant motion picture achievements. 

I became the film and unorthodox media director of Science Research Associates and then into my own publishing and film company, SYSTEMS FOR EDUCATION in Chicago, eventually purchased by Bell and Howell, but my association with Borden Mace is paramount in my life.
Further in 70mm reading:

Working for Louis de Rochemont

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