Keeping the Lights On:
Reflecting on the Continuing Stewardship of 9.5mm
“In a few short years, amateur cinematography has leapt to the front of as a popular hobby. From being the occasional pursuit of a few well-to-do amateurs, it has grown to such dimensions that amateur ciné societies have been founded all over the country—nay, all over the world…”
From the introduction to Harold Abbott’s The Complete 9.5.mm Cinematographer (1937).
In its centenary year, I began a research project on 9.5mm film possessing only a scant knowledge of its history. With only a cursory mention of it in the classroom environment — and no exposure to it, given that its popularity was found primarily on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean — my preconceived notion was that 9.5mm was a long-dead format. My initial research goal was to track the history of 9.5mm into the 1960s, where Pathéscope ceased manufacture of the format, and at which point I had assumed that it had been relegated to the annals of history.
However, my research direction began to change once I had reached my first point of entry for this project, which was a non-descript webpage found through a cursory Google search — a one-man repository of information about 9.5mm, documenting the efforts of dedicated enthusiasts (affectionately referred to as “nine-fivers”) to produce their own 9.5mm film stock in the 1970s, after Pathé ceased commercial production. (I will go into greater detail about this effort — and this website — as a key component in the essay). My second point of entry was an old text, A Technological History of Motion Pictures and Television (1974) — a compilation of SMPTE journal articles — passed to me by my instructor, Gerda Cammaer. Upon reading a passage from this text pertaining to 9.5mm film, the nucleus of a research topic began to form. While my initial interest was in the commercial history of the format, I began to realize that there was a sort of esprit de corps about nine-fivers as my research continued — this sort of indomitable spirit that has kept the format alive, albeit in far more obscurity than 8mm and 16mm. How do you keep an audiovisual format alive for sixty years after its initial demise?
Central to this essay is that question, which is answered by the collective dedication of nine-fivers — and the following essay serves as a case study in how they have allowed the format to persist in the absence of commercial production.
Esprit de corps:
Present from the very beginning
As an audiovisual format, 9.5mm film was introduced in December of 1922 by the French company, Pathé Cinéma, alongside a corresponding projector referred to as the Pathé Baby. Brian Coe’s The History of Movie Photography even provides the exact day that the Pathé Baby was introduced: November 4th, 1922.
At the time of its release, Pathé intended for 9.5mm to serve as a home cinema format; films for the home market were reduction prints of 35mm films from Pathé Library Films. Pathé also laid claim to the first-ever colored home-movie films; some 9.5mm prints from the Pathé Library were stencil-coloured. Upon receiving a positive reception to their home-cinema system, Pathé released a corresponding 9.5mm camera to serve the amateur film-maker. During my research, it was the following passage from the Matthews and Tarkington text that piqued my interest and formed the basis for this entire essay:
“Since it was planned that the film could be reversal-processed by the customer, a developing outfit, consisting of two tanks and a combined frame on which three loops of film could be placed, was made available at the same time. The negative film was processed, whether by the customer, or by a laboratory…"
By granting the end-user this level of agency over the cinematic process, I would argue that the conditions that allowed for the proliferation of the 9.5mm community’s eventual esprit de corps were inherent to the format — set by Pathé from the very beginning.
Within a few years, amateur film-making had become accessible to the layman, as the quote from the Abbott text, The Complete 9.5mm Cinematographer (which opens this essay) would indicate. The Abbott text, a guide empowering the amateur 9.5mm filmmaker to take complete control of the film-making process at every step, from cinematography to home film development (recipes for film developer are included in the text), and even film printing and duplication, very much embodies the esprit de corps of the 9.5mm community. As I have found, the do-it-yourself spirit associated with 9.5mm — as exemplified by the Abbott text — has shown consistently throughout the format’s history.
Recipe for home development of film, from The Complete 9.5mm Cinematographer
During my research, I reached out to a member of the online nine-five community, Dominique De Bast. Dominique noted that 9.5mm, which had been introduced before 8mm, was able to persist into the early post-war era because European consumers were accustomed to the gauge, and had developed a “special link” with it by this point. The Coe text corroborates this claim, noting that 9.5mm was commercially relevant in the post-war era largely due to a steady supply of surplus equipment.
After a series of market failures in the post-war era, and facing the realization that 8mm was becoming the dominant amateur film format — in spite of 9.5mm’s optical superiority — Pathéscope went into receivership in August 1960 (Leakey 2020). 9.5mm had never caught on in North America — largely due to the efforts of Kodak to promote its rival 8mm format — and its U.S. division — Pathex — ceased operations by 1932 (Wagner n.d.); by this point in time, 8mm was eroding 9.5mm’s userbase in Europe, as well. According to trade publications from the era, such as Amateur Cine World (1950-1966), Pathéscope was taken over by the Great Universal Stores Group; under this ownership, the sale of 9.5mm equipment and the processing of 9.5mm film continued until 1964, largely through the combined effort of 9.5mm enthusiasts D.M. Bentley and Larry Pearce.
Novascope and the enduring legacy
of the Pathéscope 9.5mm equipment
Following the end of commercial distribution of the format, a pair of 9.5mm enthusiasts from the U.K. — Patrick Moules and Paul Von Someren — took it upon themselves to continue 9.5mm production out of their own homes, with equipment sourced from the now-shuttered Pathéscope operation. (According to Grahame Newnham, the equipment was, in fact, provided to them by Larry Pearce, mentioned above. Pearce was also able to supply them with discarded Pathéscope negatives, which formed the basis for some of the Novascope release prints.
Their underground, two-person effort — which involved cutting 16mm film down to 9.5mm, and creating optical reduction prints from there — was their attempt to stave off “prognostications about the doom” of the format that were beginning to develop in Pathé’s absence, and in the process, defy the 8mm paradigm, demonstrating the esprit de corps so central to the 9.5mm scene. According to Moules, “the name was easy — Pathe-scope had gone so we were Nova(new)-Scope”; their goal was to demonstrate “just how good new 9.5mm films could be in contrast to Standard 8.”
On his website, Grahame Newnham illustrates the efforts that Moules and Von Someren went to in their amateur-level reproduction effort:
They had to find unperforated 35mm printing stock, arrange processing and then print, perforate and slit every inch of the films they issued! Pat Moules says he spent many hours in the basement of his parents' house in a dim red light, just running the perforating machine - turning out thounsands (sic) of feet of the special 35mm positive printing stock - what dedication!
This effort went on until 1975, when declining sales, the ingress of 8mm, and the duo’s work commitments outside of the amateur film scene (a reminder that this is a hobby and not necessarily a primary endeavour for many of these individuals) forced them to end their operation.
The end of the Novascope effort was still not enough to silence amateur 9.5mm reproduction. According to Grahame Newnham, the equipment once used by Pathéscope, and since appropriated by the Novascope team, was passed along once more, to another enthusiast, Roy Salmons, in a short-lived 9.5mm reproduction scheme of his own. At some point, Newnham himself acquired the equipment, although, at the time of writing in the early 21st century, it had been languishing in his garage, “probably never to be used again.” As of 2020, some of this equipment, has, in fact, been passed down once more, coming into the possession of Martyn Stevens, who has been attempting to bring it back to working order. Perhaps Stevens’ attempts at refurbishing the Novascope equipment will lead to new developments in 9.5mm production at some point in the future. I have found that the case of the Pathéscope production equipment embodies the tremendous lengths that nine-fivers have gone to in their stewardship of the format.
A chart of Novascope’s full release history is available on Grahame Newnham’s 9.5mm website, pathefilm.uk. Moules and Von Someren also created a corresponding newsletter for Novascope; full scans of each of these newsletters have been made available on Cinerdistan.
The current state of 9.5mm
In the decades since the Novascope effort, 9.5mm stewardship has moved onto the Internet. Discourse on 9.5mm film in the Internet age is mostly found in the annals of specialist message boards, such as Reel Magic and the 8mm Forum on film-tech.com. If there is an arena where the stewardship of the format is made apparent, this would be it; it was the 8mm Forum where I established contact with a Dominique De Bast, a prominent nine-fiver.
Importantly, an enormous, one-man central repository of information about 9.5mm film is on pathefilm.uk, which was established by expert nine-fiver and researcher, Grahame Newnham, in February of 2000; it remains online in 2022 and receives regular updates. Conducting research on 9.5mm film for my project was made far easier through Newnham’s labour of love.
In 2020, another major community resource on 9.5mm film emerged when enthusiast Patrick Moules — the same Patrick Moules of Novascope fame — released The 9.5mm Vintage Film Encyclopedia after years of research. Representing the culmination of his life’s work — and building upon work started by his now-deceased Novascope partner, Paul Van Someren, among others — his encylopedia is a massive, 12,460-entry index of every single known 9.5mm release in history, which was years in the making, and so granular so as to include “Pathé-Baby/Pathéscope and other distributors’ catalogue series and numbers, film length, release dates (where known) and the series in which the films were organized.”
Regretfully, Grahame Newnham — the “king of 9.5mm," as the community would call him — passed away in May of 2020, a victim of COVID-19. (The same announcement notes the simultaneous passing of Brian Giles — one of the foremost experts on the other notable Pathé format, 28mm.) A notice posted to his website indicates (in all-caps) that Grahame “USED TO SELL!” fresh 9.5mm film, 9.5mm prints, 9.5mm cameras and related production equipment; in the wake of Newnham’s death, all sales have been stopped, and the current operators of Newnham’s website have given no indication that their future plans will involve sales on the scale that was offered by Newnham. Clearly, the loss of Grahame Newnham has left a void in the world of 9.5mm sales and equipment procurement that his successors will have difficulty filling.
Naturally, that leads me to ask the question of what the future of 9.5mm will look like. My research once again led me to Internet message board discussions; a 2017 thread on the 8mm Forum, titled “Where to purchase fresh 9.5mm film,” revealed that Roy Salmons (previously mentioned in this essay as having continued Novascope production after its Moules and Van Someren were forced to bow out) was involved in selling 9.5mm film stock, but gave up due to ill health; his website, once a 9.5mm storefront, now focuses on model trains. The same discussion mentions the efforts of a “Mr. Otte” (Wolf-Hermann Otte, German 9.5mm enthusiast) and a “Mr. Gasso” (Ramon Gasso, Spanish 9.5mm enthusiast) to produce 9.5mm film from cut-down 35mm. (These names were confirmed to me by Dominique in our communication.)
I received clarification from Dominique De Bast about the state of these projects. He informed me that Wolf-Hermann Otte possesses the necessary equipment to cut 16mm film down to 9.5mm. The problem, however, comes not from cutting film to 9.5mm, but rather, developing it. Ramon Gasso was in talks with a Spanish film lab about modifying film processing machines to process 9.5mm film; this did not come to fruition, and the lab in question is now closed.
A message from nine-fiver, Dominique De Bast, about recent efforts to produce 9.5mm film. (Louis Pelletier — my instructor at one point — is known to him.)
In a very short discussion on lichtspiel.ch started by Guy Edmonds (presumably the notable film archivist), titled “The 9.5mm slitter,” and dated to September 2021, the lack of new 9.5mm film stock is lamented, as Edmonds writes about having to shoot an upcoming project on decades-old film. The same discussion indicates that yet another supplier of 9.5mm film stock and development services, Bill Crumplin, has since passed away, and that “no one in the world is now producing new 9.5mm camera stocks even at the club or individual level”. These concerns echo a 2018 post on the 8mm Forum by user Lee Mannering, which says that “9-5 has been saved a number of times over the years but with no fresh stock on the shelf I fear this may well be it but I hope not.” (Clearly, prognosticating about the doom of 9.5mm is a habit that continues in the modern era, as it did when Pathéscope ceased operations in the 1960s.)
Notice posted to the main page of Grahame Newnham’s website.
Despite the general uncertainty about 9.5mm’s future, I was able to discern that nine-five groups continue to meet in the United Kingdom. A page on Newnham’s website is dedicated to the extant 9.5mm enthusiast club, Group 9.5. Their introduction reads:
Our UK Group 9.5 Club was formed, way back in 1962 by the late Larry Pearce and the late Paul Van Someren with a view to provide a future for the Pathé 9.5mm home movie film gauge once commercial backing dissapeared. Publication of a magazine began and regular meetings were held. Weekly meetings began in August 1962 at Alperton, North London, run by the late Larry Pearce who lived nearby. Soon the meeting grew to an Annual Get-Together which later included a 9.5mm amateur film competition. A number of local sections sprang up and the London Section still exists, meeting about every three weeks.
It would seem to me that Larry Pearce and Paul Van Someren were even more critical to the nine-five scene than their previously-documented activities would indicate — they were instrumental in forming a nine-five club even before they were involved in Novascope!
An event poster for Group 9.5’s most recent annual meeting — dated to October 2022, just two months before the writing of this paper — is posted to this web page, along with the names of Group 9.5’s board of directors for 2022-23. In the days that followed, attendees of this annual meeting posted to 8mm Forum, in a thread titled “Group 9.5 Get-together 2022.” Posts and pictures from the thread indicate that the event — featuring a screening program of amateur 9.5mm films — was a success. (It was unclear whether or not any of these films were shot with newly-printed film stock).
Additionally, a note posted to the bottom of Newnham’s website indicates that the Group 9.5 page was last updated on the same day I accessed it — December 15th, 2022. While the passing of key community figures such as Grahame Newnham and Bill Crumplin has clearly constituted a tremendous loss for the 9.5mm community — not only in terms of their expertise, but also their supply of 9.5mm film stock and equipment — the ongoing activities of Group 9.5 indicate to me that the scene they have left behind is alive and well. The event posting for Group 9.5’s annual meeting concludes with a plea to “please try to come in 2023!”
At the conclusion of this project, I have learned that 9.5mm —though it remains an obscurity in comparison to 8mm and 16mm in the small-gauge and home-cinema milieu — has been stewarded by a dedicated scene of enthusiasts in the six decades since Pathéscope ceased production of it. Through their sheer dedication, the format has been able to see its one hundredth birthday, in the very year and month that this essay was written. My online contact, Dominique De Bast, talked about the “special link” that nine-fivers have with the format — in the process of conducting research for this project, I have seen the tremendous efforts that nine-fivers have gone to in keeping the format alive in the complete absence of commercial production. The effort of the late Grahame Newnham to maintain an enormous online repository of 9.5mm information for decades — or Patrick Moules and Paul Von Someren setting up a 9.5mm printing business out of their own homes with salvaged equipment — constitute just two brief case studies on 9.5mm stewardship. The esprit de corps of nine-fivers is remarkable — especially so, considering the fact that they are hobbyists by nature.
In December 2022, 9.5mm celebrated its one hundredth anniversary. A number of conferences have taken place during 9.5mm’s centenary, reflecting on the format’s significance and role in the emergence of home cinema. Two of them — 9.5mm: And Cinema is Everywhere, in Bern, and From Pathé-Baby 9.5mm: The Invention of Home Cinema, in Paris — have taken place in the last month, and another — 9½ Centenaire/premiere — even took place on Canadian soil in October. (It was programmed by Louis Pelletier, who taught a course in this program, in the first year of my studies.)
All of this is to say that 9.5mm is far from the dead audiovisual format I had assumed it to be at the outset of this project — quite the opposite, rather. What I have seen is that— unheralded as it may be by comparison to 8mm and 16mm — 9.5mm has been allowed to persist through the ongoing stewardship of its dedicated adherents, one hundred years after Pathé introduced it to the world, and sixty years after its commercial production ended.
At one point, the process of conducting research on 9.5mm for my project led me to TMU Special Collections. My intention was solely to access The Complete 9.5mm Cinematographer, which was housed in their collection, but, to my delight, the staff brought out a collection of 9.5mm ephemera for me to observe. This collection of materials included a box of Pathéscope films (some on reels, and some in tiny cardboard containers the size of a matchbox), some loose film elements, and, best of all, a pair of antique, manually-operated 9.5mm projectors. The experience represented my first opportunity to ever observe and handle 9.5mm film, and I am grateful to have had the moment as part of my research project.
Re-housing the collection of films is on the agenda of the archivists at TMU Special Collections, although I was informed that this particular project will be more of a long-term undertaking. Olivia Wong, the archivist on site that day, noted that such an undertaking would be quite difficult, both on account of the fragility of the films, as well as their very small core size. I hope that, one day, these films are given the opportunity to endure as well.