Movie Iconography: Real vs. Reel

35mm Film Start imageWhile driving down State Street in Santa Barbara last month
I noticed banners advertising the city’s Film Festival: simulated strips of
Academy leader featuring its famous numbered countdown. It’s an eye-catching
image, but I wonder how many people under the age of 25 have a clue what it

null(I first became familiar with Academy countdown “leader” when I worked for the audio visual department in my high school. We provided 16mm projectors on rolling carts to classrooms where 16mm films were to be screened. That countdown footage wasn’t ever supposed to be seen by viewers, but amateur projectionists didn’t always take the time to run the prints past that leader to the opening frame of the film itself.) 

Metal Artist-Deveren Farley
Today, Los Angeles’ Laemmle Theatres chain runs clever introductions to trailers and the main program using the Academy countdown, complete with the sound of an old-fashioned projector.

Come to think of it, do young people have any acquaintance with projectors,
reels, sprocket holes or any of the visual symbols that have been synonymous
with motion pictures throughout the 20th century? They may never
have seen a dust-coated beam of light emitting from a projection booth, except
in a movie like Cinema Paradiso.

Metal Artist Deveren Farley-Image 6-425But as far as I can tell, there are no icons that evoke the
idea of movies in the digital age, so graphic designers and set decorators have
little choice but to fall back on familiar symbols and hope that people get the

  When I was in Park City, Utah for this year’s Sundance Film
Festival, my eye caught some striking pieces in an art gallery on Main Street.
A Utah-based artist named Deveren Farley  uses his imagination, and skill in
metalwork, to create mock movie cameras and projectors. I love these fanciful
pieces, which are on display at Artworks Park City. They sell
from $600-1200 and are worth every penny, it seems to me.


Meanwhile, the company that has been synonymous with movie
reels since the early 20th century, Goldberg Brothers, uses its
expertise to craft various forms of décor (as well as supplying professional
theaters). I have one of their glass-top tables and a 70mm
reel-turned-wine-holder, and they put a smile on my face.

Goldberg Brothers Gold Wine Rack

For an even bigger smile, I encourage you to visit the Los
Angeles Metro Station at Hollywood and Vine, if you haven’t already. The late
Los Angeles-based painter, muralist and sculptor Gilbert "Magú" Luján
 designed the
station, with architects Miralles Associates and used vintage projectors,
lights, and objects associated with Hollywood to create a wonderful

Artist Gilbert Magu Lujan-Miralles AssociatesThe pièce de résistance is the curved ceiling, covered with hundreds (or is it thousands?) of 35mm film reels. You know, the kind that used to hold motion picture film.
Gilbert Magu Lujan artist-Hollywood-Vine Metro station


  1. Tim Davis says:

    I was in the "A.V." club in junior high and high school in the late 60’s early 70’s. To this day I bet I could thread a 16mm projector blindfolded!

  2. DBenson says:

    A few other vanishing icons:

    One, the classic "Admit One" ticket. You can still get rolls of them at office supply places, but modern cinemas now hand you something that looks like a supermarket receipt detailing your precise showing. When designers need to represent a ticket, they still go for the identifiable but nearly extinct "Admit One"

    Two, the (usually animated) intermission refreshment pitch. They’re still riffed on in commercials and such — especially "Let’s All Go to the Lobby" — but likewise near extinct in my neck of the woods. Suspect a big part of is the fading of the classic double feature, and therefore the intermission (as opposed to clearing the house for the next showing).

    Maybe the marketing window has passed, but I still hope somebody will do a disc of nice period intermissions. I’ve found a few collections, but they look like every foot of film in a collector’s garage without attention to order, quality or repetition.

  3. Mark Kausler says:

    Of course, the clocksweep type leader is not really Academy leader, but TV leader. Academy leader is ticked off in FEET not SECONDS.

  4. Sam Mead says:

    I work at a University media center and we have around 5000 16mm films still in our library today! They rarely go out anymore. Speaking of film festivals though, have you ever heard of the True/False Film Festival? It happens every year in Columbia, Missouri. I can’t post a link to their website due to spam restrictions, but if you just Google True/False, you’ll find it. Several directors of Academy Award winning documentaries have appeared at the festival in the past and more are scheduled to appear this year…

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