Sunday, May 5, 2013

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The photos shown above are of an old film canister that reader Tim Smith recently acquired. The canister has sent him down an interesting rabbit hole, which I'll let him describe in his own words:

Last weekend I was in an antiques store in Oceanside, California and came across an old film reel canister. It had a label on the front that said, "Surfer Girls" and "Fireball & Brushes." I thought it would make a fun knickknack on the bookshelf. When I got it home and opened it up, I found six small film reels inside:

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I'm not sure what these are. All the labels say "Fireball" and "Brushes for fireball," so my guess is that these are for a fireball explosion in a movie.

I was intrigued, so I started investigating. Here's the short version of what I found: Back in the late ’70s these two guys Al Silliman Jr. and Chris Condon produced a few movies together -- mostly low-budget grindhouse fare. One film, The Stewardesses, actually did make some money (and is still available on DVD, in a 40th-anniversary edition). The duo also produced, wrote, and directed a tank of a movie called The Surfer Girls -- the same name that's on the canister. Here's a poster for it that I found on the web [click to enlarge]:

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What's interesting about this movie is that Al and Chris started a company called Stereovision, which showcased their newly invented 3-D movie-making process. According to IMDB, The Surfer Girls originally came out in 3-D in 1978 and was then retitled Kahuna! in 1981. In 1982 it was retitled once again, as The Senior Snatch, and resissued "flat" (i.e., not in 3-D). I'm guessing this is one bad movie but perhaps a decent story for cocktail parties.

At this point I remembered that the antiques store had another film reel with "Stereovision" written on it. Eureka! I suspected that this might be The Surfer Girls itself (or one of its retitled iterations), so I went back the following morning and bought the reel:

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It's a 9-3/4" standard reel, which holds about 1,000 feet of film -- that's 12 to 15 minutes of running time. Most movies at the time were comprised of eight to ten of these reels and sent to theatres in cases of two reels each. Reels that were intended for theatre use had a bunch of markings on them so the projectionist knew when it was time to cue up the next reel. In this case, I have reel No. 7:

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Since I don't have the first reel with the opening credits (or a 35mm proector, for that matter), it's impossible to know which movie this is from. But I'm thinking it's probably from The Surfer Girls. And it's almost certainly from one of Al Silliman Jr. and Chris Condon's 3-D movies, because each frame has a double image:

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Meanwhile, some additional research reveals that Al Silliman Jr. is actually Allan Silliphant, who went on to create Anachrome -- another company specializing in 3-D technology. He is still around and lives near me in Southern California. I sent him an email telling him what I found and asked if he'd be interested in a little email correspondence for some backstory. No reply so far. (Silliman/Silliphant's partner, Chris Condon, passed away in 2010. After their moviemaking adventures, they founded Sierra Pacific Airlines. Now there are two guys I would like to have had a beer with!)

I'm toying with the idea of trying to either obtain or rent a projector so I can play the reel, or perhaps find a company that can convert it to digital. I'm also wondering what happened to the other reels. An awesome finale would be to have a screening with Allan in attendance, but that is probably a pipe dream. I'm still hoping to hear back from him, but I don't want to be pest or cross over into stalking territory.

I know very little about filmmaking. If any of your readers know more about this and can help fill in any of the gaps, I'd love to hear from them. They can contact me at this address.


Fascinating stuff, right? Big thanks to Tim for sharing the story of his find. If you know more about all this, feel free to contact Tim at the link shown above, and/or post info in the comments. Thanks.


  1. Yes, most decent-sized cities can convert that film to DVD for you (it would probably be less expensive, but harder, to find a projector yourself). But check Craigslist first, you might find someone near you selling appropriate projector. I have had film converted to DVD before (sometimes even your local Walgreens can do it) and it's kind of expensive, depending on the place, but well worth it if it's family home movies you are converting and preserving.

    This might be fun, but only you can decide if it's worth the price for this particular project. Good luck!

  2. This is a special film that can only be restored and duplicated by experienced film restoration professionals. Not your ordinary 35mm, 16mm or 8/Super 8 mm film. DuArt is the leader here on the East Coast for this type of work.

  3. "Bushes". Not "Brushes". even more titilating that way

  4. Wow! These are fascinating. I can only imagine how it was made before. Anyway, it’s actually almost sort of a miracle how these old film reels actually survived. Most film reels deteriorate over time to the point that they’re useless. One good way would be to either convert them to DVD or keep the reels in media vaults.

    Ruby Badcoe

  5. You might want to contact Bob Furmanek at 3-D Film Archives to see if this is a "lost" film. He's a real maven on all things 3-D.