INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Jan. 1, 2015)– Eric Grayson wound a 35 millimeter film of movie trailers through a projector in the Toby theater at IMA in preparation of the museum’s Winter Night’s Film Series.
“There’s nothing like big clunky machines and that’s what these are,” he said, threading the film onto the projector’s sprockets. “If I get this wrong, I burn up the film.”
Luckily, skillfully, Grayson got it right, throwing a switch and, with a “brrrzzaaapp!”, the projector’s bulb sizzled to life and an auditorium away film legend Vincent Price’s visage filled the screen in the empty theater.
“I want to show the movies that you have to put your pants on and leave the house.”
Grayson is Indy’s resident film historian and restoration artist.
He’s turned a hobby into a full-time quest to expose film fans to the way it used to be in Hollywood’s heyday.
“My mission is to expose people to the old time movie experience. They don’t have the experience of going, seeing a movie with an audience,” Grayson said. “Movies need to be seen with an audience. Seeing a movie on a big screen, sitting down in a nice comfortable theater, having the experience of a cartoon or a short or something, that’s just going.
“The other part of my mission is to show them things you’re not going to see on video. You’re not going to find on Netflix, things that I’ve restored, things that I’ve gotten grants to restore.
“It’s important that we have more at the buffet of movies than just the things that were shot in the last five years.”
Grayson has collected approximately 75 35-millimeter films and nearly 400 16-millimeter movies.
“Sometimes I get them from trash dumps. Sometimes I get them from other collectors. Sometimes I’ll spend money and have a lab print them up. You never know where I’m going to find stuff. Sometimes I get them from old burned out theaters that are going to close in a small town.
“About 95 percent of it’s junk, but once in a while you get something good.”
Such as the copy of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” he rescued from a theater in Bowling Green, Ohio.
“You usually will find them and they are not in great shape so what you have to do is blend them in with another print and restore one from others.”
The Fountain Square man said all film historians are in pursuit of their own Holy Grail, a copy of Lon Chaney’s “London After Midnight,” a 1927 silent film that disappeared after the last known copy was destroyed in a MGM vault fire 37 years ago.
“It’s a lost film. Nobody knows where it is,” he said. “As far as we know it doesn’t exist anywhere and Lon Chaney plays a vampire character in it. It’s supposed to be a really great picture.”
Grayson is currently fulfilling a National Film Preservation Foundation grant to complete chapter six of “King of the Kongo”, starring scary movie giant Boris Karloff.
It was the frequent appearances of Karloff and his fellow monster and horror movie peers that sparked the imagination of Grayson who grew up in Lawrence watching late night films on WTTV-Channel 4.
“I fell in love from Sammy Terry,” said Grayson, expressing his admiration for the famed Indianapolis movie host who opened every show emerging from a coffin, disguised as a green-skinned ghoul. “I used to stay up and watch the 1930s and 40s monster movies and I would stay up all night on Friday and Saturday night.
“The 50s science fiction were on Saturday night and on Fridays were the monster movies with Sammy Terry so I would watch those all the time. Channel 4 was my go-to station for all the movies because at that point they were an independent and they had all the stuff that the big time stations didn’t want and that was all the stuff that I wanted to see.
“They were trying to make themselves the Indianapolis station and, of course, Sammy Terry was part of that and that’s how I got hooked on the movies.”
WTTV’s Indianapolis television legacy began a new chapter as the clock struck midnight on 2015 with the launch of CBS4.
Just as WTTV was an independent television outlet where central Indiana rallied for classic movies, high school sports, Cowboy Bob and Janie and after school cartoons for more than 50 years, Grayson sees his campaign as a way to restore the traditional movie-going experience by drawing Indianapolis film lovers back together.
“We used to have that sort of community and now we don’t.”
Grayson will screen the Coen Brothers contemporary classic, “O Brother Where Art Thou?” Friday night at 8 p.m. at IMA’s Toby Theater.
Other films this winter include, “Wizard of Oz”, “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Bringing Up Baby” and the silent film classic “Peter Pan”.
“You don’t see a movie in the same way if you know that you can stop it and go to the bathroom and fix a sandwich and come back and all that stuff,” said Grayson as a trailer for “A Tempset of Thrilling Terror”, the Vincent Price/Peter Lorre/Boris Karloff 1963 version of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” filled the screen over his shoulder, “and Sammy Terry used to be that way, too, because there was no pause on Sammy Terry. If you missed something, you missed it, and you may have to wait two years before it was going to be shown again.”