The Moviola was the essential tool of the film editor from its inception in 1919 through the 1980's. Although it is still in use in Hollywood and around the world, it has largely been supplanted by computer non-linear editing systems.

In the early days of cinema, the editor skillfully shuttled the raw film intermittently through his fingers to estimate the best place to make a cut. The first moviola was little more than a magnifying glass with a light behind it on a stand with a sprocketed mechanism that allowed the picture to travel through the viewer at film speed, 24 frames per second or 90 feet per minute.

Soon it became comparable to a small projector, with the light being directed to a rectangular ground glass four to six inches across. Eventually, a magnetic sound head was added, along with an interlock device that permitted the sound track to run with--or separately from--the picture. There were pedals that let the editor view the film backwards and forwards and at slow or high speed, and a hand brake that stopped the machine immediately.

The moviola--hand-crafted of aluminum and steel--was at first painted black, but eventually it was finished in a soothing shade of pear-green. It stood waist-high on four wheeled legs. The editor stood, or sat in a chair on wheels, behind it. The picture and sound track were deployed from small rolls comprising each shot--wound congruently, by hand--or alternatively from 1000 foot reels on spindled rewind devices on a bench on the editor's left. The film was placed into a hinged gate below the viewer on the machine's right side which, when closed, aligned the film's sprocket holes with the moviola's sprockets. The sound track fed smoothly across the left side of the machine over the sound head, exactly like a videotape player, or cassette recorder. There was no intermittent movement for the sound side of the moviola, as this would have obviously resulted in an annoying, jerky quality. The film and track ran clattering past the editor's flank and through his hands into the machine.

It was a dangerous process requiring a lot of practice. Virtually every apprentice editor who ever tried to run a moviola destroyed the film. Repairing the damage was an essential rite of passage, one at which all assistant editors became adept. There were also take-up moviolas, with their own reels mounted on arms, but they were used more for running edited film, since they took away the machine's great advantage--nonlinearity. One could not change picture and soundtrack easily, because it was threaded into the take-up moviola in the same manner as a projector.

The moviola was a quirky machine and easily fell out of adjustment. The spinning shutter that was part of the intermittent mechanism frequently became misaligned, causing a strobing in the picture. The prism and mirror arrangement that directed the light from the projection bulb to the ground-glass screen would loosen creating shadows and hotspots. The transport mechanism was always cause for concern. Editors who were fortunate to work with low-maintenance moviolas guarded them assiduously. There were repairmen at all the major studios who did nothing but maintain these machines.

Every film from the late silent era to the golden age of the 70's--and even many since then--was edited on a Moviola.

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