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THE PROJECTIONIST Digital movie production and projection, says David Kornfeld, is "the death of an entire craft and the death of an entire way of seeing movies."


Born in 1959 in Manhattan to a schoolteacher mother and an audio engineer father, as a child David Kornfeld treasured visits to his father's recording studio, in awe of the pro gear: tube amps, two-inch reel-to-reels, the works. This translated early on to an interest in projecting films. He still has a copy of the Bell & Howell Projectionist's Card that he earned in the 4th grade for operating the class projector.

After moving to Boston to attend college in 1978, he saw a pair of Norelco projectors in the booth at the Astor, where a friend was working. It was a bolt-from-the-blue moment. "I took one look at those machines and I was like, 'I want to work with those.' "

He soon got into the profession for real. The projectionists' union assigned him to its standard proving ground: the Combat Zone. "The thinking was, if you screwed up there, the weirdoes in the audience wouldn't really give a damn."

Kornfeld's first job was at the Pilgrim, an enormous, ornate hall that had become a popular trysting place for gay men. "It was straight porn, but it was a dark environment with lots and lots and lots AND LOTS of private spaces: the loges, all these various staircases that went all over the place." The 17-year-old Kornfeld screened Inside Jennifer Welles, in which Miss Welles goes down on a guy in a projection booth. This gave the audience ideas. "The knocks on my door didn't stop for two weeks," he says (he politely deflected them).

Kornfeld worked the Pussycat, the West End Pussycat, the State, the State II, the Art. But he wasn't in the Zone for long. "You were judged on how fast you got out. Some people never got out of there. They just worked there for years and years and years and years." He was moved up and out in six months.

Kornfeld went through some dark years in subpar-to-middling booths. At one time or another, he worked the Astor, the Exeter, the Charles, the Cheri, the Savoy, the Saxon, the Gary, the Orson Welles, the Pi Alley, the Pagoda, the Janus, the Sack Cinema 57, the Wang Theatre, the Allston Twin, the Showcase Revere, the Cleveland Circle (only one shift: "What an armpit"). Plus the college screening rooms: Harvard, Emerson, Brandeis, MIT, Northeastern. There were frequent frustrations. He would request needed upgrades and be rebuffed. ("It's like, 'What do you think we should have? We are now going to proceed to ignore you.' ") Lamphouse bulbs in particular, which are expensive and need regular replacements, would get pushed hundreds of hours beyond their limit, resulting in way-too-dim images on screen.

By the mid-'80s, Kornfeld made it to the top of the heap: a senior projectionist simultaneously at the Brattle and the Coolidge, shuttling back and forth across the river, setting up and projecting dozens of films each week.

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  Topics: Features , digital age, movie features
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