Jump to content

Beyond the Bolex

Recommended Posts

I was surprised to learn this week that somebody is planning to make a documentary film on the history of the Bolex camera: "Beyond the Bolex."


I have great nostalgia for the Bolex, because it was hugely important to many 16mm news photographers and documentary makers in the 1960s and early 1970s, and I have some fond memories of using one occasionally in film school. All of us there dreamed of owning a camera like this during those years; it was the coolest of the cool. The Bolex had a unique, interesting design, and while there were much better cameras (like the Eclair NPR and the Arriflex M and S), the Bolex had an interesting charm that made it unique. 


Watch the promo for the doc here on Kickstarter, and think about tossing them a buck or two:




I think it would take a lot more than $35,000 to make a real 90-minute documentary on the camera, but who knows? Filmmaker Alyssa Bolsey -- the great-great-granddaughter of Russian/Swiss inventor Jacques Bolsey -- seems to have good intentions, along with lots of passion and knowledge about the subject, and I think it's an important part of film history that's worth remembering. 





Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello Marc,


Interesting story. I just don't get the link with Digital Bolex as they just bought the possibility to use the Bolex name.


For me as a cinematographer from Lausanne, the Bolex didn't come to Switzerland for no reason. Yverdon and St-Croix are the heart of mechanical precision knowhow of switzreland inbodied by REUGUE the mechanical music box maker. Bolex presicion was state of the art (still is concerning mechanics) but I hope the new generation will push the Bolex image to the bright side and to the best what technology can give us at an affordable price. No toy. No nostalgic design. Just something usefull to shoot a movie. But it's clearly another company.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

$35,000 seems very low for 90:min. I also have fond memories of the H16 I bought in the 80's, 400ft mag. motors, 12 to 120 lens etc. I only put a couple of 100ft loads in it and realized how expensive this hobby was going to be ( film stock, lab and transfer fees) My plan was to shoot stock footage and sell it later. I sold it to a film student  for more than I paid for it. The camera was like new when I bought it,and like new when I sold it.

Phil "KJR"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I still have 2 Bolex cameras sitting on top of a bookcase in my office. Great pieces of machinery. I even used one up until the late 90's to shoot some animation using a custom made stepping motor attachment and intervalometer for my 1998 short film 'I Remember.'  



35K ain't enough. But a great start. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I went through 3 16mm Bolexes and 5 8mm models, including a H-8 that I had converted to double-super-8 (big mistake).  My oldest H16 was a pre-war model, and my last was brand new in 1977.  I made a lot of films with them, including sound films (it is possible), as well as lots of single frame stuff, time lapse etc etc--one used to be able to rent all those expensive accessories and lenses when you needed them, and use your still camera lenses the rest of the time.   My main film teacher, David Foster, decribed them as being like a personal fountain pen: somewhat elegant, affordable but fragile.  The insides of a Bolex are pretty scary (yes, I have taken one apart and put it back together)--it's basically just 2 aluminum plates with the works suspended between them on brass shim bearings pressed into the aluminum.  This is why Bolexes with a lot of miles on them make such shaky pictures--those bearings wear out and they are pretty much too expensive to fix.  Foster, design and utility-appreciative, liked Arri cameras, and if you couldn't go for that favored Bell and Howell.  I nodded, and kept shooting my Bolexes.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

AZW : Well your short movie is "out there" nice job.


Philip : Did you have the 400ft mag ?  I couldn't afford the stock or the lab fees at the time so I never got to use it. I did a 3min: finished timelapse B&W once, no intervalometer, every frame by hand x 4 10min: loads,swore I would never do that again. Here is a picture of a Rex5 / H16 apart


Phil "KJR"post-1033-0-61147900-1366265530_thumb.jppost-1033-0-60828300-1366265559_thumb.jp

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I was in the experimental film scene in the 60s-80s we used to joke that we could tell if a filmmaker had either a Bolex or a Beaulieu camera by the kinds of shots they had in their films.  The R16 had a really cool trick that only it could do where you could continuously vary the frame rate and the camera would change the lens iris in tandem--you could have a shot in which apparent motion sped up or slowed down (within a certain range) and the exposure would stay correct.  This was so cool and unique an effect that many young filmmakers could not resist including it somewhere in their films.  For Bolex the easy effects were single framing, esp mixed in with with bursts of footage shot at various frame rates all of the same event or scene, and those bursts would be short because the Bolex would only shoot about 660 frames on a full wind.


Yes I did use the 400' mag setup, but mostly when someone else was paying for the film!   My fave accessory was the matte box--it made possible some really cool in-camera effects, cheesey matte shots etc.  I bought one, went broke and had to sell it, then made my own out of plywood and threaded rod.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

My teacher loved the 70DR and thought Bolexes were fragile, overpriced, overly complex and under-engineered toys for wannabes.  He viewed Bolex kind of how we look at RED today.  That was harsh, but he had some points.  The Bell and Howell cameras were built for combat and TV news reporting, not at all with amateur filmies in mind.  Foster had a 70-series camera that had been at the bottom of a lake for about a year.  The glass was all ruined, but he took the rest apart, cleaned it, lubed it and it, and with new VF glass it was used by his students for years.  I always though that a B+H in good repair made steadier images than a Bolex.


And then of course, there was the Bolex "Pro"--anyone recall that?  



Link to comment
Share on other sites

My teacher loved the 70DR and thought Bolexes were fragile, overpriced, overly complex and under-engineered toys for wannabes.  He viewed Bolex kind of how we look at RED today.  That was harsh, but he had some points. 


Doh, I had a Beaulieu 16mm camera jam on me when I was on a student film project, filming the launch of Apollo 17 at NASA. Sadly, we could not do a Take 2 on this shoot. That soured me on Beaulieu forever. 


The worst thing about Bolexes (to me) was that the pin-registration was dodgy, so the picture was kind of unsteady. The Arri's were a hundred times better... but also cost a lot more money. Beautiful cameras.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 years later...
The Jacques Bolsey Project
In addition to being the last day of the year, today is also the 120th anniversary of Jacques Bolsey's birth. As we continue to edit and wrap the year up we would like to wish you a Happy New Year! 2016 will be the year that Jacques' story and the story of the Bolex will finally be told. The experiences of filmmakers such as Wim Wenders, Andy Warhol, and Barbara Hammer, as well as explorers such as John Kaasa and Colin Hanney, to name a few, have been lighting up the edit room. The cut is getting close and we can't wait to show it to you! Thanks for your patience.
from:   ( https://www.facebook.com/jbdoc?fref=ts ) ( timeline shows latest B-T-S photos of interview subjects )

 - - - - -

From  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cappuccino/beyond-the-bolex-a-documentary-film/posts/1456418  

(same as from Marc W's OP.)

Annagreta Claesson on January 13, 2015

Alyssa and Camilo have asked me to post on their behalf.

"Hi everyone,

Happy New Year! We are trying to work through a glitch within Kickstarter's system, and we are currently unable to sign on and post updates. We've attempted to contact Kickstarter without luck as of yet. As soon as we can sign on, you will be getting a more thorough update. For now, we just wanted to let you know that shooting has been going well. We will be finishing up this winter/early spring and are currently preparing to begin editing in mid-February as we continue to shoot. So many great leads have come in over the last year that the process has been extended so we wouldn't miss out on these great stories. Thank you so much for your support and we will be posting more as soon as we can.

Alyssa and Camilo "

Kickstarter update ... to date: 316 backers pledged $35,277 to help bring this project to life.

 - - - - -

Uploaded by Alexandre Favre

Teaser for an upcoming feature length documentary on the swiss precision industry that produced the Bolex, Kern lenses and the Nagra.

Film Archive:  « Images Vivantes », 1961 Film 16 mm color, optical sound, 27 minutes. Telepress-Film, Lausanne (Albert Revel).

Thank you to:
Marc Ueter, owner of Bolex.ch International SA in Yverdon   Otello Diotallevi, the last employee
Yves Bornand, collector from Ste-Croix (Home of Paillard) for helping me with the filming and let me use his numerous cameras.
Yulia and Karim for the translation

Filmed in 2011 with two Bolex H16 (Super 16)

Audio recorded in 2015 with a Nagra



 - - - - - - - - - - -



by Alyssa Bolsey

After learning that her great-grandfather had invented the iconic Bolex camera, young filmmaker Alyssa Bolsey traces the historical trajectory of the Bolex from her great-grandfather�s invention through to its current incarnation in the digital age. Within the documentary, we will unravel the story of the Bolex camera as we uncover Jacques Bolsey�s intriguing life story of innovation, and listen to the stories of filmmakers who have used the camera.
At the introduction of 16mm film, Bolsey invented the Bolex, a camera simple and flexible enough that anyone could use it. And with this camera he himself became a filmmaker and an important film pioneer in Geneva, creating personal, professional and educational films.
Little did Bolsey know that this invention would outlive him, and decades later his camera would be key to bringing about his dream of a future of accessible filmmaking for everyone.
Today, in the new millennium, we live at the cusp of a transition between film and digital technology. Kodak declares bankruptcy, and company after company announces that they are discontinuing their involvement with film. And yet, at the same time, a wave of nostalgia for the medium emerges. It is during this major juncture that the journey to discover this film pioneer is launched by his great-granddaughter using the tools available to her, due in part to Bolsey�s Bolex camera.
While doing research, Alyssa coincidentally discovers that there is a present day parallel to her great-grandfather�s story, in the form of a camera currently in the final stages of development, the Digital Bolex. The future camera is being developed by two young American filmmakers in collaboration with the Swiss company, Bolex International, with the aim of making a professional camera for independent filmmakers at a price they can afford. It becomes clear to Alyssa that the Bolex vision isn�t necessarily over yet.
«Beyond the Bolex» uses the contemporary eyes of Bolsey�s great-granddaughter to explore an innovative past that established a foundation of independent filmmaking, which has helped lead to our rapidly changing present.

- - - - - - - - - - -
April 16, 2013

This is a guest post by Alyssa Bolsey.

First things first, you want to make a movie and you need a camera, right? The options are endless and it feels like there is a new camera coming out every couple of months! What to do? After you’ve done all your research, you either buy one, rent one, or most likely (as in my case) you beg until someone will let you borrow theirs for a few days. Ahhh… Such is the life of an indie filmmaker. Now, imagine a time when there wasn’t an affordable camera to buy, borrow or rent because independent filmmaking didn’t exist and therefore, a camera for the independent filmmaker didn’t exist. This is Beyond the Bolex, the story of the man responsible for the beginning of independent filmmaking and the inventor of the Bolex motion picture film camera, Jacques Bolsey.

No Camera? What?!


100 years ago, 18 year-old still photography fanatic/medical student/artist Jacques Bolsey wanted to make a movie. Problem was, it was 1913 and motion picture cameras were not accessible for budding filmmakers like himself. So what did he do? He invented a series of cameras for amateurs, culminating in the revolutionary Bolex camera in the late 1920’s. Bolsey’s dream was that one day in the future, everyone would be able to make movies, and he spent his life innovating towards that end. Little did he know that one day his dream would come true, and that his story would be revealed at the same time, in a documentary using his own films.

Several years ago, on a break from film school to attend a family memorial, I stumbled upon the inventor’s forgotten archive mixed in with my grandfather’s belongings. It was at that moment that I discovered that my grandfather’s father, my great-grandfather, Jacques Bolsey, had invented the Bolex. Talk about a family secret! Although Bolsey the man had largely been forgotten to history, the Bolex camera had completely transformed the industry and led the way to cinéma vérité filmmaking. Later, it would be the camera of choice for a surge of young independent filmmakers, including such luminaries as Steven Spielberg, Jonas Mekas, Maya Deren, Peter Jackson, Spike Lee and David Lynch. Over the decades, millions of people would learn their craft on this camera. It would also be the camera that my generation, which appears these days to be the last generation to learn intro to film with actual film, would be using in film school as well.

How was I, a lowly film student at the time, going to use this material to fill this gaping hole in film history? I was going to make a goddamn documentary to uncover my great-grandfather’s story, that’s what I was going to do! Using what money? Heck if I knew… Jacques Bolsey had died unknown and practically bankrupt. But looking on the bright side, I knew where I could get a camera!


Ever since the moment I picked up his 1927 Bolex camera, I have researched and set out to tell Jacques Bolsey’s story of technological innovation, personal reinvention, and to uncover a forgotten chapter in independent filmmaking. In doing so, the scope of the project has changed tremendously. Rather than simply being a bio piece, the documentary Beyond the Bolex will now trace the Bolex camera’s trajectory from Bolsey’s original archival materials to the camera’s current reincarnation in the digital age, through the still developing story of the Digital Bolex. The way I see it, the idea behind the Bolex camera was just a seed of an idea. An idea to create a tool that was simple yet flexible. A tool that the everyday person could use to experiment and create on the level of professionals. This idea has been shaped and transformed for generations, long after it left Bolsey’s hands, but that is what I want to track. How an idea can outlive its inventor to continue to grow indefinitely through the ideas of others. And this, my friends, is one advantage to the never-ending task of fundraising for a documentary. Sometimes, during the seemingly endless lulls of fundraising, unexpected twists to your story smack you right upside the head!


Digital Bolex 

Ahhh… the Digital Bolex. I’m sure you have heard of it! A couple of young filmmakers wishing for greater access to professional filmmaking tools and deciding rather than to wait for someone else to invent it, they would innovate a solution themselves. The goal -- a camera that resembles the experience of shooting 16mm film, but for a digital filmmaking community.


The Digital Bolex storyline quite frankly walked itself right into the narrative of my documentary and unabashedly invited itself to the party. After having already spent years, off and on, researching for Beyond the Bolex, there I was January 2012 in Switzerland at Bolex International, interviewing the current operations manager. He kindly showed me around the place and informed me that although he constantly gets requests for information on the early development of the Bolex camera, all of the materials had vanished and he, unfortunately, had no further information on my great-grandfather or the early development of the H16. Gahhh! I had found some information in my great-grandfather’s archive but I had hoped to fill in some gaps! After uncomfortably shuffling in place, trying to figure out where to go from there, I spontaneously asked, “Well, you know Kodak declared bankruptcy last week, so what’s next for Bolex? Are you guys going digital?” A smirk crossed his lips and he said, “Well, it is certainly a possibility, but nothing I can discuss at this moment.” One month later, I was back at my home in Los Angeles and one morning, was suddenly inundated by emails about the new Digital Bolex that had been announced at SXSW. And you know what? They had been quietly developing this camera only miles from my house in LA for over a year and I had no idea!

So what’s next? Well, we’ll be finishing our Kickstarter campaign in just a few days. Then, assuming we reach our goal, we can finally begin the “fun” stuff, actually traveling and shooting interviews with people who knew Jacques Bolsey, documenting Digital Bolex’s journey towards completing and releasing their camera, connecting with filmmakers who have fond memories of their experiences with the original Bolex camera, and talking to people who are using it to this day. Not too shabby a harvest to reap from that original seed of an idea so many years ago!

- - - - - - - - - - -


 - - - - - - - - - - -




 - - - - - - - - - - -

And, the following just might be of nostalgic interest to someone?

Published on Dec 9, 2013

An 8mm promo film by Paillard Bolex dating from the early fifties (or before) for their titler with French titles



 - - - - - - - - - - -

Welcome to Bolex Collector

This site is dedicated to the classic motion picture cameras and products of Paillard Bolex -- a Swiss manufacturer of professional and home movie equipment during the 1930s through the 1960s. It is intended to serve as a resource to collectors, and hopes to encourage the use and preservation of Bolex cameras among amateur filmmakers and anyone with an interest in classic motion picture equipment.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Loved the 8mm promo film--I had that very camera.  Wish I'd had that groovy titling device, although by the time I got to those cameras in the late '60's/early '70s they were pawn shop items and accessories were hard to come by.  On Kodachrome, with an image projected about 6 ft across, the results were really beautiful.  


Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 years later...

Alex Favre is working on such a film- project. It will be much more realistic and precise than the film "Beyond Bolex". It's proven that the H16 has almost nothing to do with the Bolsky-Bolex. Paillard, after the acquisition of Bol-Cameras, soon discovered that the Bolsky was not compatible with their high quality standards. They started a new projet from scratch, and the result was the H16.  

Alexandre Favre

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

I started my career in 1975 with a company that owned a Bolex Pro - an amazing camera for its time. Worked flawlessly except once on the top of the John Hancock tower in Boston when the radio and tv antennas created some electronic madness in the camera. And a bit heavy, especially the over the shoulder battery; but it made terrific pictures and was relatively quiet. Also a beautiful thing to look at, as Aatons were later.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...