n the late 1920s, every deluxe movie palace had as part of its requisite equipment at least one “Master Brenograph F-7,” a massive double magic lantern advertised by its manufacturer as projecting “Everything but the Motion Picture.” From the projection booth, these complex machines could project airplanes flying through moving clouds, running water, fire, song lyrics dissolving from one verse to the next for sing-alongs, changing colors of patterned light, strobe effects, spot lights, and hundreds of special effects manufactured by the Maurice Workstel Company and a few others.
As the Workstel catalogue states: “The E-FECT Plates can be used in two ways. The plates are made up in positive and negative. One way to use the plates is to put both plates on together. The other way is to put either the negative or positive plate on, giving one E-Fect. Then by adding the other plate, another effect will be obtained. It is also possible, in using an E-Fect Plate, to get either a day or a night effect by employing different color gelatins.”
The heyday of the Brenograph was limited, and with the coming of sound films, the depression, and major changes in theatrical exposition, most of the Brenographs were pushed aside, forgotten, and eventually sold for scrap. Today, only a few Brenographs survive at all, with a mere handful of them still operable and in their original locations. The Embassy Theatre is unique in having not only its original Master Brenograph F-7, installed in the projection booth in 1928, but also a Brenograph on display in the Heritage Room so that the public can actually see this fabulous machine!
In addition to its Brenographs, the Embassy Theatre also has a very large collection of special effects plates (more than 350), probably the largest in any public collection and more than 1300 additional slides for advertisements, announcements, sing-alongs, background projections, and so on. An additional 2,418 slides were acquired for the collection from the Ohio Theatre in 2014.
Comprehensive catalogues of both collections are available as PDF files.
A complete history of Brenograph and its manufacture, construction and operation will be coming soon!
Many thanks to Tom and Penny Mathiesen for their hard work, dedication and passion to this project.