It all looks so strange. Two large metal machines, entirely different from one another, but connected by one very fragile dark ribbon. Looking at the first object, one might guess that it is what the dining table should be if you were to have dinner at a posh restaurant on some other planet, on where the posh restauranteurs all had six arms. It is a stack of three round silver tables, all set about two feet apart from one another, all resting on arms extended from a blue metal stand. On one of the tables sits a spooled ring of the thin dark ribbon. The ribbon looks to be pulled out from the center of this spool, its path bent and twisted on white plastic wheels, sending it up along the blue metal stand and across to the other machine, into which it disappears. From the bottom of the machine, the same ribbon re-emerges, climbing back up the blue metal stand, the spool's original end coming to rest on one of the other tables.
The second machine is a large elongated box, plain gray, about the size of a refrigerator. Connected to its front end is a small metal compartment, a collection of toothed gears and clamps through which the ribbon of film is intricately laced. On one side of the box is a collection of toggles, buttons, switches, knobs and lights; one of them is marked "start." Someone comes along and pushes it.
The pressed button is accompanied by the faint sound of a buzzing circuit, and then for a brief moment in time, the machines move mutely. A white plastic wheel, set on a vertical pair of metal tracks connected to the blue stand and cradled by the dark ribbon, falls to the floor. As it nears ground zero, the whine of a motor picks up, and the wheel's descent slows, reversing to a rise, eventually coming to rest in the middle of the track's path, gently bobbing up and down. The silver tables are now spinning--one table is letting the film out from the wound-up spool, the other is spooling the returning film back up. The box of gears, spinning so fast that they actually look still, pull the film through.
All the processes come to a rhythmic balance--the silver platters squeaking regularly, the gears chattering relentlessly. The bridges of film reading from one machine to the other bob gently as they are tugged by their destinations. And the large silver box hums with current as a brilliant white light pours from its edges, through the metal box of gears, and most importantly, through the film of ribbon itself. The light beams out from the front of the box, and through a window, revealing the film's contents on a distant wall.
First published: July 1996