I Miss My Soviet Diafilm Projector

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I Miss My Soviet Diafilm Projector
Illustration for article titled I Miss My Soviet Diafilm Projector
Graphic: Gizmodo (Photos: Courtesy ValleyofOldThings on Etsy)
I MissI MissGizmodo staff fondly remembers the extinct gadgets of years past.

By the time I was born in 1987, the filmstrip projector was already vintage: a musty, overheating box with a brittle lightbulb glowing yellow out of the vent. For the Soviet Union public, the once widely popular tech could not compete with VHS, but I was not interested in VHS. I preferred to hole up in the dark with the rickety Diafilm projector whenever I could negotiate some privacy in the two-room apartment our family of four shared, curtains drawn.

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I’d make a fort out of sheets and my brother’s sofa/bed cushions (blocky, partially velvet, striped burnt orange and yellow) and lay on the floor (brown linoleum, tattered rug with a fringe, I think?) and sulk and point the projector at the ceiling. I would turn the squeaky dial to scroll through storybook slides, 20-50 slides per reel. I’d read the captions to myself aloud, do character voices. Princess Vasselisa (or was it the Frog Princess?). Magical swans, little pigs. The bad wolf man who perpetually pursued a rabbit boy, presumably to eat him, in a Soviet humanoid animal universe where no other predator seemed interested in such criminal activity.

I clutch to every specific detail I think I remember because I’m fishing through the fog. I remember fidgeting wildly but finally mastering wedging the tip of the meter-long 35mm film strip into the external rig, clipping the sprocket holes in place, pulling back the whizzing lever with my stubby kid fingers. It clicked. It hummed. It once emitted smoke, or maybe I dreamt that.

We were not on the bleeding edge of consumer technology. Whenever people see photos of me as a child, they assume it’s one of my parents or older, the sepia and drained pink hues or grainy black and white signaling photo tech older than the ‘90s when those photos were taken. My family liked old gadgets, or more likely that’s all we could access or afford at the time, causing a kind of aesthetic delay. I didn’t mind outdated tech. That was not a concept I understood at the time.