Film leader is a length of film attached to the head or tail of a film reel to assist in threading a projector. The leader attached to the head of the reel is called ‘head leader’ (or sometimes simply ‘head’) and a leader attached to the end of the the reel is called ‘tail leader’ of ‘foot leader’ or simply ‘tail’ or ‘foot’. Before the countdown to picture happens there is frequently excess leader attached to the head of the reel. It can be light or dark, filled with odd scratches from grease pencils and occasionally a quick flash of a photo of a pretty woman or a strange couple posed formally, usually dressed and made up in late 60s/early 70s garb. Film leader is a dead and gone thing, a victim of the digital age. It is no longer necessary to thread projectors (unless one is showing old prints of movies of course). (Or unless you’re one of the directors who still insists on shooting on 35mm. But are those films projected on film or digital? I don’t know. And I don’t care enough to find out).
So why this mini-discourse on this obscure bit of film arcana? Because I love film leader! I’ve always been fascinated by film leader. I miss film leader. And guess what? So do some insane Youtubers, evidenced by the above compilation reel of many different strips of film leader across the ages. I love the dirt on the soundtrack, the beeps at the end of the countdowns, the fact that the numbers are frequently inverted and/or upside down and the general air of antiquity one gets when one watches a whole bunch of film leader strung together. If you stare at the screen for the full three plus minutes of the above video I promise you that you’ll eventually begin seeing strange patterns that seem to be sending odd messages from alien worlds. There are a number of other film leader compilations on Youtube, some running up to twenty minutes. But those are for the advanced film leader enthusiast (like myself). The above is a nice sampling and a good way to get started on the rewarding hobby of staring at film leader. The abstract art of the film leader compilation is not to be missed. Now excuse me while I make lunch and settle in for an hour or two of mesmerizing images and odd noises, all of which emanated way way back in a forgotten editing room in some dusty building on the far end corner of a forgotten studio lot.