EUGENE, Ore. - What lit the spark 35 years ago on a video project that has racked up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube in the past month?
"I got to see Elvis the year before he died, in 76," said Sam Klemke, "so his death at age 42, it just kind of hit me, life is so ephemeral. So I decided to do this project. That was really the catalyst for what got it going for me."
Starting at age 20, Klemke made films and later videos and digital videos of himself each year.
Now 55 and living in Eugene, he edited the clips together into a video that counts back three and a half decades.
The video titled "35 years Backwards thru Time with Sam Klemke (Time Lapse)" has been viewed over 600,000 times on YouTube and featured on websites and blogs around the world.
"I've always had this fascination that you could capture time with a movie camera," Klemke said. "I loved movies as a kid. I remember being fascinated that you could look at a film with Jimmy Stewart in the 70s. And then you could also look at one of him in the 30s and you could see, oh my God, you could see a 40-year span of his life right before your eyes with two separate movies."
So the 20-year-old Klemke got started on a lifelong project.
"I was just using a Super 8 film camera. No sound, so I had to use a separate recording machine," Klemke told KVAL News on Wednesday. "So I would have a little set recorder on the side knowing that some time in the future, technology would merge them together. That I had faith in."
The films were like yearbooks for his life.
"At the end of the year I would start making a very messy, sloppy list," he said, "and just put together a series of the highs and lows."
The attention garnered by his viral video won't bring an end to the project.
"The goal is to keep going until I croak," Klemke said. "I'd like to keep working, keep working my time-capturing mojo, as it were.
"There's no money in it," he said, "but I'm having a blast."
Feedback on the video varies.
"I keep hearing over and over, 'You are the first 'vlogger.' You know, who even knew what a 'vlog' was?" Klemke said.
"And I'm also hearing the statement, 'Oh, it's so sad.' Young people are commenting on how sad this whole thing is," he said. "Seeing it go backwards from current to younger I think really affects young people a lot. They start to realize their own mortality."
For the moment, Klemke is relishing the attention.
"Just this morning I did a little online interview from Spain. And in two hours, I'm doing one from Ireland," he said. "I'm savoring it."
And he is using the soapbox to suggest people lighten up.
"I'm hoping that young people can just relax and deflate their own self-importance, I guess," he said. "Relax. Lighten up. Have fun. Go play. Life is ephemeral, and you are never too old to experience joy. That's what I want to express."