How The West Was Won - in Cinerama
The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Greg Kimble
November 17, 2002
article originally appeared in the October, 1983 issue of American
Cinematographer. On the occasion of Greg's latest article about Cinerama's
50th Anniversary, also in American Cinematographer, here's his
original article again including the sidebars about Stampede!
and The Budget.
The author wishes to extend his appreciation to these MGM personnel,
without whose gracious assistance this article would not be possible: Tate
Smith (optical), Wes Meyers and Mike Karr, (film library), Dore Freeman
(publicity) and Harry Busch (videotape services).
Legend has it, that Mr. John Harvey of Dayton Ohio, USA, was inspired
by this article to build his own 3-strip Cinerama set up in his house. An
interest which completely revived the interest in Cinerama and 4 new
3-strip Cinerama theatres in Bradford
OH (USA), Seattle, WA (USA) and the Cinerama
Dome, CA (USA)
in 70mm reading:
"How the West Was Won" now re-issued on DVD
Digital restoration of HOW THE WEST WAS WON
Cinerama's 50th Anniversary by Greg Kimble,
How The West Was Won - in
the days of the first sound film, publicists have been fond of describing
Westerns as "thundering across the screen." This past February
marked the twentieth anniversary of a film which "thundered" in
a way quite unlike any other. "How The West Was Won"
thundered - quite literally-into theaters on February 21, 1963, just eight
months before the innocent era of the 50s would end in Dallas. An epic of
Americana, it followed three generations of the Prescott family through 50
years of westward expansion beginning in 1839 with the opening of the Erie
Canal. Filmed in the awe inspiring 3-screen Cinerama format, it was
enthusiastically received by the public, becoming the final vindication of
a dream born more than 15 years earlier.
This article originally appeared in the October, 1983 issue of
The author wishes to extend his appreciation to these MGM personnel,
without whose gracious assistance this article would not be possible: Tate
Smith, optical; Wes Meyers and Mike Karr, film library; Dore Freeman,
publicity and Harry Busch, videotape services.
three-panel system necessitated the odd blocking (left) which appears
natural on screen (below).
Since its beginning in the late 1800's, the motion picture had (with a
few notable exceptions) assumed the compositional format of classic art,
mirroring the 1.33 to 1 aspect ratio of a majority of the great paintings
of the last several hundred years. Until an idea took root in the mind of
a man named Fred Waller. He conceived of a film system that would
reproduce the full peripheral range of human vision. And, in the way
Americans have of acting out their dreams, it came to be.
Is Cinerama" opened on Broadway on September 30, 1952, a full
year ahead of "The Robe", which was filmed in that
"modern miracle you see without glasses," CinemaScope. Audiences
hungering for a new movie-going experience now had a highway to take them.
The road for Fred Waller, however, had been long and frustrating. While
head of Paramount's special effects department in the 30s, he had become
fascinated with understanding the complexities of human vision. He had
developed a special wide angle lens for the studio's spectaculars and
noticed that scenes filmed with it carried a slight impression of depth.
Eventually discovering the importance of peripheral vision in interpreting
spacial orientation, he began experimenting with multi-camera systems. He
synchronized eleven 16mm cameras to cover a range of 185░ wide and 85░
high - so wide, in fact, that the cameras photographed each other. Worse
still, the image was severely distorted on a flat screen.
Hathaway (in white hat) confers with cinematographer Milton Krasner, ASC,
(center) and Technical Advisor Peter Gibbons (left of camera) for the
runaway train sequence.
About this time, Ralph Walker, one of New York's most famous architects,
contacted Waller to create a film for Longines to be presented on the
spherical dome of his just completed "Perisphere" at the 1939
New York World's Fair. Waller responded with a seven camera flight through
the solar system. One look at the Perisphere's concave screen (not unlike
OmniMax) and Waller realized that the answer to the problem of recreating
peripheral vision was not a flat, but a curved screen.
Reducing the number of cameras to five, he next developed for the Air
Force a gunnery flight trainer, which was used extensively during the war.
Later, backed by the Rockefeller brothers and Time, Inc., he set up shop
in an indoor tennis court on Oyster Bay, Long Island. The five cameras
were reduced to three and a seven-channel magnetic sound system (the first
in history) was developed by Hazard Reeves. Tests were shot of Rockaway's
Playland roller coaster and the Long Island Choral Society's performance
of Handel's Messiah.
"Waller's Wonder" attracted heads of all the majors to Oyster
Bay. Many turned around instinctively upon hearing the choir on the
rear channels before their appearance on screen. Skouros, Mayer, Cohen,
and Schenk all raved about the effect, but privately realized the enormous
capital involved to bring the system to the public. Over the next year,
Waller's discouragement grew as the phone continued not to ring. Hollywood
is, after all, a town long on enthusiasm and short on front money.
Then one afternoon in 1949, Lowell Thomas, "the most famous voice in
America" for his series of travelogues and radio shows, came by to
visit his friend Reeves and saw a demonstration of Cinerama. Just hours
later an enthusiastic Mike Todd (later to develop Todd
AO for "Oklahoma!") called and began a courtship that
resulted in the Todd Thomas Company producing the first theatrical feature
The roller coaster ride was reshot in color, a Cinerama camera flew over
Niagara Falls and crews were dispatched to several locales in Europe and
across America, including a sequence of the water show at Cypress Gardens,
Florida, made possible by another Waller invention, the water ski.
Creating a coherent film from all this footage fell to Merian C. Cooper,
veteran producer of Chang, Grass, and a little picture called "King
As the distinguished first night audience filed into the completely
redesigned Broadway Theater that night in late September, 1952, they had
few clues to the visual treat in store for them. And when the film began,
there was the familiar image of Thomas, relating a brief history of visual
communication up to the current state of the art in motion pictures from a
standard size screen. Heads turned. "Cinerama; so what's the big
deal?" Then unexpectedly, the curtains began to part. Higher and
wider, farther and farther to reveal an impossibly huge, deeply curved
screen 40 feet high.
Not even a modern familiarity with flat 70mm and six-track Dolby could
prepare one for the impact, as the Rockaway roller coaster plunged into
cinema history to Thomas' simple, triumphant, "This is
Cinerama camera had the unique ability to look down both sides of a
building at one time, as each panel had its own vanishing point.Peter
Gibbons was with the Cinerama corporation the entire time the company was
producing films, later becoming head of the camera department at CBS
Studio Center. Now semi-retired, he teaches cinematography at Columbia
College in Hollywood. [Peter passed away in May, 1983.] He is truly one of
those people who have "forgotten more than you'll ever know" As
Cinerama cameraman and technical advisor for over 20 years, he is uniquely
qualified to explain the mysteries of the Cinerama system:
"The Cinerama camera was actually three cameras in one. There were
three synchronized movements, three separate 1000-foot Mitchell magazines
and three separate lenses. Each camera was set at a 48░ angle to the
next, so the center movement photographed straight ahead, the right
movement captured the left portion and the left was aimed to the right.
Eastman manufactured 21 identical lenses for us, so that footage from all
seven cameras would be consistent. Those lenses were fantastic. We
discovered that 27mm was a very close approximation of the focal length of
the human eye. Each camera had three, each covering one third of the field
"When projected, the three images blended into one, covering an
astounding 146░ horizontal angle of view. A single shutter, rotating in
front of the lens at a point where all three images crossed, assured
simultaneous exposure. The film ran vertically as in a conventional
camera, but each frame was six perforations high, instead of f our.
Stewart as Linus Rawling. Original 1962 still. in70mm.com collection.
"Because Cinerama carried its seven channels of sound on a separate
full coat head, the entire width of film could be used. The additional two
perforations, plus the now usable sound track area meant that each frame
had twice the standard Academy area. The total available image area was
3.24 square inches, six times that of Academy, nearly twice that of 65mm.
The aspect ratio was 2.66 to 1.
"I built the first camera blimp myself. It was made of layers of
plywood faced with 1/32 in. lead sheeting. Then the whole thing was given
a finished coat of fiberglas. Completely blimped, the camera weighed over
"There were five sound channels behind the screen, and two at the
rear of the theater for ambient and directional sound.
"Even the screen itself was unique. It was discovered that the deep
curvature-a radius of 25 feet-caused the left and right images to reflect
onto each other. This was solved by redesigning the screen as narrow
vertical strips, like venetian blinds.
"To solve the problem of double light intensity in the 2░ overlap of
the projectors, Fred incorporated small stainless steel combs in the
aperture. Vibrating at high speed, they reduced the light on each edge by
one half, creating a 'soft split: I suppose it was inevitable that they
would be called 'gigolos: "
The name "Cinerama" is an anagram of "American." Its
impact was simply sensational. A wave of "0-ramas" swept the
country. Launderamas, liquoramas sprang up everywhere, even a kiddie-rama
for pre-schoolers. And, of course, a stripper billed herself as the
"Sin-Erama Girl "
The film ran for 122 weeks in New York alone. It created a whole new
concept in motion picture marketing - the road show. Cinerama films
changed only twice a year. Attending them was an event - the Metropolitan
Opera of the movies.
In the next three years, three more Cinerama
travelogues were released, each as successful as the last. By now the
town was taking notice. Peter Gibbons and Cinerama moved West in 1960,
setting up shop in the old Forum Theater on Pico Boulevard.
In April of 1959, Life Magazine ran a series of articles on the westward
expansion in the last century. Bing Crosby bought the rights and released
a record album of period songs on the theme of the winning of the West.
From these simple beginnings came Cinerama's greatest achievement, "How
The West Was Won".
would be in the scene above because of the wide scope of the Cinerama
Of the three legendary directors who guided "How The West Was
Won" - John Ford, George Marshall and Henry Hathaway - only
Hathaway is still living. [Hathaway passed away in February, 1985.] He
comes close to embodying the entire history of motion pictures.
His career began in 1908 when, at the age of 10, he worked as an extra at
the old Inceville Studios for $1 a day, plus lunch. In March, 1914, he
quit school and followed his mother's lead to Universal, becoming a prop
man alongside another kid named John Ford.
"In those days, the prop man did everything. Paint, drapes, set
decoration, you name it."
And did he know then he wanted to direct?
view of the above scene.
"Sure, from day one. Do you think I wanted to be a prop man?"
After working with Von Sternberg and Victor Fleming as assistant director,
Hathaway got his chance to direct when Paramount remade their Zane Grey
Westerns as talkies in 1932. Fleming, director of the silent versions,
recommended Hathaway for the job.
Hathaway's career included many firsts. He directed the first Shirley
Temple film ("the brightest, most wonderful child I've ever met-a
complete professional"); made the first sound film shot entirely in
the streets of New York ("Kiss Of Death"); helmed the
first outdoor film shot in three color Technicolor ("Frail Of The
Lonesome Pine"); and gave several stars their first movie jobs:
Henry Morgan, Karl Malden, Richard Widmark, Grace Kelly. But he remembers "How
The West Was Won" as his most unique - and enormous -
"They asked Bing Crosby if he would do a television show on the
record album he had released, but it became too expensive, so it was
offered as a feature to Sol Siegel, who had been looking for a story to do
in Cinerama. For some time, Irene Dunne had been looking for a property
that could be made to benefit Saint John's Hospital in Santa Monica.
Crosby sold the rights, and assigned his profit participation to the
hospital. Everyone on the crew worked for half salary. The top price for
actors was $25,000, even John Wayne, who at the time was making upwards of
half a million per picture.
"The original concept was mine. The first step in the winning of the
West was the opening of the canal, then came the covered wagon, next the
Civil War, which opened up Missouri and the mid-west, then the railroads,
and finally the West was won when the Law conquered it instead of the
gangs, which was the theme I worked out for the picture;' says Hathaway.
"So I conceived that whole idea, then got writers to work on the five
episodes." ("How The West Was Won" won an Oscar for
adaptation screenplay.) "Each section was to be about a song,
originally. Then I traveled all over the country to find locations.
"There was supposed to be a different director for each segment, but
I ended up making three of them. And I did over the fourth one, the
railroad building sequence of Marshall's. It was awful. The only one I
didn't do over was Ford's (Civil War)-and I should have, because it was
lousy. But I didn't want it known in the industry that I was doing over
John Ford's work!
"You couldn't move the Cinerama camera much, or the picture would
distort. The opening dolly down the street to the wharf was the first ever
done. I thought we might have to shoot it in 65mm and split it, but it
"Except for the interiors, which we shot at MGM, we were on
wilderness locations almost all the time. That must have been a strain on
my camera crew, but they never complained.
"And I think we made a pretty good picture, though I didn't think I'd
do another one with that system. There was so much you couldn't do with
it. You had to get 18 inches from somebody just to get a waist shot. To
see anything, I had to lie on top of the camera and look down at the
person. But it was worth it. The picture was a big success.
"There were a lot of obstacles to getting this picture done, but I've
learned in this business that you've got to have guts, you've got to
believe in what you're doing, then do it and don't fool around, and don't
let anybody change your mind, and be entirely responsible for what you're
posh riverboat interior, the only scene in which all three vanishing
points are clearly visible.
Principal photography of "How The West Was Won" began on
May 26, 1961 in Paducah, Kentucky, but not before a year of intensive
pre-production was completed. Even allowing for the usual hype surrounding
an "epic" the production's statistics and logistics are awesome.
MGM's art and research departments were on yellow alert almost
continually, designing 77 sets and thousands of period props from over 200
volumes and 10,000 photographs collected especially for the film.
During early tests of the Cinerama camera, it was glaringly apparent that
the huge format revealed fine detail to an extent no one could have
imagined. Machine-sewn costumes were reassembled by hand and thousands of
yards of authentic homespun were ordered from India. Fifteen hundred pairs
of moccasins arrived from Indian reservations across the country, and an
entire studio department was created to handcraft 2300 pairs of period
Conestoga wagons were built-107 of them-many being full scale mechanical
effects designed to break apart on cue, as was the entire train from
"The Outlaws" sequence. ("How The West Was Won"
received an Academy Award nomination for its mechanical effects.)
anamorphic Swedish 70mm frame from "How the West Was Won". Click
picture to see unsqueezed enlargement. Note Cinerama camera blimp shadow
to the left. in70mm.com collection.
The casting department was kept busy filling the 12,617 bit and extra
parts in the film. One grizzled man, east in Hollywood as a railroad
worker, later turned out to be a local millionaire and treated cast and
crew to weekend sightseeing trips of the Black Hills in his private plane.
The Indian cast was drawn from five tribes, including survivors of the
Wounded Knee and Little Bighorn massacres. Of course, all 12,617 needed
costumes, designed by "Gone With The Wind" alumnus Walter
Location scouting was an arduous task, as no sign of modern civilization
could be apparent anywhere. And, as wagon master Robert Preston said,
"Every time you moved the camera 10 feet, you had to dress another
Locations ranged nationwide; the Ohio River Valley, the Black Hills of
South Dakota, several shots in the Colorado Rockies, the Rogue and
McKenzie Rivers in Oregon, and, of course, Monument Valley, Utah.
A caravan of 71 vehicles carried the company nearly a million miles. Since
75% of the show was on wilderness locations, everything had to be brought
along-even studio bulldozers to build access roads where none existed.
Three thousand feet of film flew by each seven-and-a-half minutes, keeping
an army of loaders hopping, particularly during the five-unit buffalo
stampede. Miles of film were processed at Technicolor, and reduced to
standard four-perf anamorphic at MGM to facilitate editing, which was
handled largely by the uncredited Maggie Booth. (No one wanted to remember
The legendary Alfred Newman (who was to 20th what Max Steiner was to
Warners) composed one of his finest scores, an exquisitely melancholy
blend of period songs and original leitmotifs which perfectly captured the
bittersweet nature of the story.
All this to tell the saga of three generations of the Prescott family as
they head West, marry, have children and pass on during the years
"How The West Was Won" begins "The Rivers" as
the family waits on the wharf for their turn aboard the Erie Canal barge
"Flying Arrow." Papa Karl Malden has sold his Eastern farm and
with a son and two daughters, Eve (Carroll Baker) and Lillith (Debbie
Reynolds) has begun the journey West into Ohio, following, as Mama Agnes
Moorhead says, "his itchin' foot"
At the end of the canal, they fell trees for a raft to continue their
journey, encounter Linus Rawlins, a mountain man/fur trapper (James
Stewart) and rout a band of river pirates led by Walter Brennan.
Later, we careen down the rapids (p.o.v. shots being a Cinerama specialty)
when the raft takes the wrong fork in the river. It goes over the falls,
and both parents are drowned. Eve decides to stay, marries the mountain
man and starts the farm Papa wanted. Lillith returns East on the first
riverboat and becomes an entertainer.
an entire composition was dictated by the blend line position.
In Part II, "The Plains;' Lillith is taking a wagon train West to
claim a gold mine inherited from a deceased admirer. She is pursued
romantically by wagon master Preston, and avariciously by gambler Gregory
Peck. Together they cross the Great Plains, enduring all the classic
Western film discomforts and one breathtaking Indian attack. Peck finally
wins her affections, but disappears when the gold mine peters out.
Just before intermission, they are reunited by chance, years later, aboard
a posh Mississippi riverboat. They agree to marry, and move to San
The "Civil War" segment, directed by John Ford, returns to
sister Eve. Linus is away fighting for the Union and, against her wishes
and better judgment, she agrees to let her oldest son Zeb (George Peppard)
enlist as well. Linus is killed at Shiloh, and Zeb saves Gen. Grant (Harry
Morgan) from an assassin's bullet. He eventually returns home
disillusioned ("There ain t much glory in seeing a man with his guts
hanging out.") to find his Mother dead, and his younger brother
anticipating their farming together. But Zeb announces he is transferring
to the regulars and departs that same afternoon, leaving a stunned brother
on the porch at the fade out.
The Marshall-directed portion, "The Railroad;' finds Zeb (as treaty
liaison to the Indians) in conflict with railroad builder Richard Widmark.
The film was somewhat ahead of its time with its sympathetic treatment of
the Indian question and consciousness of ecological issues. After a
terrifying buffalo stampede, Zeb decides he has had enough of seeing the
We last see Widmark astride the front of the locomotive, undefeated amid
the wreckage and death of the stampede. It rolls inexorably forward as the
camera dollies back, vainly attempting to escape this malevolent
In the final segment, Hathaway's "The Outlaws;' Peppard is a nearly
50, married U.S. marshal, battling arch enemy Eli Wallach aboard a runaway
train that crashes spectacularly.
The emotional climax comes much earlier in the segment, however. Her
husband dead, and all her possessions auctioned except her land in
Arizona, an aged Lillith steps off the train to meet nephew Zeb, son of
the sister she never saw again, for the first time.
In this, the film's most poignant scene, we realize how completely we have
become vicarious Prescotts, experiencing an almost unbearable longing for
those lost days, as though they were our own. As truth comes, not in the
earthquake or the whirlwind, but in the still, small voice, West's
strongest moment comes not with a stampede or a train wreck, but with a
tear. As Lillith looks up into Zeb's face, we see the memory of all those
separated years flash by in an instant, and get a sense, in the very midst
of the West that is won, of what has been lost.
"Oh my" she weeps quietly, "I swore up and down I wasn't
going to cry."
Lange being photographed in a sequence later deleted. Note obies on
"How The West Was Won" had more DP's than "Close
Encounters", all of them great, longstanding talents, all Oscar
winners. There were four first unit cameramen who shared the
cinematography nomination West received.
Charles Lang, ASC, shot "The Rivers" segment. "The best
cameraman who ever lived, according to director Hathaway, won an Oscar in
1933 for "A Farewell To Arms" and later photographed "Some
Like It Hot".
William Daniels, ASC, left Triangle in 1924 for newly-formed MGM, where he
was Greta Garbo's exclusive cameraman. He received an Oscar in 1948 for "Naked
City". Bill Daniels photographed "The Plains." He
passed away in 1970.
Joe LaShelle, ASC, started big, winning the Award for his second film as a
director of photography, the classic, "Laura" in 1944. He
has been nominated a dozen times. He became involved when Ford called him
to his MGM office to ask if he "knew anything about this Cinerama
crap?" He captured both "The Railroads" and "The Civil
Milton Krasner, ASC, a most gracious gentleman, shot the closing sequence,
"The Outlaws." His career reaches back to 1918 to the old
Vitagraph and Biograph Studios in New York. Becoming a first cameraman in
1927, he won his Oscar in 1954 for "Three Coins In The
Fountain". He was called away from a long tenure at Fox by
In addition, pick-ups were shot by Dale Deverman, ASC, and Robert Surtees,
ASC, process photography was handled by Harold Wellman, ASC, with some
second unit work supervised by Peter Gibbons.
I was fortunate to talk with Milt Krasner and Joe LaShelle at length. Bill
Daniels' comments survive in his January, 1962 "Cinematographer"
article. What follows is an imagined conversation based on their remarks.
(Interviewer's comments in italics.)
of "How the West was Won". From the Danish 1962 souvenir
program. Click picture to see enlargement. in70mm.com collection.
They were in agreement that it was a unique photographic challenge,
but were just as candid about its limitations. The Cinerama process
creates a uniquely stunning impact on the screen, but the camera creates
major physical and artistic problems.
Devising set-ups with an 800 pound camera is itself a formidable
undertaking, but it was the three separate panels that caused most of the
headaches. Their 146░ horizontal angle created an unusual lighting
problem with exterior scenes.
Daniels: "In the afternoon, we may get the sun in the picture and not
be able to reposition the camera to avoid it. The entire three-panel
scene, therefore, would consist of a back light, a cross light, and a flat
light-all in the same composition, but each in a separate segment of it.
The diaphragm controls of all three lenses are interlocked to insure that
sky exposures will be uniform in all three panels. Here it becomes
necessary to improvise a means of obscuring the sun itself by introducing
subtly into the scene a tree branch, cluster of foliage, etc. that will
come between the sun and the camera lens"
LaShelle: "And you couldn't put much of a shade over it without
photographing it. I had the grips build a great big shade sometimes to
stand way off to keep the lens out of the sun, but it was a problem all
the time. Every setup was a problem. Interiors were no picnic either. Sets
were built higher to accommodate the 55░ vertical angle, and smaller
because of the exaggerated sense of depth."
Krasner: "All our sets were movable because the width of the lens
shot past the sets. We'd look through the lens to see what the side panels
would cover, then we'd move the walls accordingly to narrow the set
Daniels: "Often, all four walls were in the shot "
LaShelle: "That camera had to be absolutely level on interiors or the
ceiling line in the side panels would curve up into a circle"
Daniels: "The camera couldn't be tilted up or down more than 'half a
bubble' either, nor could it be tilted or panned during a shot."
There is very little moving camera in "How The West Was Won"
apart from the action sequences. Since each panel had its own vanishing
point, there was distortion when an object crossed the blend line to a
different panel. While visually odd, this actually added subliminally to
the illusion since the screen often seemed about to fall over on top of
Krasner: "Incidentally, it wasn't too noisy. Once you closed it up,
it wasn't noisy at all. We shot a lot of interiors with that camera and it
worked very well. And remember, on closeups we were only 18 inches
It would be very unnerving to play a scene with that huge camera right in
your lap. It must have been difficult for the actors.
ALL: "Difficult for me. Where are you going to put the lights!?"
Krasner: "That's why there's obies all over the front of it. You
couldn't use a key, you generally lay back with a key light."
LaShelle: "Everyone ended up being broad lit and you couldn't use
back light or anything. If you wanted to light to fit the mood of a scene
you just couldn't do it. If you just lit it at all you were happy. The
biggest problem, of course, was hiding the blend lines. Everyone quickly
learned to place trees, street lamps, the corner of a building, anything
Daniels: "On the sound stage, we often used shadows to minimize the
blend lines, arranging the lighting in such a way that the shadows appear
natural to the scene."
Blend lines created some awkward blocking as well. An actor could cross
through the line, but never stop on it. Hitting marks became unusually
important. Anything extending into an adjacent panel had to be aligned
carefully. Rifle barrels and train tracks kinked noticeably otherwise.
Daniels: "In a two-shot, the player in the side panel had to cheat
away from the camera and play the scene behind the actor in the center. If
this was not done, the side lens photographed the upstage side of the face
creating a false eyeline."
Karl Malden recalls it was a difficult adjustment for cast members with
little stage experience.
Daniels: "Further, although the 27mm focal length insured plenty of
depth of field, the blend was only good at the focus point on the lens, so
action was always at or behind that plane."
Prescott family. Original 1962 still. in70mm.com collection.
Gibbons: "There's a scene in "Cinerama Holiday"
where a woman was closer than the focus point. She has three legs. I don't
know why they left it in."
LaShelle: "Ford wanted guys to crawl right up to the camera, and you
just couldn't do it without distortion. Although in the buffalo stampede
that actually helped. It made them appear even faster than they
So unlike regular films where the camera interprets the action, the
Cinerama camera almost completely dictates the composition.
LaShelle: "More or less. You had to do things you wouldn't ordinarily
have done because you were always searching for something to hide lines.
You just had to think of the mechanics all the time. You couldn't be an
artist, hardly. But the composition wasn't so important because of the
vastness of it."
Surprisingly though, the whole film matches wonderfully. Here were three
directors and four cameramen, and the whole show looks as if it were shot
by the same crew.
LaShelle: "I know it. The first time I saw it I was amazed at how
well it matched. It was remarkable."
Perhaps the long list of camera "Don'ts" tended to smooth out
everyone's differences in style.
LaShelle: "I think that's so, to a great extent. But I was really
pleased with it - I thought it looked fantastic. I'd love to see it again
in its original form. I hate seeing it on TV By the time its panned and
scanned and TV safed, there's nothing left. I think its awful, but for a
lot of people, that's all they've ever seen of HTWWW and its a
But these men did their job so skillfully, that none of these limitations
are visible on the screen-even the cropped 65mm composite has a grandeur
about it. And when viewed as it was intended (as I was once lucky enough
to do) the deep screen, completely filling your vision, and the incredible
reality of the ambient sound, make Cinerama, in Daniels' words, "the
greatest audience participation in the world." Which, interpreted,
means that even in this day of high-tech films, Cinerama still blows your
LaShelle: "Its a unique process, that's for sure, but the fact of the
matter is, I don't think I would ever do another one in that process. It
was just too much work. It really was a white elephant."
Krasner: "But it did have its day in the sun."
Into the Sunset
enlargement of actual Cinerama fames. Scanned from an original IB print.
"How The West Was Won" was the first and last three panel
Cinerama dramatic film. ("Wonderful World Of The Brothers
Grimm" was started later and released first.)
Being naive to studio overhead charges, Cinerama executives were outraged
to learn the hard way about creative accounting. They never realized the
profit they had expected. Their four-picture contract was completed by
releasing "Ice Station Zebra" and "2001: A Space
Odyssey", both shot in Super
Panavision, through MGM. They made "The Greatest Story Ever
Told" and "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" for
United Artists, then ceased production completely.
Today the company operates as Cinerama Hotels and Cinerama Releasing,
running the Pacific Theaters chain. The cameras are mothballed and
theaters all over the world, grandly built to house "the Metropolitan
Opera of the movies" have been converted to standard projection. A
dim vestige of the process still survives in the few Circlevision
exhibits at the EPCOT Center in Florida.
But the breathtaking experience that was Cinerama is gone, like the
monorail, "an idea of the future whose time is passed." The old
Forum Theater is boarded up and, like the potential of the system it
housed, abandoned. The last existing three-panel, 6-perf print the
company's nearly virgin show print - was chopped up and sold for sound
spacer two years ago.
And I swore up and down, I wasn't going to cry.
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