IN7OMM.COM
Search page
Deutsch | Language
7OMM e-News
Rumour Mill
Contact | Volunteers

WHAT'S ON IN 7OMM?
Todd-AO Festival
KRRR! 70mm Seminar
Widescreen Weekend
7OMM Festival
 

7OMM FILM
"Flying Clipper"
"The Hateful Eight"
"The Master"
"Oklahoma!"
"Scent of Mystery"
"2OO1"

IN LARGE FORMAT
Todd-AO
Ultra Panavision 70
Super Panavision 70
Dimension 150
DEFA 70
Sovscope 70
Technirama
IMAX
Showscan
Cinerama
Cinemiracle
70mm Blow-up

NEWS
2016 | 2015 | 2014
2013 | 2012 | 2011
2010 | 2009 | 2008
2007 | 2006 | 2005
2004 | 2003 | 2002

LIBRARY
Interview & People
Cinemas
DP70 / Norelco AAII
70mm Projectors
Rama Galore
Cinerama Remaster
70mm Engagements
SENSURROUND
Stories
Remember

THE 7OMM NEWSLETTER
2005 | 2004 | 2002
2001 | 2000 | 1999
1998 | 1997 | 1996
1995 | 1994 | PDF
 

in70mm.com Mission:
• To record the history of the large format movies and the 70mm cinemas as remembered by the people who worked with the films. Both during making and during running the films in projection rooms and as the audience, looking at the curved screen.
in70mm.com, a unique internet based magazine, with articles about 70mm cinemas, 70mm people, 70mm films, 70mm sound, 70mm film credits, 70mm history and 70mm technology. Readers and fans of 70mm are always welcome to contribute.

Disclaimer | Updates
Support us
Testimonials
Table of Content
 

eXTReMe Tracker
Extracts and longer parts of in70mm.com may be reprinted with the written permission from the editor.
Copyright © 1800 - 2070. All rights reserved.

Visit biografmuseet.dk about Danish cinemas

 

The Wide Screen Revolution (1952 - 1970): Roll The End Credits?

Read more at
in70mm.com
The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Rick Mitchell. Copyright 2002 by Rick Mitchell. World Rights Reserved. 7/30/02 Date: January 9, 2003
It is somehow fitting that the publication of the last chapter in this series of articles should coincide with the 50th anniversary of its beginning. While these articles have primarily dealt with the Revolution’s technological developments, their acceptance or rejection was determined by economic factors, both the cost of their implementation and the willing-ness of the public to pay to see them. For example, while sound was enthusiastically embraced by the public in 1928, wide film was not two years later; in the early Fifties, anamorphic projection caught on, 3D didn't. Aiding the acceptance of Wide Screen in Europe and South America, distributors there could charge higher rental rates for anamorphic films so exhibitors charged higher admission prices for them. As a result a number of American films shot spherically were released overseas squeezed via the Superscope/Super 35 process. Economic factors were particularly important for the acceptance of 65/70mm.

Broadway entrepreneur Michael Todd had been responsible for the success of Cinerama. His personal view was that certain films should be events equivalent to a theatrical or circus presentation. It was with that thinking that he had help launch Cinerama and that concept was also behind his development of Todd AO. Denied involvement in the production of "Oklahoma!", he reasserted himself during its release, insisting it be roadshown in select theaters in which nothing reminiscent of the average moviegoing experience was to be found; even popcorn could not be sold!

The concept of roadshowing was not new to motion pictures. The term comes from the theatrical practice of taking a stage presentation from a big city like New York to smaller cities and towns. Since this was already being done with motion pictures, to this medium it meant presenting a film as if it was a quality stage production: in legitimate theaters with two shows a day and reserved seats sold at higher prices and often bought in advance. The first film presentations this way were done in France in 1907 by the Film D'Art, which recorded silent movie versions of stage classics. In 1912 it was used in the United States to get around the Motion Picture Trust in the importation of feature length films from Europe, the best known example being Adolph Zukor's involvement with the Frohman Brothers in the presentation of "Queen Elizabeth". As the Trust's power declined and the industry began to develop, variations on this roadshow technique were used to give selected films, especially those whose running times were longer than two hours, a "prestige" opening in New York and occasionally Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington. "The Birth Of A Nation" (1915) was the first significant American made roadshow. United Artists was founded with idea of roadshow-ing the films of its partners. Following a slump in attendance in the early Twenties, the major companies seized on making road-show “epics” as a way of regaining the lost audience, a method which proved successful as films like "The Covered Wagon", "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", and "The Ten Commandments" (1923), "Ben Hur", "The Big Parade", and "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925), and "Wings" (1927) would play roadshow engagements for as long as two years!

"The Jazz Singer" (1927) was roadshown in its initial engagements since theaters showing it had to be specially set up and wired for Vitaphone and prices were often increased to cover the exhibitor's investment. It was really the first film to associ-ate technological development with special presentation techniques, there still being some debate over the extent to which the Magnascope projection zoom lens had been used. The wide film productions of 1930 were also given roadshow type presentation in the few cities in which the wide film versions were shown. The Depression ended the practice except for the New York and sometimes Los Angeles engagements of certain films. Though "Fantasia" (1940) was roadshown in its initial FantaSound en-gagements, "Gone With The Wind" (1939) was the last film to be widely roadshown until the Fifties. (The roadshow version of "Fantasia" has recently been restored by Disney; primarily there were a few more bits with the orchestra and more narration from Deems Taylor, re-created by a voice double.) 

Cinerama established in the public's mind the idea of a film presentation different from that to be found in the average movie theater; shown instead at special venues in the big cities. Mike Todd hoped to do the same with special dramatic films in Todd-AO. Unfortunately, "Oklahoma!" did not prove to be as big a success as anticipated outside the sophisticated big cities, but his own personal production of "Around the World in 80 Days" would succeed in ushering in a period that had as significant an effect on those who grew up during it as a visit to the picture palaces of the Twenties had on those who grew up during those years. For many kids of the Fifties and early Sixties, a trip to the remaining picture palaces for the presentation of the latest roadshow release became an annual event and strongly influenced many of those who later became filmmakers.
Further in 70mm reading:

HTWWW 2002 screening

In The Splendour of 70mm

Internet link:


The Scope Formats
 
Beginning with the sleeper success of De Mille’s "Samson and Delilah" (1949), the industry had turned increasingly to costume epics in color, and later CinemaScope, as a way to recover again dwindling audiences, finding success in films like "Quo Vadis" and "David and Bathsheba" (1951), "Ivanhoe" (1952), and "The Robe" (1953. The success of "This is Cinerama" and announcements about the distribution plans for "Oklahoma!" cued interest in roadshowing subsequent epics and as a result "Around the World in 80 Days" was one of four films of elephantine length to be released on roadshow basis in the Fall of 1956, the others being "Giant", "War and Peace" and "The Ten Commandments", the latter two filmed in VistaVision and only the last proving any real commercial challenge to "Around the World in 80 Days" in public appeal. Todd's film would play in its 70mm road-show version in many theaters for over a year as would "The Ten Commandments", which was shown by horizontal projection in New York and Los Angeles..

The success of these two films really opened the eyes of the industry to the economic possibilities of such a release pattern. The films might cost more to make, especially if shot in 65mm, but income could be derived from advanced ticket sales before the picture opened, at prices two to three times those of a normal release. In theory the film could play in roadshow for at least six months then go into general release; most regular releases made the bulk of their income in the first two or three months of release. At another time of generally decreasing boxoffice for most pictures, the idea of roadshowing had great appeal for the particularly financially troubled 20th Century Fox and MGM. MGM already had "Raintree County" (1957) in production in Camera 65/Ultra Panavision and revived the idea of a remake of "Ben Hur". Fox took over Magna's rights to Todd-AO and began production on "South Pacific". Other companies also began production of potential roadshows not only in 65mm, but 35mm anamorphic, and Technirama, especially after Technicolor proved it could make 70mm prints from Technirama negatives that looked as good as material originated in 65mm.

Unfortunately this first wave of widescreen epics was doomed, primarily be-cause of the quality of the actual films. Though "South Pacific" (1958) was a big hit, "Raintree County" (1957), "Sleeping Beuty" and "Solomon and Sheba" (both Technirama), "Porgy and Bess" (Todd-AO), and "The Big Fisherman"(Super Panavision 70) (all 1959), bombed, as did the 35mm CinemaScope "Ben Hur" "The Diary of Anne Frank" (1959). 

And yet, with two exceptions and one subject of debate, the next batch of widescreen roadshows were successful enough to encourage the industry to continue making them. It started with "Ben Hur" (1959), which like its silent predecessor would play as long as two years in its roadshow engagements. Following the failures of "Can Can" (Todd-AO) and "Pepe" (CinemaScope and Panavision), two of the next three 1960 roadshows would be equally successful: "Exodus" (Super Panavision 70) and "Spartacus" (Technirama), as would 1961’s "West Side Story" (Super Panavision), "King of Kings" and "El Cid" (Technirama), and "Judgment at Nuremberg" (spherical black-and-white).

The subject for debate is John Wayne’s "The Alamo" (Todd-AO-1960). It is usually listed as a financial failure, which it was in its roadshow engagements in New York and Los Angeles. However, it did better in lower profile roadshow engagements in the Midwest and South, and when put in general release in 35mm anamorphic, it was one of the top grossing films of the summer of 1961, including in its wide release in the Los Angeles area!
 
1962 proved to be the peak year for roadshows, with all of that year’s re-leases proving successful: "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" (Cinerama), "The Longest Day" (CinemaScope), "Mutiny on the Bounty" (Ultra Panavision), and "Lawrence of Arabia" (Super Panavision). ("How the West Was Won" (Cinerama) was successfully released in England in November and did not open in New York and other American cities until the following March.)

Though the failure of "55 Days At Peeking" (Technirama; 1963) should have been a warning, the continued success of roadshows, including the troubled "Cleopatra" Todd-AO) resulted in every studio including American International announcing at least one roadshow on its annual schedule. The highly successful presentation of "It´s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (Ultra Panavision; 1963) as a single lens Cinerama presentation had been followed by the disastrous "Circus World" (Technirama; 1964), "The Hallelujah Trail" (Ultra Panavision; 1965) which reportedly was reduced to popular prices after two weeks!, and "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (Ultra Panavision; 1965). Non-“Cinerama” roadshows didn’t fare well either: "The Fall of the Roman Empire" (Ultra Panavision) and "Cheyenne Autumn" (Super Panavision) (both 1964), "The Agony and the Ecstasy" (Todd-AO) and "Lord Jim" (Super Panavision) (both 1965), as compared to "My Fair Lady" (Super Panavision; 1964) and the aforementioned …"Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" (Todd-AO). And the tremendous success of "The Sound of Music" (Todd-AO-1965), even greater than that of "Ben Hur", again blinded film companies to the failures and cued the final round of roadshow films, most of whose lack of success would finally doom the practice. The problem was that too many of them did not have sufficient story and/or subject material to sustain the 2 3 hour plus intermission length which had become the basic standard for qualifying for roadshowing. 

Two films which exemplified the folly of inflating anything to roadshow status were "Ice Station Zebra" (Super Panavision 1968) and "McKenna's Gold" (various formats 1969), especially the latter. It had been announced as a single lens Cinerama presentation but for some reason, while its location scenes were shot in 65mm Super Panavision, those shot back at Columbia Studios were done in 35mm anamorphic Panavision, and the embarrassingly bad miniatures in the climax photographed spherically and cut directly into the negative where they received a ridiculous horizontal stretch not only in the projection of 35mm anamorphic release prints, but the 70mm ones as well!

Three other occurrences in the Sixties contributed to the downfall of roadshowing and also negatively impacted the use of film formats other than 35mm for production. As noted, 65mm or Technirama had not been considered for all potential roadshows. MGM had shot its remakes of "Cimarron" (1960) and "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (1962) in 35mm Panavision with the idea of roadshowing them but after the first failed in exclusive roadshow type engagements in New York and Los Angeles, the plans were dropped; the finished version of the latter was reportedly considered not worthy of release, much less roadshowing, though because of its cost, it had to be. Warners had shot "The Music Man" and "Gypsy" in Technirama and gave them road-show type engagements in their New York and Los Angeles runs but did not make 70mm prints for any American engagements; reportedly they did make some 70s on both films for Europe. 

As Walt Disney had done in 1958 with his Technirama shot "Sleeping Beauty", in 1963 Otto Preminger asked Technicolor if it was possible to make 70mm prints of his 35mm anamorphically shot "The Cardinal". Working with Panavision, they came up with an optical printer lens which could do this with extremely high quality results, eliminating the necessity of shooting in 65mm or Technirama and making it possible to give a "roadshow look" to any anamorphic film. As a result, an increasing number of road-shows would be shot in 35mm anamorphic and blown up to 70mm, including "Becket" (1964), "The Great Race" (1965), "The Sand Pebbles" (1966), "Camelot" (1967), "Funny Girl" (1968), and most controversially "Doctor Zhivago" (1965), which many have assumed was shot in 65mm because of David Lean’s well known love for the format.

Additionally, this brought about a kind of modified roadshow practice in which 70mm blowups of certain high profile films would be shown in New York, Los Angeles, and sometimes Chicago, Boston, Washington, and San Francisco in one theater for a month before going into general release. This practice was begun with "The Carpetbaggers" (1964) and was even applied to the black-and-white films "In Harms Way" (1965) and "Is Paris Burning?" (1966) as well as "The Blue Max" (1966), which is one of the two films shot with CinemaScope lenses known to have been blown up to 70mm, the other being a blowup of "The Longest Day" done in England in 1968. (Though credited as being in “CinemaScope”, Luc Besson’s "The Big Blue"(1988), on which 70mm prints were made, was not shot with official Bausch & Lomb CinemaScope lenses.)
 
 
In 1967 MGM Laboratories successfully made 70mm prints from the spherical negative of "The Dirty Dozen". The blowup was to the full 2.2:1 70mm AR and while composition did not suffer too much as the film had been shot and protected for 1.85:1 (and the negative hard matted for 1.75:1), the additional graininess and image softness was noticeable but not as objectionable. Their subsequent controversial “tilt-and-scan” blowup of "Gone With The Wind" was. This now meant that any 2 and a half hour + film, old or new, could be exploited as a 70mm roadshow. Indeed, a 70mm blowup of "The Ten Commandments" was also shown in England in 1968, as was the spherical "Julius Caesar" (1953), and Universal experimented with having "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1929) hand colored in Japan and blown up to 70mm for a re-release; they abandoned the project because in those pre-Dolby days they couldn’t clean up the sound track acceptably. 

The second occurrence was a change in audience demographics. Roadshow type films were primarily aimed at, and had been most successful with, the older segment of the audience that had primarily deserted theatrical moviegoing for tv. The commercial potential of a roadshow was usually gauged by the success of advance ticket sales which generally became available three to six months before the picture was scheduled to open, making it possible for the studios to be getting money back on the film while it was still in production or post production. 

When advance sales for "2001: A Space Odyssey"(1968) were nowhere near those for its previous roadshow release "Grand Prix" (1966), MGM executives feared they had a bomb on their hands and were prepared to write it off, only to discover after it was released that it was far more successful with young people who preferred to buy their tickets not in advance, but just prior to a particular showing. This pattern would occur with subsequent roadshows and led to a gradual modification of this exhibition pattern. Many films designed for roadshow release, though still having overtures and intermissions, would be shown at regular prices with more than two shows a day. In 1969 the “modified roadshow” pattern would be escalated with releases like "Where Eagles Dare", "Sweet Charity", and "Anne of the Thousand Days".

Thirdly, as previously noted, roadshow tickets, especially for the more expensive seats, were bought by middle class, middle aged and older groups and individuals for whom attending such presentations were now an event in their lives, as, by the early Six-ties, many of them rarely attended general release films. In the mid Sixties the mainstream film industry suddenly “discovered” the teenage and young adult audience that had always been steady moviegoers and since the early Fifties had been catered to primarily by American International, Sam Katzman’s B unit at Columbia, and Albert Zugsmith’s at MGM. Films that were popular with young adults were rarely successful with older audiences and were generally made at far less cost, especially when compared against roadshow films. The slate of roadshows inspired by "The Sound of Music" were put into production without considering the rapidly changing demographics of those times against the two or more years it would take to make them. Of the approximately 15 would-be roadshows released between December, 1966 and December, 1970, only five would be bona fide hits: "Grand Prix" (Super Panavision-1966), "2001: A Space Odyssey" (Super Panavision-1968), "Funny Girl" (35mm Panavision-1968), "Patton" (Dimension 150-1970), and "Airport" (Todd-AO-1970). "Dr. Doolittle" (Todd-AO-1967), "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (Super Panavision-1968), "STAR!" (Todd-AO-1968), "Paint Your Wagon" (35mm Panavision-1969), "Tora!, Tora!, Tora!" (35mm Panavision-1969), and "Darling Lili" 35mm Panavision-1970) were all major boxoffice disasters while the degree of success of others like "Camelot" (35mm Panavision-1967) and "Krakatoa, East of Java" (Super Panavision and Todd-AO-1969) continues to be a subject of debate.

The success of "Easy Rider" (1969) versus the failures of such extremely high budgeted films caused a number of executive heads to roll and a trend toward small scaled youth movies, which also proved to be boxoffice disasters since the "new" Hollywood executives also proved to be out of touch with young audiences. Ironically, the old fashioned "Airport" (1970), the next to last film in Todd-AO, proved to be a success with audiences of all ages. 1970-71 would see the release of the last five 65mm films for a decade: "Patton", "Airport", "Song of Norway" (Super Panavision), "Ryan´s Daughter" (Super Panavision), and "The Last Valley" (Todd-AO). 

By 1970, for all intents and purposes, the Revolution had succeeded, successfully. Though 65mm production essentially ended that year, exhibition of 70mm blowup prints continued on a limited basis and 2x squeeze anamorphic had become the professional standard for 35mm and 16mm projection; as was masked projection of spherical films to aspect ratios between 1.66:1 and 1.85:1, except in Russia, which stuck with 1.37:1. Interestingly enough however, it was not particularly popular with the generation of college students who adopted film as their medium in the early Sixties. Their preference was for “realistic” black-and-white foreign and burgeoning 16mm experimental films, associating wide screen with big Hollywood epics. Of the foreign filmmakers they admired, only Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, and Francois Truffaut would regularly work and make notable use of the wide screen. This generation’s filmmakers, raised on 16mm, either were afraid of dealing with the extra width or didn’t like anamorphic lenses, though intimate dramatic films had been shot in 35mm anamorphic, such as "The 400 Blows" (1959), "The Apartment" and "Sons and Lovers" (1960), "The Mark" (1961), and "Two fot the Seesaw" (1962), Some of this generation’s filmmakers did experiment with Techniscope when it generally became available in the mid-Sixties since they could use the extremes of spherical lenses from wide to telephoto, as well as various zooms, which were popular at the time. Many of these directors and cinematographers moved into mainstream filmmaking in the early Seventies and continued to shy away from anamorphics until they actually worked with them and became instant converts. 

Overlooked in the attention given these “Sixties radical filmmakers and film buffs”, both then and now, was a younger generation growing up on roadshows in the movie palaces, exploitation films in their neighborhood theaters and drive-ins, and old movies on TV. This generation loved the wide screen experience. Entering the mainstream industry primarily in the mid-Seventies, directors like John Carpenter, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg would insist on shooting in Panavision anamorphic, which would contribute to a revival of 70mm for exhibition.
 
 
Between 1971 and 1977, 70mm blowup prints would be made on a limited number of both anamorphic and spherical films including "Too Late The Hero" (spherical) and "Fiddler on the Roof" (both 1971), "The Cowboys", "Deliverance", "Man of La Mancha" (spherical), and "The Posidon Adventure" (all 1972),  "That´s Entertainment", "Lucky Lady" (both spherical), and  "The Towering Inferno" (all 1974), and  "Logan´s Run" and  "A Star Is Born" (spherical) (1976). But between 1978 and 1994 there was an explosion in the use of 70mm blowups, not for the higher quality image, but for the SOUND!

70mm prints and Cinerama had always used magnetic sound, which was cleaner and clearer and had a far greater dynamic range than the optical sound that had been standard for 35mm since 1930. It was also possible to have 6-8 tracks of discrete stereophonic sound. 4 track magnetic stereophonic sound had initially been part of the CinemaScope package, but because of the extra cost of applying the stripes and sounding the prints, as well as exhibitor reluctance to maintain the sound heads, its use was gradually phased out in the late Fifties except for occasional first run prints. The major negative with magnetic tracks, generally ignored at the time, was a hiss from the actual tapes, which was multiplied as they were copied or dubbed. As early as 1970, there had been experimentation with various systems for both reducing this noise and extending the frequency range of optical tracks. In 1954 John G. Frayne of Westrex had begun experimental work on developing a two channel variable area optical track for dual language16mm prints. The problem in working with tracks of such narrow width was the increase in noise that accompanied the necessary increase in volume. In the late Sixties, Ronald E. Uhlig of Eastman Kodak revived this experiment applying some of the noise-reduction techniques that had recently been developed, including one from Dolby Laboratories. In 1974, Dolby took over work and applied it to 35mm with the idea of developing a stereo optical track. Dolby’s noise reduction techniques took care of the noise problem and made it possible to present films in 35mm stereo without the problems of magnetic tracks though the results were not as satisfying as magnetic's discrete separation and dynamic range.

This was particularly notable with  "Star Wars" and  "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977) which had been dubbed with a particular accent on low end enhancement for explosions, ship rumbles, etc. than had been done in previous films. The 70mm prints reproduced these with a theater shaking effect not found in the matrixed Stereo Variable Area optical tracks, resulting in those theaters showing the films in 70mm doing better business than those showing it in 35mm. The result was a sudden increase in 70mm blowups which led to an increase in auditoriums capable of projecting 70mm, plus an increase in such print runs, of up to 200 on  "Return of the Jedi" for example. That these prints were often shown in tiny multiplex theaters which diminished the impact of both the image and the sound seemed to have been lost on most exhibitors and all but the most knowing audiences. The significance of the 70mm image was lost as the number of spherical films blown up increased, and many theaters were not only showing 70mm on the same size screen used for 35mm anamorphic, they were even masking the latter down to 2.2:1 and sometimes blowing up 35mm spherical prints to fill the same screen proportions! 

In 1978, the spherical  "Days of Heaven" was blown up to 70mm in such a way as to retain the 1.85:1 composition w i t h b l a c k o n t h e s i d e s o f t h e f r a m e. Over the next four years, a select number of spherical films were blown up to aspect ratios of less than 2.2:1. In 1982, the success of  "E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial" blown up only to 1.85:1 established this as the format for such blowups, the last full frame blowup from spherical of which the author is aware being the American release of  "Cocoon" (1985).
 
In 1989,  "Lawrence of Arabia" was restored and re-released with brand new 70mm prints. A generation that had not seen the quality possible with original 65mm negative was stunned and excited. Subsequently new 70mm prints were struck and shown of  "Ben Hur" (corrected for non-anamorphic projection),  "West Side Story", and "The Sound of Music"as well as new 70mm prints of  "The Ten Commandments" from VistaVision and  "Spartacus" from Technirama.  "My Fair Lady" was similarly restored in 70mm by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, who had supervised the  "Spartacus" restoration and who also did a major restoration of  "Vertigo" from VistaVision to 65mm, retaining that film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Scott MacQueen at Disney also did a re storation of  "Sleeping Beuty" from its Technirama sequential exposurenegative to 65mm and has been working on  "The Big Fisherman"and  "Krakatoa, East of Java", the latter acquired when Disney bought ABC; Schawn Belston at Fox has recently restored  "Patton" in 70mm and Grover Crisp at Sony is working on  "Lord Jim"

The success of these revivals cued new production in 65mm of  "Far and Away" (Panavision Super 70) and  "Baraka" (Todd-AO-both 1992) and  "Hamlet" (Panavision Super 70-1996). Unfortunately none were successful, partially because except for  "Baraka", the 65mm photography was not played up in promotion and that film was an independently distributed documentary which got view 70mm playdates. And all three were dubious projects to attract a Nineties audience for the superior photography though  "Far and Away" did better in its 70mm first run engagements than in 35mm.

65mm as a production medium now seems to be limited to special venue situations like Imax and Iwerks 870, while 70mm as an exhibition medium has, for all intents and purposes, been doomed by the introduction in 1994 of various digital sound formats which supposedly can provide 35mm prints with better aural quality than 70mm magnetic. After a notable decline in the mid Eighties, there was an increase in the number of productions filmed in 35mm anamorphic but recently these seem to have been supplanted by a greater number of releases in the Super 35 format, which was even used by Steven Spielberg on "Minority Report" (2002). As noted, this form at has been favored by some directors like James Cameron who like widescreen as a theatrical presentation medium but not an amorphic lense s, despite the grainier, less sharp images that result . Arguments that certain shots cannot be done with anamorphic are easily disproven by a look at older anamorphic films in which such shots were done, such as holding three receding characters in focus in a tiny space capsule in the anamorphic "Marooned" (1969) vs. the Super 35 "Apollo 13" (1996). It is possible that Super 35 is being imposed on filmmakers by production companies, as Franchise Pictures does and 20th Century Fox did for a brief period, to eliminate “letterboxing” or “pan/scanning” the video version because the subsequent video release is often more profitable than theatrical .

And most contemporary directors using Super 35 seem to be having their films composed as if for a more tightly letterboxed 1.85:1 than something intended for projection on the big wide screens to which theaters are now grateful returning. This may be due to the the video orientation of directors who have emerged over the last decade, as well as the increased use of video in production and post-production. Except for George Lucas, at this writing there seems to be no interest by those embracing digital to work in a ratio wider than video’s 1.85:1 compatible 16x9, though much of the story material being shot in various video formats is not really suitable for theatrical exhibition, much less wide screen. Lucas did want a 2.40 aspect ratio for "Attack of the Clones" but Panavision was unable to adapt its anamorphic lenses to the HD cameras, so it was composed for a Super 35 extraction for the film version. Ironically anamorphic lenses with different squeeze ratios are being used in digital projection for both 1.85 and anamorphic subjects.

While the conglomerate owned production and distribution branches of the industry could care less, the exhibition industry, in its “excitement” over digital projection, which is possibly more media hype than reality according to “off-the-record” sources, may be headed in the wrong direction, charging audiences ever increasing prices for the equivalent of an entertainment experience they can now get at home more cheaply, if not for free, as well as not considering a younger generation that has no problem watching “letterboxed” films on a computer screen! 

Unlike 50 years ago, they are overlooking the high visual impact not only of 70mm as an exhibition medium, especially of material originated in 35mm anamorphic, but also as a production medium. Over the last decade, three panel Cinerama has been shown to enthusiastic response not just by buffs in faraway places like Bradford, England, Dayton, OH, and Seattle, WA. By the time this is published, a new three-panel print of "This is Cinerama" will have been shown at Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome, in the industry’s backyard. Audience response will hopefully open executives’ eyes to the commercial prospects of the big wide screen experience. While some current cinematographers are eager to shoot new footage with the old Cinerama cameras, they are aware of how impractical the process is for serious contemporary production. But there are equally dynamic processes currently being ignored, like Super Dimension 70, 5 perf 65mm shot and projected at 48 fps which uses existing cameras. It has been designed as a complete production-exhibition system that can easily be installed in any projection booth to show the kind of big screen roadshow type films that were so popular in the Sixties, and the success of big screen friendly films like "Twister", "Titanic", and "The Perfect Storm" suggests could be so again.

Perhaps there is hope that this great Revolution will continue and endure. 
 

Acknowledgments

 
This subject has been a lifelong interest of mine and in the 35 years I've had contact with the motion picture industry I've taken every opportunity to hear in lectures and/or speak directly with persons involved with the subject in various ways. Much of the information in this article was gleaned from these sources and I would particularly like to thank the following fellow wide screen scholars for the information we've exchanged over the years:

Peter Anderson, ASC, John Hora, ASC, Douglas Knapp, SOC, Edward R. Nassour, Paul Rayton, American Cinematheque; Daniel J. Sherlock, Aubrey Solomon

and also the following, those who are with us and posthumously to those who aren't, for the information they graciously shared with me:

L.B. Abbott, ASC; Leith Adams, Warner Bros.; Gene Allen; John A. Alonzo, ASC; John Bailey, ASC; John Baptista,  CFI; Walter Beyer; Adrian Bijl; Larry Blake; Richard Bracken; Frank P. Clark; Mike Coate; Grover Crisp, Michael Schlesinger, Sony Pictures; Jim and Karen Danforth; Linwood Dunn, ASC; Howard Epstein; Herbert E. Farmer, Richard Harber, USC School of Cinema; Rudi Fehr; Harvey Genkins; Bill Gleason; Theodore E. Gluck, Scott MacQueen, David McCann, The Walt Disney Company; Ray Harryhausen; Robert Harvey, George Kraemer, Takuo Miyagishima, Panavision Inc.; Ron Haver; Norman T. Herman; Bud Hoffman; Roswell A. Hoffman; Jeff Joseph; Nathan Juran; John Kirk, MGM Pictures; R. J. Kizer; Richard H. Kline, ASC; Dr. Robert Knudtson, Alvista Perkins, USC Special Collections Library; Ron Kowall, Batjac Ltd.; Ken Kramer; Charles Lang, Jr. ASC; R.A. Lee; Grant Lobban, BKSTS; Paul Magwood; Richard May, Warner Bros./Turner Entertainment; Robert Miller, Paramount Studios Projection Dept.; John Mosely; Gary J. Prebula, Steve Hubbert, CSULB; William Reynolds, ACE; Joseph W. Schmit, Technicolor Inc.; Phil Scott; Tony Shapps, The Widescreen Association; Sidney P. Solow; Bill Taylor, ASC; George Turner; Joseph Tushinsky; Rick Victor; Marvin Walowitz; Gene Warren, Sr.; Robert Weisgerber, Super Vista Corp.; Albert Whitlock; Billy Wilder (via Rex McGee); Robert Wise; Richard Yuricich, ASC; Maurice Zuberano
 
 
Go: back - top - back issues - news index
Updated 22-12-16