The current state of
Cinerama presentation in the U.S.
The 70mm Newsletter
by: Rick Mitchell, Hollywood, USA. Images by
Tom March, Canada.
Cinerama Dome. Image by Tom March
Following on the heels of the attention created by the successful
revival of three panel Cinerama in the mid-Nineties by John Harvey, who
moved his setup from his home in Dayton, OH to the New Neon Theater in that city, in 2002 Cinerama projectors were installed for the first time
in the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood during an upgrade of that theater and
reinstalled in the Cinerama Theater in Seattle, WA., with new prints
struck of "This is Cinerama" and "How The West
Was Won". The idea was that these films would be shown on some
kind of regular basis at these theaters. Unfortunately, it did not work
out that way.
Because of technical problems related to setting up the presentation,
there has been no Cinerama presentation in Seattle in several years. At
the Dome, though the original plan was to show the films once a month at
weekend matinees, this did not work out. There have been sporadic
presentations over the last seven years, but not with the regularity of
the Widescreen Weekend at the Pictureville Cinema in Bradford, England,
the only other public venue in the world with a Cinerama setup. However
there was a hopeful sign that this may be changed: for the first time
Cinerama presentations at the Dome were held two years in a row at
roughly the same time of the year. Last year it was a single Sunday
matinee screening of HOW THE WEST WAS WON which drew a fairly full house
despite the concurrence of one of L.A.'s many marathons that made access
to the theater difficult. This year it was a Labor Day weekend of
special historical screenings, starting with a digital presentation of
the restored "Woodstock", which took up the four day
weekend, with the three following weekdays devoted to the two Cinerama
films plus a one night screening of surviving faded 70mm prints of
"The Golden Head" and "Holiday in Spain".
The first had never been publicly shown in the US, the second not in at
least 45 years.
in 70mm reading:
3-Strip at the Dome - and 70mm too!
Who is Rick Mitchell?
"How the West was Shown"
News about "Cinerama Adventure"
and Cinerama Dome
"Zoot Suit": The last film in 70mm and
on flyer to see enlargement
For a number of reasons, I saw the Cinerama films at matinees, but in a
way, it was actually a valuable guide to the commercial viability of
these screenings. Based on my 42 years of local moviegoing, I felt the
turnout was average for a midweek matinee in a non summer/Christmas
holiday week; I felt the turnout for "HTWWW" was
slightly above average. (I felt the turnout for the 70mm films was
average for a midweek night.) The turnout for the evening screenings of
TIC and "HTWWW", which alternated on the next two nights, was naturally
even better. I also found it interesting that more than 50% of those in
attendance were in their Twenties and early Thirties. (A caveat here:
there seems to be something going on here in LA that's not happening
with revival/repertory theaters in the rest of the country, increased
turnout for even obscure silent films by people in their Twenties and
early Thirties and not just film students and film geeks.) And this
despite the usual very limited advertising they've had in the past,
mostly through the efforts of David Strohmaier, Rich Greenhalgh, Martin
Hart of widescreenmuseum.com, and others spreading the word through
e-mails and other techniques. (This year's screenings were also promoted
by Cinecon, The American Cinematheque, and the Jules Verne Society,
among others.) While the audience reaction to "TIC" was
restrained; it has dated badly, the reaction to "HTWWW"
was as enthusiastic as it has been at all the other Cinerama screenings
I've attended over the last six years. The audience reacted favorably to
the "folksy" material that a snootier "more sophisticated" audience
would dismiss as corny and overheard comments from first timers implied
that they were really impressed, though I didn't hear anyone say it was
better than Imax, which I've heard in the past.
Strohmaier projecting Cinerama. Image by Tom March.
What this says to me is that not only Cinerama and film history fans but
Pacific Theaters could benefit by establishing this as an annual week
for such presentations, especially since as they have majority ownership
of "HTWWW" and total ownership of "TIC",
such presentations are mostly all profit for them. The turnout for the
faded 70mm films, which was a real surprise, suggests that they could
also include now faded prints of other relevant three panel or 70mm
films on which it is too expensive to strike new ones or on which
elements aren't known to exist. (Unfortunately there are apparently no
longer any three panel prints of "WINDJAMMER"
anywhere.) If people know that even just these two films are going to be
shown on roughly these dates every year, a lot of people would plan to
come from all over the country and possibly even other countries (I know
of at least two people who came from Canada and England this year). From
the theater's viewpoint, Labor Day weekend or the following week would
be the best time to do this as now there usually are not any prominent
new films released during these weeks. The negative aspect is that it is
after the Summer holiday season and this may create attendance problems
for some people especially from outside the Southern California area.
Also, it is the start of the school year and this would affect mid-week
screenings to which parents might like to bring children. It creates a
similar problem with local film schools, including the LA Film School
right across the street from the Dome, as there might not be time to get
notice to students who might be interested. But if it were to happen on
a regular annual basis, precedence suggests there would also be a
significant number of people, both old and young, who would make a point
to attend annually and likely bring in others.
Cinerama camera being admired in the Cinerama Dome foyer. Image by Tom
The prints of "TIC" and "HTWWW" have
held up very well. I noticed splices in individual panels but I doubt
most non ex-projectionists would. I did experience my first breakdown
with "TIC". The Vienna Boys Choir suddenly began slowing down, then
stopped altogether, then the A, B, and C projectors snapped off in turn.
After about three minutes everything restarted in sync. I guess they
didn't expect this to happen and so didn't have the breakdown reel ready
to go. But these prints are handled with the greatest care possible,
adhering to standards set nearly 60 years ago.
Here's hoping that these screenings do become a regular event.
The author would like to thank Rich Greenhalgh, Thomas Hauerslev, Tom
March, Paul Rayton, John Sittig, and especially David Strohmaier (all
billed alphabetically as usual) for aid with this article.
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