Camera 65 and the Metro Bourke Street Bigger
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The 70mm Newsletter
|Written by: Eric White, Melbourne, Australia||Date:
Back in the late sixties or early seventies, during the run
of "The Shoes Of The Fisherman" in Melbourne, I
remember Graham McGhee, one of the projectionists, telling
me that MGM had planned to put 70mm into their Bourke
Street Metro for "Ben-Hur", but decided that the theatre
would not have been able to install a wide enough screen to
make it worthwhile.
"Ben-Hur" was filmed in a process called Camera 65,
which was basically 70mm with a slight horizontal 'squeeze', and if projected in this format there would have been a
projection aspect ratio of about 2.7:1, much wider than
CinemaScope, whose aspect ratio in the late fifties had
settled down to about 2.3:1 (Originally it was 2.55:1).
I would assume that Metro would have wished to have
shown "Ben-Hur" in 70mm at this ultra wide ratio in its
seasons, and the Bourke St proscenium could just not
accommodate it. (Neither could MGM’s St James in Sydney
if reports from that city are to be believed).
Apart from that, the projection room at Bourke Street
was very small. I am not sure that there would have been
enough head-room for 70mm machines, with their big 6,000
ft spool boxes. The rewind room was so small that the
supply arm of the rewinders had to be mounted unusually
high above the bench with the film making a right-angle
bend around a roller to allow enough bench space to make
splices on. I have seen nothing like that anywhere else.
|More in 70mm reading:
The lost world of 70mm
Theatres By Ian Hanson
A comment to "The lost
world of 70mm Theatres"
Cinerama At the Plaza
The history of some cost- saving
approaches to the 70mm experience
The ultra-wide projection angle made possible with the use
70mm Camera 65 Process.
The Bourke Street Metro was a two-gallery theatre, like the Collins
Street Athenaeum, and as was the case there, the projection rake was
quite steep. I cannot remember if the screen was tilted at all. An
ultra-wide screen would have required some sort of a curve, which would
have produced the sort of distortion that the picture had at the Greater
Union’s Chelsea Cinema in Flinders Street. Horizons and credits buckled
upwards towards the sides of the screen. It is reputed that the
CinemaScope prints of "Ben-Hur" had a slight frame-line because of the
wide aspect-ratio used in shooting, and it is likely that the height of
the screen was actually reduced a fraction, so the picture would have
been about 2.5:1. If you look at the DVD, it is taken off a Scope print
and the "letterboxing" is more severe than normal. I am not sure to what
extent "Ben-Hur" was shown with the
squeezed 70mm prints overseas. I believe that some
American first-run engagements would have been presented
in this way, but even in 1959 70mm theatres were not all that
thick on the ground and those that existed would mainly have
been showing "Around The World In 80 Days" and "South
Pacific", with perhaps a bit of "Sleeping Beauty" thrown in.
Philips were only producing about 50 pairs of 70mm
machines a year and Cinemeccanica was only just starting
production. Of course, there were also Simplex and Century
70mm machines coming into production. But it could not be
taken for granted that every big American city would have a
70mm house. So I cannot say to what extent "Ben-Hur" was
originally shown in 70mm.
In the late 1960s there was a revival of "Ben-Hur" at the
Chelsea in Melbourne and this was an unsqueezed 70mm
print with an aspect ratio of about 2.2:1. It may well be the
same print that is screened at St. Kilda’s Astor Theatre from
time to time (usually at Christmas and Easter). As the aspect
ratio is narrower than that used during filming, the sides of
the picture get cut off. For most of the time this does not
matter, but in a couple of shots it is noticeable. The DVD
shows everything however.
If you wish to see "Ben-Hur" in its 70mm splendor, a visit
to the Astor is well worth the trip. The print is still in very good
condition, with the colour intact.
Photographs: Diagrams and artwork from the collections of Ross King &
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