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Windjammer - Recollections and Laments
Recalling my childhood experience of seeing "Windjammer" at the Chinese Theater during it's world premier engagement in 1958.

Read more at
in70mm.com
The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Stephen Winship, Angels Camp, California, USADate: 21.11.2010
"Windjammer" ticket

I was nine years old when "Windjammer" opened on April 8, 1958 at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, Ca. I did not attend the gala, red-carpet premier on opening night. That was for dignitaries and industry people, as such things usually are. I had to wait several weeks before I could see it.

In those days, an exclusive engagement, or roadshow engagement, of a motion picture was not one you could simply decide to go see on a whim. You had to purchase reserved seating in advance, usually at the box office. It meant a trip to the theater to buy tickets for a showing perhaps weeks ahead of time. My mom and I went to the Chinese to reserve our tickets, and that day was my first impression. The Chinese Theater itself is magnificent, and it was decked out with posters, stills and displays of items from the movie. A song called "Windjammer," which I learned later was by The Easy Riders, was being played outside the theater, in the forecourt area. It was an exciting experience just buying the tickets!

The record album of the soundtrack from "Windjammer" was for sale at the theater, and I talked my mom into buying a copy. I listened to that record for the weeks leading up to the showing we were scheduled to attend. All of this added to my building excitement and anticipation.

The day finally arrived. I believe it was in June, or possibly July, of 1958. I know that school was out for the summer, because we attended a weekday afternoon matinee. Even so, there was a huge crowd of ticketholders, and we waited quite a long time it seemed, standing on line at the door. I remember thinking all those people wouldn't fit inside the theater.
 
More in 70mm reading:

"Windjammer" in Cinemiracle

Is Windjammer the Queen of Kitsch?

Christian Radich

Internet link:

Stephen's page

 
Postcard

When we finally were able to enter the theater's auditorium, my first impression was one of overwhelming awe. The theater was enormous, and as I looked at the screen area, covered by red curtains, I thought I'd never seen anything so big in my life. Our seets were about a quarter of the way back from the first row, just off center, and as I sat there, I realized I couldn't see from one end of the curtains to the other without panning my eyes from side to side. The auditorium was well-lit at this point, and the "Overture" from the film was playing through the sound system. I'd heard it many times on that soundtrack recording, but it never sounded quite like this. I had goosebumps.

At last the lights dimmed, and the curtains parted. They stopped short, only opening far enough to reveal the center portion of the screen. The opening sequence, as I recall, featured a narrator talking about being a teenager in Norway and life there in general. He introduced fellow ship mates, the ship's captain, etc. I say "as I recall" because I actually don't remember that much of the opening of the film. It was pretty dry and boring to an excited nine-year-old. What I do remember vividly was my immediate sense of disappointment, and I wasn't alone. I heard murmurs among the crowd around me, too.

Yet, I knew something had to happen and, when it did, it was spectacular. The curtains opened to full width, and the image of the Christian Radich embarking on its voyage burst onto the screen in full glory. Those murmurs of disappointment turned to exclamations of awe and amazement, and a round of applause exploded in the auditorium. It was an incredible moment I'll never forget.

The movie itself was exciting and full of adventure. I remember some scenes as if I'd seen them only yesterday, such as the basket sled ride through the streets of Madeira. The all-encompassing field of view from a screen a hundred feet wide and twenty-seven feet high, filling the viewers' entire peripheral vision, puts you right in the scene, feeling every rise and fall, twist and turn of the sled as if you were sitting in it yourself, careening through the narrow streets. You feel like you need to cover your head and duck as it narrowly misses objects in its path.
 
 
Postcard

Another scene that I remember is the Atlantic storm that whips and tosses the Christian Radich around like a toothpick on a water slide. This is one scene that people prone to seasickness might experience just a little differently than those who aren't. It's incredible filmmaking, though. Imagine being the cameraman with that oversized CineMiracle camera trying to capture the shots he did while avoiding being tossed overboard. While some of the scenes in the movie were obviously planned and staged, to a degree, these scenes couldn't have been. Yes, the approaching storm was anticipated, and certain preparations were undoubtedly made. Still, when it hits, well, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men. And you, the viewer, are right in the middle of it, experiencing every wave, every swell and fall. The only thing you don't get is wet!

Bear in mind that "Windjammer" is a semi-documentary, and also very much a travelogue in the Cinerama tradition. Expect there to be many scenes featuring the sights and sounds of interesting ports of call. There's lots of singing, dancing and merriment, both aboard ship and ashore. But the music is wonderful, and there are few really dull moments during the nearly two-and-a-half hours the film runs.

This is where I have to express my own dismay about something. It's been fifty-two years since I last saw "Windjammer", and I am sorry to say there is much about the film I DON'T remember. Since I discovered in70mm.com, and started reading about the film and its restoration, I'm learning, or re-learning, about elements of the film that had somehow escaped memory. For example, the whole sequence about the rendezvous with the U. S. Navy, and the Tall Ships race that concludes the film had both slipped away from me. I'd like to think that it's because the whole experience was so big, so overpowering to the child I was, that it was just too much to absorb and retain all at once.

Now I know, moreso than ever, why the re-release of "Windjammer" is so important to me. Childhood memories are one thing, but rarely does one get an opportunity to bring them back in full. I doubt I'll ever see Grauman's Chinese Theater again, but I am confident that I will experience "Windjammer" many more times, if only on my DVD player and television.
 
  
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