Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Cinerama!
60th anniversary of the widescreen process known as Cinerama
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The 70mm Newsletter
|Written by: Thomas Hauerslev.
This article was written specifically for Cinema Retro magazine, and
published in December 2011. It is re-published here with permission||Date:
The year 2012 marks the 60th anniversary of
Cinerama, the large format,
curved screen cinema process which introduced peripheral vision (The "You
are There" First Person experience) and 7-track true stereophonic sound
to the movie going experience. The
anniversary will be celebrated in a few select cinemas in Europe and in the US.
The impact of Cinerama stunned audiences across the world and revolutionized
the exhibition industry forever. Despite the success, however, Cinerama was
a troubled film format from the beginning. The main complaint were the two
"join lines" where the pictures meet on the screen, which annoyed a lot of
people. But it was also expensive to film, expensive to show, and ultimately
it died, to be replaced by 70mm. But unlike any other film format,
Cinerama touched a lot of people and is fondly remembered to this day for its
visual impact, at a time when audiences were taken around the world to exotic places
in a series of travelogues. This was during the 1950s when travel was not
yet a casual thing like it is today.
|More in 70mm reading:|
in70mm.com's Cinerama page
Widescreen Weekend 2012
CINERAMA 2012 -
First day of shooting "In the Picture"
"Windjammer" in Cinemiracle
birth of Cinerama dates back to 1939 and the World's Fair in New York
when inventor Fred
Waller and architect Alexander Walker established the Vitarama Corporation to design film projection concepts for dome and curved
screens. Walker designed the cinema and Waller came up the projection
techniques. Through research they had noticed the importance of peripheral
vision in giving a sense of depth and perspective. Waller had realized
"Normal human vision is actually arc-shaped. The way our eyes are fixed in
our head gives us a curved view of the world around us, a sweeping arc of
about 160° wide and 60° high. If a picture covering that same area were
projected on a curved screen", he argued, "anyone watching it would feel as
if he were right in the centre of it."
Vitarama continued during the Second World War when Fred Waller devised a
Flexible Gunnery Trainer. A virtual-reality device for gunners designed to
practice target shooting before they went into actual air plane combat. It is
estimated that more than 250.000 allied gunners lives were saved, because they
had practiced on the more than 75 Waller Gunnery Trainers, which were running around the
clock in the US and in England.
layout with three strips of film in the camera, 7 microphones recording the
live sound, and three projectors in the cinema. |
After the war the trainer projection system was simplified. The number of
projectors were reduced from 5 to 3 and the screen went from being dome
shaped to deeply curved and arc shaped. The new process intended for general
exhibition was named "CINERAMA" and Richard Babish designed the first
camera, 3-panels of 35mm film running in synch to photograph a 146 degree
image. The three panels (named Able, Baker and Charlie) would be blended
together on a huge curved screen to create a very realistic illusion of reality.
To match the large and high resolution image of Cinerama, engineer Hazard
Reeves designed a 7-track Hi-Fidelity stereophonic magnetic
sound system of
unprecedented quality. The screen - a marvel in itself - was made of 1200
separate louvers, each angled specifically to reflect light towards the
audience, and not across the screen (which would wash out the contrast).
Bay with people working with the screen frame. Image from Dick Babish|
The Cinerama studios, located inside an indoor tennis court in Oyster Bay,
Long Island (NY), attracted a lot of visitors who were invited to see Cinerama.
All the big movie studios saw it demonstrated but all dismissed it as being
too complicated and impractical for commercial use.
Lowell Thomas and
Michael Todd, also saw it and said it was "the biggest thing since
penicillin, we gotta get control of it". The first demonstration film called
"This is Cinerama", produced by Thomas/Todd Productions, premiered at
the Broadway Theatre in New York on 30 September 1952.
artists version of the Cinerama experience "You are IN the picture".|
After a 12 minute black and white prologue, the screen opened, and opened,
and opened to reveal the largest screen the audience had ever seen at that
time. The first sequence was a roller coaster ride, which was so realistic
that many people became sea-sick when they saw it on the huge screen. It
became the biggest box office hit of 1952, and it was only playing in one
cinema! Such was the impact of Cinerama. It was a revolutionary cinematic
process with 3 cameras and 3 projectors which completely changed motion
picture exhibition with its 3-dimensional type of virtual experience, and in
the following years gave it birth to dozens of "scopes", "visions" and
The success of the first film, made the audience hungry for more Cinerama
thrills. Four "travelogues" followed: "Cinerama Holiday" (08.02.1955),
of the World" (10.04.1956), "Search For Paradise"
(24.09.1957) and finally "South Seas Adventure" (16.07.1958). Cinerama was a
success nearly everywhere with prestige cinemas opening in all major cities
across the western world.
Waller, Fred Waller's wife, flanked by John Harvey (left) and Willem
Bouwmeester (right), oh!, and a little guy called OSCAR. Image from Willem
The Cinerama system and the
efforts done by Fred Waller and Harzard Reeves
were recognized with an Academy Award in March 1954. By coincidence the
inventor of the Hypergonar lens, Frenchman Henri Chrétien also received an
Oscar the same evening for his development of his lens and, which was the
basis for a rival - but less complicated and far less expensive - widescreen
process popularized as
The Hypergonar lens came in handy when cinema attendance was declining
rapidly at the time of Cinerama’s premiere. The big studios were looking for
something similar to Cinerama, but for a fraction of the cost – something
with which to lure the audience back into the cinema as Cinerama could do.
The answer was anamorphic cinematography, or "CinemaScope", as it was named
by 20th Century Fox. And they found what they were looking for in Henri
Chrétien laboratory in Nice, France. The irony is that CinemaScope was
described as "poor mans Cinerama", but it is still used today under another
RKO Pantages Theatre, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
March 25, 1954
SCIENTIFIC OR TECHNICAL AWARD (Class I)
To FRED WALLER for designing and developing the multiple photographic
and projection systems which culminated in Cinerama.
SCIENTIFIC OR TECHNICAL AWARD (Class II)
To REEVES SOUNDCRAFT CORPORATION for their development of a process of
applying stripes of magnetic oxide to motion picture film for sound
recording and reproduction.
produced two highly successful 3-strip feature films: "The Wonderful World
of the Brothers Grimm" and "How The West Was Won". Seen here are the Danish
3-strip Cinerama only existed for 10 years until 1962, culminating with the
"The Wonderful World of the Brothers
Grimm" (14.07.1962) and
"How The West Was Won - in Cinerama" (01.11.1962). Two spectacular MGM dramas, which were both
huge financial hits. MGM's success with Cinerama was so massive they
invested in more films with the Cinerama logo attached to the posters. There
was a catch, however. None of the following films were filmed in the
original 3-strip process: they were photographed in the new 65mm/70mm process, with special
lenses by Panavision.
To 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation in recognition of their
imagination, showmanship and foresight in introducing the revolutionary
process known as CinemaScope.
SCIENTIFIC OR TECHNICAL AWARD (Class I)
To PROFESSOR HENRI CHRETIEN and EARL SPONABLE, SOL HALPRIN, LORIN
GRIGNON, HERBERT BRAGG and CARL FAULKNER of 20th Century-Fox Studios for
creating, developing and engineering the equipment, processes and
techniques known as CinemaScope.
True Cinerama enthusiasts felt cheated, missed the impact of Cinerama and
felt the system had sold out. Exhibitors and distributors were very happy to
run 70mm films, which required much less labour. A string of highly popular
"fake" Cinerama films were released until 1970 which included
"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad
World", "Circus World", "Battle of The Bulge",
"2001: A Space Odyssey",
"The Hallelujah Trail", "Khartoum", "Custer of The
West" and "Ice Station Zebra" and a few memorable flops which includes:
Greatest Story Ever Told", "Krakatoa East of Java" and
"Song of Norway". |
The days of Cinerama came to an end. The last recorded 3-strip presentations
took place in Paris (France) as late as 1972. After Cinerama, projectors and
films often just stayed in Cinerama theatres, pushed aside to make room for
new machines and platters, or until the cinema was demolished. Two Cinerama
enthusiasts went the other way and built complete cinemas with projectors
and sound equipment in their own homes, which they assembled from derelict cinemas
across the world. They even collected old pieces of Cinerama films to be
able to put together complete prints to show on their curved screens. One
collector built his screen in his back yard, and the
other raised his roof
by 3 feet and installed a deeply curved screen in his bedroom.
June 1993Fred Waller's widow Doris Waller attended the grand opening of the
first Cinerama installation in several decades at the Pictureville cinema in
Bradford. John Harvey to the right. Image from Willem Bouwmeester's
In 1985 the last complete Cinerama cinema was demolished in New Zeeland. A
complete set of prints, screen and projector equipment was destroyed despite
efforts to save it. Out of that grew The International Cinerama Society, a
group of people across the globe working together to
information about Cinerama and with the simple goal to recreate a complete
authentic Cinerama cinema. And indeed that happened! Thanks to the National
Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford (England), the new
Pictureville cinema opened a Cinerama installation in June 1993 in the
presence of Fred Waller's widow Doris Waller.
Cinerama is not used as a production medium anymore, but the memory of it is still alive with
many people who saw it when it came out. The documentary
"Cinerama Adventure" (2002) chronicles the entire story of the process by interviewing
fans, actors, producers and film makers. It’s a wonderful treasure trove of
details and a must for all fans of Cinerama.
Pictureville cinema honours the legacy of Cinerama by showing
Cinerama" on the first Saturday every month. Following Pictureville’s
example nearly 20 years ago, the interest for Cinerama has grown and new
3-strip installations have appeared (and disappeared) in
Seattle (Washington) and even at the prestigious
Cinerama Dome in Hollywood.
The Dome is managed by Pacific Theatres, the owners of the Cinerama Inc.
Pictureville is the home of the annual
Widescreen Weekend where every film
format, big and wide is celebrated. To date most of the 3-strip library,
including the "Renault
Dauphine" commercial and Cinerama rival "Windjammer" (photographed in competing 3-panel “Cinemiracle") have been shown on the
curve. The only films not yet shown, due to the very rare availability of
prints, are Cinerama's "South Seas Adventure" and "The Wonderful World of
The Brothers Grimm". WSW organizers are working diligently to show both films in
Digital and smiled boxed version of a scene
from Cinerama's "South Seas
Adventure", due to have it's world premiere during the Widescreen Weekend in
Bradford, 28. April 2012. Frame by Strohmaier / Cinerama Inc.|
The 60th anniversary of Cinerama, and 50th anniversary of "Grimm" and
"West", will also be celebrated in Hollywood during 2012 which surely will
become a treasured point of pilgrimage for Cinerama fans all over the world.
Cinerama may no longer be with us but thanks to the impact it made more than 60
years ago, we have wide screens and multichannel stereo sound in all cinemas
today. We can all thank Fred Waller for that.
Cinerama films are expected to arrive on Blu-ray and DVD during 2012.
article was written specifically for Cinema Retro magazine, and published in
December 2011. It is re-published here with permission.|
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"Cinema Retro" - The Golden Age
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"Where Eagles Dare" -
40th Anniversary 1969 - 2009
"Kelly's Heroes" - Cinema Retro ‘Movie
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