Hollywood finds itself on to a "good thing", it inevitably turns
its mind to methods of doing it cheaper if, albeit, in an inferior manner.
Following "This is Cinerama"'s sensational New York premiere in
September 1952, instead of embracing this amazing new technical achievement,
Hollywood embarked on a search for a similar effect at considerably less
cost. The result was CinemaScope, introduced a year later. Although it used
a smaller, lightly curved screen, it was shamelessly promoted with posters
showing a huge, deeply curved screen encompassing the audience. Cinerama´s
size and ultra wide picture were reduced to accommodate the limitations of
the CinemaScope process whilst Cinerama´s seven channels of ultra-high
quality magnetic sound were reduced to the inferior four magnetic tracks of
CinemaScope and very quickly the original CinemaScope format of 2.55:1 was
reduced to 2.35:1 to accommodate the restoration of the monaural optical
soundtrack following resistance from the exhibitors to the cost of
installing the new stereophonic sound equipment. It was therefore inevitable
that Hollywood minds would also turn to the possibility of producing
pseudo-Cinerama movies by splitting conventional movies into the three
panels required by the Cinerama system.
desire to shoot panoramic movies had been around since the early days of the
Cinema, the three camera system proving the preferable option within the
technical constraints of the times. Three interlocked cameras, arranged
either radially or side by side, could produce panoramic images
approximating to the field of view of the human eye. The problem was
projecting them: three interlocked projectors were the obvious approach and
gave by far the best results but posed major problems for the exhibitors.
Film laboratories had been experimenting with optical printers which print
by projecting an image onto new film stock. By multiple passes of negatives
and print stock it was possible to composite the three separate pictures,
side-by-side, onto one film. For the purposes of this article, this will be
referred to as COMBINING.
opposite process of producing three separate prints from a Widefilm
negative, for use in a three projector set-up, is known as EXTRACTION or
years before Abel Gance made his historic multi-panel (Polyvision)
production "Napoleon" (1926), he had experimented with a
triple camera for his short film "Barberousse" (1916),
although, for projection, the three images were combined onto one 35mm film.
"Napoleon" features several triple screen sequences, using
the enlarged screen for both montages and panoramas. In major European
cities the film was presented using triple projectors but when MGM, who held
the USA rights, released the film, it was as a shortened version with
selected triple screen sequences printed side by side in Letterbox format.
some scenes in his film "Contruire un Feu" (1927), French
director Claude Autant-Lara used a triple camera. In this case, for
projection purposes, the three pictures were combined, side by side, onto
one film, using Henri Chretien´s newly developed anamorphic lens to
compress the images sideways. "This is Cinerama" arrived in
Hollywood in April 1953 with the adapted re-opening of the WARNER CINERAMA
THEATRE on Hollywood Boulevard. Two years later, the press announced that
the MELROSE HOLLYWOOD THEATRE had also been equipped for 3-Strip projection,
describing it as "Fox's West Coast Demonstration Theatre and Projection
Lab". Never intended as a public 3-Strip theatre, this installation
opened on June 23rd 1955 with a press show featuring scenes from "This
is Cinerama". At this time, Panavision Inc. and MGM were jointly
developing a method of optically splitting 65mm negatives into three panel
Cinerama prints and in October 1956 they demonstrated at the Melrose, a
3-Strip print of selected scenes from MGM's Camera 65 production "Raintree
County". Camera 65 lenses employed an anamorphic lens to compress a
similar aspect ratio to Cinerama onto the standard 65mm frame. In the
printer a similar lens removed the squeeze before printing the resulting
flat image, one panel at a time, onto 35mm film in the six perforation
as showing the feasibility of deriving Cinerama type projection from an
anamorphic 65mm original, it was reported that the forthcoming Camera 65
production of "Ben Hur" would be considered for splitting.
This was probably the source of the rumour, circulating in the early 60's,
of a 3-Strip print of "Ben Hur" although there is no
evidence that such a print was ever made. A veteran employee of Cinerama Inc
told me that Cinerama were strongly opposed to splitting.
in November 1957, the Melrose was used for the press showings of "Cinemiracle
Adventure" retitled "Windjammer" prior to it's
premiere in April 1958.
1959 Cinerama Inc. started discussions with MGM on the possibility of
producing Cinerama feature films and, to this end, Cinerama´s technical
equipment was transferred from it's home at Oyster
Bay, Long Island to a new
studio base at the FORUM THEATRE, Los Angeles. The first two features were
to be, "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" and "How
the West Was Won". The script for "How the West Was
Won" called for several large scale action scenes, two of which MGM
decided could be produced by splitting from existing 70mm material, saving
the cost of staging and filming new material. Hence the establishing shots
of the Civil War sequence were taken from footage originally shot for "Raintree
65), whilst a shot of the Mexican Army advancing
was an outtake from "The Alamo" (Todd-AO).
both cases the required shots were split in the laboratory and the resulting
triple negative edited into the 3-Strip camera footage. One problem to be
overcome was the difficulty of using back projection and traveling matte in
the 3-Strip process. Ultra Panavision, virtually identical to Camera 65, was
used for these although the vast majority of the movie was filmed in
3-Strip. Smaller, lightweight Ultra Panavision cameras were also used to
supplement the six huge 3-Strip Cinerama cameras when filming some of the
action sequences. For editing and post production purposes, the laboratory
provided a combined 35mm anamorphic print enabling existing, conventional
production techniques to be used, all 3-Strip operations and viewing taking
place downtown at Cinerama´s Forum Studio.
addition to 3-Strip release prints, a full-length composite 65mm negative
was made, from which both 70mm flat and 35mm anamorphic prints for later
release were produced. "How the West Was Won" was
eventually released in both 70mm and 35mm anamorphic versions but there is
no record of any 70mm prints of "The Wonderful World of the Brothers
Grimm" being produced.
the germ which was to kill Cinerama had now been let loose. If you could
split 65mm negatives to produce 3-Strip, why not do away with the 3-Strip
step completely and go straight to 65mm origination? Ultra Panavision had
virtually the same aspect ratio although it had a limited angle of view
compared with the 3-Strip camera. Forget the impact of 3-Strip, why not
shoot in Ultra Panavision and split for the Cinerama Theatres? The audience
involvement and visceral impact of Cinerama that had made it unique, were
thus sacrificed on the altar of economics.
success of "How the West Was Won" had inadvertently opened
it's jugular vein.
some time, Cinerama Inc. had been developing a new, single strip Cinerama
process which exactly duplicated 3-Strip Cinerama on one film. The key to
the new system was a revolutionary new lens and camera, the camera using
35mm film running horizontally, advanced 16 perforations per frame.
Eventually the aim was to develop a 35mm horizontal 16 perforation projector
to complement the new process but, in the meantime, it was decided to
extract 3-Strip prints from the new negative for the existing theatres. A
purpose-built printer was reputedly ordered and delivered to Cinerama´s
Oyster Bay Studio for trials. Then, in a moment of supreme folly, Cinerama
Inc. abandoned the new process, opting instead for a system of projecting
any 70mm print onto their deeply curved screens.
days after the premiere of "The Wonderful World of the Brothers
Grimm", a press show was held at LOEW'S CINERAMA, New York when an
excerpt from "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", split into
3-Strip, was shown to the press together with original 3-Strip make-up and
wardrobe tests for "The Greatest Story Ever Told". At that
time the format for the eventual release of these two movies was reported to
still be under discussion. In the event, both movies were filmed and
released in Ultra Panavision, special 70mm prints with "rectified"
image geometry being supplied to the Cinerama theatres.
1957, the USSR introduced KINOPANORAMA, their own version of Cinerama. After
producing several travelogues and dramatic movies in the process, they also
changed to anamorphic 70mm production with KINOPANORAMA 70. However, unlike
the USA, they often released both 70mm and 3-Strip extraction versions of
these later films. Additionally 3-Strip extraction prints of at least two
FLAT 70mm productions were released.
July 1960, the CineMiracle Pictures Corporation obtained the rights to
release Mike Todd's Todd-70 Smell-O-Vision film "A Scent of
Mystery" (1959), without the odours, under a new title "Holiday
in Spain". 3-Strip CineMiracle extraction prints were ordered from
Technicolor but legal problems delayed the film's release. Subsequently,
Cinerama Inc purchased the CineMiracle Company, thus taking over the
distribution of both "Windjammer" and "A Scent of
Mystery". The 3-Strip version of "A Scent of Mystery"
which maintained the film's original 2.2:1 format by slightly masking the
sides of A & C panels, received limited showings, the majority of play
dates using 70mm prints.
the Forum Theatre Studios, Cinerama were experimenting with the conversion
of their travelogues directly to 35mm anamorphic prints but the results
proved unsatisfactory. However a 35mm anamorphic print of "Windjammer"
is understood to be held in a European archive and a flat version was also
produced by inter-cutting material from all three panels.
the strangest example of splitting appeared in August 1960, when the PALACE
CINEMA, Blackpool, England presented "Honeymoon" (1959) in
MIRACLE ARC 120 (A.K.A: WONDERAMA). Purely a projection system, the process
was described in contemporary accounts as requiring a special print,
produced by removing any squeeze, splitting the picture vertically down the
centre of the frame and rotating the two halves to lie, foot to foot, on a
single 35mm frame. During projection the ARC 120 prismatic projection lens
rotated the two halves back to form a single image on a specially installed
"deeply curved" screen, an "integral rotating shutter"
concealing the merge line. "Honeymoon" was a conventional
Technirama production, the laboratory making two of the special ARC 120
prints from a 35mm anamorphic interneg. The Stereo sound was carried as two
magnetic tracks outside of the perforations. I failed to see this oddity
which ran only four weeks before closing, the theatre suffering the same
fate a few weeks later. It has taken considerable research to unearth any
information on this long forgotten process. I can find no record of ARC 120
ever being shown again although "Honeymoon" still occasionally
appears in afternoon TV schedules.
part of a 1966 US/USSR cultural exchange, an independent producer compiled
sequences from several of the USSR's Kinopanorama movies under the title "Cinerama's
Russian Adventure". The panels were combined, producing a 65mm
negative which was used for the majority of release prints although at least
one 3-Strip print was circulated.
no prints nor negatives are known to have survived. A reciprocal Cinerama
compilation, envisaged for release to the USSR Kinopanorama theatres, was
in 1972, Cinerama Inc tried to revitalize their dwindling fortunes by
reissuing "This is Cinerama", this time as a 70mm combined
print. It proved to be a poor facsimile of the original, even being shown in
non-Cinerama theatres. It only confirmed that the original Cinerama process
was the star and, shorn of that, it was just another travelogue. This proved
to be the death knell for the great days of 3-Strip until the enthusiasts
discovered the grave of Cinerama in 1986 and began the long, long road to
reincarnation which is only now coming to fruition.
M M. Keith. H. Swadkins. M.B.K.S.
Further in 70mm reading: