In the Splendor of 70mm
This article first appeared in
The 70mm Newsletter
by: Grant Lobban.
This article originally appeared in "Image Technology" (in 4 parts). Reprinted by permission from the writer
Issue 67 - March 2002
Today, there are few technical developments in the field of communications and entertainment which do not have the magic word "digital" in their description. In the cinema, movie-goers are being treated to digitally-created special effects and the computer aided "better than new" restorations of old classics. Audiences can now hear the results of the digits, with growing numbers of theatres installing digital sound systems. Unfortunately, the coming of digital sound appears to have had one casualty, the use of theatrical 70mm prints with their magnetic soundtracks, once considered the cinema's prestige picture and sound format.
Grant Lobban was a Film Assistant at the dubbing theatre of BBC Film Department. In the first part of this article Grant Lobban describes the events surrounding the introduction of 70mm film and its eventual acceptance as the cinemas premier projection format. Also illustrated are the various print types which have appeared since its introduction.
Further in 70mm reading:
In the Splendor of 70mm - German version
Preserving Wide Film History
Journal April 1985
The BKSTS Film Format Posters are now, I hope, proving useful to those members wishing to find their way through the maze of wide screen systems introduced during the 20th century. Also illustrated are the many early experiments which show that most of the methods finally adopted, such as the anamorphic lens, wide film, and running the standard film sideways to accommodate a wider image, had all been worked out and demonstrated years before.
In an article to introduce the film format display, on which the posters were based, I posed a question about the whereabouts of some of this early material, and whether any could be found and reprinted onto modern stock. Now, I have news of two of the early wide film processes which have now been reprinted. One from the beginnings of the cinema, the Veriscope film of 1897, and the later Fox
Grandeur process of 1929.
Wide Films Before Todd-AO
During the first few years of this century the wide gauge films were abandoned in favor of the smaller and more economical 35mm width. For example the Biograph Company made its last 68mm subject in 1905 and in 1912 the 35mm Edison format was internationally adopted as the professional theatrical standard. Many regretted the passing of the wide films with their exceptional picture quality which could fill much larger screens than those used for 35mm films, usually no more than 12 feet wide.
A Wide-screen Boxing Match
The Veriscope camera was specially created to film only one event. This was the return boxing match between 'Gentleman' Jim Corbett and the British fighter Bob Fitzsimmons. The fight took place on March l7, 1897 in Carson City, Nevada, USA. Enoch J. Rector, one of the promoters, was in the position to secure the exclusive right to film the event. He had cameras built using Eastman film 2/2 in. (63mm) wide. The choice of the film was not particularly unusual, for although Edison's 35mm size was soon to become the standard gauge, other machines of the period used wider film. For example, the Demeny-Gaumont Chronophotographe used perforated film 60mm wide, and the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company used 68mm. The latter was remarkable for the fact that the projector showed the almost 15/70 Imax size pictures at the rate of 40 frames per second without the aid of sprocket holes. The Veriscope camera, however, photographed a wide screen image, again not unique, as the Latham Eidoloscope projector used a wide film with a wide screen image. Although of poor design it is considered by some historians as the first one used to show a film onto a screen before a paying audience in May 1895. If so, the first commercial projected motion picture was a wide screen one. The Veriscope's wide picture was probably chosen to allow the static cameras to cover the whole ring in one shot.
The fight was staged with the cameras in mind, and in order to obtain a continuous record, three were set up side by side, each being able to film for six minutes before reloading. Rector also had a copyright notice painted on the side of the ring to help protect his investment. At the end of the contest Fitzsimmons had won by a knockout, the last time a British fighter was to hold the world title. The Veriscope cameras also set a new motion picture record of the time, having exposed over two miles of film, the longest amount devoted to a single event.
The film, said to have lasted over an hour, opened at the Academy of Music in New York, and then using twenty projectors, it was successfully shown all over America making over three-quarters of a million dollars for the company. The Veriscope fight film came to Britain during September 1897 and opened at the Aquarium Theatre in Westminster. According to contemporary reports the audience, who paid up to a guinea for tickets, could see the figures projected life size with every line of their faces clearly traceable. A fuller description of the London showings can be found in the book "The Rise of the Cinema in Great Britain" by John Barnes.
In 1983 the National Film Archive undertook the task of copying the original 63mm footage onto 35mm film. Using some material available from their archives together with extra reels provided by Jim Jacobs an American boxing promoter who is also a film archivist specializing in the preservation of historic boxing films. The National Film Archive, having no 63mm printer, rephotographed the positive print cartoon style using a light box and register pins. Each frame being advanced by hand. The final 35mm print was of the masked frame type with an aspect ratio of about l,66:1 with the normal space being provided for a future sound track.
Sometime later I learned from John Barnes that the fight film had also been
copied by Karl Malkames Inc. in New York. In this case the printing was done
using a special variable-pitch printer movement designed by Karl Malkames
A.S.C. The final copy negative had a larger image extending the full width
between the perforations.
Later the printer was modified to copy another historic wide film "The Big Trail" photographed in 1930 using the Fox
Grandeur 70mm process.
Greater Frame Area
Wide films occasionally reappeared as part of either wide screen experiments, such as the 70mm Panoramica process (1914) invented by the ltalian Filoteo Alberini, or for color systems which used the greater frame area to accommodate two or more color separation records. During the 1920s cinemas grew larger but their screens only increased to about 20 feet wide. Even cathedral-like 'Super Cinemas' often only had 25 foot screens. Any attempt to project anything larger proved beyond the capabilities of the small 35mm frame. However, a bigger if grainier picture could still be very effective, if only used occasionally to add extra impact during the showing of certain spectacular scenes, when the action on the screen diverted attention away from the effects of over magnification.
In 1926 Paramount commercialized the idea as the Magnascope process. The effect was achieved by switching to a separate projector fitted with a Magnascope lens attachment to show the enlarged sequences. At the moment of the change-over, the screen masking was opened out to produce a screen four times its original area. In later years the effect was also achieved using variable focus (zoom) projection lenses.
In 1928 the major U.S. studios considered methods which would enable complete films to be shown on Magnascope size screens, and thoughts turned again to the use of wider film. The previous year a projection system called Natural Vision was demonstrated by George K. Spoor and John Berggren. It used a film 63,5mm wide with a six perforation frame 2.06 x 1.12 in. which it was claimed could be shown on screens up to 70 feet wide. Soon a number of other formats were being announced among them was a Fox proposal called
Grandeur used a film 70mm wide with larger perforations set at a pitch of 0.234 in. There were four to the frame which was l.840 in x 0.910 in leaving room for an extra wide Movietone variable density optical sound track. The film ran at the rate of twenty frames per second with an aspect ratio of 2,1:l.
A lot of discussion took place about the most suitable shape for the new
screens. There was much theoretical talk of 'whirling squares', 'the golden
mean' and 'dynamic symmetry'. However, the final ratios, which varied from
l,87:1 to 2,1:l, were probably chosen because in most cinemas it was only
possible to increase the size of the screen sideways, as any extra height
would be out of sight of the members of the audience seated under the
Using Mitchell cameras, Fox began filming a series of Grandeur 70mm pictures. First of these was a special Grandeur 70mm newsreel which included suitable spectacular shots of Niagara Falls and speeding locomotives. This, together with a Grandeur version of the
"Fox Movietone Follies of 1929" were premiered in New York on the September 17, 1929. Next came another musical
"Happy Days", followed in 1930 by the most famous of the Grandeur films, the Raoul Walsh epic western
"The Big Trail" which introduced John Wayne in his first starring role. It opened at the Roxy in New York, Fox's new Grandeur flagship theatre. Using hand built Super-Simplex 70mm projectors, a 42 x 20 foot picture was thrown onto the glass beaded screen.
Although impressed, the New York audiences never became as excited as the studio bosses with this new motion picture breakthrough. At one time many in the industry thought that the days of the 35mm film were numbered. This enthusiasm soon spread to the equipment manufacturers who started work producing wide film apparatus. The Mitchell Company supplied Fox with ten of their new FC-Grandeur cameras and began building fifty others ready for the expected wide film revolution. Other cameras were made by Debrie, and the Fearless Camera Company were fearless enough to produce a convertible standard/wide film model. Captain Ralph G. Fear also proposed that a larger image could also be obtained by running ordinary 35mm film horizontally. His format "Fear´s Super Pictures" moved the film 10 perforations at a time, either actually horizontally, or the image turned 90-degrees using a special optical system. The Simplex 70mm projectors were soon joined by others including a multi-gauge design by Ernemann, for both 65mm and 35mm film.
Although the Grandeur format was the most prominent of the new wide screen processes, other studios introduced their own variations all based on wide film. M.G.M. adopted the same Grandeur 70mm camera format which they called 'Realife'. Two big screen westerns resulted -
"Billy the Kid" (1930) directed by King Vidor, and later "The Great Meadow" (1931). R.K.O. tried out the Natural Vision process mentioned earlier using it to film
"Danger Lights" (1930). Being conceived as a silent format, the sound had to be added using a separate 35mm optical track. Paramount came up with their own 'Magnafilm' which was basically 35mm with the width increased until the picture had an aspect ratio of 2:1. The final film ended up as 56mm. They only made a musical short called
"We're in the Army Now" shown in 1929. They then decided to develop a larger 65mm size which had an image area similar to Grandeur, but used standard pitch perforations, five to the frame. Warner Brothers, First National and United Artists all chose this same 65mm size. Among the films to reach the wide screens were
"Kismet" (1930) and "The Lash" (1930).
Suddenly, all this wide film activity came to a halt. News was coming back from the exhibitors that, having just converted to sound, they weren't prepared to find any more money for new equipment. Some cynical theatre owners suspected that the film companies seeing millions of dollars being spent on sound equipment from radio and phonograph manufacturers, now wanted them to buy new projectors and screens from companies in which they had a financial interest.
The Society of Motion Picture Engineers and Fox tried to save the day by suggesting a smaller economy version of Grandeur using a print only 50mm wide. This format, like Magnafilm was just 35mm widened out. It was said that it could be run on existing projectors using a "simple conversion kit". Again the exhibitors showed no interest, and finally their minds were put at rest by Adolph Zukor who, speaking for the Producers Association of America, announced that they had "decided it would be folly to bring out the wide film and place additional burdens on the exhibitors. I can assure you that the producers of America have decided to delay the advent of wide film until such a time as it is necessary again to provide an added attraction to the public".
Fortunately all the wide screen features had also been photographed on standard 35mm film. A few of the pictures, such as
"Billy the Kid" were also made available in the form of a 35mm reduction print made from the original wide film negatives. They were of the 'masked down frame' type with a fine grain image and could be shown using existing Magnascope lenses. News of the present whereabouts of the original Grandeur negatives came from John Mosely, who reported from Hollywood, that they had been found in the Fox vaults and it was hoped to interest the Fox Chairman in having some form of reprint made. Some time later the good news came that Karl Malkames had followed up the Veriscope project with another to reduce the 70mm Grandeur negatives onto 35mm film. In this case an anamorphic squeeze was introduced during the reduction to produce a print which could be shown using conventional anamorphic (CinemaScope) projection.
Anamorphic Lens - Another Story
Unlike the Veriscope boxing film, I can find no evidence that any of the American wide screen features made during the 1929 to 1931 period were ever shown in Britain in their original wide film form. However, I learned from Richard Floyd, a retired projectionist who worked at the old Regal cinema at London's Marble Arch, that in 1931 he showed a special 35mm masked reduction print of a United Artists release called
"The Bat Whispers". It was originally photographed on 65mm film and the company supplied special aperture plates and lenses to show the film on the theatre's own large Magnascope screen. He remembered it as much for the fact that Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, who were in town at the time, came to see the results!
"The Bat Wispers" has now also been restored by YCM Laboratories in the U.S.. A modern 65mm fine-grain master was made for its preservation, but as no 70mm black and white print film was available at the time of the restoration, the prints were made by reduction onto 35mm stock using the same anamorphic format as
"The Big Trail".
Another interesting event took place at the Regal some months later. A mild-mannered Frenchman used the theatre and its large screen to demonstrate a method of panoramic projection achieved without the need to use wide film. His name was Henri Chretien and his invention was the Hypergonar Anamorphic lens. Everyone was impressed with his film of seascapes and tall ships, but he too had to wait until the early 1950s to have his system adopted.
In The Splendour of 70mm
Technology December 1986
Although rejected for commercial use, the idea of using wide-gauge film was subsequently taken up by the U.S. military for instrumentation and aerial photography purposes. This was fortunate for some of the equipment manufacturers, like the Mitchell Company, who found a new market for many of the wide-film cameras they had constructed.
For the next twenty years little was heard of wide films. In 1938 Debrie, who had made 65mm cameras for Paramount in 1930, held a demonstration in an attempt to revive interest, but to no avail. Shortly after the war in 1945, Fox drew up plans for a new 50mm format which provided extra space for not only a wider picture, but also three separate optical sound tracks. A demonstration film was produced to show the potential of stereophonic sound, but no more was seen or heard of it.
At this time one experimenter was working on a large-screen system which was ultimately to have a profound effect on the film industry. His name was Fred Waller and his invention was Cinerama. It did not involve wide film, but projected three synchronized 35mm films onto a deeply curved screen. The three images were edge-blended together to form a single panoramic picture with an 146 degree angle of view giving the viewer the sensation of "being in the picture". In the late 1940s the system was demonstrated to representatives from the major studios who were impressed, but considered it impractical for general theatre use. Undaunted, Waller continued to develop the process. A screen was constructed made up of 1100 vertical slats, each angled in such a way to prevent cross-reflections from degrading the picture on the deeply curved screen. Recording engineer Hazard E. Reeves took on the task of devising a sound system to match the realism of the visuals. His multi-directional "CineramaSound" was recorded and replayed using a separate fully-coated 35mm magnetic film run interlocked to the three picture films. This sound film contained six individual tracks, five were fed to speakers spread out behind the screen and the sixth to numerous others distributed around the auditorium. Later the number of tracks was increased to seven providing directional "surround sound" effects.
The arrival of Eastmancolor in 1950 added color to the system and after further demonstrations, backers were found from outside the film industry. Among them was Michael Todd, a theatrical impresario with a sense of showmanship to match Cinerama's spectacle. He went on to supervise the filming of eleven of the thirteen sequences which were put together to form the first Cinerama film.
Cinerama made its public debut on September 30, 1952 at the Broadway Theatre in New York. The first production
"This is Cinerama" started with a few brief excerpts from pre-Cinerama films and then, with a flourish, the screen expanded to its full dimensions of 65 by 25 feet and the audience was sent on the famous rollercoaster ride. They were thrilled by the sensation and Cinerama was an immediate success and soon other theatres in the principal American cities were equipped to show it. Its success coincided with a general decline in cinema audiences who were now staying at home watching television for "free".
3D and CinemaScope
The film companies looked with envy at Cinerama's capacity houses and decided to woo the public back again by reviving its own dormant "attractions". The first of these was dual-film 3-D and before the public had tired of peering through the polarized spectacles, over sixty stereoscopic films had been produced during 1953 alone. After this short spell of popularity, 3-D was put to one side again in favor of simply changing the shape and size of the screen.
First off the mark was Twentieth Century-Fox with "CinemaScope", its new "modern miracle you see without glasses". As this statement was to confuse many people who already wore spectacles, it had to be changed to "Special Glasses".
Despite the studios earlier work with wider film, they had adopted Henri Chretien's "Hypergonar" anamorphoser lens which was passed over by Hollywood in 1930. His device optically "squeezed" a wide aspect picture laterally by a factor of two to fit within a standard 35mm frame. During projection this compressed image was restored to its original proportions by using a similar anamorphic lens attachment. Fox updated the now "anamorphic" system by adding stereophonic sound recorded on four magnetic stripes placed on the print. Room was made for them by reducing the size of the sprocket holes leaving as much space as possible for the squeezed image. Three of the sound tracks went to speakers behind the screen and the fourth to a number of "surround sound" or "ambient" effects speakers around the auditorium. When projected the CinemaScope screen had an aspect ratio of 2,55:1 as opposed to the "old" shape of l,37:1.
The system was demonstrated to the U.S. trade during the first half of 1953. The exhibitors
liked it, if only because it still used 35mm film and could be easily adapted to their existing equipment. Encouraged by Fox's commitment to film all their future productions in CinemaScope and the news that other studios, including MGM and Disney, were to use it, almost 1500 theatres in the U.S.A. had installed the necessary equipment before the first CinemaScope film was due to be introduced to the public.
The British trade shows started in June 1953 at the Odeon, Tottenham Court Road, with the system receiving the same enthusiastic reception. Some of the cinema owners welcomed the panoramic screen but didn't consider the extra expense required for the obligatory stereophonic sound to be justified. The Rank Organization was one of the most important objectors and they soon fell out with Fox over the situation. As a consequence, Fox films were not to be seen in Odeon cinemas for some years. From the start, the other studios released their CinemaScope productions with the choice of either magnetic or optical sound. After a few months, Fox too relaxed its magnetic only policy and offered the exhibitors the option of using prints with an ordinary single optical track on stock with standard perforations. This reduced the original aspect ratio of 2,55:1 to 2,35:l.
Twentieth Century-Fox decided that the first CinemaScope film was to be the biblical epic
"The Robe", the filming of which had been halted after six weeks in order to start again in CinemaScope using one of Henri Chretien's original 1930 lenses. (The standard format version was also completed.)
"The Robe" opened to great acclaim during September 1953. The audiences liked the "new look" screen and were not too conscious of the grainier picture which was the inevitable result of "stretching" the early Eastmancolor process to its limits.
Henri Chretien attended the premiere of "The Robe" and later, with other Fox technicians, received an "Oscar". Sadly he died in 1956, but not before seeing the rapid world wide acceptance of his process, which is still with us today, albeit under many different trade names.
An even simpler "process", which was already in use before the arrival of CinemaScope, was to mask down the projector aperture to produce a widescreen shape. This smaller image was then enlarged onto a wider screen using a shorter focal length lens with greater magnification. Unfortunately, like CinemaScope, this "masked frame" method also resulted in a grainier picture with reduced brightness.
Paramount, the only studio not to adopt some form of anamorphic process, chose this cropped "masked frame" method, but in an effort to solve the grain problem, introduced its VistaVision reduction system. The size of the original negative was increased by running the standard 35mm film sideways in the camera exposing an eight perforation frame with over twice the normal area. As positive film has inherently finer grain, all the extra detail recorded on the "large-area" negative was retained in the final standard reduction print. This was an improvement, but it soon became clear that in order to achieve a really bright picture on very large screens a bigger projection format was also required.
The first attempt at "large-area" projection was by Paramount who made contact prints from their VistaVision negatives to be shown using special 35mm horizontal running projectors. The Century Projector Corp. hurriedly built a pair of such machines to enable the first VistaVision film
"White Christmas" to be premiered at the Radio City Music
Hall, New York using a horizontal print. The film opened on October 14, 1954 and was shown on a 60 by 32 foot screen. The projectors were put together in such haste (21/2 weeks), to meet the deadline, that there was no time to complete the sound head. The sound came from a standard reduction print running on the theatre's normal projectors and interlocked to the VistaVision machines. Although the VistaVision process used a standard optical sound track, it was suggested that the quality obtained from horizontal prints running at double the normal speed would be a match, or even superior, to the new magnetic methods.
Horizontal projection was seen in England the following year during June 1955, when a pair of Century horizontal projectors were installed at the Plaza, of Piccadilly Circus in London, to show Paramount's
"Strategic Air Command" on a 43 by 23 foot screen.
Even in the form of a 35mm reduction print, the VistaVision process produced a screen image of great clarity compared with the contemporary over blown and degraded pictures of the CinemaScope and normal "masked frame" methods. A reviewer at the time heralded VistaVision as "motion picture high-fidelity" and the description was added to Paramount's opening logo.
With VistaVision showing the way, it wasn't long before the reduction principal was applied to making better CinemaScope prints. Fox themselves constructed a camera, the 4X55mm, which photographed a larger CinemaScope "squeezed" image four times the usual size on 55mm film. This original negative was to be used to make superior 35mm reduction prints of the studios large-scale "super" productions. At the time of its announcement, it was suggested that "large-area" 55mm projection prints would also be prepared for showing on very large screens.
The Todd-AO Process
The current 70mm format was introduced as the Todd-AO process and first seen in America with the successful showing of
"Oklahoma!" in 1955.
While working on "This Is Cinerama" Michael Todd became convinced that there must be an easier way of achieving the same "wrap around" effect using only one projector and a single strip of film. With the success of Cinerama assured, he sold his stock in the company and left in March 1953. He then joined with new associates to set up
"Magna", a theatre chain and film production company.
Mike Todd had taken his idea for a new wide-screen system to Dr. Brian O'Brien of the American Optical Company and according to "Life" magazine said: "Doctor, I want you to get me something where everything comes out of the same hole". The result was the wide-film process Todd-AO.
Todd-AO was a collaboration between the producer Michael Todd and the American Optical Company. It was designed to be a simplified version of Cinerama. The aim was to give the same audience participation effect of the large deeply curved screen and stereo sound, but using only a single double-width film instead of the four synchronized strips of 35mm film needed for Cinerama's complicated triple projector system. Three films were shown side-by-side to form the picture and another carrying the 7-track stereo sound. Although Todd-AO never quite managed to rival the effect of Cinerama, it proved to be a far more practical process for making conventional feature films.
To start the development work on Todd-AO without delay, the American Optical Company acquired a number of wide-film cameras originally intended for a failed color process called Thomascolor which recorded its black and white separation negatives grouped together within a single large-area frame on 65mm film. The cameras were modified by the Mitchell Camera Company to pull down a five perforation frame 23mm high. With the distance of 53mm available between the perforations, this gave a picture area 21/2x that of a 35mm CinemaScope frame. A set of four camera lenses were made each classified according to their horizontal angle of view. They ranged from 37 degrees for close-ups to an ultra-wide 128 degree "bugeye" lens for panoramic shots. The frame rate was stepped up from the standard 24 frames per second to 30 in order to smooth out the action and prevent flicker on the larger and brighter screen intended for Todd-AO presentations. (Cinerama used the higher rate of 26 frames per second for the same reason.)
Soon news of Todd-AO began to appear in the trade press. It didn't cause too much excitement being at a time when many other new processes were being announced. The Todd-AO Corporation also made it clear that, like Cinerama, it was strictly a road-show system for showing in specially equipped theatres leased for the purpose. However, the system soon gained importance when it was announced that Rodgers and Hammerstein were so impressed with Todd-AO that they had agreed a million dollar deal to film their musical
With Mitchell now engineering the 65mm cameras, the American Optical Company commissioned the Philips Company in Holland to design and construct the Todd-AO
projectors with an initial order for fifty machines. The final projection format had now been worked out. Following CinemaScope's lead, the stereophonic sound was to be carried on magnetic stripes placed on the print. To accommodate them, the width of the print stock was increased to 70mm providing extra space outside the perforations. Six tracks were to be recorded, two on each of the wider stripes outside the perforations and one on each of two other narrower stripes placed just inside each row of perforations. which reduced the picture width to 48mm. The final projector aperture was now 48mm by 22mm with an aspect ratio of 2.2:l.
Part of Michael Todd's original brief to the American Optical Company was that there should be no loss of seating capacity in the theatres being equipped for Todd-AO. This meant that the projectors would have to be installed in the existing projection rooms. This was a problem because many of them were situated high up at the rear of the balcony. Even when projecting conventional films at a steep downward angle, the picture shows the familiar "keystone" effect. When projected onto a deeply curved screen the distortions would be intolerable. To combat this Brian O'Brien devised a
distortion correcting printing process which distorted the image on the film to counter balance the distortions produced by the screen.
"Magna" began filming "Oklahoma!" in July 1954 at the studios of MGM and on location in Arizona. As the Philips projectors were not yet available, the rushes had to be shown using old Ernemann 65mm machines made in 1930 during the first attempts to introduce wide-screen processes.
"Oklahoma!" was also photographed simultaneously using a normal 35mm CinemaScope camera. This was done to protect the investment and to provide a general release print which was to be distributed by Twentieth Century-Fox after the initial Todd-AO roadshowings. Incidentally, this is the version now shown on television.
After a couple of postponements, with reports of technical problems, "Oklahoma!" finally opened to the public October 13, 1955, at the
Rivoli Theatre in New York, now fitted out with a 27 by 63 foot screen which curved at the center to a depth of 13 feet. The film itself was judged a popular hit, but the Todd-AO system received mixed reviews with adverse criticism about the curved horizontal lines. This comment surprised many of the technicians who had seen earlier demonstrations held at MGM and had not considered the distortion to be that objectionable. The truth was that the American Optical Company had failed to deliver a proper "compensated" print in time for the premiere, which could not be postponed again. The delay was blamed on difficulties encountered while building the final version of the special printer and other mishaps, including a flood, at the factory. The print actually shown was an early example the printing technique with a "corrected" image inappropriate for the steep projection rake at the Rivoli. Although a new perfected copy was promised, the special printing technique had by now lost its credibility, so the projection room had to be relocated to allow a normal "contact" print to be used instead. This was to be the pattern for all future Todd-AO installations and as a result the predistorted prints of
"The Miracle of Todd-AO"
and "Around the World in 80 Days" were never used again.
The stereophonic sound for the early showings was replayed from a 35mm six-track magnetic film running on a separate reproducer and interlocked to the 70mm projector.
Even with a level projection angle the deep curvature screen was still introducing some distortion and the lenticular surface was not as successful as Cinerama's slatted design at reducing the cross-reflections. Many projection experts questioned the need for this type of screen which flawed an otherwise perfect system. It was argued, that Todd-AO would be just as effective if shown on a very large flat, or only slightly curved screen. However The Todd-AO Corporation still felt the need to compete with Cinerama and in May 1956 a short film called
"The Miracle of Todd-AO" was added to the program which recreated many of the most spectacular moments from
"This Is Cinerama" including the famous roller-coaster sequence.
These early 70mm films ran at 30 f.p.s. and their superb screen images were due as much to the wider 65mm film used in the camera. 65mm negative has identical dimensions as the final 70mm print, except the prints have an extra 2.5mm on each side outside the perforations to help accommodate the magnetic stripes. These carry the 6-track stereo sound, with five speakers behind the screen and a surround channel. Theatrical 70mm prints have always been exclusively magnetic, without an optical sound version being available.
70mm film received a further boost when the second Todd-AO feature, Michael Todd's own
"Around the World in 80 Days" (1956), was an even greater hit at the box-office.
Mike Todd personally produced the second Todd-AO feature, the starstudded "Around the World in 80
Days". Again a general release copy on 35mm film would be needed, but this time it was planned to use a reduction print from the 65mm negative. However, the original negative was still required to be photographed at 30 frames per second to provide the 70mm Todd-AO print. Although in theory a 24 frames per second copy could be made using a skip printer eliminating every fifth frame, this method was tested but considered unsatisfactory. With the problem unsolved and shooting due to begin, Mike Todd decreed that two 65mm negatives would be shot, one at 30 f.p.s. and the other at 24 f.p.s. This was done by either using two cameras operating simultaneously, or by repeating the action with the camera speed altered. Michael Anderson, the director, once remarked that this procedure resulted in two versions of the film with slightly different viewpoints and performances.
"Around the World in 80 Days" was an even bigger box-office hit than
"Oklahoma!" and the 70mm format took another big step along the road to success.
After "Around the World in 80 Days" the Todd-AO process was to undergo some technical changes. By 1958, the 65mm/70mm format had become accepted as an industry standard, helped by the availability of convenient dual-gauge 35mm/70mm projectors. There was now to be less emphasis on the ultra wide-angle camera lenses and the deep curvature screen, finally giving up any attempt to emulate the Cinerama-style deeply curved screens, which had caused distortion. Despite its proven advantages, the frame rate had to be reduced to the standard 24 frames per second to make reduction printing to 35mm easier and so eliminate the need to film different versions.
The Todd-AO Projector
One aspect of the Todd-AO system which did receive universal praise was the Philips 70mm
projector. Known as the model EL4000 or DP70 it was a truly remarkable machine, for in moments, it could be converted to show normal 35mm films in all the various picture and sound formats. With its system of double sprockets and interchangeable gate assemblies, it was to prove to be the key to the future acceptance of 70mm film.
After the early exclusive arrangements with Todd-AO, the Philips DP70 became generally available, being known as the Norelco AA11 in America. In 1962
it received an
Academy Award in recognition of its
With the Philips DP70 as the example, other projector manufacturers began to design and construct similar multi-purpose machines. While awaiting their arrival some existing heavy-duty 35mm projectors, such as the Simplex-XL and the Friesecke-Heopfner, were modified to run 70mm films. The first custom built projectors on the market included the Bauer U2 (known as the National 70 in the U.S.A.), the Cinemeccanica "Victoria X" and the Century JJ. 35mm/70mm model.
Unfortunately, there were never to be any British designed 70mm projectors. GB-Kalee was part of the Rank Organization who, after their disagreement with Fox over the introduction of CinemaScope, had adopted VistaVision. As a result Kalee spent much time and effort building a 35mm "Horizontal" projector. Although an ingenious and well designed machine, it was never a practical proposition because
it could not be converted to show conventional vertically running films. Paramount themselves never pursued this form of projection. The first Kalees were completed in time to show
"The Battle of River Plate" (1956) horizontally at the Odeon Leicester Square in London. The projectors were last seen giving demonstrations of "horizontal" Technirama in 1957. At one time there were rumors that Kalee had built a prototype 35mm/70mm universal projector based on its model "21" 35mm machine, but nothing was ever seen of it. Eventually GB-Kalee became the first U.K. distributor of the Italian Cinemeccanica "Victoria X" projector. A number of Westar 70mm projectors were built in Britain, but these were Western Electric's version of the American Centurys.
Meanwhile, Fox continued to develop its CinemaScope-55 system and began to film the first production, another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical,
"Carousel". The 55mm wide-film print format had now been finalized. The original eight perforation high "squeezed" image on the 55mm negative was reduced during printing to a smaller six perforation frame making room on the 55mm print for the sound tracks. The two rows of perforations (smaller CinemaScope type) were moved in from the edges of the film allowing multiple magnetic stripes to be added, arranged in a similar manner to 70mm. Twelve pairs of 55mm projectors were ordered from the Century Projector Corp. ready to equip its key theatres.
55mm projection was expected to be seen in Britain when CinemaScope-55, "more than your eyes have ever seen", was launched at the Carlton, Haymarket in 1956. In the event, only 35mm reduction prints were shown.
As the third Todd-AO film "South Pacific" was being released, Michael Todd was killed in a plane crash. At this time CinemaScope-55 also received a fatal blow. Twentieth Century-Fox acquired
Magna and with it a controlling interest in the Todd-AO Corporation. The studio decided to discontinue its own wide-film system and in future use Todd-AO. In 1961
"The King and I", the only other film made in CinemaScope-55, was re-issued on 70mm film using the old trade name of Fox Grandeur, last seen on the screen in 1930. Despite the demise of CinemaScope 55, Todd-AO was still to have one early rival.
On the photography side, other rival 65mm/70mm systems began to appear. Panavision's Super Panavision 70 process was identical to Todd-AO. For a while (until 1966), they also offered an anamorphic version. Known first as MGM Camera 65 and then Ultra Panavision 70, it was designed to give a wider aspect ratio of 2.77:1, instead of 70mm´s normal 2.2:1 picture shape, produced using conventional spherical lenses.
In 1955, MGM approached Robert E. Gottschalk, founder of Panavision Inc, to collaborate in the development of wide-screen systems for use at MGM. At the time Panavision was a successful manufacturer of projection anamorphic attachments, but was already making plans to expand into the photographic side of the industry. Two systems were designed, one was a range of anamorphic camera lenses for photographing the studios 35mm CinemaScope films, the other a wide-film process for its "super" productions. The latter turned out to be a variation of Todd-AO, with the same 65mm negative and Mitchell cameras, but using anamorphic lenses with the low "squeeze" factor of xl.25. These increased the aspect ratio of the picture on the negative to 2,85:1.
When first announced as the "Camera 65" process, "Window of the World", MGM declared that it was strictly a "camera process" and only intended to use the 65mm negative to provide higher quality CinemaScope type reduction prints and "not to clutter the industry with yet another film size".
As promised, the first Camera-65 production "Raintree County" was released in the form of a 35mm reduction print extracted from the 65mm negative. This policy may also have been due to the fact that all the available 70mm theatres were committed to showing Todd-AO films. By the time the second Camera-65 film
"Ben-Hur" (1959) was ready for release, it was possible to "road-show" it using 70mm squeezed prints. When projected, through the appropriate anamorphic lens, these produced a picture with an aspect ratio of 2,75:1.
Both of the Panavision systems were subsequently made available to other studios. The 35mm Panavision anamorphic lenses were to become the most popular wide-screen system of the 1960s and 1970s. The anamorphic widefilm process was to become better known as Ultra Panavision-70. The company also supplied its 65mm cameras with normal spherical lenses, creating a third system identical to Todd-AO and credited initially as Panavision 70.
With 20th Century-Fox adopting Todd-AO and the availability of the Panavision wide-film systems, the 70mm print format seemed set to stay. Even the notoriously conservative exhibitors were now considering using 70mm big screen projection to boost the box-office takings in the larger big city theatres. The idea of dual-gauge projectors was also making 70mm a viable proposition.
Also taking a keen interest were the owners of America's "Drive-ins" who saw the large 70mm frame as a way of improving the picture quality on their huge, but under-illuminated screens.
70mm In Europe
With no 70mm projection facilities available in Britain, or the rest of Europe, the first two Todd-AO films were shown using 35mm prints.
"Oklahoma!" was released using the CinemaScope version and "Around the World in 80 Days" using a reduction print compatible with CinemaScope. For some of the
"Around the World in 80 Days", European roadshow engagements a special presentation system called
"Cinestage" was devised. A 35mm reduction print was made form the original 65mm (24 f.p.s.) negative using the non-standard "squeeze" factor of xl.56 which was calculated to maintain all the original picture information. When projected through the appropriate anamorphic attachment, the screen had an aspect ratio of 2,2:l the same as if a 70mm print was actually being shown. For the best picture and sound quality, the "squeezed" image extended the full width between the small CinemaScope type perforations and the sound was replayed from a separate six-track magnetic film. Like the usual 70mm stereophonic sound system, five channels were sent to the screen speakers and the sixth to those in the auditorium. For "Cinestage" the surround channel was given a directional effect by adding three sub-audible control tones (25, 30 and 35 c.p.s.). The level of these signals controlled the volume of three separate amplifier and speaker systems. This was an adaptation of the "Perspecta Sound" directional sound system introduced by Paramount and MGM which used similar control tones (30, 35 and 40 c.p.s.) recorded along with the normal mono optical track to move the apparent source of the sound between three speakers behind the screen.
"Around the World in 80 Days" ran for two years at the Astoria, Charing Cross Road, in London, using the
"Cinestage" system. Normally this extended-run would not have been possible due to "British Quota" regulations, so one millimeter of the film base was removed from the right hand side of the print creating a new "substandard" 34mm gauge. This ruse avoided the terms of the Act, which only applied to "standard" width 35mm prints. The officials must have been a little put out by the situation, because they visited the theatre a number of times during the run to check that a 34mm print was still being used.
Todd-AO and 70mm projection was first seen in Europe at the 1956 Photokina exhibition in
Cologne. 70mm came to Britain 18 months later in 1958, when Todd-AO was installed at the
Dominion, Tottenham Court Road, in London and the
Gaumont cinema in Manchester. Both cinemas were equipped with Philips DP70s to show the third Todd-AO film
"South Pacific". Such was its success, the film was still running at the Dominion four years later. (The "above-standard" 70mm film was also exempt from the "British Quota").
By the beginning of the 1960s, 70mm projection had been installed in most West End theatres in London, together with others in major cities around the country. For many, this was 70mm's heyday, the era of big budget historical epics and large-scale musicals including:
"West Side Story", "Cleopatra", "The Sound of
Music", "Lawrene of Arabia" and "The Fall of the Roman
Empire". In fact, the actual number of 70mm copies was always relatively small, with only about half a dozen prints made for each production. The magnetically striped prints were very expensive, with the sound having to be individually recorded and checked in real time. They were still cost-effective, being shown on what was known as a "road-show" basis, with 70mm films running for many months at a few first-run theatres, before being reduced to 35mm for general release. For example, the Philips company, who made the first 70mm projector (DP70), advertised its kindness to the film by claiming that the same 70mm copy of
"South Pacific" was run at the Dominion theatre in London for over four years
With the general availability of 70mm projectors, the number of installations had grown by mid-1959 to 72 in the U.S.A. and another 90 around the world. With this increase came the fear that the supply of 70mm films would not be able to keep pace. Minds were put at rest with the news of forthcoming productions. 20th Century-Fox promised
"Porgy and Bess", "Can Can" and "Cleopatra". Also on the way was Michael Todd Jr's
"Scent of Mystery" (in glorious Smell-O- Vision) and John Wayne's "The
Alamo". First in Panavision 70 was to be "The Big
Fisherman", followed by "Exodus" and "West Side
Story". Coming in Ultra Panavision 70 was "Innocents Abroard" and M-G-M's remake of
"Mutiny on the Bounty".
Britain's contribution to the 1950s wide-screen era was Technirama. Developed at Technicolor Ltd, London, this system added an xl.5 anamorphic lens to the VistaVision camera producing a picture with a final aspect ratio more suitable for making CinemaScope type reduction prints. For its initial "road-show" projection format, Technirama chose to use contact prints running on VistaVision horizontal projectors fitted with the appropriate anamorphic lens. The first
"The Monte Carlo Story" was premiered in Turin during December, 1956 using this method and was shown on a 68 by 28 foot screen.
In 1958 Technicolor in London set up 65mm/70mm processing and printing facilities and added the option of 70mm prints to the range of formats available from their Technirama large-area negative. To keep up the supply of 70mm product, prints began to be made by enlarging films originally shot in 35mm. The first of these were printed from Technicolor's Tecnirama negatives. These had larger than normal images on horizontally running 35mm film.
This was to prove an ideal alternative to 65mm. The frame height already matched that of 70mm, so it was only necessary to correct the xl.5 squeeze to produce a print compatible with Todd-AO. Known as Super Technirama 70, the first films to recieve this treatment included
"Solomon and Sheba" and Disney's animated feature "Sleeping Beauty" (both 1959). Others followed including
"Spartacus" and "Barabbas" The new Super Techirama 70 system was particularly popular with European producers like Samuel Bronston who used it to make most of his epics such as
"King og Kings", "El Cid" (1961), "55 Days at Peking" and
"The Magnificent Showman" (Aka "Circus World").
The quality of the 70mm prints was almost as good as those made from 65mm negatives and are often placed in the same "proper 70mm" category.
70mm Production in Europe
There was a German 65mm/70mm system known as MCS-70 Superpanorama and an East German 70mm/70mm format known as
DEFA 70. Arriflex´s ARRI
70mm soon spread eastward when the Russians came up with Sovscope-70, also compatible Todd-AO. As they had to build all their equipment from scratch it was decided to use the same 70mm width in the camera to simplify the stock manufacture and processing machines. The first 70mm production was
"The Story of Flaming Years" and the most famous, their eight hour version of
"War and Peace".
Fine Grain Negative Stock
During 1959 Eastman Kodak introduced its new Eastmancolor negative stock type 5250 with a much finer grain structure. Its appearance led to the end of VistaVision. With the advantages of reduction printing now being less apparent, the extra cost of the double-frame negative was no longer justified and Paramount switched to Panavision in 1960. The last VistaVision film, Marlon Brando´s
"One Eyed Jacks" finally appeared in 1961 without the well known opening logo. This beautifully photographed western was a fitting epitaph to the process which, although not the most spectacular, was one of the finer achievements of the 1950´s wide screen era. The VistaVision epic
"The Ten Commandments" (1956) was later reissued on 70mm film.
The End of Cinerama
What was happening to Cinerama, the system that started it all in 1952? For ten years it remained a unique visual experience. There were eventually to be 11 permanent Installations in the U.S.A. and Canada, with another 30 around the world. The first of these was in London, when in 1954,
"This Is Cinerama" opened at the Casino Theatre (now the Prince Edward). It ran for 18 months, followed by
"Cinerama Holiday" and many others, all variations on the same travelogue theme. As the type of films remained the same, so did the technology. Improvements were promised, but the notorious joins always remained more or less visible. Rarely did the color or density of the adjacent panels match. This didn't seem to bother the audiences too much, many regular Cinerama-goers considered watching the efforts made by the cameramen to hide the dividing lines up trees and telegraph poles to be part of the entertainment.
The first signs of change came in 1959, when MGM made an agreement with Cinerama to make the first fictional story films using the 3-strip process. The first of these was to be
"How the West Was Won" and like other conventional feature films, it was intended to make use of the usual "special effects" like travelling mattes and back projection. These would be difficult to photograph, if not impossible, using the triple-lens camera. lt was planned to shoot these scenes using an Ultra Panavision 65mm camera and then, by using a special printer, divide up the single image on to three separate films and include them with the original Cinerama 3-strip footage. This triple-printing technique also allowed some money to be saved by using it to "borrow" the Civil War battle sequences from
"Raintree County" (Camera 65) and scenes of marching soldiers from "The Alamo" (Todd-AO). The printer was finally used "in reverse" to produce the 70mm and 35mm CinemaScope versions (complete with the tale-tale joins) for general release.
"How the West Was Won" and "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" which followed, were to be the last of the 3-strip films. Both were successful, but Cinerama knew that for its long term survival it would have to evolve into a simpler single-strip process. Again they were to make use of the Ultra Panavision 70 system. To make the new system work they had to look again at the problem of showing a flat rectangular picture on to a deeply curved screen without the distortions which marred the early Todd-AO presentations. Fortunately all the existing Cinerama set-ups provided for near level projection. A wide-angle projector lens was designed with a "curved field of focus". This kept the image in sharp focus on the concave screen, but there was still some stretching of the picture at the sides of the screen. To compensate for this, the image on the 70mm print was "rectified" during the optical printing stage to change the linear "squeeze" produced by the camera lens to a
non-linear one with the compression factor greater at the sides of the frame. In theory this corrected itself as it curved around the screen. (see stills with drawings)
The first film shown using the new single-lens Cinerama was "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963) followed by
"The Greatest Story Ever Told", "The Battle of the Bulge" and
"The Hallelujah Trail". The Super Technirama 70 film "The Magnificent Showman" was also "rectified" by Technicolor for showing in Cinerama. The original 3-strip process continued for a while in a few Cinerama theatres with re-runs of
"This Is Cinerama" and other "Best of" type compilations. For a short time during the early 1960s the original 3-strip Cinerama took to the road in France and England as Itinerama and was shown in a blacked-out tent "Big Top" style.
Although shown on the original Cinerama slatted screen, the single-lens process could never give the same "participation" effect as the permanently fixed 146 degree field of view of the triple-lens camera. Ultra Panavision 70's widest lens, if used, covered a mere 90 degrees! The process was simply a method of showing conventional feature films on a large deeply curved screen. After showing
"Khartoum" (the last film in Ultra Panavision 70) in 1966, the search for product necessitated another change in the projection arrangement. The screen curvature was reduced to allow ordinary "flat" 70mm prints to be used. Now to be seen In Cinerama were
"Grand Prix", "Ice Station Zebra", "2001:A Space
Odyssey", "Krakatoa East of Java" and "Song of
Cinerama gained a rival in 1964 in the shape of Dimension
150, "The New Dimension of Motion Pictures". This method also used a special lens to curve a 70mm image around a deeply curved screen up to 90 feet wide. The surface of the screen was formulated to keep the cross-reflections to a minimum. A Dimension 150 installation was particularly versatile because any other 70mm or 35mm format could be shown on masked-down portions of the screen. Like the earlier single-lens Cinerama, D-150 sometimes provided 70mm "rectified" prints, which reduced the distortion apparent to the members of the audience seated at the sides of the auditorium. Dimension 150 also offered film makers a 65mm photographic system with a set of spherical lenses including one with the extreme horizontal coverage of 150 degrees. They were used to film
"The Bible...In the Begining", "Patton: Lust for Glory" and the short subject
"Harmony, Nature and Man".
There was one drawback to the deep curvature systems which became apparent when showing 70mm films not originally shot for the purpose. This was the loss of picture information
resulting from trying to fit them on to a screen which, seen head-on, has the familiar "butterfly" shape. Both single-lens Cinerama and D-150 projector lenses had some built-in pincushion distortion, which made for a better fit, but it was still found necessary to use a masked projector aperture which curved in at the top and bottom of the frame to prevent the image from
overspill at the center of the screen. Many of the later films shown, both "officially" and "unofficially", in Cinerama or D-150 suffered the effect of the actors losing the tops of their heads at the center of the screen. This was more of a problem when showing 70mm "blow-ups" which had already lost a certain amount of the critical picture information during the enlargement process. Films like
"Camelot" and "Paint Your Wagon" (Both blow-ups) looked uncomfortable on this type of screen.
Enlarging 35mm to 70mm
This improved camera stock opened the way to producing 70mm prints from smaller 35mm negatives. In 1962 Panavision constructed a printer lens to enable its Panavision 70 prints to also be made by
enlargement from 35mm Panavision (or CinemaScope-type) anamorphic negatives. The result proved to be very satisfactory particularly if the original camera negative was used.
Then in 1963, came the first "blow-up". This process gave many more films the added potential of a 70mm release and early "blow-ups" included
"Bye Bye Birdie" (1963), "The Cardinal" (1963) and "Becket" (1964).
The change of aspect ratio from 2.35:1 to 70mm´s 2.2:1 meant that a little of the original picture was lost at the sides, but this wasn't considered objectionable. These early 70mm blow-ups were often very good, with the relatively small number of prints being optically printed from the original camera negatives.
There was now an ample supply of product for the growing number of 70mm theatres, 1100 by the end of 1964. 70mm had even gone to sea in 1962 when the passengers on the SS France were treated to a 33 foot picture from two Philips DP70s. During the early years, 70mm presentations remained a big city "show-case" attraction. But by the mid 1960s many provincial cinemas had added 70mm to their projection facilities. They were encouraged by the projector manufacturers who now offered machines which were supplied "stripped" for 35mm use only, but could easily be converted to 70mm by purchasing the conversion parts at a later date.
Despite the ever increasing number of "blow-ups", their picture quality could never match that of "true" 70mm films, so the original 65mm camera systems continued to be used. Panavision's "spherical" system, now "Super" Panavision 70, provided the superb images of
"Lawrence of Arabia", (shot by Freddie
Autumn", "My Fair Lady", "Lord Jim" and "Chitty Chitty Bang
Bang". Todd-AO did the same for "The Agony and the
Ecstasy", "The Sound of Music" and "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying
Machines". "The Fall of the Roman Empire" made use of the anamorphic Ultra Panavision 70 system which now offered the exhibitors the option of "flat" unsqueezed 70mm prints (2.2:1) which could be projected without the special anamorphic lens. Many theatres had found it difficult to accommodate the full 2.75:1 screen.
The superior position of 65mm remained secure until the 70mm release of "Doctor Zhivago" in 1965. This film was shot using 35mm Panavision and to the eyes of many producers the quality of the enlarged prints so closely matched those from 65mm negatives that they no longer considered the extra cost of the larger negative to be worthwhile. Others didn't share this view, but from then on, the use of 65mm negative began to decline. The same applied to the other large-area negative system, Technirama which was the first to go in 1967 after the release of
"Custer of the West" although the process was brought back to life in 1985 for the filming of the Disney animation
"The Black Cauldron".
By the late 1960s, the additional cost of using 65mm negative was no longer paying dividends at the box-office. Many 70mm presentations were "blow-ups" from 35mm films including
"The Professionals", "Funny Girl", "Oliver",
"Where Eagles Dare" and "The Wild Bunch", while the higher degree of picture quality from their 65mm negatives didn't improve the chances of financial disasters like
"Doctor Dolittle" and "STAR!". The box-office success of many of these blow-ups, therefore led to a decline in the use of 65mm
negative. There were also creative limitations imposed by the larger 65mm cameras, requiring more intense light to maintain sufficient depth-of-field when using the longer focal-length lenses associated with the larger format.
The widegauge cameras were finally abandoned for general use in 1970. Among the last Super Panavision 70 films were
"MacKenna´s Gold" and "Ryan´s Daughter". Todd-AO bowed out with
"Hello, Dolly!", "Airport" and "The Last
Valley". The Todd-AO company managed to stay in the widescreen business by supplying a range of anamorphic lenses for 35mm photography known as Todd-AO 35. Some of the films which used Todd-AO 35 lenses, were also released in 70mm, e.g.
"Logan´s Run", "Flash Gordon" and "Dune". Sometimes the "35" part of the "Filmed in Todd-AO" credit was omitted, indicating a return the use of 65mm negative but they were actually shot on 35mm film and blow-up to 70mm.
A couple of later "special effects" type feature films, Disney's "Tron" (1982) and Douglas Trumbull's
"Brainstorm" (1983) both used 65mm negative throughout, but it is unlikely that 65mm will ever be used again to any great extent for general film making. 35mm camera technology has advanced over the years and film crews, accustomed to the newer compact Panaflex and Arriflex models, would not welcome the return of the bulky and heavy 65mm cameras. A few smaller and lighter 65mm cameras were made for hand-held and point-of-view type shooting, but the silenced studio models remained "impressively" large.
Many laboratories, including Technicolor, while continuing to offer a full 70mm printing service, eventually closed down their 65mm camera negative processing facilities. Only MGM in America continued processing 65mm negatives, these now being restricted to special effects work and the growing number of special venue formats, such as
Imax and Showscan. In the 80s, 65mm camera stock was only available to special order and could only be processed at the MGM laboratory in America. Technicolor in London provided a full 70mm printing service and could produce prints from all types of original negatives including 65mm and Technirama.
With the emphasis now on enlargement from smaller negative areas, another form of
"blow-up" printing followed from MGM's controversial decision to produce a new 70mm version of
"Gone With The Wind" for its sixth re-issue in 1967. Whether this enterprise was an artistic success is a matter of opinion, but technically it was certainly an achievement. Every individual shot had to be meticulously re-framed, cropped and recomposed using a vertical scanning technique to convert the original l.37:1 aspect ratio to the 2.2:1 of 70mm, losing almost half the picture in the process. A couple of other pre-widescreen classics were subjected to the same 70mm modernization treatment,
"The Jolson Story" and "Julius Caesar" (in tinted black and white).
70mm prints were now being made from all shapes and sizes of 35mm negatives and even from l6mm like
"Concert for Bangladesh" 1972. Soon this printing method was used to make 70mm prints from more recent non-anamorphic titles. As these had already been photographed with the image composed for "masked frame" wide-screen projection down to l.85:1, the re-framing necessary was reduced, or eliminated entirely. An early example of the results was
"The Dirty Dozen" (1967).
The vertical scanning proved to be a costly procedure, so most of the print-ups were simply cropped to 2.2:l. Some productions stood up fairly well to this change of aspect ratio e.g.
"Man of La Mancha", but others suffered pictorially e.g. "Rollerball". Soon directors would only consider the "blow-up" option if the aspect ratio on the 70mm print conformed to that intended for the original 35mm version, usually l.85:l. To prevent this, the printer magnification was reduced to maintain the film's original aspect ratio during the optical enlargement stage.
This produced a non-standard 70mm print with the image no longer occupying the full available width on the film, leaving a blank area on either side of the picture for l.85:1 films or sometimes having wider frame lines to maintain the complete 2.35:1 aspect ratio of the original 35mm anamorphic format e.g.
"The Deer Hunter" and "Year of the Dragon". Over half of the 70mm blow-up releases have been of the masked-the-sides type with the aspect ratio ranging from l.9:1 e.g.
"The Blue Lagoon" to l.68:1 e.g. "E.T. The Extra
Terrestrial". Later 70mm re-issues of old classics, like "Fantasia", had a smaller 4 by 3 picture placed in the center of the frame.
The preparation to show a 70mm film can be quite involving especially if the stopping position of the variable screen masking had to be adjusted. Early showings of these non-standard 1,85:1 70mm prints did create a new audio problem when the black side masking on the screen was moved inwards to match the new width of the picture. The outer pair of loudspeakers behind the screen were partly covered, changing the level and character of the sound. In the effected theatres the heavy masking material had to be replaced by a lighter weight type with lower sound absorption. The attenuation is now about 1/2 dB. and no longer considered a problem.
There was situation peculiar to Britain which favored the use of 70mm prints. The "British Quota" continued to apply until the late 1970s and the fact that 70mm prints were exempt from the regulations was often the deciding factor to "blow-up" a film to 70mm. One of the last examples was
"A Bridge Too Far", when a 70mm print was specially made and substituted for the original 35mm copy to allow the extended-run to continue at the Odeon, Marble Arch.
An opportunity to restore the full 2.2:1 aspect ratio has come about with the revival of 35mm non-anamorphic full-frame photographing. This method opens out the picture into the normal sound track area to use the full width between the perforations. This enlarged negative image is composed to allow a number of different print formats to be extracted by optical printing.
This idea is not new, it formed the basis of Superscope (RKO-Scope) in the 1950s. This process enlarged and "squeezed" a portion of the negative to produce 35mm anamorphic prints in two aspect ratios, 2:1 (sides masked) or compatible 2.35:l.
The process re-appeared in the 1970s as the Russian "Universal Frame" which now offered the added option of 70mm prints. Full-frame photography made news again in 1984, when it was used to film
"Greystoke the Legend of Tarzan - Lord of the Apes" with the negative being used to make 35mm anamorphic and 70mm (standard 2.2:1) prints. The optical printing work was carried out by Technicolor who gave the process the new name of Super-Techniscope.
The method has been used again for other productions including, "Babe",
"A Chorus Line" and "Absolute Beginners", with the process also being known as System 35 or Super 35. Films shot in this full frame process, have been successfully blown up to full-frame 70mm, including:
"Top Gun", "Howards End", "The Abyss" and "Titanic".
Threats to 70mm
The first threat to 70mm exhibition came in the 1970s. Big cinemas with their giant curved screens were a phenomenon of the 1960s and most of them became extinct during the glamour to convert these theatres into multiple screen complexes, first by twinning or tripling existing "big-screen" theatres, and then the building of ground up multiplexes. Often the principal "number one" auditoriums retained 70mm projection, but their screens were now usually only a little larger than those used for 35mm films. Although its often considered that screen size is only a question of scale, relative to the size of the auditorium, much of 70mm's visual impact was beginning to be lost.
Sadly many of the best 70mm facilities have been lost during the conversion of the larger theatres into "automated" multi-screen complexes. Sometimes the universal 35mm/70mm projectors were retained in the "Number One" cinema, but when first introduced, the associated long-run "Tower" or "Platter" systems could only accommodate 35mm films. This meant that 70mm films had to be run in the form of separate reels and even if there was still a pair of projectors available, the projectionist wasn't always able to remain constantly by the machines to perform the change-overs.
This situation also effected some "first-run" West End cinemas. On occasions the distributor had a 70mm print made only to find that it couldn't be run in the particular theatre. An example was
"Superman" which had to open using a 35mm print, although a 70mm copy was available and on the premises. This disadvantage was soon recognized and the long-run systems are now available in dualgauge form.
Next in the firing line was the sound.
The Sound of 70mm
The mid-1970s heralded the arrival of Dolby Stereo with its optical soundtrack on 35mm prints. Two individual tracks were created by splitting the original mono track down the middle, made possible by the use of Dolby's noise reduction process. 35mm Dolby Stereo was further developed into a four track system, with a center and surround channel derived by using matrix techniques.
Up to this time, the only practical method of providing cinema audiences with stereo sound was with magnetically striped prints. The 35mm 4-track magnetic format had been around since the launch of CinemaScope in 1953, but the prints were never universally accepted by the industry. Their very narrow stripes and smaller perforations made them far less robust than the 70mm format with its wider stripes. Although the coming of stereo optical tracks effectively killed off 35mm magnetic.
Like the image, the 70mm sound system has also been altered on occasions to meet changing circumstances. Unlike CinemaScope 35mm prints, which soon became available with an optical sound track; the 70mm format remained exclusively magnetic until the late 90s with the stripes accommodating six tracks. Five are for the individual screen speakers and the sixth shared by all the "surround sound" effects speakers in the auditorium. This arrangement, known as the Todd-AO discrete six-track system, was used for all 70mm films up to the early 1970s and was very effective for the original giant screens up to 80 feet wide.
At about the time of "A Star is Born" (1976), Dolby Laboratories became involved with 70mm sound by applying their noise reduction system to the magnetic tracks. With 70mm screens becoming smaller, Dolby also offered a re-channeled version, with three screen channels and the surround. This arrangement also saved money by making it easier and more economical to use the same 4-track sound mixes intended for the 35mm optical stereophonic sound format prints. While the sound mixing for
"Star Wars" (1977) was being undertaken, the Dolby engineers came up with an idea to make better use of the spare "spread" channels by using them to record extra bass information (below 200 Hz) to give a low-frequency "punch" at suitable moments throughout the film. The idea was used again for
"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977) and became known as the Dolby "Baby Boom". (Presumably "Daddy Boom" was Sensurround).
With the advent of the "blow-up" prints it was to make use of the four-track final sound mixes. To make the 70mm six-track version, the three screen channels had to be "spread-out" to make five by combining the center channel 50/50 with each of the outer channels producing the extra inner-left and inner right information.
Unfortunately, this blending process was found to spoil the stereo separation on smaller 70mm screens, the majority of which now averaged only 40 feet wide.
lt was discovered that if the two new created channels were reduced in level to a point where they could hardly be heard, the overall stereo effect sounded much better.
"A Star is Born" (1976) was released this way and as the 70mm print was also an early example of the "1.85:1" type, the screen masking problem, became immediately obvious, with only the center channel being heard at the correct level.
By the time "Apocalypse Now" (1979) was released, the upper-frequency range (above 500 Hz) on the two "spread" channels was used to provide stereo surround effects. The bass for both the rear channels came from the normal full effects track which was still recorded for compatibility reasons. This combination of "Baby Boom" and "Split Surround" has been used together or separately for many 70mm films since.
An exception in the mid-1970s was "Logan´s Run" (1976) which still used the original discrete six-track system. In the 1980s there were signs of a swing back to the earlier Todd-AO sound format. Some of the 70mm prints of
"Heavens Gate", "Annie" and "Tron" were available with the full discrete system but now with all the six tracks Dolby encoded.
Despite the dramatic rise in the quality of 35mm optical sound, which was further improved by Dolby's Spectral Recording, 70mm still had the edge. SR encoding was also applied to the 70mm magnetic system, helping to give it that extra punch, particularly in theatres equipped and aligned to conform to the Lucas Film THX playback specifications
"Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" and "Born on the Fourth of July" are
examples of 70mm Dolby SR.
One complication with 70mm magnetic sound was the fact that all the studios used different recording levels and replay characteristics on their prints. Although there have been proposals to standardize, it was always necessary to use line-up footage supplied with each film to adjust the theatre's sound system for the best possible results.
Digital Sound and 70mm
At first, the coming of digital sound to the cinema seemed to offer no threat to 70mm. The first system on offer in 1991, was the
Cinema Digital Sound system (CDS), using a digital optical track developed by the Optical Radiation Corporation. It provided six channels and could be used on both 35mm and 70mm prints using a dual-gauged soundhead. Part of its appeal for 70mm was the elimination of the costly magnetic stripes. Unfortunately, the digital track also replaced the normal analogue track on 35mm prints and this proved to be the system's downfall. The industry was to insist that the existing analogue track must be retained in its normal position to avoid having to distribute different kinds of prints (dual inventory), with the risk that theatres may receive a print that they couldn't run. The original track is also needed in case the digital system fails. When an analogue track develops a fault, it is often still usable and the show can go on, albeit with a loss of quality. Digital tracks tend to remain perfect until a point where the built-in error correction system runs out and the sound fails catastrophically, either becoming unintelligible or disappearing altogether. Despite being backed by Kodak, CDS only had a short life. It was showcased with a 70mm copy of
"Terminator 2", but to prove the point about compatibility, some of the 70mm prints were later seen with the digital track striped over for normal showings.
Dolby's digital system, which followed, proved to be a success and fulfilled the industry's requirements by placing its digital-coded optical track between the perforations, leaving the normal SR analogue track untouched. Unfortunately, this time around, 70mm was left out in the cold, with Dolby promoting their SR-D process as bringing 70mm six-channel sound to 35mm. In fact, Dolby would still be willing to develop a 70mm version if there is ever a demand for it. However, without a history of an optical track on 70mm, it would involve a major engineering program. Not only would a multipurpose projector soundhead be needed, but also new sound cameras and printers for producing the sound negatives and prints. Also, the stripes would still have to be kept because, although rare, the SR-D system does occasionally switch back briefly to the analogue track, mostly when running worn prints, with poor joins.
We now have Sony's SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital Sound) system, again only for 35mm. There won't be room on the projector for many more rival track readers! This system tops the number of tracks currently available to eight, with a choice of a four, six, or eight-track configuration (five behind the screen, two surrounds and a sub-woofer). On the print, two identical digitally-coded tracks are placed on either side of the film, outside the perforations, which between them, provide a perfect signal. If not, the analogue track is still there as a fall-back, and for cinemas without SDDS.
The ideal and most cost-effective digital sound system for 70mm is by using separately synchronized compact discs in the
DTS-70mm system (Digital Theatre Systems). The DTS-70mm
system has been used succesfully with "Titanic", "Tomorrow Never
Dies", "The Lost World", "Godzilla", "Armageddon" and the special edition of
"Star Wars". The system is quite simpel: a time-code track on the 70mm print and timecode reader on the projector. Regarding compatibility, most theatres which still have their 70mm projectors are in the West End and other principal, or first-run situations. There are just the theatres which now have the DTS system available. The separate CD system is proving to be reliable, with the only trouble being caused by mis-tracking the timecode track. On a 35mm print this has to be very narrow, being placed between the normal analogue track and the picture. On a 70mm print it could be made much wider and easier to scan.
The late 1970s and 1980s was actually to become the real boom time for 70mm, with the number of 70mm theatres actually growing, particularly in America, rising from only a few in key cities to almost 1500 during the 1980s. Also, the road-show style of presentation had now given way to a simultaneous nationwide release patten, making the most of all the initial opening publicity and hype. With the success of films like
"Star Wars", "Close Encounters of the third Kind" and "Apocalypse
Now", larger print runs were needed.
There was a dramatic rise in the number of 70mm prints in circulation particularly in the U.S.A., e.g. 243 70mm prints were made of
"Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", "Brainstom" 169 70mm prints,
"Return of the Jedi" 164 70mm prints and "Aliens" 151 70mm prints. To provide this number of 70mm prints, an enlarged 65mm internegative had to be made from the 35mm camera original and the prints mass-produced using high speed 65/70mm continuous contact printers. They still had to be individually striped and recorded, but the price of a 70mm release print, once as high as fourteen times, was brought down to about triple that of an equivalent 35mm optical copy thanks to these large print runs.
Fortunately the distributors found it rewarding to release their most important films on 70mm. The exhibitors too continued to operate their 70mm installations despite the high cost of spares and maintenance.
The 65mm format has been resurrected for use within the studios for, "special effects" work. The large negative helping to maintain the picture throughout the various printing stages before finally being reduced on to 35mm film. 65mm photography has been used on
"Close Encounters", "Blade Runner", "Ghostbusters",
"Die Hard" and many more. The VistaVision large-area negative system has also been revived for this purpose most famously with
Renewed Interest in 65mm
As the theatrical use of the 65mm/70mm system declined, there has been a rapid growth in its use in the field of creating special projection processes and the high quality visuals for motion simulator movie-rides found in theme parks and other special venues. The basic 70mm format has been adapted for special presentation systems.
The most well known of the special formats is the Imax, and the Omnimax "fish-eye" version, both use a 15 perforation "horizontal" frame with over three times the picture area available on standard 70mm prints. Imax films are presented on a giant flat screen, typically 50 by 65 feet and Omnimax on a planetarium-type domed screen.
Others, including Showscan,
MotionMaster and FutureVision, still use thc standard vertical 5-perforation pull-down system, but operating at higher frame rates to further enhance the image.
Douglas Trumbull's Showscan uses the conventional 65mm negative/70mm positive system, but operating at the higher frame. Showscan runs at 60 frames per second, with its flickerless and grainfree image sometimes being described as "Looking like video"! (In return, some video productions are now adding a judder effect to give them a film look!).
The results are projected using three times the normal illumination without any apparent grain or
flicker. The higher linear film speeds of both Imax and Showscan precludes the use of striped prints due to the shorter life of the magnetic sound heads. The multichannel sound for these systems comes from a 35mm six-track magnetic film running at the normal speed on a separate reproducer known as a "dubber".
In an effort to simplify the cumbersome 35mm dual-film 3-D system, the two full-size stereoscopic images have been arranged side-by-side on a single 70mm print. The most consistent users of this method have been the Russians with their
A Superior Product
The principal benefit of 70mm blow-ups, is to use the superior sound system and although the advertising has been careful to state that the films were simply being "presented in 70mm", some more knowledgeable patrons didn't always believe they were actually watching a 70mm film. In the interest of customer relations, one unbeliever at the Odeon Leicester Square in London, who had come a long way to see
"Dick Tracy" in 70mm and didn't consider it looked wide enough, was given the privilege of being taken up to the projection room to see the 70mm print actually running through the projector.
With 35mm sound now having caught up with 70mm and the prints being made from 35mm negatives, is there any point in keeping 70mm? In fact, even in the form of a blow-up, a 70mm print is generally better than the corresponding 35mm version. Although a little short-changed as far as the width of the picture is concerned, the audience is still seeing a superior product. 70mm projection provides a larger, brighter, steadier and sharper picture because the enlarged image of the 70mm print is almost four times the area of the equivalent aspect ratio on 35mm film. In the case of blow-ups from anamorphic negatives, the image is enlarged and unsqueezed using a high resolution printer lens, rather than relying on the projector's anamorphic attachment. Whether this difference is noticed by the average viewer is debatable.
Until the arrival of digital sound in 1992, the film companies have found it rewarding to release their most important films on 70mm, with the number of productions blown-up now approaching three-hundred. This encouraged the exhibitors to continue operating their 70mm installations, despite the higher cost of spares and maintenance. Also, the showing a 70mm print often involves extra preparation work, including making new aperture plates and adjusting the screen's masking for films with nonstandard image areas. After almost 40 years, there is still no common recording and playback characteristic or 70mm prints, so the theatre's amplifiers have to be tweaked each time in order to realize the full potential of the 70mm sound system.
70mm´s Lost Majestic
Many cinema-goers haven't seen a "true" 70mm film. Apart from coming along to a BKSTS Fantastic Format Show or in Bradford´s
Cinema, there have been few opportunities. One has seen the revivals and restorations of earlier 70mm epics.
"Oklahoma!" was reprinted in 1983 and showed that, even though it was shot on early color negative stock, it can still leave modern blow-ups standing when it comes to picture quality. David Lean's original director's cut of
"Lawrence of Arabia" had a successful 70mm cinema release, using superb prints made from the original 65mm negative. The return of
"Spartacus" on 70mm, again with added footage, was made more difficult because most of its Technirama negative had faded. The new 70mm prints had to be made from protection B&W color separation master positives, via a newly created 65mm duplicate color negative. The resulting image quality, although still impressive, didn't quite match Technicolor's original prints made in the 1960s directly from the camera negative. The most recent restoration has been the digitally touched-up
"My Fair Lady", which still looks magnificent in 70mm. As the principal reason for most of these restorations is for their release on video and laser disc, some are only made available for cinema showings in 35mm without giving today's audiences the chance to see such films as
"Cleopatra" and "El Cid" again in 70mm.
With the continual improvement of the grain structure and resolution of color negative stock, it might be expected that the present 70mm "blow-up" prints from 35mm anamorphic negatives would now equal the high degree of picture quality of the earlier prints made from 65mm originals. The opportunities to make comparisons are now rare, but occasionally prints from the 1960s are found and shown again. lt would have been expected that at least one 70mm print of each of the feature films mentioned in this article is now safely preserved. Sadly this is not the case, some like
"Lawrence of Arabia", which was restored in 1989 is no longer available on 70mm. Others have been kept, but on later inspection, it has been discovered that their original full-color images have faded to pale pink shadows of their former splendor e.g.
"El Cid". (70mm prints were never made using the fadefree Technicolor dye-transfer process). Curiously, others printed around the same time by the same laboratories and stored in similar conditions are still perfect. The 70mm Todd-AO copy of
"Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines" is still magnificent!
Sometimes the only remaining 70mm prints are of the "squeezed" Ultra Panavision type or "rectified" for deep curvature screens. During a 70mm season at the National Film Theatre in London, both types were shown using normal non-anamorphic projection on to a flat screen. Surprisingly, when a slightly squeezed (xl.25) Ultra Panavision 70 print of
"Mutiny on the Bounty" was shown, it was unlikely that many people in the audience noticed that the picture was compressed by 25% and H.M.S. Bounty had an oval wheel! Many members of the audience sitting at the sides of the auditorium are accustomed to seeing a slightly elongated image anyway. The "rectified" print of
"The Battle of the Bulge" was far more disturbing, with the actors gaining and losing weight as they moved across the screen.
As regards the picture quality, a near perfect copy of "The Fall of the Roman Empire" was shown again at the N.F.T. and the superb definition and clarity still can not be matched by modern prints derived from 35mm negatives. Unfortunately the current fashion for heavily diffused images, which may be considered effective on small screens, can often spoil the results when enlarged on to 70mm film and shown on larger screens.
The Premiere Format
The special venue activity encouraged manufacturers Panavision, Arriflex and Todd-AO to produce new compact state-of-the-art 65mm cameras, with many being equally suitable for making theatrical films. Laboratories, such as Technicolor in London, have reinstated the processing of 65mm negative to their range of 70mm printing facilities, which now includes Imax. In recent years, this has led to reports that some producers, including Steven Spielberg, were considering using 65mm cameras again. In the event, few new films shot on 65mm negative have actually reached the screen. Ron Howard's
"Far and Away" (1992) was one, but it didn't pay-off at the box-office. 70mm enthusiasts awaited its opening with great anticipation to see the results using the latest film stocks and lenses. Unfortunately, many were disappointed that the film's often de-saturated and diffused "period" images didn't exploit the higher resolution of the process to the full. Outstanding results were seen in
"Baraka" (1993), but this feature-length non-narrative movie only had a limited release and
"Hamlet" (1996). Bernardo Bertolucci's "Little Buddha" (1994) mixed original 35mm and some higher quality 65mm footage for its dramatic effect, making the flashback sequences more vivid. Like the other more recent 70mm productions, its unlikely that the average viewer noticed that much difference, especially if only seeing the film in the form of a 35mm reduction print. Even in the few 70mm showings, the screens were usually no larger than for 35mm, and not sufficiently different to impress the audience and show off the added resolution to its best advantage.
A 70mm presentation was always considered a special event. Most cinemas at that time had a large single auditorium and projected their 70mm films on an appreciably larger screen than those normally used for 35mm. The big picture, with its superb definition, together with the magnetic stereo sound, all helped to increase the audience's involvement with the action on the screen. Some theatres even had a bigger and deeply-curved screen kept in reserve and used for productions presented in proprietary 70mm projection process, such as Dimension-150, Vistarama and Single-lens Cinerama. From 1963, Cinerama began to phase out its cumbersome three projector set-up in favor of a single-film 70mm system.
For the time being, we are no longer seeing films like "The Phantom Menace" or
"The Matrix" in 70mm. The producers and exhibitors are currently more interested in the box-office value of digital sound. The last 70mm print available was
"Titanic", two years ago. Fortunately, some 70mm theatres are prepared to hang on to their 70mm projectors until, perhaps, one day, when "digital" becomes old hat, we see "In the Splendor of 70mm" on the canopy above the box-office again.
For over 40 years 70mm has remained the cinema's premiere projection format and although the picture quality varies depending on the type of the original negative, it still offers today's audiences the best possible presentation.
The only future for theatrical 70mm is to return to the original concept of using 65mm cameras again and promote 70mm process as truly the cinema's high definition process and whenever possible, show the films on a much larger screen, preferably wall-to-wall an floor-to-ceiling.
Response from Richard Vetter
I don't normally send e-mail
at 2:20 a.m. But I felt compelled to send you this message after having just
read the article "In The Splendour of 70mm" (Preserving wide screen history)
Grant Lobban is to be congratulated! He has written the most accurate and
comprehensive history of wide gauge film and 70mm that I have ever read
(barring some "typos" and a couple of inaccuracies)
His research is remarkable! He even filled in some gaps in my knowledge and
recounted many facts I had forgotten.
This is the finest contribution to wide gauge film that has ever been
Many thanks for sending the article to me. I personally would like to
congratulate Mr. Lobban some day. Can you tell me more about his back ground
which would explain the reason for his consummate contribution?
Best regards and many thanks
25. August 1998
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