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The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Mark Macann Date: 10. November 2006
Hi Ramon Lamarca Marques,

Thank you for your reply to my e-mail. From many years ago when I first saw a Cinerama website, and dreamed of a dedicated site for 70mm, and until [when] you have made it comparatively straightforward to access you by email, it's been quite an emotional experience to see your material about 70mm. I mean 70mm five perf, which in my opinion, is "the perfect format".

IMAX fifteen perf is great and welcome (I'm sure Mike Todd would have enthusiastically been part of it), but it's for specialised work only. Rightly so, of course, because it provides something the public fully understands. And that is the difference, isn't it? The public knows fully well that IMAX is light years ahead of any digital / super thirty five / blah blah stuff there is. Using exactly the same logic, I believe that the public intrinsically knows when they see a genuine 65 / 70 presentation. Mike Todd had it right: he promoted it properly. It seems that 70mm promoted properly and in its purity (pure 65mm origination to 70mm print), with as you said "the right stories", can't fail to be enthusiastically received by the cinema going public. Why? Because it's the only alternative there is to the image-poor digital revolution (and I'm studying digital film making, which is affordable and has its rightful place). But truly the question is: what possible alternative is there to the "digital slide" back down the evolutionary scale? Only 70mm.

And a keyword is rationalisation. I believe David Lean got that pretty well right. "Lawrence of Arabia", for example, is not just a beautifully crafted and acted motion picture. It was filmed with a photographer's eye. Some of us "oldies" who've done 35mm still SLR photography know lots about this experientially. David Lean apparently made careful set-ups, but they were somewhat spare, apart from that. As has been mentioned in the "Lawrence" website at the American Widescreen Museum, he did not use multiple cameras or lots of slow motion. 70mm captures the scene so faithfully, that those techniques would appear intrusive and redundant.

Also I believe that with 70mm, "a little bit goes a long way". (As an aside to this, the only chance New Zealanders have had seeing a 70mm film at all during tha past lean decades, has been the Showscan production of "Kiwi Magic", at the Queenstown cinema complex. This beautifully scripted and acted 70mm film depicts an American businessman's rapid conversion to New Zealand tourism as a career following an eventful biplane flight down the country. Now sadly, the film shows only in anamorphic - the out-of-focus top and sides of the picture immediately reveal that - yet at least it was filmed in 70mm).

Which brings up the point about projection systems for 35mm. In my professional experience as a projectionist, I conducted a test with only the prime lens, without the anamorphic. Sure enough, the lens could not fully resolve the picture's focus except for a narrow area in the middle of the frame. When the anamorphic is added, it compounded the problem two-fold, naturally! This is where the 70mm wide projection lens of small focal length has a far better chance of delivering a crisp focused image across most of the field of view.

I believe that 5-perf 70 mm is the perfect system, because it is usable just like 35mm, running from top to bottom. Easy to load the cameras. And it is possible to have quite a low shooting ratio, as Stephen Spielberg has reportedly prided himself on achieving (from an article about his filming of "Jurassic Park", circa the late 1990's.)

So a low shooting ratio could be aimed for, as a matter of course. Directors and Cinematographers could be encouraged to take another view of the filming process; and have pride in the fact they are creating precious images on 70mm. There could be an "awe" about it all. Rationalisation could certainly keep the very best sets, set-piece action sequences, and photographically beautiful scenes for 65mm; while dialogue, close-ups and multiple take actions could be reserved for 35mm anamorphic. If the 35mm anamorphic was achieved with slower speed stocks, carefully lit; then image quality would be maintained to the highest level possible.

I believe that the film production companies need to look at 70mm as the only truly big screen system worth mentioning. If they angle their thinking properly, many additional profits can be achieved. Their apparent rationale has been "DVD accounts for 60 per cent of profits" (so therefore we'll rush the cinema prints through; so as to get it out to DVD as soon as possible?!). But how about: "There's forty per cent of our profits that could be turned into sixty, or even seventy per cent; if we do the big screen deal properly". It's just a matter of one's perspective. Money talks, and 70mm films, with the right stories and production values, could make lots for money for the filmmakers. It's an arm of their business that they have almost criminally left to waste away.

We students are learning "film-making" using digital tools. We are not learning video-making; with its inherent wastefulness of media. We line up the shots, and film only what is scripted for the story, or the effect.

One other thought is, how nice it would be to see some 70mm shot on a wide lens, like Mike Todd's "bugeye." Just watching my DVD of "Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines" is fun, in part; to see the curvature of lampposts, horizons etc, with the wider Todd-AO lenses they were using. 70mm is (once again, I'll say it) the perfect film format for wide angle lenses. Maybe not quite as wide as 128 degrees, but then again, why not?

It's been my privilege to see "Ben Hur", "The Sound of Music", "Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines", "Airport", "Song of Norway", "Lawrence of Arabia", "2001: A Space Odyssey", "West Side Story", "My Fair Lady", (as an adult); and possibly "Can Can", and "Porgy and Bess" (as a child, when I didn't know what film was, let alone 70mm) on 70mm. 65mm orgination to 70mm print. These films are all remarkable, in that they've had an indelible impact on my psyche.

In addition, I've seen many 70mm prints from 35mm anamorphic originals; and of course many more 35mm prints from 65mm originals. But it's the 65-70 ones that stand out mightily.

I'm quite impassioned about 70mm, and - oops! - you asked for a short piece. Well, if any of it is useful, please feel free to publish any part that may help.

Kind regards, Mark Macann
 
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