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Seeing 70mm Films in Mexico

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: James Bohenek Date: 24 December 2005 
In the summer of 1985 I made my fifth and last trip to Mexico City. I enjoyed watching "American" movies with Spanish subtitles in all the big cinemas in downtown "D.F./Distrito Federal". Perhaps El Latino was my favorite of the big movie houses. It wasn't a "palace" with fancy décor as I remember it but it had a huge curved screen and the projection booth was in the middle of the auditorium, level with the screen.

I don't really like curved screens since the image is never in focus from side to side. The Panavision image of El Gran Rugido/Roar didn't begin to fill the screen. I think it didn't fill top to bottom or side to side but it had 4-Track Magnetic Sound that had been advertised and it sounded fine. Yes, Tippi Hedren's movie. To this day I've wanted the soundtrack because of the great music. Tippi has the movie for sale at her Shambala site but I think it's $50 and I don't pay $50 for any movie.

But that's not my story. My story is about when I saw "E.T." at El Latino. The image was fantastic. I was convinced that I was seeing a 70mm presentation. But there was something strange - the stereo sound was being switched on and off. Music was stereo but when the music ended so did the stereo sound.

Apparently the cinema had recently shown "Terremoto"/ "Earthquake" and the Sensurround speakers were still in place in the auditorium. This is significant and will explain the switching on and off of the stereo sound.

After the movie, I got up the nerve to knock on the projection booth door. (My Spanish wasn't as good then as it was a few years later but I got by.) I tried to ask if "E.T." was being shown in 70mm. The projectionist invited me inside to show me that the film was 35mm. The projectors were Norelco DP-70 or DP 35/70. Although I had never seen them I was familiar with the brand and model number. The projectionist showed me some of the levers that convert the projector. I saw the Sensurround amplifiers and a poster for "Terremoto"/ "Earthquake". The gentleman showed me a 70mm setup reel. I saw the Dolby sound controls on the wall and nearby there was a cue sheet for Sensurround. "Turn ON when the door opens...etc." I think the old man had the idea that DOLBY STEREO was like SENSURROUND and had to be turned on and off!! I was unable to convince him otherwise.

I don't know what movies might have been presented in 70mm at El Latino but I remember reading about a 70mm presentation of "Annie" either in Mexico City or in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.

Many of the cinemas in Mexico City and in Monterrey had 70 in their names through the 80's and into the 90's. Dorado 70 I think I remember in Monterrey. And in Nuevo Laredo there was a D-150 Cinema that was closed for many years before the D-150 sign was removed or the building was razed.

In 1985 I saw "2010 The Year We Make Contact" in Mexico City. I was amazed at what I saw there. The computer screens were in SPANISH instead of having English screens and subtitles!!!! Everytime I saw the movie on Mexican television a few years later the screens were English. Wouldn't this make a great way to use the ANGLE feature of DVDs? By the way, my DVD of "2010" is strictly English like the television presentations. Makes you wonder what happened to the SPANISH versions.

Oh! I just remembered something else - I've seen 70mm presentations of "2001" at two locations in San Antonio. Santikos Galaxy theater had Science Fiction/Fantasy Film Festivals a few times in the late 80's and they screened "2001" at least two seasons. We saw a print with some scenes pink and we saw the famous set goof in one of the ape scenes. And the 70mm presentations ended with the traditional MGM format "2001 A Space Odyssey From MGM Presented in 70mm" similar to "Fame" and other 70mm MGM presentations. Well, when the Rivercenter IMAX showed a few 70mm films in the late 80's or early 90's they presented "2001" but there were problems. Their short auditorium didn't have the THROW it needed for the newly installed dual projectors. (I think I was told that the projector or projectors came from The Egyptian in LA.) Anyway, they had to use an adaptor on the lens to have a decent sized image and the adaptor degraded the image considerably so it was like watching 35mm! But most significant was the difference in the end of the "2001" print. It said "2001 A Space Odyssey From MGM in Cinerama" same as my LaserDisc. No one has acknowledged to me that this difference is real but I've seen it.

I think all the 70mm equipment installed in SA in the 80's is now retired. I'm sure one location showed only ONE 70mm movie, "Starman", which had the distinction of having left and right channels reversed. Well, the manager claimed the print came with the sound backwards but every Dolby movie I saw there had the same "bad print" problem! Amazing. And the Rivercenter IMAX still shows 35mm movies but no more 70mm other than IMAX format. And the 35mm is blown up 80x60 feet and it's dark and blurry and ugly to look at so only tourists who don't know any better go to these horrible presentations.
Further in 70mm reading:

70mm in Mexico

Curiosities from Mexico

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Updated 07-01-23