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'In the Picture': The Return of Cinerama

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Johan C.M. Wolthuis, International 70mm Publishers, The Netherlands. Date: 07.09.2013
Dave Strohmaier and 3-strip slate. Image by Tom March

In the early fifties a revolutionary 'This is Cinerama' premiered on the evening of September 30, 1952 in the Broadway Theater in New York, causing gigantic queues on the pavement before the theatre!

Exactly 60 years later on September 30, 2012 a new 3-strip Cinerama travelogue
"In the Picture" premiered at the ArcLight Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. It was the fulfilment of a dream for Cinerama addict Dave Strohmaier from Los Angeles, since he started the research on a Cinerama documentary. Already at the age of six David 's father took him to the Ambassador Cinerama Theatre in St Louis to see 'Seven Wonders of the World', some years later followed by a visit to 'How The West Was Won'. These cinema visits as a young boy were the start of his admiration for Cinerama! He started in 1997 with the research and spent the next five years (!) happily supported by his wife to locate film prints, cameras and projectors. This all resulted in 2002 with his documentary 'Cinerama Adventure' a very interesting video film of 96 minutes, about the history of Cinerama. The making of this documentary introduced him to all aspects of the Cinerama heritage and so he also got involved in the restoration of old Cinerama films. But it took ten years before his dream to make a new Cinerama film, became reality with the support of John Sittig from ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres, owners of Cinerama, who wanted to organise something special for Cinerama's60th anniversary in September 2012.
More in 70mm reading:


Cinerama Remaster

2013 Academy Member Johan Wolthuis (The Netherlands)

In The Picture - Tom Down Under

Internet link:

Example of 3-strip film. Click image to see enlargement

However, as you can imagine, it was very difficult to find an original camera that had been stored for fifty years and now had to be renovated to produce a new film. In 1962 the original cameras were used for the last time with the filming of 'How the West Was Won'. It required a lot of work to modify an old Cinerama camera, but thanks to the cooperation of a lot of enthusiastic people all with their own knowledge, among them cinematographers John Hora, ASC and Douglas Knapp, SOC, all wanting to be part of this unique historical project, that finally started in January 2012 under the inspiring leadership of director/editor David Strohmaier.

'In the Picture' had its European premiere on April 27, 2013, half a year after the Hollywood premiere, during the Widescreen Festival Weekend in Bradford, UK in the beautiful Pictureville Cinema, which is part of the National Media Museum and the only theatre in Europe with facilities to screen original Cinerama films.

Principal photography for 'In the Picture' was done between January and April 2012 in Los Angeles because of the small budget, which didn't allow them to travel outside the city. Film scenes include the Griffith Park Observatory, overlooking the 'City of Angels' from the hills, the Hollywood Heritage Museum, a merry-go-round at Griffith Park and driving around the boulevards of Los Angeles. The story follows a middle aged couple (Stanley and Paula Livingstone) showing a younger couple (Elizabeth Dominiguez and Matthew Brewbaker) around Los Angeles and meanwhile talking about their memories of Cinerama.
Film star Debbie Reynolds, who played Aunt Lillith in 'How the West Was Won' in 1962. Image by Tom March

The final images of the film were shot on board the brigantine 'Exy Johnson' a sailing vessel made available by the TopSail Youth Program Organisation. They spend two days on board this ship and another day on a sister vessel to shoot images of the two couples on the 'Exy Johnson'. These were the ultimate shots of the film as they reminded us of the classic Cinerama/Cinemiracle film "Windjammer" from 1958! For David Strohmaier this was a heavy kind of improvisation, because he had no chance to storyboard these scenes, as he had no idea how it all would work nor had he any experience filming on a sailing vessel! But despite all these problems the images were really touching! The last days of shooting were in the Cinerama Dome and they were very lucky to meet with famous film star Debbie Reynolds, who played Aunt Lillith in 'How the West Was Won' in 1962.

She was born on 1 April 1932, so is already 81 year on this planet! After filming Debbie in the lobby, with fans all around her, the crew finally went inside the Dome's auditorium to shoot some scenes of the two star couples from the film watching their own acting projected on the giant Cinerama screen.

The processing of 'In the Picture' was done by FotoKem laboratories in Burbank, just north of Los Angeles. The crew was able to screen the dailies in the Cinerama Dome during the time of production together with people from FotoKem. These were often chaotic days having to solve all the problems of sharpness and misframing. Strohmaier had also set up a digital video camera to shoot the projected dailies from the screen, as this was the only way for him to watch the scenes at home and to work out the difficult editorial decisions. But the resulting new 3-strip Cinerama film with a screening time of 26 minutes was amazing and a great accomplishment for David Strohmaier and his enthusiastic team! Hope to see it next year April for the second time in Bradford during the Widescreen Weekend in the unique Pictureville Cinerama Theatre.
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Updated 07-01-23