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Das Atrium
Home of 7OMM in Stuttgart, Germany

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in70mm.com
The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Hans Haenssler, Stuttgart, GermanyDate: 09.07.2019
Willy Colm, who had been operating cinemas in Heilbronn and Fellbach before the Second World War, was the first one who got a licence from the American occupying forces to open a cinema is Stuttgart in 1946. His first one was "Die Filmbühne im Universum", actually a makeshift auditorium in the ruins of the former Universum Cinema, bombed out in 1942 by the Royal Air Force. In 1946 he moved to a building previously used as an orphanage near the Charlottenplatz called Planie. There were not too many cinema buildings left intact after the war, so the business was very good for Mr. Colm and he was soon able to obtain a ruined site area near the main shopping street of the town.

• Go to Gallery: Atrium Stuttgart Report

Under the supervision of the well known architect Hans Kieser, the Atrium Cinema in a 5-story building was erected during the next 5½ months. The cinema with balcony was laid out for 730 spectators and was the most state-of-the-art house in town. Thanks to the knowhow of the architect (Mr Kieser built more than 500 cinemas during his working life) the projection booth was in between the lower cinema auditorium and the balcony. So there was a straight-on view to the screen, no up- or downwards projection necessary as seen in other cinema buildings in town. For the sound reproduction the walls were decorated with rarely-used Faserit plasterwork and a false ceiling with more than 30.000 acoustic holes. Equipped with Ernemann X projectors and 80 ampere carbon arc light along with Zeiss-Ikon sound system, the Atrium opened on the 31st October 1952 with the Ernst Lubitsch comedy "Heaven Can Wait", a 20th Century Fox Picture with Gene Tierney and Don Ameche. It was running for 2 weeks. At that time the cinema was showing seven performances each day. Programs usually changed on Monday and Friday. The first long running attraction, "Gone With The Wind" started on March 25, 1953 for 9½ weeks. Later on in the history of the Atrium "Gone With The Wind" would be shown for a week or more, almost every year.
 
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With television programming taking more and more viewers, the theatre business went down rapidly. So the answer of the movie industry was Cinerama, a 3-strip projection system on a big curved screen, along with 7 channels of stereophonic sound. The stereo vinyl record was not yet on the market. The first film in the new system was "This Is Cinerama", which opened 30. September 1952 in New York. It was a big event. For smaller theatres the CINERAMA system was too expensive to install. Instead 20th Century Fox came up with the French invention by Henri Chrétien who used an anamorphic lens to squeeze the picture horizontally by a factor of two during filming. During projection a second lens would unsqueeze the picture to create a 2,55:1 aspect ratio on the screen. As the first installation in Stuttgart, The Atrium was equipped with the new technique in March 1954, showing "The Robe" in CinemaScope and 4-track magnetic sound. Until the end of 1958 many widescreen titles like "How To Marry A Millionaire", "Beneath The 12 Mile Reef", "River Of No Return", "The Gladiators" and "The Egyptian" just to mention a few,  were shown.

July 30, 1959 started a major modification for a new cinematic experience called Cinemiracle. For this, the screen frame had to be completely renewed in a steel construction, along with the set design of curtains, and black electronically movable vertical and horizontal masking for 35, 70mm and Cinemiracle or Cinerama. Part of the suspended ceiling in front of the stage had to be removed, also the middle part of the balcony, to give room for the projection beam and three bigger windows in the projection room. This was to allow the FP20-S projectors to now be positioned at a greater distance from the walls, due to the mirrors for projection in between. All these modernisations needed to be done in a short time. The architect was Hans Kieser again, and the technical equipment was deliverd by Photo Hildebrand in cooperation with Philips Kinoton in Munich. The Cinemiracle equipment was lent from Modern Cinema System, Munich. In the wide-angle cinema, the capacity of the Atrium would be 712 seats, and the impression of the great space-filling picture was particularly impressive. The screen measured 15 x 6,3 meters and the curve in the center 1,8 m.
 
 
Projectionist Frau Eisenlauer rewinding one of the Cinemiracle reels.

A Philips 7 channel amplifier system with 5 front- and 3 surround speakers on both sides was wired up. Using an inventive special plug-in cable system, the Cinemiracle projection equipment was able to go into operation within 48 hours for upcoming events. The Atrium in Stuttgart was the 4th 3-strip installation in Germany. While Munich, Berlin and Hamburg used heavy American Century projectors with carbon arc light, Stuttgart was the first installation Philips FP-20S projectors, with the advantage of needing smaller space. The discharge lamps were operated by a pulsator setting a frequency of 78 hertz, so there was no need for a shutter in the projector while transporting the film. The 7 channel stereophonic sound for Cinemiracle or Cinerama was reproduced from 35mm perforated magnetic fullcoat film, running on a separate machine synchronized with the 3 picture projectors, via Selsyn motors. All 4 filmstrips had to be loaded at the same specific starting cross. In case of a breakdown during the performance, there were edge numbers on all 4 films to resume the synchronisation at the same spot again and continue the show. While Cinerama normally needed 3 projection booths, Cinemiracle was running the program from only the single projection room. The center picture B came directly from one projector, while both side pictures A and C were projected via a mirror system from the opposite side. This allowed adjustment of the seams by moving the mirror electronically via remote, since it also had some kind of soft edge covering, minimizing the two dividing lines. For the operation of Cinemiracle, there were four projectionists necessary, three standing by the film projectors and one at the remote control board starting the system and monitoring the picture and sound during the show. Due to the capacity of the reels of 2800 m, there was a planned intermission after 60 to 70 minutes to set up the second part of the show. "Windjammer" was the one and only 3-strip performance in South Germany at that time, running 22 weeks.

From this date on, all incoming big productions were shown as so called "Roadshow Presentations", meaning only two performances a day and with advance ticket sales, souvenir booklet and big advertising in the newspaper. Sometimes there would be a première with special guests or actors from the movie. The typical show started with a short featurette, news reel, commercial advertising and preview trailers. Closing curtain and dimmed light for the overture of the main film and opening the curtain with the first picture of the film (mostly distributer logo). After the first part of the feature, there was a 15 minutes intermission and you could buy some drinks or, exclusively in the Atrium, a hot red sausage. The second part of the show started with dimmed light again and the Entr'acte music. After the end of the film there would be walk out music recorded on blank film, same as the intermission title cards.

After the first Cinemiracle event was over, the equipment was removed and a new pair of Philips DP70 70mm universal projectors along with a standalone Philips FP56 35mm projector was installed for the first Todd-AO 70mm film "South Pacific". Todd-AO 70 was a development of Michael Todd and the American Optical Company for widescreen projection coming out of one hole. "Oklahoma!" was the first production in 1955 with this new system. The 2nd Todd-AO production "South Pacific" came out in the USA in 1958. It started in Stuttgart on January 22, 1960 and ran for 4 weeks only. Until November 25, 1960 there was only one more 70mm event at the Atrium, "The Big Fisherman" filmed in Super Panavison and starring Howard Keel.
 
 
With a prepayment to MGM, Friedl Colm (the wife of Willy who died in 1957), secured the rights to run "Ben-Hur" in Camera 65 for the first time in the greater Stuttgart area. "Ben-Hur" was shipped in 16 containers with a weight of 20 - 23 kg per reel making a total over 330 kg to get it up in the projection booth. Today your films are delivered on a hard disc drive, or via satellite dish, or even via the internet and no heavy transportation anymore. It was in April 1961 when I was visiting Stuttgart and the Atrium was still running "Ben-Hur" in the 5th month and almost sold out in the afternoon show. I was extremely impressed by the picture- and sound quality of the film. It was something I had never experienced before at my local theatres in Göppingen, running only 35mm and optical monaural sound. "Ben-Hur" was in the first run for 31 weeks, later repeating almost every year again and again until December 1970 reaching a total of 51 weeks and over 150.000 visitors. From that point on, I began watching the newspaper ads of the Atrium, so I was able to see "Exodus" running 8 weeks and "Spartacus" 12 weeks, all in the year 1961 and in the 70mm format.

April 11, 1962 was when Cinerama came back to town with "Seven Wonders of the World" (12 weeks) followed by "South Seas Adventure" (another 12 weeks) and "Windjammer" again for 2 weeks only. 1962 also brought "El Cid" in 70mm for 12 weeks to the Atrium, along with "The Longest Day" in CinemaScope and 4-track magnetic sound running 10 weeks. The year ended with a re-run of "Gone with the Wind" for the first time in 35mm widescreen format running 8 weeks. On April 5, 1963, a 24 weeks engagement of "How The West Was Won" started in Cinerama with the Philips Cinemiracle System loaned again from the German Cinerama GmbH. This was the first 3-strip dramatic feature film telling the story of a family saga covering several decades of Westward expansion in the nineteenth century - including the Gold Rush, the Civil War, and the building of the railroads. From September 20 until November 11, 1963 "55 Days in Peking" a Samuel Bronston production filmed in Spain in Super Technirama was running 9½ weeks.

Starting for the Christmas season, Cinerama was installed again on November 27, 1963 for the last 3-strip projection in Stuttgart. "The Wonderful World Of Brothers Grimm" ran for only 7 weeks.
 
 
Right after the end of "The Wonderful World Of Brothers Grimm", another blockbuster arrived in town from 20th Century Fox starring Elisabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison. "Cleopatra" one of the most expensive productions of the year produced in Todd-AO. At this time the Atrium was rented and operated by the German Cinerama GmbH in Munich. Again I would be travelling to Stuttgart from my hometown to see this colorful production and walked past a billboard on a construction fence, advertising the show for the Atrium.

"Cleopatra" was running for 16 weeks followed by "The Long Ships", "Porgy And Bess" and "West Side Story" in 70mm. After that came 6 weeks of different 35mm titles until September 11, 1964 with the opening of the first single lens Cinerama production of "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World". The filming system was Ultra Panavision, using a 65mm negative with a anamorphic squeeze lens of x1,25 giving the 70mm projection an aspect ratio of 1:2,75, using the full screen as Cinerama did before. The system was not new, it had already been used in "Raintree County", "Ben Hur" and "Mutiny On The Bounty". "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World" was not a big success, running only 3 weeks before beign replaced by "The Alamo" for only 1 week as a re-run in Stuttgart. One day before Christmas eve "My Fair Lady" started for a very, very long run of 33 weeks. This Super Panavision 70mm title was shown in a German dubbed version (usually all titles in our country are synchronized), so even the songs had German lyrics. During the 33 weeks, there were some evening shows running the original English version in 70mm. The year 1965 brought the following titles to the Atrium: "The Hallelujah Trail", "Circus World", "55 Days At Peking", "Cheyenne Autumn", "The Greatest Story Ever Told" and for another 13 weeks "Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines". "The Agony And The Ecstasy" started on April 22, 1966 for 4 weeks, followed by the first blow-up 35mm Panavision production of "The Great Race" (3 weeks), "Battle Of The Bulge" (5 weeks), "My Fair Lady" again (4 weeks) and 2 titles in CinemaScope and 4-track magnetic sound "The Blue Max" (4 weeks) and "Is Paris Burning" (5 weeks).

December 2, 1966 marked the start of "Doctor Zhivago", filmed in 35mm Panavision and blown up to 70mm with 6-track stereophonic sound. At a run length of 75 weeks, this would be the longest running title in the history of the Atrium. I would have to wait over one year for my next 70mm show to attend in Stuttgart. "The Bible" started on May 25, 1968 for 7 weeks, followed by "Grand Prix" (6 weeks), "Doctor Zhivago" again (5 weeks) and till the end of the year "2001: A Space Odyssey" (5 weeks) and "Mutiny On The Bounty" (2 weeks). During the '68 season the Olympic Cinema Chain became the next tenant of the Atrium. Followed by another re-run of "Ben Hur" (9 weeks) and for the first time "Gone With The Wind" in a 70mm blow-up version running 13 weeks. In contrast to the artwork of the Czech posters, the German ones were similar to the American originals. One of the last Todd-AO features; financed by an American television company was "Krakatoa - East Of Java", which started on March 28, 1969 for only 3 weeks.

From May to September of 1969 all the next titles were shown only for 1 week: Tati's "Play Time", "Custer Of The West", "El Cid", "The Great Race", "Spartacus", "Battle Of The Bulge", "55 Days At Peking", "Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines", "The Alamo", "The Fall Of The Roman Empire", "MacKenna's Gold", "Can Can", "Funny Girl" all in a series called "The Best of 70mm" followed by "The Shoes Of The Fisherman" (2 weeks) and "Doctor Zhivago" (1 week). On October 11, 1969 I bought my first car and drove to Stuttgart to see "Ice Station Zebra" another Super Panavision film from MGM, running 4 weeks. The year ended with "Alfred The Great" and "Where Eagles Dare" (each 1 week only). On February 13, 1970 "My Fair Lady" was shown again for 4 weeks and "Paint Your Wagon" (12 weeks), "Patton" (2 weeks), "Hello Dolly" (2 weeks), "Cleopatra" (1 week), "Doctor Zhivago" again for 3 weeks, "Waterloo" (2 weeks) and "Kelly's Heroes" (2 weeks).
 
 
"Ryan's Daughter" in 70mm in December 1970.

My career as a part time projectionist had started in 1966 in Göppingen, running 35mm films on Ernemann X machines, followed by working at the Capitol Cinema in Karlsruhe in 1968 with Italian Fedi 70mm projectors. I always had an eye on the Atrium and eventually landed a projectionist job there. On December 18, 1970, I was running the my 70mm print with "Ryan's Daughter" in that theatre. This David Lean film was the last 65mm Super Panavision production for many years to come. Most feature titles were blow-ups from anamorphic or spherical 35mm negatives. The main reason for this was the magnetic sound reproduction of 70mm offered much better quality compared to the monophonic optical playback on 35mm prints. "Ryan's Daughter" was running for 11 weeks followed by "Soldier Blue" in 35mm Scope for 7 weeks.

While I was stationed in Karlsruhe during my army time in 1968, I was running 70mm at the Capitol Theatre for a while. Also 35mm in Göppingen and the Soldier Casino Cinema in Ebingen. From 1970 I was working at AFN Stuttgart, the Armed Forces Radio Station and most of the evenings and also weekends at the Atrium. A change in theatre management also happened at that time. The Atrium was now in hands of the Olympic Cinema Chain. I noticed the faulty equipment of the Atrium. From six channels of sound, only three were working. The masking for 70mm was hanging down 1,5 meters on the right screen corner, because the cables were broken. There was no surround in the balcony and the magnetic sound heads were completely worn down.

With the start of "Ryan's Daughter", and about the time when I started working at the Atrium, there had been no regular full-time projectionist working for about a year or so. The old time projectionist before me was not interested in running films. He was eventually thrown out and one projectionist from Essen came to Stuttgart for about two weeks, until the staff or freelancer like me took over projection duties. A younger guy came in and together we fixed all the problems within a short time. I taught the young theatre manager to run 70mm with changeover reel by reel and carbon arc light. On weekends we checked the cable of the masking, curtains and also the surround speakers in the double ceiling. He ordered new sound heads and much more.

There was no test equipment for the sound, so I brought in a Voltage meter and made a loop from "2OO1" when HAL killed the deep frozen astronauts, there was a steady cycle tone on all 6 channels, which I used to set up the preamps on both machines for the same playback level. Of course the next 70mm print had completely different levels, but this could be corrected with the power amps and leaving the pre amps as it was set up before. At that time there was no pink noise or Dolby 70mm test films on the market. Since I worked at a Radio station I pulled out the amplifiers one after the other to repair them at the radio station.

There were many occasions for me to run films on weekday evenings or on weekends. There were still the two DP70 projectors and the Philips FP56 all with carbon arc lamps in operation. Rewinding had to be done manually, so there was no opportunity to leave the projection room for a longer time during the performance of the films. A good thing was the big windows left from the Cinemiracle installation. You could easily see the film, observing the complete screen while operating the show.
 
 
To make the story a little shorter for now, the following new 70 mm titles were shown from April 23, 1971 until July 12, 1974: "Tora! Tora! Tora", "How The West Was Won", "Guns For San Sebastian", "Liberation", "Elvis - That's The Way It IS" "Wild Rovers" and "Tchaikovsky". Also re-re-runs of: "2001", "My Fair Lady", "Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines", "55 Days At Peking", "Battle Of The Bulge", "Mutiny On The Bounty", "Spartacus", "Ben Hur", "Fall Of The Roman Empire", "El Cid", "Solomon And Sheba", "Doctor Zhivago", "Lawrence Of Arabia" and "Windjammer" this time in CinemaScope only, but running 15 Sundays in a martinee special.

I still remember the first, almost sold out show of "Windjammer", on Sunday December 30, 1973 at 11 o'clock. After the opening sequence in 35mm and 1'37 format, there was the changover to CinemaScope to imitate the Cinemiracle kind of picture. But this was a very bad reproduction of the original 3-strip films and had only optical monophonic sound. After 10 minutes the first people came out and wanted their money back. I had seen "Windjammer" about 6 months earlier [Summer of 1973] at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. The same situation from the 3 picture, only the center was shown, but the Cinerama Dome advertisement pointed out that the film would not be shown in the original Cinemiracle system!

From July 12 to September 14 1974 the Atrium was closed for modification. The balcony was divided from the auditorium in the ground floor. The Colm theatre group took over their own house so now there would be 350 seats in the "70mm Great House" and 200 in the balcony, now called Bambi. The two DP70 projectors equipped with 3500 watt xenon light and 70mm Philips platter stayed in use in the larger thater. And the Philips FP56 formerly used for preview program was installed in the new Bambi projection booth. The original Zeiss-Ikon tube audio system in the 70mm Atrium was replaced by new Philips magnetic preamps along with Klein & Hummel power amplifiers. The opening 35mm title was "The Conversation" and the first 70mm "Flying Clipper".

From this date on, I lost interest in running films in the Atrium, but kept close friendship with the successor operator Detlev Mähl (who died 2017 at the age of 73). In researching the newspaper ads in the city library, these 70mm titles were shown in the year 74 - 75: "My Fair Lady" (4 weeks), "Ben Hur" (7 weeks), "2001: A Space Odyssey" (4 week), and "Earthquake" with Sensurround sound for 13 weeks. "Paint Your Wagon" (3 weeks), "Doctor Zhivago" (5 weeks), "Fall Of The Roman Empire" (3 weeks), "Tora! Tora! Tora" (1 week), "Gone With The Wind" (4 weeks) and "The 10 Commandments" (3 weeks).
 
 
The author Hans Haenssler outside the Atrium - two shops at street level and offices in the upper floors.

"Hair"
was the first film with the newly installed Dolby CP50 matrix decoder in Summer of 1979. Many attractive titles like "First Blood" followed and also 70mm blow ups where shown once in a while. 1980 another change in the cellar, a small studio cinema with 100 seats was opened and 1985 the upper foyer equipped with a 60 seat small showplace and the projection through the upper floor and two mirrors along with monophonic optical sound only.

The "Big House" showed the following 70mm titles:

1981: "The Big Blue"
1982: "Blade Runner"
1983: "The Right Stuff", "Return Of The Jedi", "Blue Thunder"
1984: "2010 - The Year We Make Contact", "Greystoke - The Legend Of Tarzan"
1985: "Willow", "Cocoon", "A Chorus Line", "Revolution"
1986: "Aliens"
1987: "Cobra Verde"
1988: "Gorillas In The Mist"
1992: "Far And Away" the first and only Ron Howard feature filmed in 65mm Super Panavision, Vistavision and Panavision Anamorphic.

In 1995 it was announced that a gigantic multiplex would be built in Stuttgart by the kino king Heinz Riech. It would have 13 single cinemas in one structure called UFA Palast and 4235 seats in total. This was the reason why the Atrium was closed forever in April 1996. The DP70s (SN 884+885) were sent to Schauburg Cinerama, Karlsruhe for storage. #885 later sold to The Arcadia cinema in Milan, 2018. The last 70mm film was "The Last Emperor". Today the former Cinerama Atrium houses two shops at street level and offices in the upper floors.

• Go to Gallery: Atrium Stuttgart Report
 
 
  
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Updated 11-07-19