WHAT IS CINERAMA? CAN IT STILL BE SEEN SOMEWHERE?
I've been watching HOW THE WEST WAS WON, which has fuzzy vertical lines going through it. I've been told that the lines are there because it was filmed in a process called Cinerama, which was really three movies shown side by side to make one giant wide picture. If that is true, how come IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD, which is also a Cinerama movie, doesn't have these fuzzy lines in it too?
The 'lines' you see in HOW THE WEST WAS WON are indeed the junction points between the three separate films that were projected together in sync to create the original Cinerama experience. The Cinerama company introduced the process in 1952 with a novelty documentary called THIS IS CINERAMA. Although popular, Cinerama was limited almost exclusively to Imax-like travelogues like SOUTH SEAS ADVENTURE and was exhibited on a much narrower scale than the giant-screen Imax is now. Besides the enormous expense of filming with three coordinated cameras, every theater showing Cinerama required three projectionists to monitor the synchronization of the three projectors and their relative brightness, to minimize the 'seams' between the three screens. Only two feature 'story' films, HOW THE WEST WAS WON and THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, were produced in full-fledged, three-screen Cinerama. And only a handful of Cinerama-equipped theaters were ever built, which means that most audiences saw them in normal 70mm and 35mm prints adapted from their original three panels. Confused moviegoers everywhere wondered what the 'seams' on the screen were all about.
The enormous cost of three-camera Cinerama eventually spelled its doom. In order to compete with other relatively economical formats like Todd A-O, the Cinerama company designed its own single-film ultra-widescreen 70mm projection system and abandoned its old filming equipment. The first production for this single-strip "70mm Super Cinerama" (with, just as you noticed, no vertical seam lines) was IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD, which premiered in1963 at the new Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, with its original wraparound screen. Although it was designed with the three projection booths, the distinctive Dome (which is soon to become extinct) never showed the old 3-screen Cinerama. Other famous features filmed in the 70mm Cinerama format were 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and ICE STATION ZEBRA. As the original Cinerama logo was prominently used in ads and posters, many fans believed they were watching the original process, somehow improved to cover up the seams between the screens. To make matters even more confusing, when THIS IS CINERAMA was reissued in the early 70's, it was pointlessly exhibited in normal adapted widescreen prints, as had been HOW THE WEST and BROTHERS GRIMM! It just looked just like what it was without the Cinerama experience: an awful print of a boring 20 year-old travelogue. (Source credit: Wide Screen Movies, Robert E. Carr and R.M. Hayes, McFarland and Co., 1988)
NEWS FLASH! There is actually a theater still in existence where original Cinerama can be seen just as it was shown 32 years ago. The New Neon Movies in Dayton, Ohio, presently screens the only real Cinerama show in existence in the United States. Cinerama 'revivalist' John Harvey, after collecting outdated equipment for decades, has installed a real Cinerama setup, complete with lenticular curved screen and the famous Cinerama logo on the roof. Every weekend the theater screens one-of-a- kind prints of HOW THE WEST WAS WON, CINERAMA HOLIDAY, and the original THIS IS CINERAMA to full houses of both locals and visitors from all over the country. Cinerama devotee Richard Smith made the pilgrimage to Dayton early in August and reports that the specatcle of seeing Lowell Thomas shout 'This is Cinerama!' as the screen opens up is every bit as impressive as it was in 1952!
Information about these screenings can be had through The New Neon Movies, 130 E. 5th & Patterson,
Dayton, Ohio 45402 (937) 222 - SHOW or (937) 222- 8452.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson