CINERAMA @ 60


On Sunday, 3oth September 2012, nEoFILM celebrated the 60th Anniversary of Cinerama. This is a collection of articles and reviews which I had posted throughout the week ending the 30th, to honour the lost format’s big day. I have also included a bonus review, 2001: A Space Odyssey to the collection.

All the following articles and reviews are also available as separate posts. 

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CHAPTER 1

SMILEBOX IS BACK

30th September 1952 saw the world premier of This Is Cinerama. This Sunday sees the 60th Anniversary of that event and will marked by several posts and reviews throughout the day.

After nearly three years of following the progress of these illusive Cinerama titles, independent distributor, Flicker Alley have finally released This Is Cinerama and Windjammer: The Voyage Of The Christian Radich today!

Originally set for the 13th September, they were both put back to the 25th. Both are presented in the underused Smilebox format, which so far, has only been applied once back in 2008 with How The West Was Won. But that Blu-ray also presented a 2.78:1 version (flat) as well, but not with these titles. It’s Smilebox or nothing which is fine by me.

My hopes are that sooner, rather than later, the remaining Cinerama Travelogues and the other feature film to be shot in 3-Strip Cinerama, The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm, will be released also. And, though maybe a pipe dream, the prospects of releasing other films with the option of Smilebox, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey & Ben~Hur, for examples, which were presented on a curved screen at time, let alone restorations of lost films such as the only other 3-Panel Cinerama films such as the afore-mentioned The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm.

There are some cracking features on these discs, such as The Breakdown Reel for This Is Cinerama, an alternate segment which was included in the European showings, as well a selection of features looking at the restorations of the titles and I hope that these two films will make a prestigious addition to my collection. I have never seen Windjammer though, and it suspect that few people have but I have seen This Is Cinerama at Bradford back in 1993 and of course many excerpts in Smilebox as they featured in the Cinerama Adventure documentary from 2002.

Cinerama and Cinemiracle, the latter format used just once for Windjammer, were never really sustainable as widescreen formats, but this was and is still a fascinating format and does not deserve to be lost forever and thanks to all those who spent their time restoring these lost epics, they won’t be. Though it will always be niche market for a small number of collectors such as myself.

I have yet to receive my discs as they are on their way from Flicker Alley in the U.S. as we speak, but a review is coming so brace yourselves!

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CHAPTER 2

146 DEGREES OF PERCEPTION

60 years ago today, on the evening of September 30th 1952, Cinerama was premiered at the New York Broadway Theatre, heralding what would be come a new and enduring era of widescreen. Though the true three panel Cinerama format would not survive, How The West Was Won and The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm being the last, just 10 years later, its legacy would flourish for decades. CinemaScope, which was its greatest rival in 1950′s, would evolve in to the 2:39:1 aspect ratio which is so widely used today.

The Smilebox Simulation is finally becoming more widely used, now having been used with three films, How The West Was Won (1962), This Is Cinerama (1952) & Windjammer: The Voyage Of The Christian Radich (1958). The latter two have been released by Flicker Alley and are hopefully the FIRST of the otherwise, lost travelogue series to be restored to their former glory.

35mm , 70mm, and some three panel prints are still in use in the few Cinerama theatres around the world, with only one in the U.K. being the Bradford Pictureville, and are still shown throughout the year, as per their own schedules, often as part of 70mm festivals etc.

If you’re interested in learning more about Cinerama, I would highly recommend the documentary, Cinerama Adventure (2002), which is presented on both the Blu-ray and the DVD of How The West Was Won.

The travelogue series consisted of: South Seas Adventure (1958), Search For Paradise (1957), Seven Wonders Of The World (1956) and Cinerama Holiday (1955). All four titles have yet to be released but the hopes are that Flicker Alley will be able to continue the series over the next few years.

There is also a new short film in production for the anniversary, In The Picture, shot with the last remaining working Cinerama 3-Strip camera, which I hope to review in the future but whether this will be restricted to theatrical showings only, or will end up on Blu-ray has yet to be seen.

So, Happy Birthday to birth of commercially viable widescreen, and the flawed but fascinating and ambitious process that was 3 Panel Cinerama. Now, we just need a few more films to be released on Blu-ray in the innovative Smilebox Simulation, which simulates the format very well, but in the meantime, in the words of Lowell Thomas himself,

“This Is Cinerama…”

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CHAPTER 3

THE REVIVAL CONTINUES…

Cinerama’s legacy continues today, with widescreen and the more direct descendant, 70mm IMAX continuing the traditions. IMAX, before its recent wholehearted adoption by mainstream cinema, was generally a medium for large-scale documentaries. Space, Underwater and more exiting subject, such as the 1992 film, Fire Of Kuwait were the theme of these shorts, as they could take us into places which we could only imagine, and IMAX 3D has pushed that format even further.

Ironically, does IMAX now face a similar fate to its forbearer? Cinerama failed because it was too costly and inefficient to be adopted as a mainstream medium and began its end by being phased out, from 3-strip 35mm to 1-strip 70mm. IMAX is going digital and the native ratio of 1.44:1 is being compromised by feature film being shot in 1.85:1.

“LIE-MAX” theatres, as they’ve been dubbed by angry patrons are springing up, so-called IMAX cinemas which have compromised the format as much as possible with smaller screens and purely digital set ups. The more commercially viable IMAX becomes less faithful to its roots and intentions.

Cinerama began it’s life in a similar way, with series of Travelogues, beginning with the 1952 top grossing film, This Is Cinerama. Soon followed by Cinerama Holiday (1955), Seven Wonders Of The World (1956), Search For Paradise (1957) and South Seas Adventure (1958). In the same year, we had Norwegian film, Windjammer: The Voyage Of the Christian Radich, which was originally shot in a rival format, Cinemiracle, the only time that this was used. It soon converted to Cinerama and distributed under its banner.

The main comparison between IMAX and Cinerama is that there goals were to bring scale and awe inspiriting imagery to the screen. IMAX probably has more going for it in general story telling ability than Cinerama, which was, lets face it, pretty useless, as close-up were simply impossible in a format hell-bent on scale! But both formats work at their very best when taking us on a journey.

IMAX has shown us space, water, microscopic worlds and grand landscapes. Cinerama took its audience to places that they simply could afford too, or safely travel. In fact, there were several deaths and injuries incurred on those of produced the daredevil footage for these travelogues.

The result was some of the most outstanding and ambitious cinematography ever seen, certainly up until that point. IMAX would continue this legacy up until the present day. will it survive its plundering by the mainstream, in the same way that Cinerama didn’t? Soon after the second full narrative feature, The wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm (1962), Cinerama went to 70mm, Unltra-Panavision 70. This would be comparable in my opinion, to 70mm IMAX going digital. A more convenient and practical method of exhibition.

But when they showed films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) with a single strip of film on to a curved screen, there was an unnatural distortion, as you might imagine. The comprise became a flaw and that flaw finished the curved screen off once and for all. And very understandable too. IMAX will end up being nothing more that a big screen, louder version of the tradition cinema, and will only last as long as the audience are prepared to pay more the so-called experience, and the brand name, IMAX.

That experience is slowly being diminished by basically showing widescreen films on a 4:3 TV, though be it a very large one, even though that is shrinking as well!

At the moment though, with film makers such as Christopher Nolan championing the IMAX format, as he has done with his Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception, IMAX can continue to enjoy its popularity. In the meantime, Cinerama will have its fans, and the latest and the first 3-strip production of a Cinerama film for 50 years, short,  In The Picture (2012),  is being premiered this weekend in the U.S. to celebrate the 60th Anniversary. Shot with the last working 3-strip camera, it’s quite an achievement but I wouldn’t expect a mainstream revival, or nor would I want one.

But in the week which has seen Flicker Alley release both This Is Cinerama & Windjammer: The Voyage Of The Christian Radich on Blu-ray & DVD, it’s nice see some evidence that the other travelogues may make an appearance soon too. South Seas Adventure (1958) (Trailer above) has already been restored for theatrical exhibition and will hopefully be making its way onto our small screens too, along with talk of the second film, Cinerama Holiday (1955).

So, today we celebrate 60 years since Cinerama premiered in New York, and 50 years since the last 3-strip feature was produced (1962), but IMAX has pretty much taken up the mantle and massive screen entertainment lives on. I just hope that it remembers that it was about scale and experience over simply up-scaling traditionally shot feature films and showing them bigger and louder than a conventional theatre.

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CHAPTER 4

A SELECTION OF CINERAMA REVIEWS

1962

DIRECTORS: John Ford, Henry Hathaway & George Marshall

May Contain Spoilers!

How The West Won was the first of only two narrative feature films to be filmed in the Cumbersome 3-Strip Cinerama process, the other being The Wonderful Worlds Of The Brothers Grimm, a rarity in its complete form these days. Three director’s were brought on to tackle this epic subject at a time when going to cinema was all about pure escapism and the massive curved screen format of Cinerama, only helped to take the audience away from their humdrum lives and to vast locations around the globe.

IMAX has taken up where Cinerama left off, but the motives of this film are inextricably linked to its success of failures. Overall, the film is decent. It’s not brilliant but as long as you go along with its motivations it can be an enjoyable experience. And that’s the point. This isn’t a master-stroke as where the screenplay is concerned, but it is functional and does what it is supposed to do.

And that is to bring together almost every Hollywood star imaginable and place him or her, in front of a Cinerama camera and tell a contrived story which spans The West from the early days of the pioneers to The Wild West of the post civil war. The set pieces are stunning, though the cinematography is hampered by the camera’s bulk and limitations. For example, with Cinerama being about scale and peripheral vision, the cameras were not able to zoom in too close, leaving everything in wide-angle.

This takes away any sense of intimacy with our characters but it does suit the cameo laden film. This is not about the people, they are merely players and the world, as perceived by Cinerama’s three lenses, is the truly the stage. This is a contrivance to move the format on from its Travelogues of the 1950′s. But it works pretty well. This is an example of cinema trying something new and working hard to make it work.

But in the end, they couldn’t. It would lead to both Widescreen and Imax in various ways and after these two features, Cinerama would move towards a single 70mm strip of film, but How The West Was Won was the best of the era’s attempts to wow the audience with spectacle. As a Western it was above average and as a visual epic it very good, in spite of the technical limitations. But it features scenes of buffalo stampedes, train robberies and white water rafting to name but a few set pieces which are truly dizzying and stunning to watch.

But when all’s said and done, this was an epic attempt to fully realise the doomed format and it was relentlessly contrived to do so. The score was also standout for this western, certainly one of the best with the legendary Alfred Newman out doing himself again.

BLU RAY

The Smilebox version of the film, which simulates the screen’s curvature was first-rate and along with the brilliant quality of the transfer, minus the vertical lines, and the crisp clear sound makes this a pleasure to watch.

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1968

DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick

A classic that still inspires filmmakers today, as well as debate…

This is a beautiful film, spectacular to look at, let alone here, but its pacing turns into a work of art, rather than a movie. It is divided into four distinct chapters: The Dawn of Man, Le voyage dans la Lune, The ACTUAL story, and the psychedelic final 25 minutes. The Apes are cool and this opening sequence presents the monoliths as something creeping and desperately important. The voyage to the moon, which clocks up 40 minutes is elegant and innovative though slow and bar some minor plot development, filled with small talk.

The Discovery story begins at minute 50, finally introducing the main cast who are played and directed clinically, but again, continue to show what life may well be like in the future or eleven years ago now. But the final act is where this becomes something which many people have found hard to swallow. Having sat through 110 minutes of apes, space flight and meals through straws, our hero as you might call him, enters the Monolith in orbit of Jupiter, and spends the next 25 minutes becoming a star child.

All in all, this is one of the best Sci Fi films that I have ever seen, and SEEN is very much the word. This is a delight to look at and listen too, designed for big screens and even bigger sound systems, but there’s nothing to offer in the way of plot. The characters are handled in typical Kubrick fashion, as clinical devices to drive the paper-thin narrative, with HAL, the on board computer, managing to be the heart of the entire film.

In fact, it starts down the road of becoming a little heartbreaking when the moment to comes to shut down this paranoid killing machine, and in many ways, that could be the genius of this film. This is many things, but not least it is an existentialist exploration of our place in the universe, but it’s also only half a story. Every door is opened but not a one is entered or explored. What has happened to HAL? What possessed Dave Bowman to fly into the Monolith? What the hell was going on?

The point is to discover this for yourself, to read what you want into it and derive your own conclusions, but in the end, it comes across as a film so self-indulgent that it simply doesn’t care how it tells it story, just how it looks on the screen. This is truly and work of art and in may ways, belongs in that genre, but it is also one a hell of a good-looking movie, but in the end, to me, it fails to be all that it could have been.

2010: The Year We Make Contact is in many ways a better FILM, with a well-rounded plot and method, and manages to fill in most of the blanks from the first. It is very underrated because you cannot be better that one of Hollywood’s sacred cows, but as good as this is, it literally lost the plot somewhere in its production.

This is still an inspiration to filmmakers everywhere as so it should be. A masterpiece of modern cinema. Most defiantly…

N.B. There are may ways to interpreted 2001: A Space Odyssey, some see it as a religious allegory, others as man with his tools, evolving as he goes. But there are some pretty radical views of the film, fuelled by Kubrick’s deliberate failure to justify his own film. For more on this subject, take a look at INTERPRETATIONS OF 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY on Wikipedia. Very interesting read, though many world argue that you shouldn’t need to read volumes just to understand what you’ve seen on film.

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2002

CINERAMA @ 60

DIRECTOR: David Strohmaier

Included within the How The West Was Won Blu-ray, Cinerama Adventure is a sentimental and detailed exploration of the short-lived phenomena that was Cinerama. Filled to the brim with stories, anecdotes and the odd tall tale, this takes a look at the people behind the process, Cinerama’s place with film history as well as its less likely use as a political weapon almost during the cold war.

Cinerama in its purest of 3 panel or 3 strip projection only lasted about 10 years, from its film, This Is Cinerama in 1952 to 1962′s How The West Was Won. It would continue in the form of one strip, extra wide formats, used for films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Battle Of The Bulge etc…

This documentary was the first to use and in turn developed the Smilebox format, the curved screen simulator alter used with How The West Was Won to present it as closely to it original presentation as possible. I love this format and want to see it as an option of many more films that were shown in this format.

It’s often sentimental, but never smaltzy. Clear, detailed and compelling, like all documentaries, for those who have an interest in the subject, but even if you’re not into the Cinerama process, this is still an interesting story of a decade of cinema technology that whilst it failed to ignite the industry as intended, it still led to the large format cinema of Imax, and kept the ideas and drive to move forward alive, for formats such as 3D and even CinemaScope, though that obviously beat its rival hands down.

Well worth a watch for fans of film, but like I said, as with all documentaries, it’s a matter of taste.

4 Responses to CINERAMA @ 60

  1. [...] CINERAMA @ 60 [...]

  2. [...] is and what I feel its legacy, then feel free to read my reviews and articles on the subject HERE, but this is the review of Cinerama’s first motion picture, aptly named, This Is Cinerama. [...]

  3. [...] CINERAMA @ 60 [...]

  4. dan dare says:

    2010 a better film? Please. It was mediocre compared to 2001.

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