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Cinerama

Friday 26 April 2013, 11:53

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

There's a celebration of widescreen cinema at the National Media Museum in Bradford this weekend including a presentation in Cinerama. Has anyone experienced this extraordinary medium - and what was it like?

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    Comment number 1.

    The Blu-ray of "How the West was Won" contains a documentary on the format - well worth watching.

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    Comment number 2.

    That just looks sooooo coool!!! Would love to give it a go.

    Given the trouble that "projectionists" have displaying ordinary movies in the right way, I think Cinerama might be a little too much for your average, penny-pinching multiplex...

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    Comment number 3.

    I've never experienced Cinerama (living where I do it's enough of a trek to get to a decent IMAX venue, and that's after you've fought for hours online for the tickets), but I will point people to Bill Bryson's almost tear-jerkingly affectionate description of it in his travel book 'Notes from a Small Island'. Even if his describing a format most of us have never seen, it can still be read as a touching nod to the medium of cinema as a whole.

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    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 5.

    I haven't seen Cinerama. i have been to the 180 Degrees cinema at Thorpe Park. That was quite good. But not quite what you where asking

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    Comment number 6.

    Well I've never experienced the real thing but I've watched the smilebox version of How the West was won on blu with my face about 4 feet from the Plasma and that was "Interesting".

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    Comment number 7.

    I spent a whole day at Widescreen Weekend last year and had a terrific time seeing some of the different formats. It was my first experience of non-Imax 70mm seeing Ryan's Daughter, which I enjoyed a lot, and I also saw The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.

    It was apparently the first time in 50 years the three-strip print had been shown publicly, and what was unfortunate was that some of the reels had aged at different rates (mainly towards the beginning of the film), so the colours didn't match and the three images weren't aligned properly for a good portion of the running time. So it was a bit of a distancing experience, but that's also partly because the curved perspective looks so unusual compared to what we're used to. The opening scenes of the brothers at their desks facing each other are startlingly weird, it's quite odd but also exciting.

    The drawbacks of preserving the film would possibly be helped if the Brothers Grimm was a better film!

    I also saw the digital restoration of Cinerama's South Seas Adventure, an extremely entertaining travelogue around the Pacific Islands and Down Under from a quaint '50s American perspective. So with this you get the curved Cinerama experience from one digital projector with pristine colours, and it really is terrific, as much fun as an Imax documentary and a unique way of watching a film.

    So, like Imax it seems that Cinerama is a tricky format to get right, but if it's done well then it pays off. I'd love to see How The West Was Won in the three-strip format.

    TRIVIA: re: Cinerama screens outside the US, I think there's one in Australia. The special guest for last year's South Seas Adventure screening was a lady from the Pacific islands who features in the film. It was the first time since 1958 (I think) that she'd seen it, so flew all the way to Bradford for the occasion only to be told that it is screened every year in Sydney where she has a home!

    Also worth noting that the Cinerama showreel, This Is Cinerama, which Bill Bryson wrote about, still screens in three-strip on the first Saturday of the month in Bradford. Really need to see that one of these days.

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    Comment number 8.

    I have How The West Was Won and This Is Cinerama on Blu-ray. It's only home viewing but I definitely find the depth more realistic than the close/far/really far multiple 2D called "3D"

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    Comment number 9.

    I saw "How the West was Won" at the Casino Cinerama Cinema in London in the 1960s. As the huge curtains rolled back to reveal the enormous screen it was an overwhelming experience. I did notice the joins between the images when there were scenes of blue sky. It must have been difficult to synchronise three separate projectors into a composite image.

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    Comment number 10.

    I'm a bit sensitive to these things tbh (no problem with real motion). FPS (first-person-shooter) perspective/games for eg because the view is oblique often and the body does not move with the vision. So immersion is working fairly hard against these things. I'm not sure Cinerama is just extending the FOV (field of vision) without any peripheral vision either. This vid explains it really well:

    EPISODE 29 FOV in Games part1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blZUao2jTGA

    Maybe the future is something like the Oculus Rift: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oculus_Rift

    Perhaps you'll be able to "step around inside the film" and watch from the position you wish to? No idea, but a thought.

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    Comment number 11.

    I loved the Cinema 180 at Thorpe Park. That was a Cinerama taken to it's logical conclusion with the screen not just curved horizontally but vertically too so the image surrounded you. I felt more in the action watching that than I ever have in a 3D movie; I remember swaying with the motion of the POV roller-coaster film. It's a shame this never really took off as a system, only novelty films showing off the technology were ever made which is similar to the early years of IMAX.

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    Comment number 12.

    Cinerama looks great! I've never seen anything in it, sadly, but I certainly like novelties and I especially like novelties that look like a good idea. It's a shame the format didn't take off, but I suppose like anything it had a lot to do with the cost (although that's clearly not stopped Stereoscopic 3D). I'd love to experience it.

    As for @10; I know where you're coming from. Some games are terrible for motion sickness and oblique viewpoints (The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct being a recent example!). I'm not 100% sure Oculus Rift will be the solution - I'm still not sold on the idea of a sensory deprivation chamber, but that's just me - but it's an interesting attempt at solving a problem. I admire and even applaud the attempt (more than the Omnidirectional Treadmill, but then, I don't have much feeling left in my legs so of course that idea is completely beyond me).

    I don't think there is yet an "ideal" viewpoint. I can see Stereoscopic 3D but damn it makes my head spin. It's hard to get that real immersion, mostly because we're all so different. Until we get to the point of "Better Than Life", where we can jab probes into our brains and live it all as if for real, I think it's all a facsimile anyway. That said, with the way the social mediums and market and MMO world are today, I don't think I'd be wanting to stick probes into my brain, thanks muchly. There's already plenty of smokescreen around them already. I'm not jabbing anything into my head until I know they're not going to go all Matrix on us. :P

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    Comment number 13.

    As a child I saw Song of Norway and 2001 ASO, but these were both "single-film" Cinerama (essentially one of the 70mm formats). It is possible that Song of Norway was on a curved Cinerama screen, as I remember it was one of those event films at the time that was treated more like a live theatre outing. I don't remember the times I saw 2001 distinctly any more as it was a favorite film that received many perennial re-releases in the 70's, and I've lost track of how many times I saw it, or what the formats were (one week it played the cinema across the road from my house and I saw it 3 times then).

    I loved the Brothers Grimm movie, but I think I've only saw it first on TV, though it may have had an early 70's re-release and I may have caught it at a kiddie matinee. I'm pretty sure my much older siblings saw that in Cinerama, as we had the commemorative program book that you could get during the film's first run.

    So, sorry to go on about how I came close to but never saw three strip Cinerama, but the discussion of widescreen on actual film formats, brings this sort of nostalgia. I think you'll be hard pressed to find many who will distinctly remember having seen the very short list of three camera Cinerama films (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinerama), but I hope to see some further down this thread.

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    Comment number 14.

    Inventor Frederick Waller is credited as developing Cinerama for an exhibition in 1939. But Able Gance's 'Napoleon' (1927) was shot in an early prototype of Cinerama called Polyvision, which used three projectors, like Cinerama. Whether any prints survive that allow us to experience it the same way is anyone's guess.

    The film or show reel 'This is Cinerama' was a massive hit in the 50's but it took another decade for the first Cinerama feature to be made, and as i understand it, only a small number of films were ever made in that format before it went the way of 'Smellivision.

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    Comment number 15.

    The first film I ever saw as a child was "How the West Was Won" in Cinerama. The size of the screen was impressive. The curve of the screen was interesting. The two blurry lines joining the three images, however, was distracting, as was the perpetual wide angle of every shot. Whatever immersive quality the format had was defeated by its constantly drawing attention to itself and mentally taking you out of the narrative experience. Like all other experiments to push and prod movies into something else, it was, rightly, ultimately rejected.

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    Comment number 16.

    That looks amazing! Even on my computer flatscreen it looks more immersive than the gastly picture you get from 3D.... I'd definitely go to one of those screens.

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    Comment number 17.

    I saw the original Cinerama when there was a huge touring Cinerama tent on the Goose Fair site at Nottingham in the sixties. I remember that snow scenes in the Brothers Grimm film had three different colours of snow due to the three separately processed films. It was a wonderful experience. They began with a small black & white film explaining how Cinerama worked, which then expanded into the full-sized HUGE picture. I also miss 70mm Panavision which was also around in the 60s and 70s for films such as Dr Zhivago and My Fair Lady. Ah, the Good Old Days...

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    Comment number 18.

    never seen cinerama - but i have been to the national space centre in leicester - and it has a Digistar 3 dome cinema - and i would love to watch blade runner or avatar at such a place - truly a magnificent experience looking at space in that dome cinema they have - and i am big lover of 3d

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    Comment number 19.

    I saw both 2001 and How the West Was Won in Cinerama in Bradford. And as a piece of cinema history I feel very privileged to have seen it. Especially considering I think the Bradford screen is one of the three working screens in the world. But in answer to your question, the sound is extraordinary but the visuals, well I hate to be pedant but at the end of the day it is just a curved screen. In fact after a while it just looks like a squashed letterbox. Just the same as 3D, it is a fad, a marketing device to get bums on seats and it didn't work hence the format dying.

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    Comment number 20.

    When i was 13, i went to Disneyland Paris, where they had a 360 degree curved screen. The US equivalent in their disneyland parks were officially known as cinerama screens (1955-1967). I saw The Timekeeper, which featured Robin Williams in a film about time and space, also featuring a flying robot called 9 eyes. I don't remember much about the story, but i do remember feeling nauseous and sick, probably from having to turn my head to follow the flying robot around the room.
    It uses a process called Circle-Vision 360 which disney refined, using 9 cameras instead of 3 to produce 360 degrees of vision, instead of the 146 degrees of cinerama.

 

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