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 61. Posted by oldtimefilmfan

    on 13 Jun 2013 16:04

    I saw only one 3-lens Cinerama film, The 7 Wonders of the World, back in about 1961, at the Casino in London, and was enthralled and thrilled by the experience. I didn't see Cinerama again until it was a 70mm single lens system, but I still loved the "immersed" experience of the huge curved screen and hi definition 70mm image. After I left school I went to work at Cinerama in London and was lucky to see re-runs of almost all of the single-lens Cinerama films, and realised that the Cinerama effect could still be captured this way but it depended entirely upon the how the director used the camera. Some used it well, such as Ken Annakin in Battle of the Bulge, some didn't seem to have a clue, like John Sturges with his two Cinerama attempts, Hallelujah Trail and Ice Station Zebra. I also got to see a 70mm version of How the West Was Won, blown up from the 35mm general release print, which was a bit rough but still had its moments. I also saw a 70mm version of This is Cinerama which still had the tummy turning on the rollercoaster. 2001: A Space Odyssey was also an amazing experience at the Casino; I find the film boring when screened flat but on the Casino Cinerama screen it was almost 3 dimensional and with a pin sharp image. That rolling space station looked like it would roll right out of the screen. Added to the visual effect of a film on the Cinerama screen was the incredible stereo sound which was either 6 or 7 channels. When Zulu was shown at the Casino (any 70mm print could be sown on the Cinerama screen), it was the sound that really made you feel part of the action, especially when the Welsh soldiers try to out-sing the Zulu warriors which sounded as though they were all around the theatre. I saw Ben-Hur at the Casino Cinerama (several times) where the thunder storm that accompanies the crucifixion was terrifyingly realistic. I also remember an evening when, in a packed audience, a member of the audience had some kind of seizure during the chariot race - maybe that was because seeing it on the Cinerama screen was far more exciting than seeing it any other way. Cinerama came to an end when they stopped making films in 70mm. One day I'll get to Bradford to see How the West Was Won in true Cinerama.

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  • Comment number 60. Posted by Syxie

    on 12 May 2013 10:35

    When I was a kid, those many years ago, my uncle took me to see The Alamo at The Odeon Leicester Square. We were in row two in the stalls and I blame that for the much later onset of Spondilitis in my neck! I really felt like we were a part of the action. There were certainly several projectors involved as one could faintly see the "joins". I now believe that the movie was made in Todd-A-O, which was begat by Cinerama when Mike Todd Jr. left Cinerama to establish his own system.

    For some reason, I once again became interested in Todd-A-O only a couple of years ago. I discovered the web site: http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/ run by Martin Hart, a man who was deeply involved in wide-screen filming back in the day. I had a very informative and friendly email exchange with Martin, who clearly knows his stuff every which-way.

    It's a very fascinating and informative site and I recommend you to it, if you haven't yet seen it. There's a vast amount of absorbing information, even for a toe-dipper such as me.

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  • Comment number 59. Posted by malafuego

    on 11 May 2013 02:28

    We were herded onto school busses when I was in third grade and taken to the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. This was in 1953. The publicity had even gotten to us little folk and we had already fantasized what a stupendous event this would be. It started in standard ratio in b&w with Lowell Thomas giving us a short history of film up until now and then the "This is Cinerama" pronouncement was made and the curtains rose and the front of the theater became this huge screen and we took this roller coaster ride that was pretty good.
    The coaster was in Rockaway, Queens. I rode it in the 70's and it was a dismal ride compared to Coney Island's Cyclone. As a little boy who hadn't seen Cinemascope yet,(I think "The Robe" came a year later) I was quite impressed. The recent Blu-Ray release of "This is Cinerama" showed what an odious 50's piece of fluff it was, but when that screen got bigger and bigger and I was 8 years old, it was heaven.
    In 1955 when "Oklahoma!" was projected in another format, "Todd-Ao", a short preceded the 70mm which started with a roller coaster ride.

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  • Comment number 58. Posted by Hosker

    on 7 May 2013 21:28

    I haven't seen Cinerama (unfortunately), but I have watched some Cinerama and 70mm movies such as 'How the West Was Won' and Basil Dearden's 'Khartoum' with Charlton Heston as a the famous British General Gordon, and Laurence Olivier unrecognisable but for the voice and acting style as al-Mahdi.

    What these old ultra-widescreen movies do have is an immense and immersive scale, even on a 40inch widescreen television, something that a lot of modern movies lack. The epic nature of big screen movies from the 60s has been lost now because you can create these wide vistas on a computer with CGI, but it just doesn't seem real any more.

    I have seen Stephen Low's 'Rocky Mountain Express' an IMAX documentary about the Canadian steam locomotive built to cross the Rockies in the 1800s. This blew me away, I literally felt like I was about to fall in to the image because it filled by field of vision. The large picture format allows for an image to combine near camera detail such as the moving parts of wheels, with the subject placed in a wide surrounding such as the fantastic mountain backdrop in the background.

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  • Comment number 57. Posted by Torntara

    on 6 May 2013 07:53

    Just over 25 years ago I watched what must have been a B-movie at the Siam Lido in Bangkok. I was 12 and my father took us there because he felt it was an experience that couldn't be found anywhere else, feeling nostalgia for by-gone cinema. The place must have had nearly a thousand seats and the screen was curved and enormous. I was in awe even before the movie began. I remember that the movie experience itself was mixed. The poor content and graphic violent nude scenes were not expected by my Dad (this was before ratings were introduced), the sound quality was not modernised and it was all painfully inescapable, especially in this cinema. In spite of that, the Cinerama experience was indeed larger-than-life. I have never seen Cinerama again after that and can't help but wonder what a descent movie might be like in Cinerama. No doubt size DOES make a difference.

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  • Comment number 56. Posted by david page

    on 4 May 2013 15:02

    As someone living in London during the 60's and 70's I remember seeing all of the Cinerama films (three strip and 70mm) at all four Cinerama theatres at the time. The original five travelogues at the Casino were mind bending virtual reality; the two feature films that followed (How The West Was Won and The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm) were the best of their time - perhaps moreso HTW3 than Grimm. HTW3 had, as its climax, a gun shoot out and a train crash that was then as gripping and spectacular as the chariot race in Ben Hur. These were audience involving spectacles, but they were not - and were never meant to be - seen as an alternative to 3D films. Despite what the advertising media wanted you to think it was never '3D without the glasses'. Today, thanks to a small band of dedicated people both here and in the USA, Cinerama films can be seen as they were meant to be - on a big curved screen. Also, Blu Ray discs are bringing the experience back. Both This Is Cinerama and Windjammer have already been issued (in a simulated curved screen format) and now Cinerama Holiday and South Seas Adventure will be released at the end of 2013. I suspect that with the exception of Brothers Grimm (which has no viable negative from which to print) all of the important 3 strip films will be re-issued on Blu Ray. More importantly, the restorations (carried out by David Strohmier) will ensure that the digital versions can be seen again - but you would need a very big screen to do them justice! See David Strohmeir's excellent documentary 'Cinerama Adventure' to learn all about it.

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  • Comment number 55. Posted by sharon paterson

    on 2 May 2013 21:01

    I remember seeing South Pacific in Oxford in the 1960,s-accompanying it was a promotional showing of a film taken on a big dipper in Long Island with a Cinerama camera-it was so convincing that a woman in front of us in the audience held onto her hat as we "went over the top"!

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  • Comment number 54. Posted by Alex

    on 2 May 2013 07:33

    I saw 2001 A space odyssey in cinerama in Glasgow - and the impact was huge. I will never forget it.

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  • Comment number 53. Posted by JerryW

    on 1 May 2013 10:50

    I saw 2001, Space Odyssey at Leicester Sq Odeon, soon after it came out. Front row, on far right of the screen. The spaceship looked like a banana!

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  • Comment number 52. Posted by Symon Culpan

    on 1 May 2013 02:02

    To clarify, lots of people on this thread claim to have seen '2001: A Space Odyssey' in the original 3-panel Cinerama format. While the opening to the film does feature the Cinerama logo, the film was actually made in the later, single panel, 70mm Cinerama process. Any Cinerama presentations of the film would not have been in 3 panel and as such would not have had join lines between the images. Likewise, 'Krakatoa: East Of Java' was also a single lens 70mm Cinerama presentation, not 3-strip.

    Designed to combat the downturn in cinema attendance after the advent of television, the original 3-strip process was both costly and cumbersome to produce as well as to project, not least because the camera also required 3 rolls of film, and three separate fixed 27mm lenses whose field of view could only be adjusted by picking up the camera and moving it closer / farther away (a logistical challenge most cinematographers weren't keen to embrace). One of the original partners in the Cinerama process, Michael Todd Jr, seeing how the flaws in the process would ultimately lead to its demise, broke away from the company and joined forces with the American Optical Company to develop an alternative Cinerama process "all out of one hole". The result was Todd-AO, the first of the curved screen 70mm widescreen processes, which, like '2001', would often carry the 'Cinerama' brand name. The picture being on one, wider film frame as opposed to the original three, eliminated the join lines, and the sound was also incorporated onto the film (the sound in the original process was on a separate magnetic reel, so the projectionist actually had four elements to synchronize, not just three).

    The single panel 70mm Cinerama process was essentially the original format with its initial flaws improved, not least in camera (filming onto a single strip of 65mm film - the extra 5mm on the projection print is taken up by the soundtrack) allowing the cinematographer to utilise multiple lenses and fields of view. Films such as '2001', 'Krakatoa', 'Ben-Hur', 'Spartacus', 'South Pacific', 'Sound Of Music', 'Cleopatra' etc, were all filmed in 65mm for 70mm curved screen exhibition with either the Todd-AO process, or one of its later variants (Super Panavision 70 / Dimension 150). Only 8 titles have been made in the three panel process, only two of which were narrative feature films: 'How The West Was Won' and 'The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm' (it's worth noting also that the print of '...Brothers Grimm' held at the National Media Museum is the only complete original 3-panel copy known to survive anywhere in the world). The rest were mostly documentary style 'travelogues' (see the material from 'Cinerama Holiday' featured above in Mark's blog), much like the original IMAX format before Hollywood started in on it... Genuine examples of these formats are hard to come by these days, and then mostly as museum pieces (in addition to the 3-panel and 70mm Cinerama processes, the museum in Bradford also has a genuine 70mm IMAX cinema - not the pale digital imitation seen in multiplexes nowadays, so if you're interested in all this stuff, the widescreen festival is well worth a visit).

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