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I sat in the same theater (the Pacific Cinerama Dome on Sunset Blvd. in
L.A.) on the same date as mk4 of Long Beach, but I'm happy to say I
see the same film; nor did I hear any murmurs of disappointment on the
out. At the screening I attended, when Lowell Thomas proclaimed, "Ladies
gentlemen -- this is Cinerama!" and the screen expanded to full size as
rollercoaster began, the audience burst into spontaneous applause. And
was sustained applause during the credits at the end.
This was my third viewing of "This Is Cinerama," having previously seen it at the Esquire in Sacramento in 1963 and the New Neon in Dayton, OH in 1996, and it was far and away the best. (I also saw the disappointing one-strip reissue in 1972 -- which should have been called "This Isn't Cinerama" -- but that doesn't count.) The folks at Arclight Cinema, or whoever is directly responsible for restoring this landmark film, are to be congratulated for having done everything exactly right.
The print at the Dome -- or prints, I should say -- were virtually flawless; I saw only a brief green emulsion line in the right frame for about a minute during the first "Aida" sequence, a very slight blue cast to some of the Cypress Gardens shots, one or two seconds of white speckling, and a single cracked frame during the Venice scene. Otherwise, the film was absolutely flawless, the 1950s Technicolor brilliant, vivid, and stunning. Yes, the seams between the frames were there, but that's a given with Cinerama, like black-and-white photography in many movies or subtitles on foreign films. More important is how the seams were managed by the projection apparatus and operators -- the picture was absolutely ROCK-STEADY, and I was pleased to notice none of the "rippling" that was always noticeable in a Cinerama film when someone or something crossed the seam. I don't know how they managed it, but the Cinerama picture never looked this good before.
As the title clearly implies, "This Is Cinerama" is nothing more or less than a demonstration of the process (which is why the single-frame 1970s reissue was such a dumb idea), and it took people to places they probably couldn't go themselves; travel was not nearly so common or so wide in 1952. Besides, even if someone did make it to La Scala in Milan, how many of them would actually have a chance to stand on stage among the performers? True, the choice of segments, and to a certain extent the narration, reflect middlebrow attitudes of 1952. Deal with it. If that makes "This Is Cinerama" look kitschy or dated now, it's as much a limitation in the eye of the beholder as in the film.
Lowell Thomas says in the prologue, "We truly believe this is going to revolutionize motion pictures," and the truth is, it did. Hollywood flirted with wide-screen processes in the early 1930s, then quickly gave them up. But after "This Is Cinerama," the wide screen was here to stay (and now it's even taking over television!). For that matter, so was stereophonic sound (a term that was actually coined for "This Is Cinerama"). Today it is a rare and cheap movie indeed that isn't shot for the wide screen and recorded in stereo. Cinerama itself may not have survived -- it was, after all, cumbersome and expensive -- but its influence was absolute, and continues to this day.
The restored screenings at the Pacific Cinerama Dome show why, and Arclight Cinemas have done a tremendous service in preserving and reviving the Cinerama experience. I look forward to seeing more (particularly "How the West Was Won," easily the best of all Cinerama movies), especially if they are presented as faithfully as "This Is Cinerama."
Was the original Cinerama - with its triple cameras and triple projectors -
really necessary? Probably not, but it's an undeniable part of movie
history, and should be respected as such.
A now-obsolete (not to mention unwieldy and expensive) process, Cinerama was something I'd known about only from film history books and encyclopedias - there was no practical way of seeing Cinerama in its original form. I'd seen "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" as well as a revival of "This Is Cinerama" in the early 1970's, but in both cases the triple negatives had been reprinted onto a single strip of film. The results looked awful - it wasn't just the tell-tale lines of demarcation where the frames were joined, but also severe distortion caused by flattening out images originally designed for a deeply curved screen. The reprinted "This Is Cinerama" looked so appalling, I wondered what all the fuss had been about. (The only sequence that seemed to work was the legendary roller-coaster ride at the beginning.)
Thanks to The New Neon Movies in Dayton, Ohio, I have seen the past - and it works. Neon's manager, Larry Smith, revived Cinerama with a series of screenings beginning in 1996 that were made possible thanks to a projectionist and Cinerama "nut" named John Harvey who's been collecting Cinerama equipment, prints and memorabilia over the years. (He's put together a customized set-up that enables him to run the projectors and soundtrack reader single-handedly.) I saw "This Is Cinerama" in Dayton in January 1997.
"This Is Cinerama," which introduced the process, is basically a corny 1950s travelogue hosted by globetrotter (and Cinerama backer) Lowell Thomas, who hams it up nicely for this extravaganza ("Ladies and gentlemen ... this is Cinerama!"). Seeing the Cinerama process in all its flawed glory was a fascinating experience. At its worst, Cinerama looks exactly like what it is: three side-by-side projected images that frequently jitter in opposing directions, spoiling the effect. (Harvey's prints are also visibly worn and scratched.) But at its best, Cinerama offers a height of clarity and detail you can't get elsewhere, except maybe for IMAX films.
The opening roller-coaster ride was a wonderfully dizzying experience. But for me, one of the most spectacular sights in "This Is Cinerama" was a view down a street in Spain teeming with people - it seemed to go forever into the distance with amazing sharpness. (Cinerama's larger-than-life clarity was also evident in the other film I saw during my visit to Dayton, "How the West Was Won." During a scene set in a casino, I found myself staring into the frame, trying to pick up all the visual details I could.) The Neon isn't that big a theater, and yet the Cinerama image still looked awesome.
Only seven films were made in the original Cinerama process. I regard Cinerama movies the way I do 3-D films: I'm glad they were made, and I'm glad to see them in their original form - none of which is an argument for making new movies in either process, but it is an argument for preserving, not just the films themselves, but the experience of seeing them the way they were meant to be shown.
Thank you, John Harvey and Larry Smith. (And Fred Waller, Cinerama's inventor.)
I am one of the lucky ones and certainly one of the very few of my generation to actually experience Cinerama in it's truest form. Here in Seattle there is a terrific philanthropist by the name of Paul Allen (maybe you've heard of him?). Lucky for us, he purchased the dilapidated old Cinerama theater downtown. Lucky for us he restored the old Cinerama projection system and screen as well as wiring for digital presentation (besides adding a sound system with no equal among public movie houses). Lucky for me they decided to show a Cinerama film festival with four of the original seven Cinerama movies. Although this was not the first to be shown it was the first restored print I saw after two originals. What a spectacle this must have been back in 1952. No wonder it was the box office king that year. I would certainly have sent all my neighbors and coworkers to see it if I could. First half was a little slow and meandering but it would have kept a '52 audience' attention. What was really special were the aerial views of our beautiful country to "America the Beautiful", et al. How patriotic! Way to go to all involved with the festival, the theater and Vulcan Enterprises (Allen's Co). Now I know why I would like to make movies. If only I could get Paul to bankroll a Cinerama feature for the 21st Century!
When shown as intended this showcase demonstrates the potential of the Cinerama systems, their limitations, and gives a glimpse of the world as it was in 1952 in spectacular show-biz style. It is a technically interesting and fun documentary. Viewable only on the big screen with three projectors, the real thing, not a simulation, ladies and gentlemen, Cinerama! Having just come from seeing it at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, I'm in the mood to hawk its virtues. It must be admitted that technological advances are rapidly bypassing this type of system, but it is a grand and brazen promotion that deserves to be dragged out periodically to show how it used to be done. As with any other art, seeing it in person IS the real thing. Great date movie. It includes Edisons short "The Kiss" and most of "The Great Train Robbery" as part of its introduction, to give us something with which to compare Cinerama, plus some history of the development of photography as a popular art. We start right off with a whiz-bang roller coaster ride, and proceed right on through the Triumph from "Aida", presented in wonderful operatic splendour by the company at the La Scala opera house. Boy did I go for that. After intermission we went to Cyprus Gardens to view its 1952-style wonders, including the famous Auquacade (a dance, stunt and comedy show on water skis). The grand vistas of our America (including industrial might) are displayed in spectacular fashion with edifying narration. Lots of fun stuff like that to show off the extra big, clear picture and a sound system of close to modern theatrical quality, at least to my ear. I was glad to have the experience, and am happy that this document exists.
Saw the World "Re-Premier" of "This Is Cinerama" yesterday at the Cinerama Dome, Hollywood. For the record, I also experienced it as a kid in '53 at Warner's Cinerama Theater in Hollywood, and at it's reissue at the same Cinerama Dome in 1972 (in single frame format...not three camera). It was a slightly unsettling occasion, as the roadshow ticket price of $11.00 promised a fully restored print, restored three camera operation, and two additional channels of stereophonic sound. I realized that the materials extant were rescued from a state of severe decomposition, but I was happy to plunk down my dollars for the good of the cause of saving three-camera Cinerama for movie posterity. Even as late as 1972, before IMAX and during the demise of 70mm, "This Is Cinerama" was still an exciting revelation, in spite of the kitsch and hokum of the Cypress Gardens sequences and some awkward ballet and church choir shots. The roller coaster opening still packed a wallop as this was before the roller coaster building boom and the numerous thrill rides (and thrill ride movies) that exist today (I maintain the the re-issue of this film in 1972 sparked the roller coaster building revival). But sadly, when viewed today, the Cinerama experience is woefully dated (in spite of the beliefs of the legion of Cinerama diehards who filled the Dome's 1,000 or so seats to 2/3's capacity). Shot in static camera lockdown, it plays like the early talkie musicals shot from the middle of the auditorium. The color in many of the sequences is atrocious, as it was even in 1952, and is especially apparent where three scenes are three distinct shades. The three strips would hardly ever synch-up for the showing I attended and many times exhibited glaring gaps between scenes. The roller coaster opening does not thrill the way it once did, because audiences have become jaded by even better filmed sequences done for IMAX...shot on hairier modern coasters much more thrilling than the ancient and now defunct "Atom Smasher" at Rockaway's" PlayLand. And the once highly touted Cinerama screen itself seems not as mighty as it once was, thanks to IMAX. I think many of the attendees yesterday were thinking they were really going to see something, but what they got was cornball narration, cornball dialogue and high-camp imagery straight out of a hermetically sealed 1950's can. I must say, that even for a battle tested cineast as myself, this material is tough sledding. But, in spite of all its shortcomings, this extravaganza does offer some tasty morsels for the film buff: glimpses of the Queen's Guards at Edinburgh Castle, some nice gondolier action in Venice and some crackling good camp in the form of the procession from Aida filmed inside the vast Milan opera house. We then end on a sweeping in-flight tour of the United States to the strains of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and "The Battle Hymm of the Republic." We can see where Walt Disney would borrow a lot of his material for a little TV show he would produce in a few years-"Disneyland"-from narrator Lowell Thomas (who "out-Walts Uncle Walt") in the black and white opening sequence on the history of the movies. Yep, Cinerama is the Grandaddy of them all, but like a lot of grandaddies, sometimes they are better off hidden away from view somewhere lest they shock the rest of the family due to their advanced state of dotage. The Arclight Company and Cinerama Dome say that if this re-release of "This Is Cinerama" is a success (it's only playing for one week), the majority of the seven productions in the process may be restored and exhibited. I'd go and see them, sure. But if the murmuring and disappointed crowd I saw leaving the theater yesterday has their say, I say to the folks at Cinerama: "Good Luck!"
I know that in this day and age of CG spectaculars, "This is Cinerama" may appear dated. I know in this day of anti-patriotism "This is Cinerama" appears too patriotic. I only know that when I first saw it in 1953 I was totally blown away. When Lowell Thomas uttered that famous line "Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Cinerama" and that screen opened up, it was just mind boggling. The last time I saw it in its full three-panel glory I was boggled all over again. Except for a few scenes that do seem to go on too long (such as the "Hallelujah Chorus" and the bullfight to name just two), the total effect is just one of total wonder. The comments I heard at that screening a couple of years ago to the effect that it was perhaps too patriotic made me say to myself, perhaps it's time for us to return to those patriotic times and perhaps we'd all be happier as a country. But to return to the film: even in the early 2000s, this just was a wonderful two hours of amazement and thrills. The highlights, of course, are the "YOU are in the picture" parts, such as the flight across the country (too patriotic? I don't think so!), the Cypress Gardens segments, and far from being boring, the two operatic highlights, which are great. I do hope the people who run the very few theaters equipped to show this great film will continue to do so periodically or (better) on a regular basis.
The writer Bill Bryson once described watching This is Cinerama as one
of the most enjoyable two hours of his life. Moreover it was as close
to experiencing time travel as it was possible to get.
Unfortunately, "This is Cinerama" contains scenes of cultural content such as opera and ballet which may be distressing to persons of an attention span of five nano seconds or less.
The wheel has come full circle and the process lives on in State of the Art flight simulation systems for military and civil applications.
While John Harvey's Dayton, Ohio print of THIS IS CINERAMA certainly showed its age in terms of wear and tear, the color on that print (in dye-transfer process from a 1961 re-print) showed no age at all, and is superior to the newly printed Cinerama Dome print (off the aging and somewhat faded camera negative).
This Is Cinerama (1952)
** (out of 4)
Lowell Thomas, in a standard B&W prologue, gives us a quick history lesson in regards to film before history is set yet again when the screen opens wide and we're introduced to beautiful color and Cinerama. THIS IS CINERAMA is somewhat a historic little documentary since it did pretty much introduce people to what Hollywood was going to use to try and battle television, which had been taking away their profits. There's no question that the opening sequence is quite impressive and you can just feel the historic nature of it. With that said, everything that follows is pretty bland and boring when viewed today. I'm really not sure what they could have done to show off this format as the actual movies that would come would do that themselves. This here basically features a bunch of smaller things just to show off the format. We start off with a roller coaster ride before hitting other things including a large number of people water skiing, people dancing and various other short stories. The problem I had is that none of these short stories are all that interesting and I think you could argue that none of them really do justice to Cinerama. Still, considering this format was new and just being introduced here, I guess you can't blame the film too much. Is the film worth watching? I would say yes simply for its historic side but I think most people won't be that entertained.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Well, in this case, bigger isn't just better. It's qualitatively
different. I never saw a film in Cinerama, though theaters showed the
films not far from where I lived, but I did see Imax somewhere, once
upon a time and it's enough to make your basilar membranes quiver.
This is a more or less straightforward look at the invention and gradual development of the complicated process of Cinerama shooting and projection. It involved three cameras and coordinated projectors. It was accompanied by septaphonic sound. There was nothing else like it in 1952 -- and that was the point.
Those damned television sets were slicing theater attendance in half. And what with the break-up of the studio system, the studios had to divest themselves of the theaters they themselves owned, which always assured the studios of a place where their pictures could be shown. The money was no longer pouring in and it was time for something new.
For a while 3-D movies were tried but they flopped. Most were duds anyway, with the exception of a few like "Hondo" and "Dial M for Murder." Cinerama was the next big attempt to transform the industry and bring back the audiences, but it was too clumsy and expensive for general use.
A couple of interesting points are made in this documentary. One is that the process originated during World War II as a way of providing an ersatz fully dimensional environment for training aerial gunners. The training modules were highly realistic and much cheaper than actually flying the gunners around. Later, the Soviet Union copied the process, or independently invented a similar one, called Kinerama and there followed a kind of megacinematic Cold War. (PS: Nobody really won.) The point is that it wasn't long -- wasn't long at all -- before Cinerama was incorporated into the military as a training or propaganda weapon.
The script of the first feature, as it was for all the subsequent documentaries, was utter cornball. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings "America the Beautiful" while the Cinerama camera sweeps over amber fields of grain. It offended no one. It couldn't afford to.
Also interesting is that the role of entrepreneurs and promoters were more important in the end than the engineers, technologists, and cameramen. The businessmen organized traveling circuses showing Cinerama in tents out in the boondocks.
For me, the most exciting parts of the film were about Paul Mantz, the legendary stunt pilot. He'd done everything that could be done with an airplane. From the early 30s until his death by accident during the shooting of "The Flight of the Phoenix," he smashed them up and looped them and wing-walked them. After a successful shoot in Africa, Mantz and his crew held a late-night party at which Mantz learned that a volcano was erupting some miles north of their location. The next morning, he flew his hung-over B-25 into the volcano. The engines, starved of air and clogged with ash, cut out but Mantz had enough air speed to ease the airplane over the edge of the smoking volcano where, in the fresh air, he was able to restart both engines.
The documentary is gorgeous and informative but it doesn't have the huevos of Paul Mantz.
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