Cinerama: Wikis

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Cinerama is the trademarked name for a widescreen process which works by simultaneously projecting images from three synchronized 35 mm projectors onto a huge, deeply-curved screen, subtending 146° of arc. It is also the trademarked name for the corporation which was formed to market it. It was the first of a number of such processes introduced during the 1950s, when the movie industry was reacting to competition from television. Cinerama was presented to the public as a theatrical event, with reserved seating and printed programs, and audience members often dressed in best attire for the evening.

The Cinerama projection screen, rather than being a continuous surface like most screens, is made of hundreds of individual vertical strips of standard perforated screen material, each about 7/8 inch (~22 mm) wide, with each strip angled to face the audience, so as to prevent light scattered from one end of the deeply-curved screen from reflecting across the screen and washing out the image on the opposite end.[1] The display is accompanied by a high-quality, seven-track discrete directional surround sound system.

The original system involved shooting with three synchronized cameras sharing a single shutter. This was later abandoned in favour of a 65 mm system shot with a single camera, though some aficionados insist that such later processes were inferior. Neither the three-strip Cinerama nor its other 65 mm descendant (Super Panavision 70) used anamorphic lenses, although Ultra Panavision 70, one of Cinerama's single-film descendants, did use an anamorphic adaptor. Later, 35 mm anamorphic reduction prints were produced for exhibition in theatres with anamorphic Cinemascope-compatible projection lenses.

How The West Was Won was shot in 3 strip Cinerama.

Contents

History

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Process and Production

Cinerama was invented by Fred Waller and commercially developed by Waller and Merian C. Cooper. It was the outgrowth of many years of development. A forerunner was the triple-screen final sequence in the silent Napoléon made in 1927 by Abel Gance; Gance's classic was considered lost in the 1950s, however, known of only by hearsay, and Waller could not have actually seen it. Waller had earlier developed an 11-projector system called "Vitarama" at the Petroleum Industry exhibit in the 1939 New York World's Fair. A five-camera version, the Waller Gunnery Trainer, was used during the Second World War.

The word "Cinerama" combines cinema with panorama, the origin of all the "-orama" neologisms (the word "panorama" comes from the Greek words "pan", meaning all, and "orama", which translates into that which is seen, a sight, or a spectacle). It has been suggested that Cinerama could have been an intentional anagram of the word American; but an online posting by Dick Babish, describing the meeting at which it was named, says that this is "purely accidental, however delightful."[2]

The photographic system used three interlocked 35 mm cameras equipped with 27 mm lenses, approximately the focal length of the human eye. Each camera photographed one third of the picture shooting in a crisscross pattern, the right camera shooting the left part of the image, the left camera shooting the right part of the image and the center camera shooting straight ahead. The three cameras were mounted as one unit, set at 48 degrees to each other. A single rotating shutter in front of the three lenses assured simultaneous exposure on each of the films. The three angled cameras photographed an image that was not only three times as wide as a standard film but covered 146 degrees of arc, close to the human field of vision, including peripheral vision. The image was photographed six sprocket holes high, rather than the usual four used in other 35 mm processes. The picture was photographed and projected at 26 frames per second rather than the usual 24.

According to film historian Martin Hart, in the original Cinerama system "the camera aspect ratio [was] 2.89:1." He further comments on the unreliability of "numerous websites and other resources that will tell you that Cinerama had an aspect ratio of up to 3:1.")[3]

How Cinerama is projected

In theaters, Cinerama film was projected from three projection booths arranged in the same crisscross pattern as the cameras. They projected onto a deeply curved screen, the outer thirds of which were made of over 1100 strips of material mounted on "louvers" like a vertical venetian blind, to prevent light projected to each end of the screen from reflecting to the opposite end and washing out the image. This was a big-ticket, reserved-seats spectacle, and the Cinerama projectors were adjusted carefully and operated skillfully. To prevent adjacent images from creating an overilluminated vertical band where they overlapped on the screen, vibrating combs in the projectors, called "jiggolos," alternately blocked the image from one projector and then the other; the overlapping area thus received no more total illumination than the rest of the screen, and the rapidly-alternating images within the overlap smoothed out the visual transition between adjacent image "panels." Great care was taken to match color and brightness when producing the prints. Nevertheless, the seams between panels were usually noticeable. Optical limitations with the design of the camera itself meant that if distant scenes joined perfectly, closer objects did not. A nearby object might split into two as it crossed the seams. To avoid calling attention to the seams, scenes were often composed with unimportant objects such as trees or posts at the seams, and action was blocked so as to center actors within panels. This gave a distinctly "triptych-like" appearance to the composition even when the seams themselves were not obvious. It was often necessary to have actors in different sections "cheat" where they looked in order to appear to be looking at each other in the final projected picture. Enthusiasts say the seams were not obtrusive; detractors disagree. Lowell Thomas, an investor in the company with Mike Todd, was still raving about the process in his memoirs thirty years later.

In addition to the visual impact of the image, Cinerama was one of the first processes to use multitrack magnetic sound. The system, developed by Hazard E. Reeves, one of the Cinerama investors, played back from a full coated 35 mm magnetic film with seven tracks of sound (five behind the screen, two on the side and back of the auditorium with a sound engineer directing the sound between the surround speakers according to a script). The projectors and sound system were synchronized by a system using selsyn motors.

The Cinerama system had some obvious drawbacks. If one of the films should break, it had to be repaired with a black slug exactly equal to the missing footage. Otherwise, the corresponding frames would have had to be cut from the other three films (the other two picture films plus the soundtrack film) in order to preserve synchronization. The use of zoom lenses was impossible since the three images would no longer match. Perhaps the greatest limitation of the process is that the picture looks natural only from within a rather limited "sweet spot." Viewed from outside the sweet spot, the picture is annoyingly distorted. But these problems certainly did not stop moviegoers from appreciating this innovative widescreen process.

The impact these films had on the big screen cannot be assessed from television or video, or even from 'scope prints, which marry the three images together with the seams clearly visible. Because they were designed to be seen on a curved screen, the geometry looks distorted on television; someone walking from left to right appears to approach the camera at an angle, move away at an angle, and then repeat the process on the other side of the screen.

Although most of the films produced using the original three-strip Cinerama process were full feature length or longer, they were mostly travelogues or episodic documentaries such as This Is Cinerama (1952), the first film shot in Cinerama. Other travelogues presented in Cinerama were Cinerama Holiday (1955), Seven Wonders of the World (1955), Search for Paradise (1957) and South Seas Adventure (1958). There was also one commercial short, Renault Dauphin (1960).

Even as the Cinerama travelogues were beginning to lose audiences in the late 50s, the spectacular travelogue Windjammer (1958) was released in a competing process called Cinemiracle which claimed to have less noticeable dividing lines on the screen thanks to the reflection of the side images off of mirrors (this also allowed all three projectors to be in the same booth). Due to the small number of Cinemiracle theatres, specially converted prints of Windjammer were shown in Cinerama theaters in cities which did not have Cinemiracle theaters, and ultimately Cinerama bought up the process.

Only two films with traditional story lines were made, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and How the West Was Won. In order to make these films compatible with single film systems for later standard releases, they were shot at 24 frame/s, not the 26 frame/s of traditional Cinerama.

Cinerama's premiere

The first Cinerama film, This Is Cinerama, premiered on 30 September 1952, at The Broadway Theatre in New York. The New York Times judged it to be front-page news. Notables attending included: New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey; violinist Fritz Kreisler; James A. Farley; Metropolitan Opera manager Rudolph Bing; NBC chairman David Sarnoff; CBS chairman William S. Paley; Broadway composer Richard Rodgers; and Hollywood mogul Louis B. Mayer.

Writing in the New York Times a few days after the system premiered, film critic Bosley Crowther wrote:

Somewhat the same sensations that the audience in Koster and Bial's Music Hall must have felt on that night, years ago, when motion pictures were first publicly flashed on a large screen were probably felt by the people who witnessed the first public showing of Cinerama the other night... the shrill screams of the ladies and the pop-eyed amazement of the men when the huge screen was opened to its full size and a thrillingly realistic ride on a roller-coaster was pictured upon it, attested to the shock of the surprise. People sat back in spellbound wonder as the scenic program flowed across the screen. It was really as though most of them were seeing motion pictures for the first time.... the effect of Cinerama in this its initial display is frankly and exclusively "sensational," in the literal sense of that word.

While observing that the system "may be hailed as providing a new and valid entertainment thrill," Crowther expressed some skeptical reserve, saying "the very size and sweep of the Cinerama screen would seem to render it impractical for the story-telling techniques now employed in film.... It is hard to see how Cinerama can be employed for intimacy. But artists found ways to use the movie. They may well give us something brand-new here."

A technical review by Waldemar Kaempffert published in the Times the same day hailed the system. He praised the stereophonic sound system and noted that "the fidelity of the sounds was irreproachable. Applause in La Scala sounded like the clapping of hands and not like pieces of wood slapped together." He noted, however that "There is nothing new about these stereophonic sound effects. The Bell Telephone Laboratories and Prof. Harold Burris-Meyer of Stevens Institute of Technology demonstrated the underlying principles years ago." Kaempfert also noted:

There is no question that Waller has made a notable advance in cinematography. But it must be said that at the sides of his gigantic screen there is some distortion more noticeable in some parts of the house than in others. The three projections were admirably blended, yet there were visible bands of demarcation on the screen.

Venues

The Cooper Theatre in Denver, Colorado.

Although existing theatres were adapted to show Cinerama films, in 1961 and 1962 the non-profit Cooper Foundation of Lincoln, Nebraska, designed and built three near-identical circular "super-Cinerama" theaters in Denver, Colorado; St. Louis Park, Minnesota (a Minneapolis suburb); and Omaha, Nebraska. They were considered the finest venues to view Cinerama films. The theaters were designed by architect Richard L. Crowther of Denver, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

The first such theater, the Cooper Theater[2], built in Denver, featured a 146-degree louvered screen (measuring a massive 105 feet by 35 feet), 814 seats, courtesy lounges on the sides of the theatre for relaxation during intermission (including concessions and smoking facilities), and a ceiling which routed air and heating through small vent slots in order to inhibit noise from the building's ventilation equipment. [3]It was demolished in 1994 to make way for a Barnes and Noble Bookstore.

The second, also called the Cooper Theater[4], was built in St. Louis Park at 5755 Wayzata Blvd. The last film presented there was Dances with Wolves in January, 1991, and at that time the Cooper was considered the "flagship" in the Plitt theatre chain. Efforts were made to preserve the theatre, but at the time it did not qualify for national or state historical landmark status (as it was not more than fifty years old) nor were there local preservation laws. It was torn down in 1992. An office complex with a TGI Friday's on the west end of the property are there today.

The third super-Cinerama, the Indian Hills Theater[5], was built in Omaha, Nebraska. The Indian Hills theater closed on Sept. 28, 2000 as a result of the bankruptcy of Carmike Cinemas, and the final film presented was the rap music-drama Turn It Up. Despite support by film actors and movie industry preservationists[6] such as Leonard Maltin, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Ray Bradbury, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Society of Cinematographers, and others, Nebraska Methodist Health Systems, Inc., the owner, went ahead with demolition on August 20, 2001, to make space available for a parking lot for one of its administration buildings. (Ironically, on August 8, the Omaha Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission had voted unanimously to recommend to the Omaha City Council that the Indian Hills be designated a "Landmark of the City of Omaha." The building was destroyed anyway before the council met to take action.) [7] The demise of the theatre and efforts to preserve others throughout the nation are chronicled in Jim Fields' documentary Preserve Me A Seat. [8]

Venues outside the USA included the Regent Plaza cinema in Melbourne, Australia [9], which was adapted for Cinerama in 1960 to show This is Cinerama and Seven Wonders of the World. The Imperial Theatre in Montreal and the Glendale in Toronto were the Canadian homes for Cinerama.

The last Cinerama theater built was the Southcenter Theatre in 1970, opening near the Southcenter Mall of Tukwila, Washington. It closed in 2001.

Cinerama also purchased RKO-Stanley Warner (consisting of theaters formerly owned by Warner Bros. and RKO Pictures) in 1970.

Single-Film "Cinerama:" Ultra Panavision 70 and Super Panavision 70

Rising costs of making three-camera widescreen films caused Cinerama to stop making such films in their original form shortly after the first release of How the West Was Won. The use of Ultra Panavision 70 for certain scenes (such as the river raft sequence) later printed onto the three Cinerama panels, proved that a more or less satisfactory wide screen image could be photographed without the three cameras. Consequently, Cinerama discontinued the three film process, with the exception of a single theater (McVickers' Cinerama Theatre in Chicago) showing Cinerama's Russian Adventure, an American-Soviet co-production culled from footage of several Soviet films shot in the rival Soviet three-film format known as Kinopanorama in 1966.

Cinerama continued through the rest of the 1960s as a brand name used initially with the Ultra Panavision 70 widescreen process (which yielded an almost similar 2.86 aspect ratio as the original Cinerama, although it did not simulate the 146 degree field of view.) Optically "rectified" prints and special lenses were used to project the 70 mm prints onto the curved screen. The films shot in Ultra Panavision for single lens Cinerama presentation were It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Battle of the Bulge (1965), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), The Hallelujah Trail (1965) and Khartoum (1966).

Following the use of Ultra Panavision 70, the less wide but still spectacular Super Panavision 70 was used to film the Cinerama presentations Grand Prix (1966), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Ice Station Zebra (1968) and Krakatoa, East of Java (1969), which also featured scenes shot in Todd-AO.

Two films were shot in the somewhat lower resolution Super Technirama 70 process for Cinerama release: Circus World (1964) and Custer of the West (1967). By then, what was advertised as "Cinerama" was a pale reflection of the original three film process.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Cinerama name was used as a film distribution company, ironically reissuing single strip 70 mm and 35 mm Cinemascope reduction prints[citation needed] of This Is Cinerama (1972).

Cinerama today

The Cinerama company exists today as an entity of the Pacific Theatres chain. In recent years hard work by dedicated enthusiasts has made possible showings of surviving and new Cinerama prints, notably at:

In 1998, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen purchased Seattle's Martin Cinerama, which then underwent a major restoration/upgrade. In 1999 it reopened with a special multi-day program featuring screenings of most of the major Cinerama classics, which drew patrons from around the world.

As of 2004, the Pictureville Cinema, Martin Cinerama and Cinerama Dome continue to hold periodic screenings of three-projector Cinerama movies. It is worth noting that the Cinerama Dome was designed for the three-projector system but never actually had it installed until recent years as it opened with the first of the single film 70 mm Cinerama films, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

"SmileBox" version of How the West Was Won, as seen on the Blu-ray release.

A 2003 documentary, Cinerama Adventure, took a look back at the history of the Cinerama process, as well as digitally recreating the Cinerama experience via clips of true Cinerama films (using transfers from original Cinerama prints). And Turner Entertainment (via Warner Bros.) has struck new Cinerama prints of How the West Was Won for exhibition in true Cinerama theatres around the world.

Cinerama established the standard for all of the large screen formats that followed. Its successors, Todd-AO, CinemaScope, and the various 70 mm formats, all attempted to equal or surpass its grandeur while avoiding its problems to greater or lesser degrees of success. In movie theaters today the large format IMAX system continues the tradition. It offers short documentaries and select main-stream feature films to audiences on huge screens in an immersive cinema experience.

In 2008 a Blu-ray format video disc of How The West Was Won was released offering a recreation of Cinerama for home viewing.[4] Computers were used to seamlessly stitch the three images together so that the resulting image does not have the visible seams of older versions. Furthermore, as a second viewing option, 3D mapping technology was used to produce an image that approximates the curved screen, called "SmileBox".

List of Cinerama features

The following feature films have been advertised as being presented "in Cinerama":

Year Title Notes
1952 This is Cinerama 3-Strip Cinerama; rereleased in 1972 in 70 mm Cinerama
1955 Cinerama Holiday 3-Strip Cinerama
1956 Seven Wonders of the World 3-Strip Cinerama
1957 Search for Paradise 3-Strip Cinerama
1958 South Seas Adventure 3-Strip Cinerama
Windjammer originally filmed in 3-strip Cinemiracle; later exhibited as Cinerama
1962 The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm 3-Strip Cinerama
Holiday in Spain aka Scent of Mystery; originally filmed in Todd-AO; converted to 3-strip Cinerama
How The West Was Won 3-strip Cinerama, although some sequences were filmed in Ultra Panavision 70
1963 The Best of Cinerama 3-Strip Cinerama
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World filmed in Ultra Panavision 70, presented in 70 mm Cinerama
1964 Circus World filmed in Super Technirama 70, presented in 70 mm Cinerama
Mediterranean Holiday filmed in MCS-70; presented in 70 mm Cinerama
1965 The Golden Head filmed in Super Technirama 70; presented in 70 mm Cinerama in Europe only
La Fayette filmed in Super Technirama 70; presented in 70 mm Cinerama in Europe only
The Story of the Flaming Years filmed in Sovscope 70; presented in 70 mm Cinerama in Europe only
The Black Tulip filmed in MCS-70; presented in 70 mm Cinerama in Europe only
The Greatest Story Ever Told filmed in Ultra Panavision 70; presented in 70 mm Cinerama
The Hallelujah Trail filmed in Ultra Panavision 70; presented in 70 mm Cinerama
Battle of the Bulge filmed in Ultra Panavision 70; presented in 70 mm Cinerama
1966 Cinerama's Russian Adventure filmed in Kinopanorama, presented in both 3-strip and 70 mm Cinerama
Khartoum filmed in Ultra Panavision 70; presented in 70 mm Cinerama
Grand Prix filmed in Super Panavision 70; presented in 70 mm Cinerama
1967 Custer of the West filmed in Super Technirama 70; presented in 70 mm Cinerama
1968 2001: A Space Odyssey filmed in Super Panavision 70; presented in 70 mm Cinerama
Ice Station Zebra filmed in Super Panavision 70; presented in 70 mm Cinerama
1969 Krakatoa, East of Java filmed in Super Panavision 70 and Todd-AO; presented in 70 mm Cinerama
1970 Song of Norway filmed in Super Panavision 70; presented in 70 mm Cinerama in Europe only
1972 The Great Waltz filmed in 35 mm Panavision, presented in 70 mm Cinerama in Europe only

"Cinerama" video stretching mode

RCA uses the word "Cinerama" to refer to a display mode which fills a 16:9 video screen with 4:3 video with, in the words of the manufacturer, "little distortion." Manuals for products offering this mode give no detailed explanation. [5] One online posting says it consists of "a slight cropping at the top & bottom combined with a slight stretch at only the sides," and praises it.[citation needed]The posting suggests that other vendors provide a similar function under different names. Mitsubishi calls it "stretch" mode. The RCA Scenium TV also has a "stretch mode" as well it is a 4:3 picture stretched straight across.

There is no obvious connection between this video mode and any of the Cinerama motion picture processes. It is not clear why the name is used, unless the nonlinear stretch is vaguely evocative of a curved screen. (Ironically, some widescreen cinema processes—not Cinerama—displayed a fault known as "anamorphic mumps,"which consisted of a lateral stretch of objects closer to the camera).

In the U.S., RCA does not appear to have registered the word "Cinerama" as a trademark; conversely, a number of trademarks on "Cinerama," e.g. SN 74270575, are still "live" and held by Cinerama, Inc.

See also

References

  • "The Waller Flexible Gunnery Trainer." By Fred Waller. In: Journal of the SMPTE, Vol. 47, July, 1946, pp. 73–87
  • "New Movie Projection System Shown Here; Giant Wide Angle Screen Utilized." Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, October 1, 1952, p. 1
  • "Apparently Solid Motion Pictures Produced by Curved Screen and Peripheral Vision." Waldemar Kaempffert, The New York Times, October 5, 1952 p. E9
  • "Looking at Cinerama: An Awed and Quizzical Inspection of a New Film Projection System." Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, October 5, 1952 p. X1
  • Robert E. Carr and R. M. Hayes: Wide Screen Movies. A History and Filmography of Wide Gauge Filmmaking, MC Farland & Company, Inc., 1988. ISBN 0-89950-242-3 Chapter II. "The Multiple-Film and Deep Curved Screen Processes" pp. 11–54
  • Thomas, Lowell: So long until tomorrow: from Quaker Hill to Kathmandu, G. K. Hall 1977, ISBN 0-8161-6553-X Chapter "The Wonderful Life and Premature Death of Cinerama"
  • "Scenium" HD50LPW165 RCA receiver; full description of Cinerama mode in the instruction book says "The image of a 4:3 video signal is centered, expanding in the horizontal direction to fill the display with little distortion" whereas in "Stretch" mode "The image of a 4:3 video signal is stretched horizontally by approximately 33% while the vertical size stays the same."

Footnotes

External links


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