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A Silver Screen Special Edition: Ladies and Gentlemen: This is Cinerama

Posted September 12, 2012 01:35 PM by Robert Siegel

In the history of widescreen film, not many other titles are more important than This is Cinerama. To know that we will be able to watch this historic film in our home theaters is certainly a major event for classic film fans of all ages. Unfortunately, Cinerama played the theaters before I was born, but one day I will be at one of the festivals. This year it was just too late that I learned one was being held in Los Angeles and most of the center sections sold out very quickly. That is where I would want to be. One of the people who has worked so hard to keep Cinerama alive is Dave Strohmaier, a man dedicated to the format and literally working night and day to put these films back together, release these films, and hold the Cinerama festivals where a few of us lucky people get to see Cinerama for the very first time.

Before we go into such stuff as dreams are made of, this journalist has a few things to say. There is so much history to the format, and several people/companies have helped me out in this column in a major way. First is John Adey. John lives in Australia and publishes a non-profit quarterly glossy magazine titled, "KinoCQ" (Cinema Quarterly). The magazine is published by the Australian Cinema & Theatre Society, Inc. I read read every issue that I own five or six times. John has had a long life in the entertainment industry, and his magazine deals with historic and beautiful theaters around the world, as well as celebrating widescreen films. No website. Just a gorgeous magazine, one of a kind! He has helped me tremendously with this Cinerama column. You may reach him at to inquire about a subscription and membership to the society and believe me, if you love classic cinema, this publication is pure gold and will take an honored place on your home theatre shelf or coffee table with admiration! Below you can see the cover to one of the latest issues:

KinoCQ Autumn 2012 issue.

Another person who has opened his archive for me is Thomas Hauerslev of The plethora of information on his website about widescreen films and 70mm (including worldwide 70mm showings, updated regularly) is clearly a website developed by someone who has a love for widescreen cinema and one can spend weeks on the site and not read all of the wonderful material. My hats off to you Thomas and we certainly appreciate opening your Cinerama archives to us. Last but not least, I want to give major thanks to Roland Lataille of Cinerama His gracious help and use of graphics from his site is greatly appreciated, and contains pages and pages of Cinerama history. I highly recommend you check out this site. Thomas is a wonderful person and we've exchanged some very nice emails.

Remember, many graphics can be enlarged simply by slowly left clicking twice.

Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Cinerama!

This is exciting news for all Cinerama enthusiasts that's sure to put a W-l-D-E smile on your faces with the release of This is Cinerama. Digitally Restored and Remastered with the added enjoyment of the elimination of the 3-projector 'join' lines. Thanks to Flicker Alley of West Hollywood, you'll be able to purchase the very first Cinerama production, This is Cinerama, presented in the Smilebox curved screen simulation, an electronic reproduction of how the film looked on the massive curved screen that was 75 feet wide by 26 feet high. When This is Cinerama premiered on the evening of September 30,1952, the shape and sound of movies changed forever with the introduction of Cinerama. This unique widescreen process was launched when television was deemed a major threat to US film exhibition.

A new kind of hero

In the days of the silent films, soon after World War I, three documentary pictures appeared which were Seen far and wide. One was "Nanook of the North," produced by Robert J; Flaherty, another was "Grass," made by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, and the third was Lowell Thomas' film account of "With Lawrence in Arabia and Allenby in Palestine." Lowell Thomas accompanied this last picture on its travels and, standing in front of the audience, accompanied by music and sound effects, he personally added his comments and description of what was happening on the screen. It was the first attempt to combine narration, music, and motion pictures.

Lowell Thomas

When Lowell Thomas first saw Cinerama, he couldn't help but think back to that early attempt to give the vitality of living speech to his pictorial story of adventure. He couldn't help but think, "What if I could have turned the Cinerama camera on the tremendous pageant in India, on the elephants and brilliantly attired maharajas and the more than a million people whose faces appeared in my second feature-length film? What if I could have opened the three lenses of the miraculous Cinerama camera on Allenby and his men as they swept the Turks from the Holy City of Jerusalem, and the Bedouin Camel Corps under Lawrence in Arabia?" Lowell Thomas could not help but think also of his two friends, Robert J. Flaherty, who had made "Nanook " "Man of Aran," "Moana" and "Elephant Boy," and Merian C. Cooper who with Ernest B. Schoedsack was responsible for "Grass" and "Chang" and "King Kong," and then scores of films in Hollywood. How many times the scope, the strength, and the impact of the work of these men could have been multiplied if they had had the Cinerama camera.

Trade advertisement..

That's why it was that as soon as Lowell Thomas saw Cinerama he asked Flaherty to come and look at it with him. Flaherty agreed that it was the greatest thing since sound. Their enthusiasm was boundless, and Flaherty was chosen to direct the first Cinerama production. But within a few weeks Flaherty died. Then Lowell Thomas got in touch with his friend Terian C. Cooper who was busy in Hollywood. Even before he had a chance to tell him about Cinerama, Cooper said "You know, Lowell, I can't help but think that it's high time for a new and revolutionary development in motion pictures." After that it wasn't difficult for Lowell Thomas to persuade Merian Cooper that he'd better take the next plane East to see Cinerama. Cooper flew East, saw Cinerama, and agreed with Lowell Thomas and Bob Flaherty. This was it—and he, at Lowell Thomas's invitation, took over the production of the first Cinerama picture.

Cinerama promo.

"We talked and planned for days," Lowell Thomas said, "and finally agreed that in our first presentation nothing should be done to take the spotlight away from Cinerama. If, to take an extreme example, in our first picture we had some tremendous attraction, let's say Charlie Chaplin doing Hamlet, the focus of attention would be either on the great clown or on the new approach to Shakespeare. If we had concentrated solely on Aida and all of Aida, our work would have been closely linked with what people thought of our Aida.

Fred Waller

"We didn't want to be judged on subject matter. This advent of something as new and important as Cinerama was in itself a major event in the history of entertainment. The logical thing to do was to make Cinerama the hero. And that is what we have tried to do. This, our first, is a demonstration. A portion of our show takes place inside Milan's celebrated La Scala Theater and our cast here includes more than 600 players. A portion of it takes place in the famous Cypress Gardens of Florida where boats and water skis defy the laws of gravity.

Technical trade magazine advertisements.

Cinerama's stereophonic sound was demonstrated with a thousand Scotch bagpipes and, in another part of the show, with one of the finest symphony orchestras ever brought together. In introducing the new kind of hero, the Cinerama camera, they brought to the theater a new kind of emotional experience. Fred Waller, Cinerama inventor, sprouted ideas in all directions Cinerama was the result of a brilliant idea, 15 years of untiring research and the expenditure of millions of dollars. Its inventor, Fred Waller, a tall, bespectacled mechanical and photographic wizard, was a full-time inventor with an extremely practical, well-timed sense of the sort of products the world needs. He was the father of such widely different devices as water skis (aquaplanes were too unstable to suit him), and a remote recording wind direction and velocity indicator. He created a still camera to take a 360° picture. When he had trouble with an ornery sail on his boat, he sat down and invented a now widely used adjustable sail batten. The Photo-Metric camera that measured a man for a suit of clothes in a fiftieth of a second was his brain-child. "Fred," said a friend, "is the kind of fellow, who goes out to the barn to build a kitchen shelf and winds up inventing a better nail, a hammer that does the job better, and a new kind of screwdriver."

Sound mixing and projection.

The Waller Gunnery Trainer

Most famous of Waller's inventions at the time was his aerial gunnery trainer used by the armed forces in World War II. It saved an estimated 350,000 casualties. In it, four trainees sat in a large room in front of a huge spherical screen on which five synchronized projectors threw movies of enemy planes that dove on the novice gunner every which way. In a realistic three-dimensional atmosphere, the gunner fired an electronic machine gun at his adversaries. When he fired his kicking gun only roared. When he hit, he got a "beep." By the time he climbed into a real plane, he'd had not only realistic target practice but the emotional experience of attacking and being attacked.

Italian postcard.

The trainer was the final step along the road to Cinerama. The theory behind it dates back to Waller's early days when, as head of Paramount's trick film department, he produced everything from realistic model shipwrecks to convertible carriage pumpkins for Cinderella. Waller began to use wide-angle lenses for special effects. "I noticed that they produced a faint three-dimensional effect," he said "and figured it was a clue." He began to study sight in people, to find out why they saw the things they did. He hung flaps over the peak of a cap, and experimented to see how much he could discern from the sides of his eyes. It was quite a lot. He walked around with one eye patched to see if he still got dimensional vision in depth. He did.

Montage of Cinerama productions.

"I learned," he revealed, "that sight is largely an experimental phenomenon. Hie eye lens paints a crude picture on the retina, really. It's the brain that fills in details that it knows from experience should be there." Once Paramount needed a scene of a young couple clutching each other on the bow of a sinking ship. Fred built a model ship, put two tiny objects in the bow and shot the sequence. "Later," he said, "everyone asked me how I got those miniature people to move, wave their arms and gesture so desperately. They hadn't moved at all. They were two shapeless lumps of clay that didn't even resemble people. The brains—not the eyes—of the audience gave them shape and motion."

Frank Smith and Dudley Roberts, two original investors in Cinerama shown with a model Cinerama theatre.

According to Waller, stereovision was an actuality only for real close work. It exists only in a small area directly in front of the eyes, and for a distance of about 20 feet. One-eyed people, of course, have none. And yet they get usable three-dimensional sight. They drive cars and gauge distances as well as anyone. How? It takes two eyes to get a real stereo effect. "By scores of visual clues that tell their brains where objects are," Waller explains, "one object overlays another and tells them it's nearer; moving objects increase and decrease in size; angular parallax and a host of other things tip them off to the relations of objects to each other."

Theatre conversion advertisement.

Waller figured that if he could devise cameras and projectors that would duplicate most of the normal vision as seen by a pair of human eyes, the human brain would do the rest. Anyone looking at such a picture would feel he was standing in the middle of a real scene. He would be the camera. But how to do this on a regular screen? It would have to be "hundreds of feet wide for such a big angle. "Then," said Waller, "a famous architect asked me to make him a projected picture display inside a sphere for the New York World's Fair. He had barely mentioned it when I knew I had the answer to my environmental movies. I'd been using flat screens only because I was so accustomed to them. Obviously, a person sees a curved view in real life. The laugh was on me." Once Waller felt that he had the right idea, it didn't take him long to start work on Cinerama. The first camera was an eleven-eyed monster which produced film for eleven matching projectors to throw on a curved screen. "It was crude," says Fred, "but it gave the audience an experience and I knew I was on my way."

Production/development photos.

The illusion of reality created by Cinerama is closely linked to the function of the retina of the human eye and the drum of the human ear. While a person's attention may be directed primarily at one particular object, his field of vision also encompasses everything on either side of it as far as the corners of the eyes can see. Likewise, a man walking down a city street, for example, hears not only the sounds directly in front of him, but also those on either side, and behind him as well. The Cinerama film process attains these effects of real life by surrounding the viewer completely with action and sound in an environment.

(Left click twice slowly to read)

The Cinerama Camera

The picture Cinerama reproduces is almost a complete half-circle, 146 degrees wide and 55 degrees high—pretty close to two human eyes which cover about 180 degrees and 90 degrees. Naturally, no lens known can cover such a field without horrible distortion. Hence, the Cinerama camera has three 27mm lenses—no bigger than the lens of your own eye—set at 48 degree angles. Each takes a third of the picture's total width, exposing its own reel of 35 mm film housed in one of the three 1,000-foot magazines that jut from the back of the 150-pound camera. The lenses are arranged on a mount like a miniature three-section picture frame. The one in the center points straight ahead. Those on each side point in, so that the left lens takes the right side of the picture, and the one on the right takes the left side. A single rotating shutter, that whirls in front of the lenses at the point where their lines of view cross, makes foolproof simultaneous exposures on each of the films. Single focus and diaphragm controls adjust settings on all three lenses simultaneously.

Hazard E. Reeves, Pioneer in Sound and Electronics

Before Fred Waller had progressed very far down the road toward the successful development of the Cinerama process, he realized that sound such as had never been heard before must be a part of his objective. It had to do the same thing for the human ear that his wrap-around picture would do for the eye. Fortunately, in the process of doing the Eastman Kodak Exhibit at the New York World's Fair, he had met and worked with Hazard E. Reeves, one of this country's outstanding creative sound engineers. It was only natural that he should show Reeves the progress he was making, and equally natural that Reeves was quick to see the great potentials of Waller's work. Reeves agreed to take on the task of developing the multi-dimensional sound that Cinerama needed. In fact, he did more than that—he invested in the Cinerama process and became president of Cinerama, Inc. when the company was organized.

Lay-out design for a Cinerama Theatre.

Young in years and appearance, Reeves was a tornado of energy, equipped with a nimble engineering mind and the practical sense of a successful executive. He operated several businesses with one hand while he had his fun developing new ideas with the other. Reeves was never happier than when perfecting a new product, not only to the point where it works, but to the point where it is a sound financial operation. Reeves came to New York in 1928 with an engineering degree from Georgia Tech. After two or three years of rapid progress in the field of sound, he was Chief Engineer with the Standard Sound Company and consultant to the Harvard University Film Foundation, he opened his own recording studio where he specialized in putting sound on film for motion picture producers and making records for recording companies. The studio grew rapidly and became the largest in the East in a few years. There were numerous offshoots, including a company which built special sound equipment and another which made phonograph recording discs. When the war came along, Reeves, with several associates, founded Reeves-Ely Laboratories to manufacture electronic products.

Within less than a year the company had contracts totaling many millions of dollars and had won the Army-Navy "E" Award for merit. During the course of the war, the company won the "E" Award four times. After the war, Reeves-Ely Laboratories was sold and Reeves became president of his new enterprise, Reeves Soundcraft Corporation, which in a fatherly and very effective manner directed the operations, of a number of companies manufacturing a variety of products from color television cameras to magnetic film. What Reeves wanted for Cinerama was not on\y sound that would move from place to place with the action on the screen; he wanted sound so good that it would be completely indistinguishable from the real thing.

Imperial Theatre Japan.

Using the resources of his own organization Reeves worked for two years with his engineers, experimenting and designing and building the equipment. He came up with a system of six or more microphones, extremely high fidelity amplifiers and six magnetic oxide sound tracks developed from his Magnastripe process, stripped on standard motion picture film. The end result was omnidirectional sound of flawless quality. It had what sound experts called "presence," which is just another way of saying it's as good as being on the spot. Sometimes it's better than being on the spot because, in the case of an orchestra for example, engineers can create a better musical balance than if the orchestra itself were present. Reeves sound was no mere adjunct to the Cinerama picture, it's a full-fledged partner.

Harry Squire

Harry Squire, the Cinerama cameraman, isn't exactly what you'd call quiet and retiring. He's one of the boys who held up his end, conversationally speaking, except when it came to reciting the thrills that have come his way in his work as a cameraman. "It's all routine to me," said Harry. "I've been around the world eight times. I did almost all of Frank Buck's stuff, traveled a lot with Lowell Thomas, went into the Belgian Congo with the Gatty Expedition. It's just another day's work, that's all. "But, I'll tell you one thing that did get me—that flight in the B-25 with Paul Mantz. I was alone in the nose of the plane with the camera. When he flew down those canyons, that wasn't routine. I sorta . . . well, you'll know what I mean when you see it."

Harry Squire

Paul Mantz, who flew the converted bomber which carried the Cinerama camera from New York to California via some of the most magnificent country to be found, was not an old lady's pilot. In his younger days, he was the stunt pilot in Hollywood who was called in to do the trick flying and stage the crashes that nobody else would have anything to do with. Yet he managed to spend less time in the hospital than his competitors. He graduated from stunt work to speed flying and won the Bendix Trophy Races for three consecutive years, 1946, 1947, 1948. He holds numerous air speed records and no one had topped him at consecutive outside loops—46 of them. He operated the Paul Mantz Flying Service in Burbank, California, and was generally considered the country's crack pilot for aerial photography. It was his camera angles and lighting for aerial work which made it possible for Harry Squire and the Cinerama camera to catch the breath-taking background for "America The Beautiful."

Lowell Thomas

Chairman of the Board of Cinerama Productions Corp. and Co-Producer of This is Cinerama it is estimated that the voice of Lowell Thomas had been heard by more of his fellow mortals than any other voice in history. In 1951 he celebrated his 20th anniversary as a radio headliner, and held the longevity record for all programs, of all types, in the entire history of broadcasting.

Lowell Thomas first came into the public eye in 1930 as the discoverer and biographer of Lawrence of Arabia, as biographer of Count Luckner, "The Sea Devil" and as historian of the first world flight. "L. T." the author, had written a shelf of books, 41 in all, including such other well-known titles as "Back to Mandalay," "Pageant of Adventure" and "The Untold Story of Exploration." A biographer might well single out Lowell Thomas's amazing ability to get things done and cover ground as his outstanding characteristics. While restricted by a 5-times-a-week, twice-nightly broadcast which circled the globe, and 17 years of continuous work with Fox Movietone News, he had done more writing than most full-time authors, and had managed to maintain his habit, established early in life, of keeping on intimate terms with the ends of the earth.

Lowell Thomas letter.

In 1943 he made a radio tour of South America, broadcasting from Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Lima and elsewhere around and across that continent. In the spring of 1945 he broadcast to America reports on the Second World War from London, Paris, Luxembourg, Rome, and from a mobile truck behind the front lines. Upon his return from the European Theater he set off on a 'round-the-world flight, over "The Hump" and into Central Asia, to assemble material on the Pacific War. This journey included broadcasts to America from Cairo, New Delhi, Manila, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, as well as from Chungking. Then in the summer and fall of 1949, he and his son, Lowell, Jr., made their Himalayan journey to forbidden Tibet. This visit to the real Shangri-La,'Lhasa, the capital of the Dalai Lama, and the near-tragic return journey to India attracted as wide attention as any adventure of our time. Lowell Thomas, Jr., told the story of the trip in his best seller, "Out of This World." 1950 took Lowell Sr. to Alaska and the little-known Juneau Ice Cap, with an American Geographical Society expedition, and the following year he was off on another aerial jaunt to Europe, Africa and South America.

An invitation to the first anniversary.

As a young man, Lowell Thomas was a gold miner in Cripple Creek, a range rider, a mining camp reporter and an editor. With degrees from four universities, he was on the faculty of Princeton University working for his doctorate in Constitutional Law when World War I broke out. It didn't take him long to substitute the role of foreign correspondent for teaching, and when he read in 1917 of the appointment of General Allenby as the new British Commander-in-Chief in Egypt, his nose for news made him suspect that a drive against the Turks was about to be launched. He pulled the wires necessary to take him to the battlefront of the Near East where he met and later joined Lawrence. This association enabled him to assemble the astounding story which laid the groundwork for his career on the platform, as a film maker, lecturer, news commentator and world-famous personality.

Cinerama theatre ads.

Merian C. Cooper: Co-Producer

The man who, with Robert Bendick, co-produced This is Cinerama was Merian C. Cooper, famed in the motion picture industry for his long list of bold, successful pioneering ventures. Cooper, a man who could shoot films from the exciting pages of his own life, considered Cinerama the greatest and most revolutionary development in motion pictures since sound and Technicolor. Cooper started out as a "firster" when, with his then partner, Ernest B. Schoedsack, he was one of the first to produce natural films such as "Grass" and "Chang. Again, with Schoedsack, he was the first to tie studio and wilderness together in "Four Feathers." He pioneered in aviation. Before Lindberg flew the Atlantic, Cooper invested in Pan-American Airways. Along with Juan Trippe and John Hambleton he believed it was entirely sane for planes to fly the oceans with passengers. Most persons thought these young pioneers were crazy.

Ad for the Ambassador Theatre.

When three-color Technicolor was young, he got C. V. and John Hav Whitney to bet a fortune on it. He persuaded David Selznick to try the three-color process which resulted in the use of Technicolor for "Gone With The Wind." This forced the film industry to take up Technicolor. He staged the first radio show with film stars (1933) Constance Bennett, Irene Dunne and Dorothy Jordan. All producers fought him on this. In 1933, with E. B. Schoedsack, he produced "King Kong," a bold, imaginative film which brought miniature projection to the screen. He was the first to advertise a motion picture on television. At a time when people thought dancing was dead on the screen, he created a dance team, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Cooper said, "Cinerama, invented by Fred Waller, was the fame kind of bold venture as were sound and Technicolor, Neither the stage nor motion pictures gave a comparable feeling of being part of the action." The action bursts out of confinement."

News page on Cinerama.

Robert L, Bendick: Co-Producer

Robert L. Bendick began his photographic career by doing documentary picture work for the Canadian and Bermudian Agencies as well as still photography for some of the leading magazines. In 1940, he went into the field of television, working for CBS. This was interrupted by the war in which, as a captain in the army, he served as combat cameraman with the First Motion Picture Unit in the China-Burma-India Theater. He was the chief cameraman on the first glider invasion into Burma, which set the pattern for all subsequent glider invasions.

Robert L. Bendick

After the war, he returned to CBS in a new capacity as head of the News and Special Events Department. During this period, he was producer of a series of shows on the United Nations, sponsored jointly by the Ford Motor Company and CBS. For this series of programs he received the Peabody Award, the highest award in the television field, which was then often referred to as the television "Oscar." Bendick's work with Cinerama was by no means his first pioneering venture. His work with CBS-TV gave him full responsibility for the first television broadcasts of the national Republican and Democratic Conventions in 1948; the first United Nations television broadcast; and the first baseball game that went out over TV, a Brooklyn Dodger game, in 1946. The first pictures to be broadcast from the capitol building in Washington, the opening of Congress in 1947, were under his direction. He is co-author with his wife, Jeanne Bendick, of "Television Works Like This," and "Making the Movies."

Cinerama document

In 1952, Bendick was hired by a former CBS newsman, Lowell Thomas, who, together with Louis B. Mayer, Mike Todd, and Cooper, were developing Cinerama as the next big thing in the movies. This is Cinerama which opened in the fall of 1952 on Broadway, featured a gut-wrenching roller-coaster ride at the start as well as scenes from Florida's Cypress Gardens contributed by Bendick. He went on to be the sole producer of a follow-up, "Cinerama Holiday" (1955), another dizzying spectacle that included downhill skiing at St. Moritz and yodeling.

Louis Forbes, Musical Director

Louis Forbes has been musical director for many of the greatest motion pictures, including "Gone With The Wind." He was called to Hollywood by Universal-International in 1936. He was musical director for David Selznick for six years. Forbes' first picture was "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." Next came "Intermezzo," starring Ingrid Bergman, followed by many other films. In three years with Samuel Goldwyn he did Danny Kaye's "Up In Arms" and many more Goldwyn hits. When Merian C. Cooper, as co-producer with Robert Bendick of This is Cinerama, was asked to select a musical director, his single choice was Louis Forbes.

Various soundtrack albums.

Mario Larrinaga, Cinerama Artist

Mario Larrinaga was described by Willis J. O'Brien, the man in charge of special effects for "King Kong," "Lost World" and other unusual films, as one of the finest technical artists ever seen in Hollywood. An all-around artist, Larrinaga had no notion he was going to be in motion pictures when he came to the United States from his native Mexico. A designer and a master of scenic art, Mario was discovered by Warner Brothers who persuaded him to have a try at the creative art work without which many films could not be made. It was at Warner's that he met O'Brien and they became fast friends as well as a successful team. In 1951, Larrinaga left Hollywood and built a home in the artist colony of Taos, in New Mexico, where he painted landscapes that the galleries were beginning to find in great demand. Merian C. Cooper, with whom Larrinaga worked on "King Kong," was endeavoring to persuade Mario to leave his desert retreat long enough to help him with a new novel film feature that was in preparation by Argosy Pictures in which Cooper and John Ford were partners.

More Cinerama theatres: (Clockwise) Salt Lake City Villa (1 & 2), Roxy Atlanta (3,4) and Johanasdburg South Arfica.

Paul Mantz, Cameraman

Paul Mantz has been flying since 1924, and owned and operated the Paul Mantz Air Services for then 23 years. Catering to well-known businessmen and motion picture people, he had taken more stars to Las Vegas, Reno and Yuma to either tie or untie the marriage knot than any other pilot. He now had the largest individually-owned airplane collection in the world and could provide authentic planes for any period in IJ. S. history. Best known as a speed flyer, Mantz was the only pilot who had won the Bendix Trophy Races three consecutive years—1946,1947,1948. He held numerous records, most of them made in the P-51 Mustang which he souped up with surplus plane material. He established the Los Angeles to-New York record, 4 hours 48 minutes, in 1948. Equally well known for his spectacular stunt flying in many motion pictures, Mantz obtained what were thought to be impossible air shots for some of the biggest directors in the business.

The Louis B. Mayer Cinerama Connection

It's interesting to note that very little has been written about MGMs famous studio head, Louis B. Mayer's participation with Cinerama. Perhaps more than anyone else, Louis B. Mayer (an ex-scrap metal dealer) was responsible for the kind of motion pictures that we enjoyed up until the early 1950s. His first venture into pictures was the purchase of a 600-seat rundown theatre, the Gem, in Haverhill, Massachusetts, which he re-opened as the Orpheum in 1907. With its success it encouraged him to new ventures and within a short time, 'L.B.' was distributing the best available pictures throughout New England. His next step was Hollywood where he began making pictures as an independent in his own studio - the LB. Mayer Pictures Company. During the early 1920s,'L.B.'merged his studio with Marcus Loew's Metro Company and then joined his old friend Joseph Schenck and Goldwyn Pictures Corporation in the formation of one of the most successful studios in Hollywood, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, at Culver City. By 1948, due to the introduction of television in the US and changing public tastes, MGM suffered considerable profit losses, and Dore Schary was brought in from RKO to replace Mayer. The days of wholesome MGM pictures were over!

This is Cinerama advertisements.

By 1951, after 27 years at MGM, L.B. was forced to retire to private life but it was only temporary, because after having had one look at the Cinerama tests on Long Island, it was sufficient to bring him back to active participation in the entertainment world, and immediately he took over the helm of Chairman of the Board of Cinerama Productions. At that time he said: "I consider myself very fortunate to have been blessed with the opportunity to see the silent film grow from a single 1000 foot reel to the multiple reel feature. I saw silent film replaced by sound. And now, when I thought it was time for me to take it easy, along came the third important milestone in entertainment... Cinerama ... the most tremendously thrilling kind of entertainment imaginable!

Construction of the interior of the Century in Minneapolis

"Our ambition is to use Cinerama to provide the public with entertainment of the highest possible quality. But when all our hopes and plans for Cinerama have been realized, we fully believe that theatre-going people everywhere will find it worth their while to go see and hear Cinerama presentations at special Cinerama theatres, wherever they may be." Louis B. Mayer died of leukemia on October 29,1957, at the age of 73. Lowell Thomas was Vice Chairman of the Board of Cinerama Productions Corporation, and Co-Producer of This is Cinerama. Merian C. Cooper was Co-Producer of This is Cinerama. The European sequences were supervised by Michael Todd and Michael Todd Jr. The music was played by the Cinerama Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic, with additional vocal works by the Salt Lake City Tabernacle Choir, the Vienna Boys Choir and the Long Island Choral Society.

Cinerama interiors (clockwise) Newcastle Queens, Lowes NY (2-3), Scheffield, U.K.

MGM did however produce two films in the Cinerama process. "How the West was Won" became a sensation. The second, Brothers Grimm (1962) has considerably less appeal for today's audiences. Compounding the problem is the fact that its 3-strip negative has been subjected to water damage in storage. The coming of new digital technology with Full High Definition widescreen television - at an affordable price - has led to the opening up of new vistas in home viewing enjoyment for those wishing to relive the widescreen experience. There are three cinemas in the world currently capable of presenting the original Cinerama format; the Hollywood Dome, Seattle Cinerama and Bradford National Media Museum in the UK. Both the Dome and Seattle have recently struck 3-strip prints of This is Cinerama (1952) and How The West Was Won, which are revived periodically. Faded original prints of some other titles have also had special showings. Incredibly, for the past 35 years the only surviving 3-strip prints of The World of Brothers Grimm and the fifth travel title, Cinerama South Seas Adventure (1958) have been in Australia - where they have been lovingly cared for by a North Sydney enthusiast.

Metro's first full length Cinerama film and the first with Hollywood stars and a story was "How the West was Won."

The following is a combination of articles on the film This is Cinerama such as Popular Mechanics (1950), Mechanical Engineering (1952) and Popular Science:

THRILLS that lift you out of your seat . . . action that goes on right around you . . . these are the illusions created in a new kind of movie. Panoramic sight and sound put the action right in your lap. Fire engines seem to come right at you. Planes roar over your head. You're not just looking at this "wraparound" movie show—you're in it! Super-movies produced by the new system, known as Cinerama, may make their public debut late this year or early in 1951. Previews of short Cinerama films have been given movie makers and exhibitors at an East Norwich, N. Y., indoor tennis court converted into a demonstration theater. Negotiations are in progress to make the first full-length super-movies and equip theaters to show them. So powerful is Cinerama's feeling of reality that when one preview "short" portrayed a ride on an amusement-park roller coaster, several spectators became seasick and had to leave hastily. (This reporter stuck it out, hanging on tight to both chair arms.) Super-movies attain this realism by a new departure in methods.

Clockwise: 3-strip Cinerama; filming in Cinerama, film and sound on the set.

First, they are not, nor do they claim to be, stereoscopic or three-dimensional movies. Those require either a special screen that only a limited portion of a normal audience can view from just the right angle, or special spectacles for all viewers, which most movie patrons simply won't be bothered with: No such gadgets are used by Cinerama audiences. Actually, only a part of the clues that make a scene seem real to you are supplied by binocular, or two-eyed, vision. By skillfully combining others, the Cinerama process gives substantially the same effect. Just as in real life, you can look all around, as well as straight ahead.:" Cinerama's big "wrap-around" screen of eight times the standard size—twice as high, and four times as wide—forms a great curving arc across your field of view. It seems to surround you with action taking place on it. That gives you the feeling of being right in the midst of things—instead of outside, Jumping in.

More Cinerama Theatres: (clockwise) Princess in Hawaii, Aukland and Los Angeles.

People in close-ups, on this giant screen, fill your vision. They seem so near that you could reach right out and touch them. Your impression of seeing the scene through your own eyes, instead of the camera's, is heightened by picture-taking lenses that match the human eye in focal length and give exactly the same perspective. As convincing to your ears as to your eyes is the simulation of reality. Wherever an actor may be on the screen, that is where you hear his voice coming from. From behind you, you first hear the voices of a procession of singers, as they march onto the scene from behind the camera. Filming and projecting a scene of Cinerama dimensions is no small feat. Almost literally eye-filling, the picture covers a field of vision about 146° wide and 55M° high— not far from the extreme limit, 160° b£ 75°, of human eyes. No single lens, not even a ^wide-angle one, can satisfactorily take in more than a fraction of this territory.

Production camera.

So the 150-pound Cinerama camera consists of three cameras in one. Its eyes are three matched lenses, of 27-mm. focal length, set at angles 48° apart. Each lens records one-third of the total width of the scene, upon one of three standard 35-mm. films carried in as many film magazines. Otherwise, the three sections operate as one. Lines of sight of the three lenses converge and cross at a point 11/16 of an inch in front of them, where a single revolving-disk shutter serves them all, assuring synchronization of exposures. One knob simultaneously focuses all three lenses. Another knob controls diaphragm settings in unison. Individual Cinerama frames are half again standard height. Since three strips are used, the total amount of picture film used is 4/2 "times as much as for a standard movie. After the camera has dissected the scene into three parts, it remains for the theaters projection system to put the parts together again. This requires three projection booths instead of the customary single one. Installation of these booths and of the large curved screen will adapt existing theaters to show Cinerama films.

Cinerama Theatre interior of the Seattle Martin Cinerama.:

From angles like those of the camera lenses, the theater projectors throw the three sections of the picture side by side on the screen. The center section of the screen is curved, usually on a 25-foot radius. The depth of focus of the projecting lenses is great enough so that the curvature of the screen presents no problem. An innovation in each projector is a mechanical device nicknamed a "gigolo," because it. jiggles up. and' down. Just as a photographer makes a vignette, this mask with a saw-tooth edge moves, along the border of a film so that the picture gradually fades from view at its edge. Thus adjoining films blend together on the screen without fit conspicuous dividing line. For realistic sound effects, six microphones in the field make individual tracks on a single 35-mm. sound film used for this purpose alone. Theater speakers, arranged in the same pattern as the microphones, are individually operated by the sound trades. This produces the striking "sound-perspective" illusion that makes voices and music come from the right directions. A favored technique places five microphones and speakers, respectively, in a row across the full width of the movie set and the theater screen. The sixth microphone is put some distance behind the camera and picks up "off-stage" sounds, reproduced in the theater by a speaker at the rear of the audience. I can't begin to tell you the impact of this system.

Ad for the Ziegfeld NY

Recent strides in magnetic recording have led to the choice of magnetic-type sound film, which needs no laboratory processing and can be played back at once. Like conventional movies in their infancy, the preview films are not entirely free of technical faults; for example, straight lines are distorted by certain camera angles, which must be avoided. As the sponsors point out, these are experimental films, which will be bettered as the possibilities and limitations of the novel technique are more fully explored. Super-movies are the invention of Fred Waller, former Paramount Pictures executive, and designer of the Waller Gunnery Trainer . His experiments with Cinerama began in 1938. War interrupted its development for entertainment, but it was incorporated in Waller's trainer. This used a five-lens camera and five projectors to portray airplanes realistically on a curved screen as Air Force practice targets. Since the war, he has developed the simpler three-lens process. Will theaters adopt super-movies to offer their patrons new thrills in entertainment? Facing the growing competition of television, the movie industry has been seeking a way to meet the challenge. Cinerama's sponsors believe they have the answer!

This is Cinerama Film Sequences


Lowell Thomas, as narrator, speaking from a regular motion picture screen, welcomes the audience to Cinerama and briefly sketches its development. In his famous easy style, he explains how man has worked since the dawn of history to reproduce in art the illusion of depth and dimension in nature, to convey the sense of living motion. His preface ranges from early cave paintings to magic lanterns, nickelodeons and silent pictures, and is climaxed when the screen suddenly explodes to six times its normal size and Thomas announces that THIS IS CINERAMA which begins with the Atom Smasher!

The Atom Smasher

Then the world's fastest, steepest, most exciting ride on the famed roller-coaster at Rockaways' Playland is the sensation that introduces Cinerama, drawing the audience foot by foot up the precipitous incline, poising for an instant high above the midway and the breakers far below, and then taking the breathless plunge-into a whole new world of entertainment. This was an intensely dramatic opening which indeed quite shocked most viewers as the multi-track audio and the picture opened. My grandfather, Hy Swartz from Winnipeg, was working at the film exchanges in the city and received an invitation to see This is Cinerama in Minneapolis. He took along my Grandmother and for years he would tell me the story of how the film opened, how everyone held on to their seats and some screamed and swayed with the rollercoaster. I never got tired of hearing that story.

The opening sequence of the film.

One of the reasons roller-coasters survived the dark period between the Depression and the Fifties was Aurel Vaszin and his National Amusement Device (NAD) company. The National Amusement Device company in Dayton, Ohio created some of the best coasters of the time. It began as The Dayton Fun House and Riding Device Company in the 1920's. By the decade's end the company gave PTC a run for their money. Another famous NAD collaboration on was the Atom Smasher (a.k.a. the Cinerama Coaster). It was built at Rockaway Playland. Like many NAD coasters, the Atom Smasher featured arguably the best coaster trains to ever be built. They had headlights, single-locking lap bars, were well-padded, wonderful to look at and even better to ride. In 1987, Rockaways Playland in Queens, one of the last large amusement parks in New York City, headed into memory as it was torn down to make way for a housing development.

Rockaway's Playland

The 86-year-old shorefront carnival, a jumble of fantasy, food and thrills dominated by the landmark roller coaster, succumbed to changing tastes, rising insurance costs and the decline of the Rockaways as a summer resort. Playland closed because its owner said he could not afford the steep increase in liability insurance premiums. Though many patrons had hoped the park would reopen, its permanent closing became inevitable when the site was sold to a development group made up of several companies. Sounds like the story of the demise of many of our beautiful historic cinemas around the world. The developers planned a $30 million condominium apartment complex on the property at Beach 97th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard. As a result, where generations of visitors once shrieked while riding the six-story roller coaster, where they rammed into each other on the bumper-car ride and ate hot dogs on the midway, piles of debris scattered, food and game stalls were shuttered and empty spaces marked the sites of the merry-go-round and many of the two dozen other rides.

The Atom Smasher

The Temple Dance

In the Temple of Vulcan, the priestesses perform the insinuating ritual dance to the great god Ptah in the exotic first act finale of Verdi's "Aida." Filmed in Milan, on the great stage of La Scala, Cinerama captures the world's most famous opera company in a performance of the world's most famous opera. Including the orchestra, there were more than six hundred people on the stage at one time when the Cinerama camera photographed the La Scala Opera Company's brilliant presentation of the Finale of the Second Act of Aida. It turned out that there weren't enough lights in Italy to illuminate the stage; additional lights had to be flown in from England on short notice and generators to supply the current were recruited from all over Italy. A capacity audience was there by invitation to hear an especially arranged performance while they "sat" for the Cinerama camera.

Shots from filming at the La Scala Opera.

La Scala is the temple of operatic art, not only for Milan, but for the whole world. Almost all of the great names have sung there. It has been home to such giants as Verdi, Puccini and Mascagni, Caruso, Chaliapin and Gigli. Only someone who has lived in Milan can understand the great pride and deep feeling of possession which the Milanese feel for their La Scala. It wasn't easy to arrange to photograph an actual performance at La Scala. The directors of the opera found it hard to believe that any motion picture could do justice to their work. The movies, they felt, had always left much to be desired so far as their ability to reproduce operatic music was concerned. The La Scala directors finally gave their permission, but only with the understanding that they would be among the first to see the results which, if not up to La Scala's high standards, would never be shown publicly. Signor Luigi Oldani, La Scala's - impressario, flew to New York to see his work reproduced by Cinerama. Admittedly skeptical and in no mood to approve a mediocre presentation, he stood up after the preview, not only ready to give his approval, but to make it an ecstatic approval standing ovation.

Niagara Falls

The wonder of the New World, the spectacular falls that divides New York and Canada, is seen as it has never been seen before, as Cinerama takes its audience aloft in a helicopter and views the thunderous beauty of Niagara from the sky, presenting for the first time on the screen America's greatest spectacle in all its natural grandeur.

Long Island Choir

Long before Cinerama reached the public, inventor Fred Waller made an experimental black-and-white sequence of the Long Island Choral Society singing the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah." Astonishingly lifelike in its evocation of the actual sights and sounds of a simple church service, the scene is included just as it was shot in This is Cinerama and remains one of the most moving and effective sequences in the picture.

The Canals of Venice

Cinerama boards a gondola for a languorous tour of "the queen of the Adriatic," gliding beneath the ancient footbridges and brushing past the mildewed palaces of the doges as it makes its tortuous way along the narrow canals to the glittering spectacle of St. Mark's Square and the colorful pageant of the famed September Carnival on the Grand Canal.

Gathering of the Clans

Within the imposing shadow of historic old Edinburgh Castle, the kilted clans of Scotland assemble to the shrill music of the bagpipes, as the highlanders pass in review before the Cinerama camera in a kaleidoscopic swirl of color and sound.

Cypress Gardens

In the man-made paradise of Florida's Cypress Gardens, Cinerama explores the romantic moss-hung lagoons in a canoe, with a pretty girl for company, and then jumps into an outboard motorboat for a pulse-pounding race over water-hurdles, around trees and through a flaming sheet of oil. Dick Pope's world-famous water carnival came alive on the giant Cinerama screen as the Aquabelles perform their precision ballet on water skis and a corps of Aquaclowns and Aquabats defy the laws of gravity on the glassy surface of beautiful Lake Eloise.

Cypress Gardens shots.

Cypress Gardens is just one great big outdoor studio, a dream spot for the man with color in his camera, whether he clicks a box brownie or, like Cinerama's cameraman, Harry Squire, was boss of a big 3-lens 35 mm camera. A spot of exquisite natural beauty where century-old cypress trees grow along the shore and out into Lake Eloise, Cypress Gardens had become a botanical wonderland at the hands of Richard D. Pope and his wife, Julie, who, while adding exotic flowers and plants from all over the tropical world, have carefully followed the laws of nature in their growth and arrangement. The Cinerama camera crew spent more than three weeks in this photogenic spot making test shots of all kinds with the Cinerama camera. It was an ideal place to experiment with such things as camera angles, close-ups and long shots, traveling shots, scene composition and the technique of establishing primary and secondary interest. Out of these tests came new technical information which would prove to be invaluable in future Cinerama productions.

Cypress Gardens today.

In spite of the long days of hard work involved, the Cinerama crew had a lot of fun at Cypress Gardens. But it is not likely that they enjoyed themselves any more than the boys and girls who rode the water skis, piloted the agile outboards, staged the water ballet and generally made themselves photogenic against the backdrop of Cypress Gardens' exotic tropical scenery. These youngsters were not professional actors, just teenagers, most of them who lived nearby and became proficient enough to be a part of Cypress Gardens' regular water show. At the end of the last day of shooting they tossed the whole Cinerama crew into the water, Director Cooper included. "Not much you can do," said Cooper, "when 15 boys and as many girls decide you're ready for a dunking—especially when the girls do most of the dunking."

Burssels Worlds Fair.

Bullfight in Madrid

Cinerama visits a Spanish bullfight, surrounding its audience with the sounds and colors of the crowded arena, and the tense drama of the ancient contest. The air is filled with excited cries of "ole!" from the aroused aficionados as the matador faces the bull with muleta and cape, missing the deadly horn by inches.

Spanish Dances

It's fiesta time on a sunny village square in Spain, and Cinerama catches traditional folk dances performed by brightly costumed native dancers, swirling spontaneously to the music of castanets and guitars.

More theater advertisements: The Warner in Hollywood.

Vienna Boys Choir

In the park of Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna a group of boys, dressed in the traditional Tyrolean lederhosen, assembled one by one and begin to sing. It was the famous Vienna Boys Choir, in a rendition of Johann Strauss's beloved Viennese waltzes, each young voice distinctly reproduced by the stereophonic magic of CineramaSound.

Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna.

A Public note from Fred Waller, 1952

People who have the faith, the courage and the farsightedness to put their financial resources at the disposal of an inventor while he labors to create have made a most important contribution to the progress of the American standard of living. Without them, a very large share of the new developments of the past fifty years would still be nothing more than ideas and plans in the minds of brilliant but frustrated individuals. Among those who made possible Fred Waller's years of experimentation and hard work, who constantly encouraged him by their confidence in his ideas, were Ralfch Walker, one of New York's well-known architects, and Laurance S. Rockefeller.

Theater promotion..

Mr. Walker and Mr. Rockefeller believed that, sooner or later, new technical developments would enable motion pictures to make an even greater contribution to American life, and they had confidence that Fred Waller was on the right road. Time, Inc. and other sponsors had joined in providing the financial resources for Mr. Waller's work. Fred Waller and Cinerama, Inc. united in an expression of sincere appreciation to these people for their vital contribution which has made Cinerama possible. Fred Waller and Cinerama, Inc. also wish to extend their thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph V. McMullan of Oysfer Bay, L. I., through whose thoughtfulness the building which has housed Cinerama's experimental theater was made available.

Spanish poster.

Roadshow tickets.


Audiences where shocked and thrilled in the 1890s by the mere movement of black and white images projected on to a small shopfront cinema screen. While sound and color were added over time, and a few gimmicks were tried, the shape and size of the motion picture screen remained confined to its window-like square (academy ratio 1.33:1) for 60 years until September 30, 1952. On that night at the Broadway Theatre in New York City, the Cinerama format was launched before an invited audience. That event revolutionized the industry and changed the way the movies are made -forever! The heightened realism of widescreen, color, and multi-channel directional sound introduced on that evening has been imitated and aspired to by filmmakers over the 60 years since with a multitude of formats including Cinemascope, Cine-Miracle among others.

Advertisement for the first public showing.

Premiere night was a major celebration..

The original costly and cumbersome 3-panel Cinerama format lasted a mere ten years commercially, going out with the super spectacular bang of MGMs How the West Was Won in 1962. Readers who fondly remember that MGM epic film, and wish to relive the big screen experience locally, no doubt, have the recent Blu-ray release produced from the original 3-strip negative at considerable cost, which successfully obliterated most of the 'join lines' on the screen. Warner's $1 million investment in the transfer was no doubt warranted by the undeniable appeal of that all-star adventure. Sadly, interest in the other titles produced in the 3-strip system has been somewhat limited - apart from the aficionados.

Advertisement for the Place in Chicago

This is Cinerama Reviews

Robert C. Ruark, New York World Telegram: "I have just looked at the movies' answer to television, whether or not the movies know it yet.... as sound has come to the movies, as color has come, this three-dimensional stuff has got to come."

The New Yorker: "Cinerama is as big a thing as the coming of talkies. Whoever puts it on first will stampede the business just as the Warner Brothers did nearly 30 years ago!" Sir Alexander Korda "We didn't relax our hold on the back of the chair in front of us until the lights came on. A lady a lew chairs away didn't look so good. 'Biggest thing since sound,' said a gentleman near us . . ."

New York Herald Tribune: "Thrills that lift you out of ymir seat . . . action that goes on right around you."

New York Herald Tribune: "This invention makes the difference between seeing something on a flat page and seeing it in true life."

L. W. Davee, Motion Picture Herald: "So intense is the feeling of realism transmitted by Cinerama that not a few visitors are overcome physically" (when they ride the roller coaster with Cinerama). We no longer look at a motion picture, we are the picture."

Edward T. Martin, Boston Sunday Post: "It's the shiny new Cadillac to an industry that turned, almost overnight, into a horse and buggy business when TV brought |he movies f across the parlor threshold."

Story on the Cooper in Denver, followed by the postcard for the Cooper in Minneapolis. This journalist attended the Minneapolis Cooper many times. I saw the special screening of E.T. there, the 70mm release of The Ten Commandments, Star Trek II. Unfortunately, I was not born when it ran Cinerama films. It was sadly demolished while in excellent condition after Mann Theaters purchased it, ran a few films there and sold it for millions in profit as real estate. I was there picketing on the day of demolition. The Minneapolis Historical Society did not do it's job! A sad day indeed.

The Wall Street Journal:"Cinerama does not reproduce such old tricks as the baseball thrown straight into the spectators' laps; rather, it seems to pull the audience into the picture." . Time Magazine "During a roller coaster shot at a preview, ladies shut their eyes and men grabbed their seats to stop swaying."

Trade Magazine ad.

60th Anniversary

To mark Cinerama's 60th Birthday in 2012 all three venues will be presenting their own form of tribute. Firstly, at the Bradford Film Festival Widescreen Weekend, April 27-29, four 3-strip titles were presented, including both Brothers Grimm and South Seas to re-print the damaged section so that a screening of the entire feature would be possible. Unfortunately, an examination of the original negative (held by Pacific Theatres in Los Angeles) revealed that they had been lacquered with a protective coating, which made them unsuitable for reprinting using current film industry techniques.


But all was not lost! Following the successful special DVD release of HTWWW Cinerama Inc's owners are pursuing a project to make all its 'travel' titles eventually available for home viewing on Blu-ray. The prime mover in this project is Dave Strohmaier, noted Cinerama historian and director of the popular feature documentary on Cinerama's history Cinerama Adventure (2002) (available as a bonus 90 minute feature on How The West Was Won DVD and Blu-ray releases who has spent the last few years preparing Blu-ray versions of This is Cinerama and Windjammer (1958 produced in a rival, virtually identical 3-panel format called Cinemiracle). I tried to reach Dave for this column, but his schedule has been very hectic with the Cinerama festival, and I certainly wish him the best and wish that I had purchased tickets, but perhaps there will be another frstival as this one has been selling out quickly, the center section sold out for all performances.

Dave Strohmaier

With the go-ahead of supporter John Sittig from Pacific Theatres, Strohmaier is now working to prepare 2K digital versions of the remaining 'travel' titles. The process involves using the negatives to create newly enhanced picture blending and color restoration with the latest 'Digital Ice' technology, which actually restores the original filmed images from beneath the dust dirt, wear and scratches of over 50 years, returning to the viewer the original Cinerama images that so captured audiences and the industry He plans to present a Festival of the entire Cinerama 3-strip catalogue September 28 to October 4 this year on the 90ft screen at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. This explains his hectic schedule as of late. He is a busy man and has a host of wonderful and important projects at the helm. Where possible 3-panel prints will be used, with digital versions of the remaining titles presented on a scaled down size due to picture detail limitations.

Letter from S.H. Fabian of the Stanley Warner Corporation.

The problem with John H. Mitchell's print emerged just as Mr. Strohmaier was to have work started on the transfers by Image Trends of Austin, Texas. To assist his friends, Dave put South Seas Adventure at the head of the queue. It is now being sound matched and 'Smileboxed' in readiness for Bradford in April. Current plan is to screen Act I using John Mitchell's original (faded) 3-strip print and then show Act II (the Australia/New Zealand section) using a newly installed 4K Digital projector filling the entire 50ft Bradford Cinerama screen. Following special cinema presentations of these digitized titles it will eventually be possible to view at home all the 'lost' Cineramas: Cinerama Holiday (1955), Seven Wonders of the World (1956), and Search for Paradise (1957) .

A "Best of Cinerama" festival.

As if restoring old Cinerama titles wasn't enough to get on with, Dave Strohmaier has also been overseeing the restoration of an original Cinerama camera. He has spent the last few months with a team of like-minded enthusiasts filming in and around Los Angeles for Cinerama In the Picture. This event will be a major 60th Anniversary celebration of the birth of Cinerama and the beginning of the widescreen era that is still with us today. The resulting 3-strip short subject In the Picture will hopefully be ready to screen at the Dome during the September/ October Festival.

The Blu-ray

In celebration of the 60th Anniversary of its premiere, Flicker Alley is proud to present This is Cinerama, exactly as it was seen by over 20,000,000 cinemagoers in its original roadshow version. For those that saw it then, who could ever forget the first thrilling moment when the tabs opened from a 4x3 ratio picture as Lowell Thomas said:"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Cinerama"and revealed the widest screen ever, with the audience sitting in a gigantic and breathtaking roller coaster ride in New York. We had never seen such a cinematic sight before! In this special Blu-ray / DVD Combo edition of This is Cinerama we travel around the world from Venice to Madrid, from Edinburgh Castle to the La Scala Opera House in Milan for the Finale of the second act of Aida, to the Cyprus Gardens in Florida, and concluding with a flight across America in the nose of a B-25 bomber, with a musical soundtrack of the Salt Lake City Tabernacle Choir that is truly awe-inspiring.

Flicker Alley has added a plethora of amazing special features to the Blu-ray. Audio commentary track with John Sittig (Cinerama, Inc.), Dave Strohmaier (Cinerama Historian), Randy Gitsch (Locations background), and Jim Morrison (original crew member), "Remastering A Widescreen Classic"19 minutes of Before and after demonstrations on the film's remastering, The THIS IS CINERAMA "Breakdown Reel" 9 minutes (footage originally projected interstitially during the interruptions of any Cinerama performance), Alternate Act II European Opening (2 minutes), Fred Waller Radio Interview - 15 minutes (A slideshow featuring an original 1952 radio interview with Fred Waller on the eve of opening night), Trailer (3 minutes / A new recreation in HD of the film's trailer), TV Spots, "Tribute to New Neon Movies"15 minute short film celebrating the Cinerama revival in Dayton, OH from 1996 to1999, where a local projectionist set up Cinerama for special screenings to people from all over the country. , a tribute to New Cooper Theater (4 minutes: Remembering the first Super Cinerama in Denver, CO,) Behind The Scenes Slideshow (6 minutes, Featuring images from the production and original exhibition of the film, promotion and publicity image gallery.

1973 reissue poster, more This is Cinerama advertisements.

The Transfer

Not only does a 60 year old picture require major work for a full restoration, with This is Cinerama, there were basically three films to restore, one for each of the cameras. The other challenge, according to Dave Strohmaier, was not having a large studio budget to do the work. Dave said, "When we started This is Cinerama, we knew it had to come from a 65mm composite negative, in other words all three panels in one frame, which was created way back in 1972 for the 1973 reissue, which was meant for the 20th anniversary of the film." They went to retrieve the film from the Pacific Title Archives. Surprisingly, all of the elements in the cans were in good shape, with no vinegar smells, which would signal the beginning of film deterioration. 65mm had no sound stripe on the side of the image, like one would find on a 70mm print. So this contained actually more picture information and wasn't cropped, which is what the team took advantage of.

Restoration, original films cans and scanning what was inside.

The negative was taken to Crest Digital in Hollywood to create digital files that would have high flexibility so that Greg Kimble would be able to adjust the color later. Kimble had been involved with the restoration of A Clockwork Orange, and supervised the restoration of Yellow Submarine back in the 1990's. He said, "Cinerama was an entirely different thing. Unfortunately we didn't have the funds to scan the original camera negative, which is in pretty bad shape because it was printed so many times. What we did have was a 65mm dupe negative that had been made in the early 1970's by effects-master Linwood Dunn. The dupe print was made from the only print that was available which was an IB Tech print that had tremendous damage on it. 90% of the efforts of the restoration went into fixing the flaws of the original elements, which looked like they had been run over by a truck. I was not prepared for the damage in the image. All of the color settings had to be fixed, as each of the three panels were changed in color. As an example, the scene in the La Scala image is 8,240 frames long, which is why the restoration took me 18 months but I think you will agree this was worth it."

Computer correction and creating the curtain opening/closing effect

Dave Strohmaier says, "There were a couple of additional things we wanted to do for the home video release. We wanted to do the Smilebox Roadshow version. We thought it would be great having the curtains opening and closing in front of the movie, just like audiences would have seen back in the 1950's. So, we shot the actual curtain at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood and created a matte that would get rid of the masking, so we can open and close the curtain over our Cinerama shows. We have an anamorphic version, in which we can create all kinds of other versions. Then we have the Smilebox version which can go out to museums and other uses. Then we have the Smilebox roadshow version for home video, where you have curtains opening and closing over the show. All of our versions have the overture, intermission and exit music intact. The final thing we did was when the prologue is shown, we size it so it looked the size of what was shown at the original showing. They were always meant to be a small screen 1:33:1 image, what the public was used to seeing. Then the curtains open to reveal Cinerama.

Cinerama advertisements.

Final Thoughts

With a whopping 2 hours plus running time, you'll relive one of the most exciting movie experiences of the early 1950s, simulating the wondrous experience first-time Cinerama audiences enjoyed 60 years ago. This Combo set has a wealth of bonus features including This Is Cinerama Breakdown Reel; Alternate Act II Opening for European Versions; This Is Cinerama Trailer; A Tribute to the New Neon Movies - a short video celebrating the Cinerama revival in Dayton, Ohio 1996-1999; A Tribute to the New Cooper - the first Super Cinerama Theatre; Special Photo Galleries featuring behind the scenes shots; the original program booklet and press memorabilia newspaper ads, and publicity stills; and a Fred Waller Radio Interview - originally aired in 1952. What an unexpected dream this Blu-ray is for fans of the widescreen format. It is now available from Flicker Alley and can be ordered HERE

Past Silver Screen columns, including the latest entries on Titanic,The Forever Marilyn Collection, Jaws, Pocahontas, The Aristocats, Singin' in the Rain, Ed Wood and dozens of others are available Here

To discuss this and other Silver Screen columns, join us in The Silver Screen forum thread Here

All materials in this and other Silver Screen columns are copyright their respective studios,, the original photographers of the photographs and the collection of Robert Siegel. Special thanks to John Adey at KinoCQ Magazine, Thomas Hauerslev of, Roland Lataille of, the UCLA Film Library and the Motion Picture Academy library. A major contributor to this piece: John Addy (KinoCQ) to whom I owe my deepest gratitude. Graphics on this page have been painstakingly corrected and cleaned, and are internet tracked. Please ask for permission to use any graphic by emailing The original source will be contacted for permissions. This edition all artwork, publicity and production photos/drawings original copyright Cinerama Inc. and are used for informative and promotional use.

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