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EARLY 70mm MOVIES (1929-31)


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#1 of 34 OFFLINE   lionel59

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Posted January 09 2014 - 05:22 PM

Has anyone approached George Feltenstein regarding the MGM movies made in the 'Realife' 65mm film process in the early days of sound?  They are BILLY THE KID (Johnny Mack Brown, Wallace Beery) and THE GREAT MEADOW (Johnny Mack Brown, Eleanor Boardman). BILLY was recently released in 1.33:1 by Warner Archive.

    So far the only early Wide Screen movies to be released on dvd are NAPOLEON (1926, containing a "Cinerama-type" 3-panel sequence), THE BAT WHISPERS and THE BIG TRAIL, which was recently released on Blu Ray. It is fascinating to see these early compositions in the shape we are now very familiar with. The Wide Screen revolution of the '50's was in fact, a return to the size and shape which William Fox had hoped to revolutionize movies with but- largely due to the Depression- sadly failed and caused him to become a bankrupt.(Leading to the merger with Twentieth Century pictures, run by Darryl F. Zanuck).Fox even used the same cameras for their first large format movies: CAROUSEL and THE KING AND I. The cameras were so noisy that all dialogue had to be looped later by the casts of both films. CAROUSEL was printed down to 35mm and only released in that format (with a sharper image which had noticeably more depth) but KING was re-released in the early '60's in "Grandeur 70", giving a homage to the original process for any who may have remembered it.

   About a dozen  movies and some shorts were produced in 65mm (or thereabouts) between '29-'31. The first feature was a revised version of THE FOX MOVIETONE FOLLIES OF 1929. The last was THE GREAT MEADOW. Some were transferred to 35mm in their wide ratio - THE BIG TRAIL and if I am correct, the two MGM titles cited above, which may have also been shown that way with a magnifying lens on the projector according to some sources).

This link will take you to a great website which-on this page- lists all wide gauge releases in chronological order    :http://www.in70mm.co.../_all/index.htm

In most cases, only the standard 35mm versions have survived, however I would like to think that a search in the studio vaults may uncover something.The TCM website states that only the standard ratio version of BILLY THE KID is extant, but I have heard from a reliable source that the Realife version was screened in Europe not too long ago.

    Fox video produced an interesting documentary short subject on the early days of 70mm for their dvd release of THE BIG TRAIL (which was also the last film of Tyrone Power's father) .According to advertisements and reviews in 1931 newspapers, the Grandeur version of THE BIG TRAIL played in Sydney and Melbourne and certain titles made it to London. If any studio people such as Mr Feltenstein are reading this, I'd greatly appreciate hearing what the possibilities are re locating and releasing these titles from a unique time in American cinema history. I believe the UCLA restored the 65mm negative of THE BAT WHISPERS and holds it. Do they have any others?  I'm also interested to hear from any others at HTF with an interest in this topic and these films.



#2 of 34 OFFLINE   Vic Pardo

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Posted January 11 2014 - 06:59 AM

I saw both THE BAT WHISPERS and THE BIG TRAIL in widescreen at the Museum of Modern Art many years ago. I'm quite sure BAT WHISPERS was in 70mm, but I'm not that sure about BIG TRAIL. The latter was a big deal because none of the regular film buffs in attendance at the time, all big John Wayne fans, had ever seen it.



#3 of 34 OFFLINE   Roger Grodsky

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Posted January 11 2014 - 07:24 PM

I'm pretty sure that the widescreen version of THE BIG TRAIL that MoMA showed was a new 35mm print from the master that was made for the DVD release of the Grandeur version. Anybody know for sure?

#4 of 34 OFFLINE   lionel59

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Posted January 12 2014 - 02:27 AM

Good to hear from you both. I would assume that they showed the 35mm (Wide Screen) restoration. It sounds from the documentary that the Grandeur 65mm elements were in fragile shape. One of the men on the documentary (ie. with the SD + Blu Ray editions of TRAIL) mentions that Fox gave all their Grandeur elements to the people who preserved/restored THE BIG TRAIL. I would love to know what they were. There were some shorts in Grandeur. FOX MOVIETONE FOLLIES OF 1929 (the first Grandeur feature) is reportedly lost.As is SONG O MY HEART, which was only screened in Grandeur to people at Fox, never publicly. The 65mm negative + any positive prints were apparently destroyed in a fire in an East Coast storage facility in the late '30's.

I wonder if portions of these two films or even complete prints were discovered and passed on for preservation.

    The only other Grandeur movie made was HAPPY DAYS ( I have a poor copy of the 35mm flat version of this movie on dvd). It was a musical with Janet Gaynor. I'm assuming that this must have been handed over for restoration as the person states that all the Fox Grandeur films held in the vaults were given, and if all they had was THE BIG TRAIL, he wouldn't have said this (unless he was referring to the short subjects). I will look at the documentary again and attempt to locate+ contact the person who states these things.

       Is George Feltenstein easily contactable?  I'm hoping he visits HTF and maybe searches under his name! The TCM site cites 2.13:1 as the ratio for THE GREAT MEADOW.(Another pioneer movie shot in 65mm, this time portraying the migration and early settlement in Kentucky in the 1700s with Eleanor Boardman), The NY Times review in '31 is positive but, oddly, it makes no mention of the wide screen cinematography. This has made some researchers speculate that it was only shown in standard 35mm. Nonetheless, MGM were good at maintaining their film library. I believe there is an excellent chance that a preservation master for the Realife version is still in existence. If Mr Feltenstein is reading this,  please offer any information you may have access to. Also, if anyone can verify the information I was given re BILLY THE KID being screened in Wide Screen in Europe (in Germany I think), I'd appreciate hearing further details. Thanks.



#5 of 34 OFFLINE   bujaki

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Posted January 12 2014 - 11:00 AM

I saw Happy Days when MoMA showed it flat sometime in the '70s. Fox had deposited many of their films into the museum's collection. It wasn't a bad print, but it's been many years since.

Your neighbor Doug Bull posted a clipping of a 1930 Aussie newspaper advertising the screening of Billy the Kid in its widescreen version. Stranger things have been found in Australia these days, so keep on looking.



#6 of 34 OFFLINE   ajabrams

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Posted January 12 2014 - 01:13 PM

The film I'd most like to see from this early widescreen era is the 1930 KISMET which, aside from being filmed in 65mm, also had some Technicolor scenes. Sadly,it does seem to be totally lost.  There are, however,  on YouTube, some on-set "home movie" shots that hint at a very sumptuous production. (Sigh!!!)



#7 of 34 OFFLINE   cinerama10

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Posted January 12 2014 - 10:16 PM

I saw both THE BAT WHISPERS and THE BIG TRAIL in widescreen at the Museum of Modern Art many years ago. I'm quite sure BAT WHISPERS was in 70mm, but I'm not that sure about BIG TRAIL. The latter was a big deal because none of the regular film buffs in attendance at the time, all big John Wayne fans, had ever seen it.

 Both BAT WHISPERS   and  BIG TRAIL  have only been shown in 35mm (or was it digital)  at  recent screenings. The blurays were made from   restored  70mm   prints. I understand that they will not be  showing the films  publicly in 70mm despite having new restored prints of both films.SONG O'MY HEART has also been released on dvd  in both  sound and silent (with  sound only for the singing) versions.The rest of the films are available if you can find them. Only KISMET and  FOX FOLLIES OF 1929  are deemed to be  lost for all time.



#8 of 34 OFFLINE   cinerama10

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Posted January 12 2014 - 10:21 PM

I saw Happy Days when MoMA showed it flat sometime in the '70s. Fox had deposited many of their films into the museum's collection. It wasn't a bad print, but it's been many years since.

Your neighbor Doug Bull posted a clipping of a 1930 Aussie newspaper advertising the screening of Billy the Kid in its widescreen version. Stranger things have been found in Australia these days, so keep on looking.

HAPPY DAYS  was Ginger  Rogers first  film.She was not given credit for it however.It is impossible to see her on the dvd..A SOLDIERS PLAYTHING   has also been released on dvd.



#9 of 34 OFFLINE   Doug Bull

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Posted January 14 2014 - 01:44 AM

Here is some information on the Melbourne showings of "Billy The Kid"

 

It appears it was never shown here (Melbourne) in a Widescreen format.

 

It ran for a week (standard screen) commencing Saturday June 13th 1931 at the Paramount Theatre in Bourke Street (later known as the Lyceum) and closed Friday 19th.

I remember from my childhood that the Lyceum was a very narrow cinema, yet surprisingly, along with 2 name changes and a later expansion, it was converted to 70mm and ran both "Cleopatra" and "The Sound of Music".

It took many years, but 70mm finally arrived at the old Paramount theatre, long after Billy the Kid  had bitten the dust.

 

The supporting feature with "Billy the Kid" was "A Dangerous Woman" with Clive Brook.

Children between 6-16 were not admitted.

 

After so much publicity "Billy The Kid" was sadly relegated to a support feature for most of it's Australian' Suburban and Country runs.

 

Here's another news report that didn't come to fruition in Melbourne.

                                                                 

                                                          billy2.jpg

 

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#10 of 34 OFFLINE   lionel59

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Posted January 23 2014 - 05:37 PM

Thanks Doug. Hoyts got the name of a cast member wrong in their ad for BILLY THE KID. Kay Johnson was the female lead, not Kay Francis. I wonder if it played in Wide Screen (ReaLife) in NSW. I will keep checking, encouraged by the other article you posted regarding this movie in a different topic.

    In the Richard Schickel audio commentary for THE BIG TRAIL, he mistakenly states that 20th-Fox re-used the Grandeur cameras for CinemaScope in '53 for THE ROBE. No, that was shot in 35mm with an anamorphic lens. They re-used the Grandeur cameras for CAROUSEL and THE KING AND I, adapting them to handle a 55.625mm negative. They began filming in both 55mm and 35mm (instigating the departure of Frank Sinatra from CAROUSEL, an actor notorious for doing his scenes in one take) before they worked out a reduction process from the 55mm negative.(I personally think CAROUSEL benefited from Sinatra's exit and Gordon MacRae's assumption of the role. He was apparently the 3rd choice after Howard Keel and Gene Kelly, yet-like Betty Hutton and the role of Annie Oakley- he said that he always felt that the character of Billy Bigelow would be his on screen).

   Can anyone verify if the Wide Screen version of HAPPY DAYS survives?



#11 of 34 OFFLINE   Doug Bull

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Posted January 23 2014 - 09:51 PM

In Australia "Billy The Kid" certainly didn't live up to his reputation.

 

In the West it only played as a small screen support feature at Perth's Regent Theatre in June 1931.

 

billy5.jpg

 

This pretty much leaves only Sydney as a 70mm possibility.

I have to say though that the odds are not in it's favour. 

 

Doug.



#12 of 34 OFFLINE   Lord Dalek

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Posted January 24 2014 - 07:19 AM

I read long ago on widescreenmuseum.com that the Grandeur Happy Days is lost.

#13 of 34 OFFLINE   Vic Pardo

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Posted January 25 2014 - 03:02 AM



Thanks Doug. Hoyts got the name of a cast member wrong in their ad for BILLY THE KID. Kay Johnson was the female lead, not Kay Francis. I wonder if it played in Wide Screen (ReaLife) in NSW. I will keep checking, encouraged by the other article you posted regarding this movie in a different topic.

    In the Richard Schickel audio commentary for THE BIG TRAIL, he mistakenly states that 20th-Fox re-used the Grandeur cameras for CinemaScope in '53 for THE ROBE. No, that was shot in 35mm with an anamorphic lens. They re-used the Grandeur cameras for CAROUSEL and THE KING AND I, adapting them to handle a 55.625mm negative. They began filming in both 55mm and 35mm (instigating the departure of Frank Sinatra from CAROUSEL, an actor notorious for doing his scenes in one take) before they worked out a reduction process from the 55mm negative.(I personally think CAROUSEL benefited from Sinatra's exit and Gordon MacRae's assumption of the role. He was apparently the 3rd choice after Howard Keel and Gene Kelly, yet-like Betty Hutton and the role of Annie Oakley- he said that he always felt that the character of Billy Bigelow would be his on screen).

   Can anyone verify if the Wide Screen version of HAPPY DAYS survives?

 

CAROUSEL might have been a little more tolerable to me with Sinatra. I definitely would have bought Sinatra in that role. MacRae was never believable to me. Too bad.



#14 of 34 OFFLINE   Robin9

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Posted January 25 2014 - 04:51 AM

CAROUSEL might have been a little more tolerable to me with Sinatra. I definitely would have bought Sinatra in that role. 

 

Carousel 3a.jpg

 

I'm a Sinatra fan but I doubt he'd have been right for the part.


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#15 of 34 OFFLINE   Jim*Tod

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Posted January 25 2014 - 08:29 AM

It would have certainly been a different movie with Sinatra.  In her recent autobiography, Shirley Jones claims the reason Sinatra quit CAROUSEL had nothing to do with shooting scenes twice.  She claims Sinatra had heard that Ava Gardner (who was I think his ex by this point) had a new boyfriend and he was headed to wherever she was to break it up.

 

My sense, based on a number of accounts of the shooting, is that somewhere along the line after shooting started the budget was cut and much of what had been intended to be done on location ended up studio shot.  I think too there were problems with Cinemascope 55.... I read a quote somewhere from Yul Brynner  saying he didn't want Cinemascope 55 to ruin THE KING AND I like it had on CAROUSEL.

 

Sinatra did record his vocals for the movie (not sure what happened to those) and later on did record "Soliloquy" which at least gives us a taste of what he might have been like in the role.  I agree though that costume still looks pretty ridiculous.

 

All this is a shame though.... certainly CAROUSEL has the most beautiful and complex of the Rodgers and Hammerstein scores (Rodgers thought it his best).  The business of "when he hit me it felt like a kiss" is not going to play too well for contemporary audiences.  The concert version of the show aired last spring on PBS was a reminder though of how powerful the show can still be when it is done right.  Wish Hugh Jackman's efforts to get a new film version made had come to pass.


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#16 of 34 OFFLINE   Doug Bull

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Posted January 25 2014 - 03:08 PM

A couple of the Sinatra "Carousel" soundtrack recordings still exist.

If memory serves they appeared on the "Frank Sinatra in Hollywood" 6 disc CD box set several years ago.

There were several other Sinatra soundtrack rarities featured on that set.

 

Vocal wise, his recordings for "Carousel" are very good and it's interesting to hear Alfred Newman's alternate arrangements.

It's interesting that Nelson Riddle is credited as one of the Film's Orchestrators.  Was he still involved after Sinatra left?

 

I'm sure the CD set will still be available on E-Bay or elsewhere.



#17 of 34 OFFLINE   Robin9

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Posted January 26 2014 - 04:41 AM

A couple of the Sinatra "Carousel" soundtrack recordings still exist.

If memory serves they appeared on the "Frank Sinatra in Hollywood" 6 disc CD box set several years ago.

There were several other Sinatra soundtrack rarities featured on that set.

 

From Carousel, only the Soliloquy is in the Frank Sinatra In Hollywood set. I'd love to hear his versions of other songs.



#18 of 34 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted January 26 2014 - 05:31 AM

There is a little bit of his soundtrack recording of "If I Loved You" used in the TV special Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Movies (or maybe it's called something else like The Sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein) hosted by Shirley Jones.



#19 of 34 OFFLINE   lionel59

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Posted January 31 2014 - 07:02 PM

   As we say here in Australia, "let me put in my two bob" re the casting of Gordon MacRae in CAROUSEL.

In the booklet which comes with the FRANK SINATRA IN HOLLYWOOD set, the notes state that the Rhino company could not get access to the Sinatra recordings made for CAROUSEL at Fox for contractual reasons. The Soliloquy is from an unissued Capital recording made in 1954.The only Fox recording available is the one of If I Loved You heard on the documentary RODGERS+HAMMERSTEIN THE SOUND OF MOVIES hosted  by Shirley Jones. It is a good recording, as is a '40's recording of the song by Sinatra which I have on a compilation cd. However, when one listens to John Raitt (the original Broadway Billy Bigelow who- according to Miss Jones- loved the movie even though he did not get to do the role) and Gordon MacRae sing this and  Soliloqy, it is apparent (to me) that this landmark score required an operatic-style tenor voice. Most critics agree that MacRae had the best voice in movies at this time, probably followed closely by Howard Keel.

      In his autobiography WE THOUGHT WE COULD DO ANYTHING, Henry Ephron (the producer of CAROUSEL and Nora's father) writes that Sinatra blew six takes of Soliloquy in the Fox recording studios with Alfred Newman and then gave up. Ephron found this hard to grasp as he had heard his "acceptable" version recorded for Capitol records. According to Ephron, Sinatra walked off the location on day one when he heard that everything was to be shot twice. A plea from Darryl F Zanuck via telegram (in which he admits persuading R+H to use Sinatra despite their initial objection to him being cast) fell on deaf ears. Due to the delays in finding a replacement, certain sequences had to be done in the studio (eg If I Loved You) which either had been photographed on location or were intended to be filmed in Maine due to the foggy fall weather which had begun. Fox sued Sinatra and settlement was sorted out by Sinatra appearing in CAN CAN.(A whole new lead role had to be inserted into this musical which was not in the stage play and effectively ruined the movie.It may have made more $ than CAROUSEL but it was generally panned by critics and is less well-remembered by the public today).

             I believe MacRae gave the performance of his career( bettering his very good turn in OKLAHOMA!) in a complex, 'anti-hero' role which is one of the most difficult to pull off and make sympathetic that I can think of in the history of musicals.The reviewer in Britain's Films and Filming magazine writes "Gordon MacRae is an almost perfect Billy.Frank Sinatra,who was originally named for the role,would surely not have fitted the role of a robust fairground barker.MacRae sings consistently well.With this picture he strides ahead of all screen-opera stars". He also states "It is one of the finest musical to come from Hollywood at any time". In his book 'THE GREAT MOVIE STARS 2-THE INTERNATIONAL YEARS', David Shipman- who can be highly critical- writes "(MacRae) took the film: whereas OKLAHOMA! had been his co-star's picture, all gaiety and sweetness,the more sombre CAROUSEL was his, in a convincing, strong portrayal of fair barker Billy Bigelow, big head and all-time heel. The picture was good too...MacRae had proved in CAROUSEL that he could act".Bosley Crowther in the New York Times review called it "a beautifully turned out film, crisply played and richly sung by a fine cast that is fully worthy of the original show".Henry King was a finalist in the nominations for Best Director of 1956 at the Directors Guild Awards and the Writers Guild nominated the screenplay for Best Written Musical of that year.

   I had not heard of Yul Brynner's comments re CinemaScope55 but find them hard to understand. By the time THE KING AND I was being shot they were not filming everything twice but printing down from 55mm to 35mm, producing a very good image, comparable to VistaVision.In THE AMERICAN MOVIES,the author(s) write "the outdoor shots of CAROUSEL made it a magnificent spectacle". The noisy Grandeur cameras necessitated the looping of just about all the dialogue in both movies, however I don't believe either film suffered due to this. Maybe knowing of this Mr Brynner had trepidations, or maybe the Sinatra walk-out made him blame the process. Either way, to say CinemaScope55 "ruined the film" is a perverse and unwarranted statement.

       Considering the disastrous TV remake of SOUTH PACIFIC (which makes Joshua Logan's flawed 1958 movie only look better than ever) and the animated version of THE KING AND I, I can only hope that the proposed remake of CAROUSEL never gets off the ground. Hugh Jackman is talented, but I felt that he totally misjudged his interpretation of Culy in the stage/TV version of OKLAHOMA!, turning the romantic lead into a character part which seemed inspired by Jethro Bodine of The Beverly Hillbillies.He sang it well, but give me MacRae and Jones any day when it comes to these scores.

      There is an excellent article on the difficult restoration work which took place a few years back of the 55mm elements of CAROUSEL and THE KING AND I at the www.in70mm: http://in70mm.com/ne...pe_55/index.htm

There are some frames from some test shots made on the back-lot, small-town set used for GOOD MORNING MISS DOVE and HILDA CRANE. Interestingly, the 55mm separations for CAROUSEL contained some scenes which were edited from the final cut. Let's hope these turn up on the Blu Ray, with or without sound. I first saw CAROUSEL in 4-track magnetic sound at a cinema in one of Melbourne's suburbs in '72 at the age of 12. A pristine print. After two viewings on TV (black and white and panned-and-scanned) seeing this movie in its correct ratio opened my eyes to Wide Screen ratios and what is lost when they are re-formatted to a square screen. It is still one my top 10 musicals and amongst my top 5 movies of all time.

Carousel Postcard  MacRae, Jones + Ruick.jpg

italian_photobusta_carousel.jpg

CAROUSEL MacRae portrait.JPG

.


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#20 of 34 OFFLINE   Jim*Tod

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Posted January 31 2014 - 07:47 PM

Lionel 59---thanks for posting the CAROUSEL images. I definitely agree MacRae was good as Billy and I do like the film even though I think it could have been better.  I have a very happy childhood memory of seeing this with my grandmother when I was about seven. 

 

Interesting info about why the location shooting was passed up for some sequences due to the shift in casting and weather.

 

Given the hype at the time it is odd that only two features were shot in Cinemascope 55 and it was only exhibited in 35mm reduction prints.  KING AND I did get re-worked for 70mm when it was re-issued in the early 60's.  I would say though having to loop all of the dialog would perhaps be seen as a major difficulty, even if the results were fine.  The current dvds of the two films exhibit the directional dialog which was common in the stereophonic mixes of the time. The films also benefit from Alfred Newman's arrangements and underscore. 

 

Sinatra did a recording of "Soliloquy" on THE CONCERT SINATRA on Reprise records with a nice Nelson Riddle arrangement.  I do think both John Raitt's recording and MacRae's are still better than his as much as I admire Ol' Blue Eyes. 

 

I do understand your concerns about re-making this... and having seen the recent PBS concert version of CAROUSEL as well as a lushly mounted production by the Virginia Opera Company last year,  the film does cut some fine parts of the score.  It may still be a case where the show still works better on the stage than onscreen.  And given the tastes (or lack thereof) in current film making, maybe we are lucky these have not been re-made.  Certainly the recent live tv performance of SOUND OF MUSIC was something of a nightmare to those who loved both the original show and the movie version.

 

Which brings us back to----where is that boxed set of the Rodgers and Hammestein musicals in blu ray that was announced over a year ago?  I know that OKLAHOMA! is currently getting an extensive restoration of its 70mm version, so I guess the work is ongoing.  I'd rather wait a while and have them do it right then rush it out with crummy results.

 

And yes---I realize I have led this thread way off topic.  Sorry folks. 






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