Film Review: "This is Cinerama" at the Cinerama Dome

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Jonathan Burk, Oct 7, 2002.

  1. Jonathan Burk

    Jonathan Burk Second Unit

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    This is Cinerama at the Cinerama Dome, Hollywood
    On Friday night, October 4, I had the pleasure of being in the audience for the "recreation" of the Cinerama experience at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, CA. Along with the recent renovation to the Dome, which included improvements in leg room and decor, a three projector Cinerama setup was installed. This is Cinerama will play for one week, with possible showings of How the West Was Won contingent on the success of the initial showings.
    So what was the "Cinerama experience" like? Our seats were excellent, since I bought our tickets over a month ago. On arrival, I was surprised and disappointed to see the theater just over half full (on opening night!). I suppose all the hard-core Cinerama fans already got their fix in Ohio years ago? The theater was quite gracious, with a Cinerama camera on display in the lobby, along with Cinerama programs on sale for $5, and tours of the projection booth after the show.
    Having read descriptions of This is Cinerama over the years, I had a general idea of what to expect. I was anxious to actually experience Cinerama as it had been 50 years ago (or as close as possible, the Cinerama Dome doesn't have the louvred screen used in original Cinerama installations).
    The film started as expected, with narrator Lowell Thomas presented in 1.33:1 black and white, giving a 10 minute overview of imaging technology, starting with caveman paintings. The history lesson ended with the culmination of motion picture technology: Cinerama! As Mr. Thomas exclaimed the famous phrase: "Ladies and Gentleman, THIS IS CINERAMA!", the entire screen came alive and we found ourselves in the loading station of a rollercoaster, and now in Cinerama.
    Most incredible is the size of the screen. For anyone used to seeing conventional 35mm films at the Dome, it is immediately apparent that we're seeing quite a bit more screen than normal. I would guess that 35mm films fill, at most, 60% of the Dome's screen. The size of the screen, combined with the absolute grainless clarity of the film, made for a shocking experience. Throughout the entire show, there were a few problems with faded or scratched film. The sound was also excellent (there was an unavoidable presence of analog hiss throughout, but it wasn't very objectionable). In general, the quality of the print was excellent.
    "This is Cinerama" consists of travelogue type material, with most segments being 5-10 minutes in length. From the initial rollercoaster segment, we are taken to Niagra Falls, church choirs, and European opera and festivals. I was most impressed with the editing of the segments. With a few exceptions, they were edited tightly; it was rare to find my attention wandering. Also endearing was the overall tone of the movie: it was pure 1952. The narration and corny jokes and observations were pure 1952, and elicited more than a few chuckles. There were also some "un PC" elements; most memorable was a European opera showing a prosession of countries, and an African country was represeneted by (white) dancers dressed in black suits, with black paint on their faces, bounding around the stage like monkeys [​IMG] .
    After the shorter "travelogue" segments, we got a 15 minute intermission ("Intermission" card complete with an illustration of two smoking cigarettes). After the intermission, we got a few minutes of orchaestral demo in the incredible surround sound of Cinerama. I imagine this was pretty shocking to audiences of 1952 who hadn't heard surround sound (or stereo sound) yet (except for the lucky few who heard Fantasound for Fantasia). As mentioned before, the sound quality was very good, with excellent dynamic range, but everpresent tape noise. Sound restoration was provided by Chace Labs, so I imagine the sound is as good as it's going to get.
    The post-intermission film consisted of two longer segments. The first highlighted a Florida swamp/ waterpark, where southern belles dressed in "Scarlett O' Hara" dresses would sit on idyllic green grass as Venice-like canal boats toured the manicured gardens. After several minutes of the pleasent tour, the entertainment gets kicked into high gear, as the girls strip off their dresses [​IMG] to reveal their bathing suits, and run out to the waterski show. Between the guys in mini-speedboats, and the girls waterskiing, along with assorted other water characters (waterskiing clowns, a guy waterskiing on a kitchen chair...), this was my favorite segment. Again, it was nimbly edited, and just a lot of fun.
    To end the film, we got a coast-to-coast tour of the great places of the United States. A very long tour of the United States. If you ever wondered what Gary, Indiana looked like circa 1952 from 2000 feet, now's your chance to find out. While I appreciated much of the tour, and much of it was spectacular, did I really need to see Pittsbury, PA? Or the worlds largest open copper mine in Utah? I did like the soundtrack to this segment, and it was fun to hear the reverential tone of the "Salt Lake" Tabernacle Choir as we soared over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and other western landmarks, but this was one segment that probably meant a lot more to audiences of 1952, most of whom probably hadn't been on an airplane.
    The film was followed up with a spectacular trailer for How the West Was Won, and it looked great. If the whole film looks that good, it will be a great treat.
    When it was all over, my wife and I were thrilled. I hope the showings prove rewarding to the Cinerama Dome, and encourage them to present other Cinerama films. I would love to see Cinerama Holiday for the Christmas season.
     
  2. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    ![​IMG]
    From the Cypress Gardens sequence. Curve the image and Dick Poe on the left would be looking towards the water skiers rather then to the far right. (Courtesy of American Wide Screen Museum)
    Jonathan,
    I was in the audience as well at the 7:30 PM show Friday night. Sixth row from front, in the "sweet spot".
    Several things. The opera excerpt in question was "Aida" by Verdi. It is still performed to this day with actors in "black face" and is perfectly acceptable. One of the amusing things about the segment was it started with the camera facing upwards toward the ceiling at La Scala (the Opera house in Milan) and then panned down to show a beautifully dressed audience staring at us! We stared back I'm sure. The first half included a test sequence in black and white (tinted sepia for the film) of the choir boys that was made in 1946! The other first half segments were directed by Michael (Mike) Todd with the roller coaster by his son. Todd Sr. never directed a film before and it shows. He was sent off to Europe to do the segments as he was a pain in the a**. His participation in Cinerama was brief as his partnership was bought out by the time he returned. (He later had American Optical develop Todd AO, the first 70mm single lens format to hit theatres in 1955). The aformentioned final two segments had more panache and are more like the ones in the "Cinerama Holiday" film that followed. It was the most popular of the 5 travelogues (and the most fun). In talking to John Sittig of Cinerama Inc. he mentioned that would be the next film for reconstruction... assuming that they have the money to do it.
    All the travelogues are in bad shape as separation negs and internegs were never made. The films were duped from the camera negs which eventually wore out.
    I saw this film in 1952 at the Broadway Theatre in New York City about two weeks after it opened. To viewers at the time it was a revelation. Remember films were predominately in black and white. They were basically in a square format (1.37:1). The sound wasn't much changed from the films of the 30s. Optical mono. Fred Waller, the inventor of Cinerama, tried for years to get Hollywood to back his concept. There were no takers. Eventually he found financing from outside the system. Lowell Thomas, Hazard Reeves (who invented the 7 channel magnetic sound on 35mm film) and other investors. Sadly Waller died within weeks of the opening of "This Is Cinerama".
    Eventually Hollywood got the message and brought us Cinemascope, Vistavision, Todd AO, MGM Camera 65, Panavision, et al.
    If it wasn't for the original 3 camera Cinerama we might not be talking about wide screen and surround sound today.
    One last thing. 3 Camera Cinerama covered a field of view of 146 degrees... close to human perpherial vision. The Cinerama screen is supposed to also be a 146 degree curve. The one at the Dome is only 120 degrees. Close, but no cigar. The Cinerama screen at the Seattle Cinerama theatre is the proper curvature.
    It was fun seeing the film in the original format after 50 years
     
  3. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    I envy those who could see the screening.

    Please do us a favor and don't ask "will this be on DVD?" This is one of those films that you just need to see it in the theater.
     
  4. SteveP

    SteveP Second Unit

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    From what I remember from Dayton in 1998, the color of John Harvey's THIS IS CINERAMA print (dye-transfer from 1961, I believe) was in better shape than the color of the Dome's TIC print.

    The HOW THE WEST WAS WON trailer wasn't the least bit faded and it was a delight to be in a theatre with a huge, curved screen for someone who remembers Todd-AO and Dimension 150 installations from the 1960's. My dad and my stepmother got a huge kick out of the entire event as well...Here's hoping that there's more to come...would love to see the famous bobsled sequence in CINERAMA HOLIDAY and WINDJAMMER (in Cinemiracle) has always had the reputation as being a really good movie.
     
  5. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    According to Cinerama, Inc. Windjammer is not in good shape either. John Harvey's TIC print is also beat up. The new print was only bad in spots. When it was good, it was terrific. Before a second showing that I saw (on Saturday) John Sittig told the audience that it took 5 people to run a Cinerama film. But today, with all the modern technology, it takes..... 5 people to run a Cinerama film!

    It continues, 3 a day, until October 11. There is talk of showing it on a regular basis next year along with HTWWW at the Dome.

    Incidentally, the other MGM-Cinerama "story" film, "The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm" may be lost forever. There was a flood at the MGM vault many years ago and it was damaged beyond repair.

    Another travelogue, considered to be the best of the 4, "Seven Wonders Of The World" is badly cut up. Seems that a company licensed the film and took the 35mm center panel, recut it and then copied it down to 16mm for school prints. It was never put back together although they have all the parts.

    And yes, the bobsled run in "Cinerama Holiday" is even better then the rollercoaster ride.
     
  6. SteveP

    SteveP Second Unit

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    In 1998, when I spoke to Richard May in reference to the lousy new dye-transfer prints of GONE WITH THE WIND, he was of the opinion that the HOW THE WEST WAS WON negative was in good shape. I've read reports that the new three-panel print made of HTWWW is fine.

    John Harvey showed a badly faded BROTHERS GRIMM trailer in Dayton in'98, and the Cinerama effects still worked well, even though completely pink. The Puppetoons in three-strip would also be worth seeing, even if they didn't look their best.
     
  7. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    I'm glad I got to see this. I was there for the Saturday, Oct. 5 showing. Peter's knowledge and enthusiasm are quite enjoyable. I also enjoyed the company of Pamela and especially Jack Briggs. I had fun teasing Jack about visualizing a space station during the Vienna Boy's Choir rendition of the Blue Danube. [​IMG]
     
  8. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    Robert,

    Yeah it was fun. I meant to tell Jack that their rendition was definately not a tribute to 2001!

    Peter
     
  9. Brian Kidd

    Brian Kidd Screenwriter
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    Peter,

    When I was lucky enough to see HTWWW in Dayton it took... ONE PERSON to run the whole show: John Harvey. An amazing, if obsessed, fellow. IMAX doesn't hold a candle to Cinerama. Anyone withing driving distance owes it to themselves to go see it while they can!
     
  10. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    Brian,
    John was one of the original projectionists during Cinerama's heyday. At the Dome, Cinerama Inc. personnel man the showings and make sure the panels stay reasonably aligned. I've checked several sites for how much was grossed during the weekend, but there is no listing... even on the sites that have 100 different films. Perhaps they have not supplied info. The theatre was never completely full, as people knew that the center section was really the best place to be. I heard that 800 tickets had been pre-sold for the weeks run. The LA Times reviewed the film, favorably, on Friday the 4th. There was minimal publcity other then a small ad in the regualr Calendar section listings for Pacific (Arclight) Theatres. They just didn't have the money to do much more. The reprint of the "This Is Cinerama" booklet is beautiful. I have the original version and this one is much better. It should be noted that the brochure sold at the Dome is actually the second version, since the original did not have the famous "accordian" logo. The original "Premiere" book had more pages as well.
     
  11. Dick

    Dick Lead Actor
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    Perhaps we can persuade Robert Harris to let us know if he is aware of the state of BROTHERS GRIMM, and whether there are any known elements good enough to use as a foundation for restoration. I would love to see this film in OAR on DVD looking at least better than the old MGM laser.
     
  12. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    Dick,
    John Sittig, director of Cinerama Inc. told me that original elements were destroyed in a flood at the MGM vaults.
    Putting HTWWW and Grimm on DVD is a bad proposition as one can see with the current HWTWW DVD.. Flattening out the 146 degree image, as has been done, just doesn't work. And as it stands it's not complete to boot. Yes, there's the "Smilebox" technique developed by Greg Kimble but that would make the image incredibly small. The only way these films should be seen is on a big screen. Somethings can't be done on home video and this is one of them. That's OK in my opinion.
    Peter
    "Smilebox" info here:
    http://www.cineramaadventure.com/smilebox.htm
     
  13. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    Late breaking news:

    THIS IS CINERAMA held over for an additional week until 10/17!
     
  14. Jeff Adkins

    Jeff Adkins Screenwriter

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  15. RolandL

    RolandL Producer

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  16. Mark Cappelletty

    Mark Cappelletty Cinematographer

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    After seeing "This Is Cinerama" last week and being stunned by the "How The West Was Won" trailer, I can't wait to see the latter film this winter. Living in LA can drive you nuts sometimes, but theaters like the Dome make it worthwhile at times.
     

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