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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Tomorrow ends the special showing at the Arclight Cinerama Theater in Hollywood of How the West Was Won in three-strip Cinerama. I had been looking forward to seeing a Cinerama film again almost since the demise of the product in the mid-sixties. Cinerama lingered on for years (2001 had it tacked onto it), but it became just a buzzword for marketing and releasing, generally for a widescreen 70mm presentation (which is not a bad thing either, if the camera negative was 70mm). It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World will be showing at the Arclight briefly in the coming week or so, and it is that kind of Cinerama.


But the original Cinerama process, with its three projectors and special camera, simulated peripheral vision better than any other anamorphic presentation could. It was sort of a holy grail, a lost dream of something really magical. Someone in Toledo, if I have the story correct, managed to get just a preview of West, and set up his own theater just to show it, and people came there specially just to see it (Quentin Tarentino?).


Well, having seen How the West Was Won a fortnight ago, let me say that you just can't go home again. The problem was explained by the guy introducing the film. He extolled the incredible sharpness- "the sharpest widescreen process you will ever see, where everything from 36" to infinity is in sharp focus"- but also explained that you could not photograph special effects or process screens with Cinerama, so any time such a thing was necessary, it would be shot in conventional widescreen and then split into the three strips of film (thereby causing golfball-size grain and loss of contrast).


Two of the six surviving Cinerama cameras were on display in the lobby, and they were a shock. They looked incomplete. They were small. Original Cinerama films were travelogues- This is Cinerama, (and I remember the other titles imperfectly), Search for Paradise, Seven Wonders of the World, South Sea Adventure- and the cameras needed to be non-bulky. The three lenses were smaller than dimes, within a small cylinder, and the three film magazines branched off behind. I suspected even before hearing the introduction that there was no possiblity of variations in focal length of lenses. To shoot a movie in Cinerama, you were shooting an entire movie in super wide-angle lenses.


You could not meaningfully shoot closeups (the guy said this drove directors nuts). Lenses this wide made faces do unpleasant things.


Cameras always needed to be level, but you could usually tilt up or down. Do that with a Cinerama camera, and things disort really badly.


Tracking was problematic. Aerials looked good, but things got weird the closer you got to the ground.


You could never get away from the seam where the images meet.


And so, How the West Was Won was incredibly static. The cameras seldom moved if the actors were doing anything. Things outside had the background swallowing up actors in the foreground, unless the actors were pretty close. There was a decided "sweet spot" in the theater to fully see the wide effect, and I wasn't in it.


And the film! It was okay back forty years ago, when the film's grammar was a part of the way films were made, but now the creakiness of the plot was rather apparent. THe first half was a Debbie Reynolds vehicle, the second half, a George Peppard film, with guest appearances of lots of talented, big-name actors with performances of varying effectiveness. The family saga of the plot gave a sketchy version of the colonization of the West. I just didn't hang together any more. And most of the complicated shots to shoot and cut meant you weren't using Cinerama anymore, you were using conventional film. I bet the format died as much because directors talked the studios out of attempting it as its difficulty of presentation. It was just too hard to shoot a movie using nothing but wide-angle lenses.


The original Cinerama movies were done almost a decade before the only two narrative films attempted in the process: George Pal's The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, and, a year after, How the West Was Won. It makes you wonder why they resurrected the process. Hubris perhaps. Fanatical George Pal fan that I am, I would kill to see Brothers Grimm, but rumors have it that the negative has water damage (and the DMax of the blacks in West was deficient, though all in all it looked pretty good). I have heard no word on the shape of the older Cinerama films, though Windjammer, about a great sailing ship, would be a natural for reissue.
 

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CW---I saw several Cinerama pictures when I was a kid and I really enjoyed the look, I thought the distortion was cool.


I'll tell you what bugged me about HTWWW, even as a kid. What in the Hell was a trapper from the Rockies doing taking his furs up the Ohio River, past Cave in Rock in Illinois, to Pittsburg? That made no sense

, no sense at all. And how did a family who was traveling the Erie Canal end up on the Ohio? And with the trapper going upstream and the family down just how does he get word they met with disaster in the rapids? How did word get upstream past him?


It was neat to see the river pirates of Cave in Rock though. The Harpe Brothers and Captain Mason were the worst brigands and murderers in American history. When Micajah Harpe was finally captured by a posse in Kentucky they killed him by cutting his head off with a butcher knife, cutting round his neck down to the bone and then wrenching his head off, like one did with a hog. Harpe's last words, spoken as the cut was made, were "You are a Goddam rough butcher but cut on and be damned". :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I thought they spent a bit too much time on the river sequence, until I thought about it and realized it had some of the most ingratiating perfomances (James Stewart, Walter Brennan, Karl Malden, Carroll Baker), and how it set up the whole family saga business that fueled the rest of the film.


I think Stanley Kubrick's daughter played George Peppard's daughter in the final train sequence at film's end.
 

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On our last day in town, we managed to get down to the Arclight to see CINERAMA ADVENTURE. It was a documentary about the Cinerama ( an anagram for 'American') process, its development during WWII as a device for training aerial gunners, its launch by Lowell Thomas, Mike Todd, et al as a premium motion picture experience, and its demise. The documentary catches the excitement and wonder of the 50s audiences very well when confronted with the grandeur of the documentaries shot in the process, and the real life adventures and dangers experienced by the crews on location.


They had an old bomber converted into a aerial camera plane that they flew under bridges without permission and once into a live volcano ( the engines died; they almost didn't make it out of that one).


If CINERAMA ADVENTURE is still around, it's worth seeing. NOTE: The documentary is NOT in Cinerama, but shot in a high definition widescreen process that creates a bowed anamorphic wrap that simulates ( in a smaller sense) the curved screen of the original Cinerama experience.


Our old Cinerama theater in Minneapolis (the Cooper) still exists. Empty, and on the Historical Society's list. It was a wonderful place to go and see 70mm and Cinerama. I wish something could be done for it.
 

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After seeing How the West was Won, I walked out so excited, I thought about trying to replicate the Cinerama process with either three video cameras (4:3) or two 16:9 cameras and align them as perfectly as possible. Then Using multiple projectors, build my own "Cinerama".


Given I'm no filmaker, it grounded me back to reality.
 

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The guy who had Cinerama in his living room was John Harvey.


He later moved his equipment to the Neon Theater in Dayton.


Cinerama ran there for 4 years off and on.


Cinerama Adventure has it's own web site at: cineramaadventure.com.


Check out their links page it will lead you to the Neon set up and a lot more.


One more great Cinerama site is: cinerama.topcities.com.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by bwiklem
After seeing How the West was Won, I walked out so excited, I thought about trying to replicate the Cinerama process with either three video cameras (4:3) or two 16:9 cameras and align them as perfectly as possible. Then Using multiple projectors, build my own "Cinerama".


Given I'm no filmaker, it grounded me back to reality.
You know, this is not SUCH a crazy idea. As someone said (I think in the 3-D thread) a group of front-projection enthusiasts could rent a large room and get some screens together for a fraction of the cost of doing a "real" three-strip projector renovation and get a feel for the Cinerama experience- I'd love it!


The hitch of course is getting the film digitized in a format where it could be sync'ed up to the PJ's, after that it's actually pretty easy.


When HD comes along I'm sure some enterprising egghead with too much time on their hands could think up a way to "rip" big 70mm extravaganzas like 2001 and Laurence of Arabia to 3 side-by-side images with good resolution and a new breed of HT freak will be born :D:D
 

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Shaded Dogfood,


I saw Windjammer a few years ago at the Bradford Film Festival here in the UK in 3-strip Cinerama. Unfortunately the print was rather faded and had a slight pinkish cast to it - even in that state, it was still excellent viewing! :) Btw, This Is Cinerama is still shown in Bradford on the first Saturday of every month. Hope this helps.


Steve
 

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Tom Brennan,


Fun questions, but I think it was pointed out that the Erie Canal only went so far and then the families had to travel over land to get to another river (the Ohio). That's when they built the log rafts we saw them launching down the hill at the shoreline.


Also, didn't the up-river bound trapper (James Stewart) get the message about the down-river bound family from passers-by while he was docked on the shore and repairing his canoe? We never see the passers-by approaching so they could have been traveling up-river from down-river after having met the surviving family members.


What I noticed this time was that the stunt-man with the big tattoo on his fore-arm (easily visible on the big Cinerama screen), who doubled for Agnes Moorhead in the rapids scene, was shot being tossed off the raft and floundering in the swirling water...a moment before we see the screen-filling final shot of Agnes Moorhead back ON the raft and cradling her son in terror. LOL!


Still, accepting that the Cinerama process greatly limited the flexibility of filming, I had a terrific time at Archlight watching and listening to this movie (Alfred Newman's score is a classic). And how often can we sit in a big, beautiful commercial theater with a big, beautiful picture and sound and a near full house (when I saw it) and see the name John Ford on a directing credit followed by Spencer Tracy's voice narrating, and have that be only the beginning?
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
hitchfan:


It's a pity that the soundtrack, which I bought as a teenager, did not contain the best cues from the soundtrack in favor of the songs and other less interesting stuff.


The John Ford sequence, brief as it was, was the most gripping stuff in the whole film. He didn't need camera pyrotechniques: all he needed were some good actors and serviceable writing.


Dutch64:


Glad to hear Cinerama is alive and well in Britain. Maybe y'all can score a print of West.
 

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CW----I find the scene from the Ford part where Peppard leaves his brother, and his brother's distressed reaction, very touching. I think of the countless partings and rendings of families that were part of our westward expansion. Very emotional scene.



Hitchfan---Nice try buddy, but the Erie Canal dumped you out at Buffalo, VERY far from the Ohio. In truth the New Englanders and New Yorkers who settled the Midwest by way of the Erie Canal followed the Great Lakes west and then inland on the various river systems like the Illinois, Fox, Huron, Maumee and such. These people settled the northern Lakes Plains: Michigan, northern Ohio and Illinois, Wisconsin and such.


People using the Ohio generally came from points farther south; Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and such, and generally settled the southern Lake Plains. Ole Abe Lincoln was typical of this pattern; from Kentucky across the Ohio to southern Indiana and then later west and north to central Illinois.


I don't mean to schoolmarmish but I love talkin' history. :)
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by FredProgGH
You know, this is not SUCH a crazy idea.


The hitch of course is getting the film digitized in a format where it could be sync'ed up to the PJ's, after that it's actually pretty easy.

Don't tempt me ;)


Seriously, if the video footage was recorded to DVD, having three of the same DVD players and one remote that operated all of them simultaneously is very easy.


Maybe I'll experiment soon...
 

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Tom Brennan,


Ah, yes, but unless we accept the fact that this family had some reason for avoiding the Great Lakes route at that point in time, we would've had those Cinerama cameras spending another 15 minutes showing them paddling around the edge of Lake Superior before they finally got to one decent white-water rapids scene!


:D
 
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