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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cinerama Road Trips!

How special was Cinerama to 50’s audiences? I’d guess it ranked below Disneyland, but higher than a circus or the Ice Capades. It was less about going to the movies than seeing an indoor natural phenomenon. People dressed up for Cinerama and recognized presentations for something truly special. There’s an IMAX theatre at Myrtle Beach, SC and we’ve been a few times. I could wish folks regarded that a bigger deal, but patronage wearing flip-flops don’t seem overwhelmed. Does IMAX surpass Cinerama? What I’ve seen looks impressive, but three-strip excerpts and photos of all-engulfing screens make me long for the old process. I keep running into ads for Cinerama in big city newspapers turned yellow. Shows played two or more years then. California hosted Cinerama in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Ads for three-strip attractions were published in adjacent cities as the process was deemed worth driving to see. Frisco's Orpheum tied in with Greyhound and lured customers in Sacramento to bus ride the 86 miles in something very much like the 1955 Courier pictured below, newest of luxury highway transports. I noticed in these ads that Greyhound’s depot was only a block and a half from the Orpheum. Comfort and convenience were major selling points then. I guess people knew all too well how rugged bus travel could be. So how long would 86 miles in a Greyhound have taken in 1955? You’d have to figure your entire day for hours both ways plus the show. That’s wanting pretty badly to experience Cinerama.

Orpheum ads said Will Not Be Shown In Any Other Theatre In Northern California. Inquiry suggests their legend stayed true at least through the 50's, as no other cities in California seem to have gotten Cinerama until San Diego later on, then finally Sacramento in 1963. The ads promised it was More Fun When You Go Greyhound. My family drove up the California coast in 1962 and that was no picnic, ours being a station wagon with four kids, two beleaguered parents, and no air-conditioning. A bathroom stop I needed could not be gratified on LA freeways the likes of which we’d never encountered on NC byways, so a paper cup ended up having to do (it didn’t). So how does any eight year old properly handle a situation like that? I’m picturing accommodations on a Greyhound bus seven years earlier. Traveling that way always seemed the province of down-and-outers like Dana Andrews in Fallen Angel where he’s thrown off for not having fare. I’ve done a Google pass to see when buses got cooling systems. Greyhound introduced the Scenicruiser into its fleet in 1954 and these represented big strides for travel comfort. From best I’ve determined though, air-conditioning and rest rooms weren’t generally available to passengers until the company took delivery of fully equipped forty-foot coaches between 1957 and 1960. I’d guess a lot of people enjoyed bragging rights they’d acquire for having witnessed Cinerama. If nothing else, it meant you’d visited the big town, as no small burghs had three-paneled screens. My own chance to savor the process was blown during the nineties when I was too bone idle to drive a mere 416 miles to Dayton, Ohio where prints from John Harvey’s collection were being shown. That’s a miss I’ll always regret.

More Cinerama at Greenbriar's Archives:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had the good fortune of seeing "How The West Was Won" in Cinerama when it came out in the early 60's. My parents packed us off to NYC to see it. We stayed at a hotel in the city, and we three sons dressed up in our Sunday best (jackets and ties) to go see the movie. I still have the hard-backed program from the theater. What made the Cinerama experience so impressive was that my eyes couldn't take it all in. My peripheral vision wasn't wide enough to see all three screens at one moment, so I needed to pan my head back and forth.

It remains perhaps my most enjoyable movie-going experience. The star-packed cast also helped make it special.

More recently, I saw Avatar in 3-D Imax. Visually very impressive, the story and cast less so. And although the IMAX screen is large, its size doesn't compare with the triptych Cinerama screens back in the 60's.

Always enjoy Greenbriar...

Tom Ruegger

1:51 PM  
Blogger Erik Weems said...

I missed out on Cinerama, but I've made a lot of trips over my life on Greyhound. Last trip in 2002 had drop down flatscreens. Noticed they're putting out a new bus model in 2010 which has wifi and electrical outlets for charging cell phones and laptops. But no Cinerama.

2:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My folks took me to see "How the West Was Won" in Cinerama for my tenth birthday. It was playing fifteen minutes away in Syosset NY. I remember the trek down the rapids and the train holdup as being pretty intense. I've since been to Lone PIne CA numerous times where the Indian attack was filmed. Great memories! Mike D

8:18 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

June, 1964 - Saw HOW THE WEST WAS WON in CINERAMA in NYC. The seams on the screen annoyed me to the extent that I was unable to enjoy the movie. I have never tried to watch HTWWW again.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm still wondering what on earth they were thinking when they re-issued THIS IS CINERAMA in 1973 for regular sized flat screens.I'd love to read the backstory, if there is one.

3:31 PM  
Anonymous M Blackmoor said...

I too saw HTWWW looking and sounding magnificent in a newly converted cinema adjoining a Cardiff hotel. Look for it now as you park your car at The Park Hotel's open air car park. A few years ago I stood for a moment's memory and tried not to think of all the unrectified 70mm prints with awful side distortion that were shown before the Park Hall Cinerama died of starvation.

Despite my long experience and love of 70mm big screen films, the first hour of Avatar I saw this week at the London BFI IMAX 3D negates any sense of screen size as one is inside the action. This is probably a pure breakthrough as 2D films, even Cinerama, are/were dependent upon the screen size and one's seat position.

I only saw the first hour before having to flee the overpowering sickly stench of popcorn.

At least in the UK, that atrocity postdates Cinerama.

I have never travelled on a Greyhound Bus but have watched It Happened One Night often enough to feel that I have.

12:03 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

So tell me, folks. Is "Avatar" the greatest immersive experience so far in movies?

From what I'm hearing, a lot of people seem to think it is ...

12:08 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

No... it is not.

It is among the worst films I have ever seen.

3:10 PM  
Anonymous M Blackmoor said...

AVATAR is, from my experience of the first hour, an immersive (newly popular but accurate word) aesthetic experience in 3D IMAX that doesn't disguise the plot'n'script deficiencies but is worth 3 hours of any movie enthusiast's time in order to witness what's technically possible. Depending on one's actual enjoyment level one might then require the Witness Protection Scheme but the achievment is breathtaking.

And John, Thanks as ever for everything. I don't always recognise your heading pictures but they're constantly wonderful.

Maybe Claudette Colbert sometime soon....?

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, John:

At least San Francisco's Orpheum Theater did not meet the same sad fate that Toledo's Paramount did (I refer to your post of December 28, 2009).
The Orpheum was built in 1926 as part of the Pantages theater chain, and indeed there is clip on you tube with current owner Carole Shorenstein Hays
... which briefly shows a still with the theater proudly bearing its original Pantages name. Of course, Pantages had to sell it to Radio Keith Orpheum (after he was financially ruined by legal costs relating to a trumped up rape conviction in 1929). I presume the new owners renamed it. Given its construction date, I'm sure it was originally built both for movies and for vaudeville. Nowadays, the marquee overhanging Market Street is much, much smaller than it was in the Pantages or Cinerama days, and the theater features strictly live theater, exclusively Broadway shows, I believe.

However, in the 1950s, the Greyhound bus station in San Francisco was only a block away from the Orpheum, on 7th St. Now you would have to walk many blocks from the Transbay terminal through some pretty dicey areas. Oh well, it's too late for Cinerama at the Orpheum anyway! --Mark Hendrix

11:40 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

lol..I remember my folks gettin' us all slicked up to go see The Greatest Story Ever Told and The Bible!..and boy did we fuss about it!
Never seen a movie in Cinerama but I do remember seeing The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm in a regular theatre and thinking how extra huge everything looked...

1:01 AM  
Blogger Dugan said...

The Cooper in Minneapolis was an actual Cinerama theater. I never saw a Cinerama film at the Cooper but did see Lawrence of Arabia in 70MM which was amazing.

Also remember see The Sting at the Cooper, sitting a little to close and getting a terrible headache after the movie was over.

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After an hour, I wanted to flee the overpowering, sickly stench of AVATAR.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

I live in Long Beach, and the Cineramadome in Hollywood shows the original Cinerama movies on very rare occasions. Last September they showed How the West Was Won and This is Cinerama, and out of 52 weeks of the year, it had to be the one week I was out of town vacationing in Hawaii. I'm still anxiously waiting for either one of these truly big movies to show up at the Dome again.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re Greyhound travel. No, there were no toilets on the bus back then (and nobody forced to sit next to them) but busses made frequent stop. Before aircon the windows would open and (I assume) fans on the ceiling which I've seen in other countries. Works just fine--talking about equatorial heat here--except when it rains.

11:09 AM  

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