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Monday, November 17, 2014

Flicker Alley Cinerama Is CineSational

These Cineramic Blu-Rays Are Smileboxes All!

How could biggest event movies of the 50's disappear so completely? For me, the best and biggest ongoing Blu-Rays are Cinerama times six (so far) from Flicker Alley. Each are show-stoppers in truest sense of home viewing, Dead Sea scrolls of film history resurrected from seeming oblivion of damaged and incomplete negatives. How David Strohmaier and team staged rescues is miraculous on par with three-panel triumph that changed movies for keeps from premiere of the first, This Is Cinerama!, in 1952. How I envy those who saw one or more of these in theatres. Like boarding a moon rocket. You can get nearly that sensation watching any of Flicker Alley Cineramas, including two just out, The Seven Wonders Of The World (1956) and Search For Paradise (1957). From sound and visual standpoint alone, they make tinker toys of everything Hollywood produced through the 50's, and since, for that matter. Nothing else instills such non-stop exhilaration. There are mere movies, and then there is Cinerama. To quote Errol Flynn as Captain Blood with regard my enthusiasm, "I hope I'm not obscure."

Here's instance where you should begin with dessert, then have the meal. Extras with Cinerama detail awesome effort behind fix of camera negatives left for dead in warehousing since practical usefulness ended for Cinerama in the 60's. Genius behind Blu-ray production Strohmaier illustrates frame-by-frame recovery of color and sound from three individual panels, plus separate Stereo tracks, that made up each Cinerama production. That's restoring what amounts to three movies for each individual result. What incredible strides have been made in digital clean-up and color correction ... you'd not figure gone-to-pink negs for anything but a scrap heap, and then comes process that puts V back in Vivid that got folks cheering at Cinerama first-runs. Here is best explanation I've come across of effort going to movie restoration, and what patience and dedication it requires. Cinerama groupies have for years been a nomadic tribe going from one isolated revival to another. Now they can have a near-whole of output right in the house. No, it isn't a same as synced-up panels in company of thousands at deluxe 50's environ, but sit close enough to a big enough HD screen, and you'll channel at least part of what first-nighters felt.

I think it's safe to say that Cinerama changed lives. 99% could go in, be amazed, then resume normal routine. Others, a transformed few, would dedicate selves to quest for lost horizon of Cinerama, this splinter group of Ronald Colmans crossing wilderness in search of three panels they'd known but briefly from childhood. What's left of an original Cinerama audience has to be at least sixty and up. Most dedicated ones would rather glimpse their beloved process again than Heaven itself. Maybe Cinerama was Heaven on earth and we let it get away. Hardest-core fans could make an argument for that. One of them was an Ohio collector who converted his ranch-style home into a Cinerama showplace, him doing projection solo, a job meant for multiple operators. For a while, John Harvey's was the only place in the United States where you could see Cinerama. That's changed now thanks to digital projection, though purists will tell you there's no substitute for synched-up machinery running three prints in tandem. I used to have hard enough time making 16, let alone 35mm, play properly. Imagine precision it took to run Cinerama.

Among Blu-Ray extras with The Seven Wonders Of The World is a 50's newsreel of Cinerama as a tent show moving across French countryside, with stops every thirty or so miles to thrill small towns and villages. Canvas was raised as with a circus, spikes hammered down just like Mr. DeMille shows in The Greatest Show On Earth, except this big-top housed massive equipment and manpower to put on, then tear down, daily runs of Cinerama. Clunky generators and ton-weight projectors are hauled against bucolic backdrop of livestock and curious kids on bikes. You'd not believe such a thing was possible if you weren't seeing it. Charm of Cinerama was its low-tech render of space-age wonders. What an audience got was glimpse into other-worldly future, not knowing that projection booths behind them were sealed galleys where men rowed with oars that had to be pulled in precise unison, lest the whole enterprise sink. Sometimes, of course, leaks were sprung, and for such interruption there were "breakdown reels" to distract viewers while harried crew effected a fix. Some of these are also included as Blu-Ray extras, each an attraction in itself.

Further, and sufficient reason by itself, to have these Blu-Rays is the music. Most of best Hollywood composers worked on them. I looked at Search For Paradise last night and it was like attending a Dimitri Tiomkin concert. Just imagine an exotic travelogue with Gunfight At The OK Corral overlay --- that's the sock you get here. The Seven Wonders Of The World has David Raksin, Jerome Morros, and Emil Newman at shared baton. Raksin being my all-time favorite composer made Wonder's track so much gravy. Someone wrote that Cinerama gave musicians leeway to express themselves like no studio assignment allowed --- watch these and know truth of that.  Cinerama shows seem to me to have influenced so much of what Hollywood would attempt in the later 50's and 60's. I say attempt because rivals could capture but hint of what three-panels offered. Sayonara in 1958 had Technirama and extensive shooting in Japan, but Seven Wonders Of The World had gotten there before, and captured sights more spectacularly. MGM's Bhowani Junction went to India, but economy toured beside what Cinerama had shown from a same address. UA might have come closest to travelogue as ongoing spectacle with its James Bond series in the 60's. Surely a book could be writ on impact Cinerama had on film and filmmakers to come.


Blogger Unknown said...

The nice thing about digital is that the lines between the panels are erased. When I show these on mu twelve foot home screen in smile format the effect is on the mark. I had passed on most of these. Now you have me ready to pick themup. Thanks.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...

As I've stated on these pages before, my father saw THIS IS CINERAMA in presumably its original run in New York (he was a senior in high school in Jersey when it premiered, so it's possible). He said it was just spectacular, with the boats from Cypress Gardens seemingly jumping right off the screen. I had hoped he'd be around long enough for its 50th anniversary so he and I could experience it, again and for the first time respectively, but sadly that was not to be.

Not sure about the other films, but the soundtrack for TIC, ripped from vinyl, is available for listening or download at the Internet Archive. Speaking of which...

Back in the 70s one of my local TV stations created a bunch of kid-oriented PSAs on being proud of your heritage. These were heavily run through the late 80s so I grew up watching them. Each spot featured kids of a specific ethnic group talking about or celebrating their nationality and ended with them saying "I'm proud to be a (ethnic group)-American!" Someone at the station must've had a copy of the TIC soundtrack, because the Italian-American spot featured music from the Venice gondola sequence.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

When my wife & I watched "How the West Was Won" on TCM recently, it brought back memories of watching it in Cinerama-- rafting down the river and the out of control locomotive were pretty impressive to a six year-old. As I got older, I used to put down the three-panel visuals, but now I'm glad somebody's brought it back to life.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I was lucky enough to go to Dayton, Ohio about 20 years ago to see John Harvey's presentation of THIS IS CINERAMA and HOW THE WEST WAS WON a the New Neon theater. Being fascinated with wide screen cinema for decades, it was quite an experience. People came from around the world to experience this rare revival of the format. It should also be noted that Harvey essentially ran the show on his own... in the old days a team of four or five men ran a Cinerama show. The attempts to recreate this process with simpler formats like Cinemascope, Todd-Ao, and VistaVision revolutionized filmmaking and exhibtion. Glad these films are being restored. And by the way... anyone interested in widescreen must take a look at the incredible American Widescreen Museum site. Pretty much everything you'll ever need to know about these processes... along with all the hype that went along with them.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...

Forgot to put this in my previous comment -- here's a site that has lots of pictures, press clippings and other ephemera relating to all things Cinerama:

11:38 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon recalls some Cinerama experiences in L.A. (Part One):

Wanted to say how wonderfully you write about CINERAMA. I am, in fact, one of those post-60 year olds who DID have the good fortune to see at least two famous CINERAMA films in their original format, namely a reissue of "This is Cinerama", and the legendary "How the West Was Won". And, I saw them in that order, too. Loved both of them. I DO remember the visceral thrill of the opening roller coaster ride in the former film, and Merian C. Cooper, never shy to take credit, claimed that putting that sequence first was his idea. If so, it was but another brilliant gut notion from Cooper, as it was in fact the best as well as the perfect sequence to open the film on. Matter of fact, I remember my attention flagged after that, in spite of the splendor of the scenes being shown. As for "...West Was Won", that was different. I was getting a bit tired and a bit impatient toward the end of this big, sprawling showcase, but for the most part I thought it was a GREAT show. I never forgot Alfred Newman's music, either.

I have to smile seeing your reproduced ad of a reissue of "Seven Wonders of the World" coupled rather incongruously with the contemporary "McClintock!" at the Century Drive-In, "our" local drive-in theater in Inglewood, CA, where I grew up, a place I spent many, many happy hours in seeing some of the great movies of the late '50s and early '60s.

6:59 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two with Craig Reardon on Cinerama:

There have been revivals in the last eleven years of actual CINERAMA films in Hollywood at the former Pacific Cinerama Dome, now called the Arc Light Dome (same building entirely, however!), situated on Sunset near Vine. The Pacific line of theaters still owns the Cinerama equipment, film prints, everything, as far as I know. I am not so big and thorough a buff that I can remember how they came into possession of all this, but I'm sure there was a logical line of succession/acquisition. Or, perhaps they had a piece of the action from the outset. During a recent revival series, Strohmaier was there (I may have just misspelled his name), talking about an original Cinerama camera that was on display in the lobby. The amazing and unexpected thing about the Cinerama cameras is how TINY there individual three wide-angle lenses were! They look to be no more than a half inch in diameter. On that one Saturday I held a ticket to see the LAST surviving 3-print Cinerama copy in the entire world of "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm", apparently on loan from a collector/owner in Australia, I believe. And even though there were problems projecting it, with the print damage causing at least two rather lengthy breakdowns and blackouts (to make not-very-quick repairs), as well as a problem in one section of the film in which one of the three prints was quite badly faded while the other two were not, I STILL enjoyed the hell out of myself, seeing this film exactly as it was intended to be seen, versus the rather atrocious optically-combined 35mm print I'd previously seen (in the '60s) in reissues. The same fate befell "HTWWW". Oh, how I wish WB could or would see it clear to restore "...Brothers Grimm", which has a lot to redeem it, including Leigh Harline's beautiful underscore (and his skillful adaptations of Bob Merrill's simple but often charming songs), and the fine actors throughout. I find portions of the film very moving, and it's moving enough that the prematurely aging and dying Charles Beaumont provided many poignant touches in his screenplay. Russ Tamblyn appeared at this screening and was absolutely charming and entertaining talking about it, and you could not BELIEVE he was much older than 24, so full of life and so NOT full of s**t is he. He'd brought along "two friends" to see it again with him: George Chakiris and the glorious Rita Moreno, co-alumni from "West Side Story"!

7:00 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Three with Craig Reardon's revisit to Cinerama:

I also held a ticket for the following Cinerama feature that afternoon: "Search For Paradise". This was NOT the restoration now available through Flicker Alley, which I'm dying to get. This was an actual 3-print Cinerama survivor, albeit horribly faded most of the way through. And, I hate to say it, but it does make a difference, seeing even something as full of scenic marvels as this picture is, when faded to a distasteful purplish-greenish nothingness. However, Tiomkin's score was fabulous. I was thrilled to spot his widow, Olivia, in the audience, and went up and told her that the major reason I'd come to see this was to HEAR her husband's music. Tiomkin's music is all over the place in this, as you might agree, but that final bit with the jets and the way the somewhat jingo upbeat song (in waltz time, I believe!) segueing one last time into his truly gorgeous song about a 'search for paradise', with the baritone finally joining in on the lyrics, "Somewhere, you will find it...", as the chorus sings 'search for paradise' in rising degrees, 'till the baritone breaks in like a sun breaking through clouds at the top of the world, "Search for!!" The world 'paradise' leaps from the tonic (say, C in the key of C) to the sixth (A, if it were in C), and that interval seems so exhilarating, such a beautiful arching sound. Tiomkin was very fond of the sixth, adding it into chords rooted in the tonic, and you hear it at the end of two Hitchcock scores I can think of ("I Confess" and "Dial M for Murder"), probably others. Like all the greatest film composers, Tiomkin was a genius of emotion, finding just the right way to thrill an audience and expand their horizons of thinking and feeling. This is something I find extinct in modern motion pictures, the grand and romantic scope of thinking and feeling. I miss it, and whenever I almost imagine it never existed, a film like "Search For Paradise" can remind me it definitely did.

7:01 AM  

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