On September 30, 1952 a pioneering cinematic process was introduced to a select gathering at a glamorous red carpet premiere in New York.
The premiere of This is Cinerama – the world’s first Cinerama film – was attended by notable figures including Broadway composer Richard Rodgers and Hollywood mogul Louis B. Mayer. It made the front page of the New York Times, which reported “shrill screams of the ladies and sharp-eyed amazement of the men” at a screen filled with a “thrillingly realistic ride on a roller-coaster “.
More than 60 years later, Cinerama is screened at just three public venues in the world – and the National Media Museum is one of them. Bradford is the only place in Europe where audiences can watch this incredible wide-screen format.
Cinerama arrived at the Pictureville cinema in June, 1993. Now the museum – the only venue outside America to publicly screen Cinerama films – is celebrating 20 years of Cinerama with monthly screenings.
Cinerama Holiday, the second film made in the Cinerama process, will be shown at a special screening this month, followed by screenings on the first Saturday of each month.
Made in 1955, following the hugely popular This is Cinerama, it features two real-life married couples, one from America, the other from Europe, criss-crossing the world on holiday. San Francisco cable cars, New Orleans jazz clubs, the Swiss Alps and the gaiety of the Parisian Lido are all filmed in a bright, colourful panorama.
The National Media Museum’s film programme manager Tom Vincent said: “We are one of only three public venues in the world that can show Cinerama, and we have some high profile fans – author Bill Bryson mentions our screenings in his book Notes From a Small Island and BBC film critic Mark Kermode was prompted to blog about the format after seeing a short screening at this year’s Bradford International Film Festival. The National Media Museum offers a rare chance to see this fascinating piece of cinema history. You haven’t visited us until you have seen Cinerama.”
This month’s screening is organised by the museum and Bradford City of Film to raise awareness of Cinerama.
The audience will include invited guests from arts and tourism industries, as well as members of the public.
“It gives us a great opportunity to re-invigorate audiences for Cinerama films at the museum,” said City of Film director David Wilson. “Newly digitally re-mastered, Cinerama Holiday shines bright as a panorama that is breathtakingly colourful and sparklingly clear to hear.”
Other films made using the pioneering three-camera process include Seven Wonders of the World (1956), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
Created in 1952 to be the ultimate in immersive cinema, Cinerama is a widescreen process projecting three 35mm film strips simultaneously onto a huge 146-degree curved screen, filling the audience’s field of vision with a sharp, finely detailed image. The aim was to immerse the audience in the film experience, in much the same way as IMAX or 3D cinema does.
The process, marketed by the Cinerama corporation, was the first of several new cinematic initiatives introduced during the 1950s when the film industry was diversifying in light of competition from television.
Cinerama was presented as a glossy theatrical spectacle, with audiences invited to reserve seats and dress up for screenings.
The word “Cinerama” combines cinema with panorama. The projection screen is made of hundreds of vertical strips of standard perforated screen material, each angled to prevent light from one end reflecting to the opposite end and washing out the image.
As well as the emphasis on the visual image, Cinerama was one of the first processes to use multi-track surround sound.
The system may have been pioneering, but it wasn’t without pitfalls. Any close-up material had a bend at the joins, and when actors were filmed talking to each other, both in shot, the resulting image showed them appearing to look past each other. Later directors got the actors looking at a cue to create a natural shot.
Despite some critics claiming it lacked the capacity to tell stories through film, Cinerama spread beyond America, to newly-adapted venues in Canada and Australia.
Cinerama had its London premiere in 1954 at the Palace Theatre which was converted for a season of screenings lasting more than a year.
Rising costs meant Cinerama stopped making three-camera widescreen films in their original form shortly after the release of How the West Was Won.
Cinerama continued through the 1960s as a brand name used initially with the Ultra Panavision 70 widescreen process, which created a similar effect without the 146-degree field of view.
Cinerama established the standard for today’s large-screen formats such as IMAX. In 2008 a Blu-ray Disc of How The West Was Won offered a recreation of Cinerama for home viewing.