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The First New Cinerama Film In 50 Years

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by Leonard Maltin
October 2, 2012 3:40 PM
9 Comments
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Yes, that’s Pacific’s Cinerama Dome theatre on Sunset Boulevard—as seen in three-panel Cinerama!

One of the highlights of last weekend’s Cinerama festival at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood wasn’t a vintage movie but a brand-new short-subject called In the Picture, shot with one of the same cameras that photographed How The West Was Won and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. It’s a consciously corny travelogue of Los Angeles featuring two couples (just as in Cinerama Holiday) taking in the sights: Mulholland Drive, the Griffith Park carousel, Griffith Observatory, historic Angels Flight funicular railway in downtown L.A., and a pair of brigantine sailing ships in San Pedro harbor. It so happens that one of the locals showing his visiting friends around town is Stanley Livingston, the former child actor who appeared in How The West Was Won… and when he and his troupe reach their ultimate destination, the Cinerama Dome, they encounter Debbie Reynolds (who played his aunt in that movie) signing autographs in the lobby. A movie can’t get more self-referential than that.

As simple as it sounds, In the Picture makes perfect use of the Cinerama process, just as its predecessors did in the 1950s. It’s great fun to see familiar sights spread out across a gigantic screen, with those “join lines” stitching the three synchronous images together. Most people I spoke to after the debut screening last Friday seemed to agree that the sailing sequence was the most impressive portion of the short. 

This unique endeavor was the brainchild of Cinerama aficionado Dave Strohmaier and required a prodigious amount of work to pull off, as we learn in a revealing behind-the-scenes film called The Last Days of Cinerama by Mike Celestino and Robert Garren. First, the surviving cast-iron, three-headed camera had to be restored. When it did run, it made so much noise that virtually all of the sound recorded on location had to be “looped” afterwards. Moving the monstrously heavy machinery took several people, so nothing about the project was easy, whether it was squeezing the camera into an Angels Flight railway car or planning a tracking shot. After wrapping the shoot, it was up to Strohmaier to conform three separate rolls of film in a labor-intensive editing process. (It was unexpectedly bittersweet to see him and his colleagues working with 35mm film, which the movie industry has foolishly decided to make obsolete.)

In the Picture kicked off the Cinerama festival last Friday morning. It was followed by a digital presentation of 1958’s South Seas Adventure, which sold me on the restoration process that’s been implemented by Austin, Texas-based Image Trends Inc. They are working from badly-worn, severely faded color negatives, but you’d never know it from the picture spread on the giant Cinerama Dome screen.

There are still a few days left this week to take in the Cinerama Festival. In the Picture screens with This is Cinerama for the last time on Thursday at 3:45 p.m. If you live in or near Los Angeles, don’t miss out. For more information, click HERE.

Shooting in Cinerama requires a unique three-piece viewfinder and double-hinged slate, such as these on display in the lobby.
Cinerama buff supreme Dave Strohmaier poses with the three-headed camera he used to shoot his new short subject, 'In the Picture'.


A lobby display shows how Image Trends Inc. restored worn, faded Cinerama negatives to the digital medium. You can check out their website at imagetrendsinc.com.


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9 Comments

  • John | October 15, 2012 1:19 PMReply

    Having seen Brothers Grimm and HTWWW in their original CINERAMA roadshow engagements in Columbus, Ohio, I'd love to see these at the Pacific Dome! (But as a working stiff that ain't gonna happen.) I wish the Denver Cooper were still in existence -- it was the best movie venue in Colorado. I hope "The Last Days of Cinerama" somehow makes it to Blu-ray. The Blu-ray of HTWWW is a cherished title in my modest collection.

    The comment about Image Trends Inc's restoration process brought to mind the sad state of affairs regarding the deterioration of John Wayne's large-format production of "The Alamo". Perhaps Image Trends could perform similar miracles of this film. Any comment in this regard?

  • Mike Celestino | October 9, 2012 4:25 AMReply

    Here's the trailer for our documentary "The Last Days of Cinerama". Hope you enjoy!

    http://youtu.be/FimnBrtsz0s

  • Peter | October 8, 2012 10:49 AMReply

    There is still an original Cinerama theater operating in Washington, DC — The Uptown, now part of the Regal chain. I moved away from DC 7 years ago, but I assume it still has the big, curved screen it had then. I hope the films you mentioned will tour and play at the Uptown, too!

  • Peter | October 18, 2012 9:15 PM

    Ok, a check of Wikipedia shows I was mistaken. The Uptown in DC was not an original Cinerama theater but was fitted for it later. Also, it's part of the AMC chain, not Regal.

  • Patty | October 3, 2012 6:33 PMReply

    Your Comment = It's a great little piece! I saw it at the same screening you did Leonard. Only one comment on your piece' - It's the Griffith Observatory - not the Mt. Wilson. It's too bad, as you say, that film seems to be going away but I'm hoping that it'll make a comeback - digital just looks different! Thanks!

  • Michael Celestino | October 3, 2012 12:24 AMReply

    Thanks so much for mentioning our documentary. We're really glad you enjoyed it!

    - Mike Celestino, co-director of "The Last Days of Cinerama"

  • Walt Mitchell | October 2, 2012 6:44 PMReply

    Hello, Leonard! I wish I could be there to see this remarkable short! During a vacation trip to New York City in 1958, my parents and I saw the 3-camera production "Windjammer" and we were all very impressed with the process! "Cinemiracle," indeed! Of course, I haven't seen it since, but we bought the soundtrack lp at the time, which I still have! My BFF alerted me to a limited-edition DVD of the film that was released earlier this year. Couldn't afford it, but will watch for a used copy someday on eBay.

  • Norm | October 2, 2012 6:08 PMReply

    Cinerama, I recognize your "Dome" where ever I go.

  • Nat Segaloff | October 2, 2012 4:38 PMReply

    Leonard! I love you for this!

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