This article was written for and first appeared in the September 2012 Edition of the Projected Picture Trusts’ Rewind magazine, based on an earlier set of blog posts.
This article is based upon a set of blog posts I wrote while attending my first Bradford Widescreen Weekend in April.I had never attend either a Bradford Widescreen Weekend, nor seen any Cinerama before, but I was persuaded that if there was ever a year to do both, then this was the year as Cinerama was celebrating its 60th anniversary. What you will read below is a combination of what I did during the four days I was in Bradford and my thoughts and impressions from the experience.
Having travelled up on the Thursday afternoon, Friday morning was about collecting my delegates pack, including pass and tickets. The doors of the auditorium open and we head in to find our seats, I am lucky to have managed to get a central seat – J11, which was the seat I would have for the rest of the weekend, and get chatting to my neighbours who would also be sitting in the sits next to me for the weekend. It is quickly apparent from the people I spoke too that the event attracts a wide sector of people – not just projectionists, but people who are just interested in the films. There are also people here from all over the world, many of whom have been coming to the event for many many years.
The first film is “Russian Adventure” and is introduced beforehand. It is actually being shown digitally and there are a lot of ‘health warnings’ about the quality of the film we are going to see. What strikes me as I watch what is essentially my first Cinerama film is that there is a play in piece of music, while the red curtains are closed and as the lights slowly dim. They believed in real showmanship in those days, although for me it got to the point that I was ready for the film to begin before the music ended, but I think this is a generation thing and younger people would probably be impatient long before I was!
Having heard about the two lines down the screen when Cinerama was playing, it was clearly possible to see them in this film, despite being digital. The one impression I got was that the film was very much of its era in terms of the narration and the subjects of the ‘story’.
A very short break between the first film and into a documentary about how the “Windjammer” film was made. It was a really interesting account of how they made, what appears to be a very interesting film, and one which I need to add to my must watch list.
“This is Cinerama” and so I finally get to see my very first film projected (from three projection rooms) Cinerama film, and the film which launched the whole idea. I can see why it was such an amazing thing to have been at when it was launched, and why people queued around the block just to see the film. It would have been a completely new experience. Remembering the historical context of when this film was made, and being shown it really would have been something beyond what people had experienced before. In 1952 when this film was made there was only one black and white television channel in the UK (BBC Television), which would have had mono sound and a relatively small picture. There would also have only have been a couple of radio stations to listen to. It wasn’t that long a go since mono sound had entered the cinema. So it is really easy to understand how the Cinerama film could so easily have blown people away with it’s size and colour and soundtrack in a way that nothing else would have done. I can only equate it to my first experience of going to see an IMAX film, with a screen that was so large and sound like I had never experienced before.
“How the West Was One”, another famous film I had heard of but never seen. There was a making of documentary beforehand and then the film started. In the second half there was a film breakdown, and the ‘Breakdown Film’ was shown, something I didn’t even know existed, such is my knowledge of this area. It was a combination of dated, terrible and amusing all at the same time. It is probably something which should be brought back again for modern cinemas! I think what impressed me the most was that the projection team were able to get the projectors all synced up again in the middle of a reel – something which I must find out how they achieved.
Rather sadly I missed the first session one the Saturday but did managed to watch “South Sea Adventures“. This film had been transferred to digital and this particular screening was the World Priemere of the digital version. Apparently there was a special version done for the Bradford screen so that it fitted correctly. Something I was quickly realising was that for the most part Cinerama was a travelog device with lots of beautiful sweeping camera shots of the landscape. As someone who hasn’t travelled a huge amount, I can really see how these sorts of films would have appealed to people who were not as well travelled and knowledge based world which we live in now.
The Saturday evening screening was “The Brothers Grim“, which was a fantastic treat and really enjoyable – in fact the auditorium was nearly completely fall. This film had not been shown for over 40 years, and as part of getting the print from Australia a new magnetic sound track was produced as the old one was suffering from vinegar syndrome. There was a question & answer session afterwards but as the main film finished at 23:15, I didn’t have the inclination to stay on.
The first session on Sunday was a mishmash of items from members of the audience relating to the wide screen, rather than just Cinerama. For me the most interesting item was a short film about the ‘mobile’ version of Cinerama which travelled around Europe in 58 trucks! I would love to know what happened to those trucks and whether there was any way of renovating them – wouldn’t it be amazing to restore those and take them out on the road again, apart from anything you could share the magic of Cinerama to the masses once again. I think this is a topic/area which I shall be revisiting again in the future.
In the afternoon was a screening of “80 Days Around the World” in 70mm along with an introduction by Tony Slowman. The print was very pink and there were some sound issues on the surrounds towards the end of first part. However, I really enjoyed watching it.
The final film I watched, was on Sunday evening, entitled “Cinerama Adventure” which was a 100min 35mm documentary all about Cinerama, how it started and ultimately why it died out – this documentary is included as part of the DVD/BluRay release of “How the West was Won”.
It has been a fantastic weekend, especially as it was my first experience of Cinerama. I am really pleased that I made the effort to attend, and would urge all cinema enthusiasts to make the trip at least once (Bradford being one of only a handful of sites in the world which is still able to run Cinerama).
After watching the Cinerama Adventure documentary yesterday, I feel that I really get Cinerama, the experience and why people got so excited about it and why there is such an enthusiasm for it still, 60 years later. A large part of what I felt and thought is summed up in that documentary. But a lot of it is in the historical context in which the technique was launched, and what it became. And of course people need to remember that as a 33 year old, who only ‘got into cinema’ at the age of 18 (so that’s a 100 years of film and cinema technology I have to get up to speed with), I have always had large screens and impressive effects and sound in the visits I have made so Cinerama will not provide the same wow factor as it did 60 years ago when it was released. However, I am not slating it in anyway, I get it, I understand why it was so amazing and so great, I appreciate it and am excited about it (now I’ve seen it) and will go and research it more and become an equally large enthusiast as anyone else.
There are a number of things which struck me about the whole Cinerama thing, especially as I have grown up with Multiplex cinemas (they arrived to the UK when I was 7 and I was 19 before I actually visited one), but I have always had big screens and visiting Screen 1 of the Empire Leicester Square with its massive screen and the IMAX is that on the size of screen which I was looking at Cinerama on was tiny in comparison. However, I except that the Pictureville is not an original Cinerama building and what is does is to allow a medium which would otherwise not be possible to show anywhere else in the UK to still exist. I am therefore willing to use my imagination, but non the less you just don’t quite get the full effect of what Cinerama was really like.
What I love and really appreciate is the play in and play out sequences of music which appear on every film and the Intermission. It struck as something which was borrowed from the Theatre world and offered a real opportunity for some showmanship in the presentation. I really liked them and would love to see them make a return on modern films – it could be done with some creative imagination so that they still worked, although of course the end credits are much much shorter than on todays films – maybe there is an argument for returning to that style, especially as there is the internet and IMDB which is the main resource for that sort of information.
What the event has done, however is given me some new ideas to see if I can achieve a modern version of Cinerma and a whole new enthusiasm for showmanship, watch out for a number of new hair brain ideas, but I think that is for both another day and another article!
To read the full originial set of blog posts, please follow the link here.