This Is Cinerama (1952)

120 mins | Documentary | 1952

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HISTORY

According to the NYT review, the word "Cinerama" is a combination of the words "cinema" and "panorama." The process, developed by Fred Waller, uses three specially adapted, synchronized 35mm cameras linked together in an arc to photograph a panoramic image simultaneously. Three projectors then cast the image onto a screen made of thousands of strips of louvered plastic tape, which spans a 146-degree arc. The resulting picture, projected onto a screen 75 feet wide and 26 feet high, is three times wider and almost twice as tall as a standard 35mm image.
       A 1999 article in Film History written by Hazard E. Reeves, the creator of the sound system for This Is Cinerama, adds the following information: Waller, who also invented water skis, introduced an early form of Cinerama at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. That system used seven lenses and was called Vitarama. The exhibition sparked the interest of the Rockefeller Group, who financed further experiments. After a 1949 demonstration, however, the financiers backed out of their arrangement, allowing Reeves to purchase the company. He and Waller named the company Cinerama, Inc. and signed an exclusive partnership with Lowell Thomas and Mike Todd’s company, Thomas-Todd Productions, to make five films in five years. Todd hired legendary documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty to produce This Is Cinerama, but Flaherty died soon after shooting the Niagara Falls sequences, prompting Todd and his son, Mike Todd, Jr., to take over producer chores and much of the directing. During production in Europe, however, the Todds far exceeded their budget, and as a result were fired by Thomas-Todd. Thomas then hired his friend, ...

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According to the NYT review, the word "Cinerama" is a combination of the words "cinema" and "panorama." The process, developed by Fred Waller, uses three specially adapted, synchronized 35mm cameras linked together in an arc to photograph a panoramic image simultaneously. Three projectors then cast the image onto a screen made of thousands of strips of louvered plastic tape, which spans a 146-degree arc. The resulting picture, projected onto a screen 75 feet wide and 26 feet high, is three times wider and almost twice as tall as a standard 35mm image.
       A 1999 article in Film History written by Hazard E. Reeves, the creator of the sound system for This Is Cinerama, adds the following information: Waller, who also invented water skis, introduced an early form of Cinerama at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. That system used seven lenses and was called Vitarama. The exhibition sparked the interest of the Rockefeller Group, who financed further experiments. After a 1949 demonstration, however, the financiers backed out of their arrangement, allowing Reeves to purchase the company. He and Waller named the company Cinerama, Inc. and signed an exclusive partnership with Lowell Thomas and Mike Todd’s company, Thomas-Todd Productions, to make five films in five years. Todd hired legendary documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty to produce This Is Cinerama, but Flaherty died soon after shooting the Niagara Falls sequences, prompting Todd and his son, Mike Todd, Jr., to take over producer chores and much of the directing. During production in Europe, however, the Todds far exceeded their budget, and as a result were fired by Thomas-Todd. Thomas then hired his friend, Gen. Merian C. Cooper, who made the decision to treat the film as a theatrical experience with an intermission.
       Although there had been previous three-screen experiments (notable among them was the French-made Abel Gance epic Napoleon in 1927), Cinerama strove to be the most naturalistic form of cinema to date. The process was the first to offer the illusion of peripheral vision (in which some images can be glimpsed out of the corner of the viewer's eye) and simulate three-dimensional depth. In addition, as noted in a 30 Apr 1953 NYT article, Reeves’s stereophonic sound system imitated natural, multiple-origination sound by recording sound magnetically onto a separate strip of 35mm film and then playing it back to seven banks of speakers around the theater. According to the press book, seven separate sound tracks were prepared, the seventh of which served as a control track to guide the movement of sound from one bank of speakers to the next.
       The film had its premiere on 30 Sep 1952 in New York at the Broadway Theatre, which was rebuilt to accommodate the screen and projection booths, and rewired for the elaborate sound system. Audience members included Gov. Thomas Dewey, William S. Paley and Louis B. Mayer. As noted in the NYT review, although Waller attempted to conceal the seams between the three parts of the image, "the merging of the three images at the margins was...occasionally perceptible." In its first release, the film ran for 133 weeks, and was followed by several re-releases, including those on 2 Nov 1960 and 15 Feb 1973. The picture's unprecedented success prompted the filmmakers to release a succession of other Cinerama productions, including Cinerama Holiday in 1955, The Seven Wonders of the World in 1956, South Seas Adventure in 1958 (see entry for all) and How the West Was Won (1963, see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70).
       Waller won a 1953 Academy Award of Merit “for designing and developing the multiple photographic and projection systems which culminated in Cinerama,” while Reeves Soundcraft Corp. won a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award “for their development of a process of applying stripes of magnetic code to motion picture film.” Cinerama's revolutionary technique inspired the development of other large screen processes, such as CinemaScope, VistaVision and Todd-AO.
       The Cinerama Dome was built in Hollywood in 1963 to showcase the United Artists Cinerama-process film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70). By this point, the three-screen process had proved too unwieldy and expensive to catch on in popular use, and so had evolved into “single-strip Cinerama,” a simpler, less spectacular 70mm process. According to press notes, William R. Forman, the founder of Pacific Theatres, gained control of Cinerama and its assets and stored them for nearly forty years. In 2001, the Cinerama Dome Theatre was refurbished, and a restored print of This Is Cinerama was re-released in Oct 2002. This screening marked the first time three-strip Cinerama was shown in the Dome.

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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
1 Nov 1952
pp. 480-81, 498-500
Beverly Hills Citizen-News
3 May 1953
---
Beverly Hills Citizen-News
10 Sep 1959
---
Daily Variety
29 Jan 1973
---
Film History
Vol II, 1999
pp. 85-97
Films and Filming
Feb 1974
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 1952
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 1955
p. 9
Los Angeles Times
19 Apr 1953
p. 37
New York Times
1 Oct 1952
p. 1
New York Times
30 Apr 1953
---
New York Times
27 May 1973
---
Newsweek
6 Oct 1952
---
Variety
8 Oct 1952
p. 6
Variety
30 Dec 1953
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT

NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
European and Niagara Falls seq supv
European and Niagara Falls seq supv
Prologue supv
"America the Beautiful" supv
PHOTOGRAPHY
Harry Squire
Cam
Asst cam
FILM EDITOR
Bill Henry
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Paintings
PRODUCTION MISC
"America the Beautiful" piloted by
Air speed record holder
SOURCES
MUSIC
"The Blue Danube" by Johann Strauss II; finale of Act II from the opera Aida by Giuseppe Verdi.
SONGS
"Hallelujah Chorus" from Messiah , music by George Frideric Handel; "Tales from the Vienna Woods," from the operetta Die fledermaus by Johann Strauss II; "America, the Beautiful," music by Samuel Augustus Ward, lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates.
DETAILS
Release Date:
1952
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York: 30 Sep 1952; Los Angeles opening: 29 Apr 1953
Production Date:

Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Cinerama Productions Corp.
11 March 1953
MU5536-5537
Physical Properties:
Sound
Stereophonic
Black and White
Eastman Color
Widescreen/ratio
Cinerama
Lenses/Prints
Print by Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
120
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Cinerama Productions Corp. vice-chairman Lowell Thomas introduces the ground-breaking new film process, called Cinerama, by recounting, in a small screen format and in black-and-white, a short history of graphic arts, from cave paintings to today. The Cinerama sequences begin with a roller-coaster ride, then scenes from a ballet at the La Scala Theatre in Milan, Italy are shown. Next, viewers see a view of Niagara Falls via helicopter, followed by a performance of "The Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah sung by the Long Island Choral Society. Images follow of a gondola floating down the canals of Venice and a Scottish pipe band parading on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle. The Vienna Boys Choir perform "Tales from the Vienna Woods," from the operetta Die fledermaus by Johann Strauss II, in the garden of the Schoenbrunn Palace, then a crowd in a Madrid arena watches a bullfight. Spanish folk dances are presented. Actors then perform the finale of Act II of the Verdi opera Aida . After an intermission, Thomas narrates a demonstration of Cinerama's stereophonic sound system. The film's second act begins with sequences of motor-boating and water-skiing, filmed at Cypress Gardens, Florida. Finally, the "America the Beautiful" sequence shows spectacular aerial views of New York, Washington, Chicago, Illinois, the Grand Tetons and other American ...

More Less

Cinerama Productions Corp. vice-chairman Lowell Thomas introduces the ground-breaking new film process, called Cinerama, by recounting, in a small screen format and in black-and-white, a short history of graphic arts, from cave paintings to today. The Cinerama sequences begin with a roller-coaster ride, then scenes from a ballet at the La Scala Theatre in Milan, Italy are shown. Next, viewers see a view of Niagara Falls via helicopter, followed by a performance of "The Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah sung by the Long Island Choral Society. Images follow of a gondola floating down the canals of Venice and a Scottish pipe band parading on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle. The Vienna Boys Choir perform "Tales from the Vienna Woods," from the operetta Die fledermaus by Johann Strauss II, in the garden of the Schoenbrunn Palace, then a crowd in a Madrid arena watches a bullfight. Spanish folk dances are presented. Actors then perform the finale of Act II of the Verdi opera Aida . After an intermission, Thomas narrates a demonstration of Cinerama's stereophonic sound system. The film's second act begins with sequences of motor-boating and water-skiing, filmed at Cypress Gardens, Florida. Finally, the "America the Beautiful" sequence shows spectacular aerial views of New York, Washington, Chicago, Illinois, the Grand Tetons and other American locations.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.