This Is Cinerama
Cast & Crew
Katharine Lee Bates
Robert L. Bendick
Merian C. Cooper
Merian C. Cooper
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.
Katharine Lee Bates
Robert L. Bendick
Merian C. Cooper
Merian C. Cooper
George Frideric Handel
Richard J. Pietschmann Jr.
Hazard E. Reeves
Johann Strauss Ii
Michael Todd Jr.
Samuel Augustus Ward
This is Cinerama
The roots of Cinerama go back to the 1939 World's Fair, where special effects cameraman Fred Waller unveiled Vitarama, a cinema in the round that featured eleven projectors. He fine-tuned the technology in World War II with the Waller Gunnery Trainer, which projected films of enemy planes from multiple projectors on a spherical screen to give American fighter pilots a three-dimensional effect in simulation cockpits. The curved screen was the breakthrough, claimed Waller, in immersing the viewer in the effect. For the theatrical incarnation, Waller settled on three projectors and an aspect ratio up to 2.65:1 -- wider than CinemaScope and far sharper, but with visible seams where the separate images met. CinemaScope, an anamorphic process that launched a year after Cinerama, squeezes the image into a single standard 35mm print and then expands back out to widescreen through the projector lens. Cinerama uses three separate strips of film, shot by three carefully placed cameras and shown via three synchronized projectors on to a screen made up of hundreds of separate vertical strips placed side-by-side in a smooth, graduated curve, an arc of about 146 degrees. Needless to say, it demanded special equipment and carefully calibrated set-ups in theaters specially built or redesigned to showcase the process.
Newsman and world traveler Lowell Thomas and impresario Michael Todd signed on as investors in Fred Waller's process and took the lead in launching the new motion picture format. Thomas first approached documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty to helm their debut presentation, but when Flaherty died weeks later, he turned to old friend and filmmaking colleague Merian C. Cooper, a filmmaker with experience as both adventure documentarian (the silent non-fiction classics Chang (1927) and 1925's Grass) and big screen showmanship (King Kong, 1933). Cooper was excited by the prospects and took an active role not just in the film but in the company and brainstormed with Thomas on how to announce the arrival of Cinerama with a spectacle that showcased its unique attributes. "This advent of something as new and important as Cinerama was in itself a major event in the history of entertainment," explained Thomas in an article featured in the original This Is Cinerama souvenir program. "The logical thing to do was to make Cinerama the hero. And this is what we have tried to do. This, our first, is a demonstration."
To dramatize the scope of the new process, This Is Cinerama opens with a prologue shot in the conventional format, a squarish black-and-white image with Lowell Thomas taking audiences from cave paintings to modern movies. Then, as he announces "Ladies and gentleman, this is Cinerama!," the curtains open wide and the audience is enveloped in seven-channel stereophonic sound, bright, bold color, and Cinerama widescreen as they are dropped into the seat of the rollercoaster ride at Rockaways' Playland in Atlantic City. It's the most famous sequence in the film and a brilliant introduction to the visceral possibilities of the new format. With the cameras mounted in the front seat of the rollercoaster, it sent viewers on a wild high speed ride, immersing them so completely in the experience that they could feel the rush from their stationary seats.
Cooper didn't direct that sequence -- in fact, many of the vignettes had already been filmed, supervised by Mike Todd and his son, before Cooper signed on -- but he insisted that the rollercoaster open the film over the objections of Cinerama board members who wanted to save it for the finale. It was the type of showmanship that grabbed audiences right from the beginning, and it was a smart move considering that most of the footage shot by Todd was static. These sequences transported viewers to exotic locations and privileged vantage points that few Americans would have experienced in person, from the legendary La Scala Theatre in Milan, Italy, to the canals of Venice to a bullfight in Spain, but the cameras were all still simply observers from afar.
Cooper wasn't just responsible for putting the pieces together, he took charge of subsequent sequences, including the Cypress Gardens of Florida (where, in addition to capturing the brightly-colored beauty of the gardens, he took to the water to shoot water skiing stunts) and the majestic finale. "The last twenty-four minutes of this picture consists solely of aerial shots of the United States," Cooper wrote in a 1953 letter. "Lowell Thomas and I ended it in this manner for one -- and only one -- purpose -- to arouse the innate patriotism of the people of the United States." He mounted the cameras in the nose of a converted B-52 bomber to shoot dramatic vistas of the country from sea to shining sea, and set the montage of majestic views to music performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (with music arranged by Max Steiner, who provided the dramatic score for Cooper's King Kong).
This Is Cinerama was more than a movie. It was an event. This Is Cinerama opened on September 30, 1952, a year before 20th Century Fox unveiled its single-strip CinemaScope process with The Robe (1953), and though by 1954 it was screening in a mere 14 converted theaters, it had nonetheless become one of the highest grossing films of all time. Only eight features were ever shot in the 3-Strip Cinerama process, most of them travelogues or documentaries (the demands of the three-camera process made narrative features difficult, though not impossible, as How the West Was Won (1962) and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) attest). This Is Cinerama was the first and, by most accounts, the best of them.
Producers: Robert L. Bendick, Merian C. Cooper
Directors: Merian C. Cooper; Gunther von Fritsch (director: Vienna); Ernest B. Schoedsack (prologue only, uncredited); Michael Todd, Jr. (European sequence supervisor, uncredited)
Cinematography: Harry Squire
Music: Sidney Cutner, Howard Jackson, Paul Sawtell, Leo Shuken, Max Steiner, Roy Webb (all uncredited)
Film Editing: William Henry, Milton Shifman
Cast: Lowell Thomas (Narrator), Kathy Darlyn (Cypress Gardens Water Skiier (uncredited).
by Sean Axmaker
"Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper," Mark Cotta Vaz. Villard Books, 2005. "This Is Cinerama," Original Souvenir Program, 1952
Thanks to Jeffrey Masino and Flicker Alley for further research
This is Cinerama
According to the New York Times 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 April 30, 1953 New York Times 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 September 30, 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 New York Times 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 November 2, 1960 and February 15, 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 ( 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 October 2002. This screening marked the first time three-strip Cinerama was shown in the Dome.
Released in United States 1952
Released in United States 2000
Shown at Seattle International Film Festival (Cinerama Day) May 18 - June 11, 2000.
Selected in 2002 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in United States 1952
Released in United States 2000 (Shown at Seattle International Film Festival (Cinerama Day) May 18 - June 11, 2000.)