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Cinerama was introduced in September, 1952, at the Broadway Theatre in New York. The Cinerama system displays a widescreen effect by simultaneously projecting images from three synchronized projectors onto a huge, deeply-curved screen, subtending 146 of arc. The spectacular display was accompanied by a high-quality, six-track, stereophonic sound system. The original system involved shooting with three synchronized cameras, but this was later abandoned in favour of an anamorphic 65mm system, shot with a single camera and then divided into three prints for screening. (Aficionados, however, insist that the later process was inferior).

Cinerama was developed by Fred Waller and was outgrowth of many years of development. Waller had earlier developed an 11-projector system called "Vitarama" at the Petroleum Industry exhibit in the 1939 World's Fair. A five-camera version, the Waller Gunnery Trainer, was used during the Second World War.

The word "Cinerama" is an anagram of "American." Commentators differ on whether or not this was intentional.

The system had some obvious drawbacks. If one of the films should break and be repaired with the damaged frames cut out, the corresponding frames would have to be cut from the other two films in order to preserve synchronization. The use of zoom lenses was impossible since the three images would no longer match.

Cinerama being a big-ticket, reserved-seats spectacle, the projectors were usually adjusted carefully and operated skilfully. Vibrating combs called "gigolos" were used to provide a linearly-ramped shading at the edge of each frame, so that they joined without a grossly obvious line or seam. Great care was taken in to match color and brightness when producing the prints. Nevertheless, the joins between the three panels were usually noticeable. Optical limitations with the design of camera itself meant that if distant scenes joined perfectly, closer objects did not. A nearby object might split into two as it crossed the seams. To avoid calling attention to the seams, scenes were often composed with unimportant objects such as trees or posts at the seams, and action was blocked to as to center actors within panels. This gave a distinctly "triptych-like" appearance to the composition even when the seams themselves were not obvious. Enthusiasts say the seams were not obtrusive; detractors differ.

Perhaps the biggest limitation of the process is that the picture looks natural only from within a rather limited "sweet spot." Viewed from outside the sweet spot, the picture is annoyingly distorted.

Despite these problems, as of 2003 Cinerama is still the most impressive wide-screen process ever to have achieved commercial success. Every other system--Todd-AO, Cinemascope, even Imax, can be fairly described as attempts, with varying degrees of success, as attempts to approximate Cinerama at lower cost.

Worthy of note is the special Cinerama screen, which consisted of hundreds of separate vertical strips. This design eliminated cross-reflections on the deeply curved screen. Anyone who has seen the washed-out appearance of an Imax Dome presentation will appreciate why this was important.

During the fifties, Cinerama was presented as a theatrical event, with reserved seating and printed programs. Patrons would dress up to attend.

Although most of the films produced using the original three-strip Cinerama process were full feature length or longer, they were travelogues or collections of short subjects. Only two films with traditional story lines were made--The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and How the West Was Won. (The total is three if you count Windjammer, made in Cinemiracle, a different but compatible process).

The impact these films had on the big screen cannot be assessed from television or video, or even from Cinemascope prints, which marry the three images together with the joins clearly visible. Because they were designed to be seen on a curved screen, the geometry looks distorted on television; somebody walking from left to right would appear to approach the camera at an angle, move away at an angle, and then repeat the process on the other side of the screen.

In recent years hard work by dedicated enthusiasts has made possible a number of showings of surviving Cinerama prints, notably at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford, England; from 1996 to 1999 at the New Neon Cinema in Dayton, Ohio; and in 2003 at the refurbished Martin Cinerama theatre in Seattle.

External links

The American WideScreen Museum Rich, encyclopedic website on wide-screen motion-picture processes

Cinerama Detailed information on the history of Cinerama

Cinerama, the rock band

Cinerama is also the name of a UK music band, headed up by David Gedge, who was the former frontman for The Wedding Present. In 2000 they released a CD entitled This is Cinerama, later followed by Cinerama Holiday in 2002 and Cinerama - The Peel Sessions in 2003.

External links