The 70mm Newsletter
by: Rick Mitchell
Film Editor/ Film Director/ Film Historian.
With a comment from
from Belgium. Hauerslev collection.
Press image to see enlargement.
A beautiful restored 35mm print of "Carousel" (20th Century-Fox; 1956) was
shown at its original 2.55:1 aspect ratio at the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Apr. 22, 2005. Unfortunately,
the evening's "host", critic Stephen Farber, displayed the technical
ignorance of most of the practitioners of his craft by confusing the
"aspect ratio" with the "original negative format", implying that the
audience would be seeing a "55mm print."
In fact, though 55mm prints were never made on either "Carousel" or its
successor "The King and I", both were shown at 2.55:1 in their premiere
engagements in Los Angeles and New York and in any other theaters that
still showed magnetic only CinemaScope prints at 2.55:1. The optical track
cut down the width of the image, resulting in a ratio of 2.35:1. By early
1956, because some companies, notably Allied Artists and United Artists,
were releasing CinemaScope pictures only with optical tracks, as well as
MGM's starting to release combined "mag-optical" prints in December, 1955,
a practice soon followed by Warner Bros., many first, and especially
second run theaters had begun running all CinemaScope pictures at 2.35:1.
in 70mm reading:
By mid-summer 1954, all film companies were composing their CinemaScope
pictures to make certain that there was no important action on the left
side of the frame that might be cut off by an optical track, and generally
for better looking compositions when the films were projected at 2.35:1.
However, CinemaScope 55 was intended for projection at 2.55:1 and this is
obvious from how great the compositions of "Carousel" looked on the big,
wide Goldwyn Theater screen. Even closeups are compositionally balanced.
Ironically, given Fox's intent in developing CinemaScope 55, sharper,
higher image quality, the results were not quite satisfying as far as
"Carousel" goes. (I had to miss the screening of the restored
"The King and I"
last August but recall previous prints as having very high resolution.)
Many scenes, particularly full and long shots, were not that sharp, even
in exteriors shot in bright sunlight; admittedly the ASA of the film stock
was very low, about 10. Though, because of the condition of the negative,
the film had been put through a Digital Intermediate at 4K resolution,
this was not the reason for the poorer resolution as original negative
grain was detectable from third row center where Dan Sherlock and I were
sitting. This also does not resolve the 4K vs. 2K issue for Digital
Intermediates from anamorphic negatives. As I've mentioned before, every
anamorphic film that's been put through a 2K DI that I've seen to date has
On the other hand, the color is brilliant and vivid, perfectly capturing
the look of Fox films printed by De Luxe in the Fifties, a look I remember
finding more pleasing than that of Technicolor at the time. (Do I hear a
disturbance in the Farce?)
image to see enlargement.
As it turns out, "Carousel" did not have a particularly striking stereo dub,
though there was both a six and a four track version, from both of which
the track of this restoration was derived. Apparently there was no use of
surrounds, which was actually typical of the time and the source of
complaints from those exhibitors who'd put in surround speakers.
Actress-dancer Susan Luckey, who played the teenage daughter of Gordon
MacRae and Shirley Jones, confirmed that because of the noise of the
cameras, the entire film was looped. Yet the film has a natural track
especially in the scenes shot on stages. There is a surprising amount of
foley, even in some of the musical numbers and the dialog has the
spaciousness of production recording rather than the often hollow sound of
a looping/ADR stage, though some of this may have been the result of
cleaning up the track during the restoration. There is some movement of
dialog between the front speakers as the characters move from one position
to another. This print, like that of "The King and I", carried only a Dolby
Digital track so that it could be screened at 2.55.1. Fox is currently
preparing dupe negatives on both films in which the 2.55:1 frame would be
reduced to fit into a 2.35/2.40:1 frame so that a stereo variable area
optical track and maybe DTS time code can be added to allow the films to
be shown at the proper ratio in theaters which don't have the screen width
to properly show 2.55:1.
image to see enlargement
For the historical record, CinemaScope 55 was Fox's response to
Todd-AO held on MGM's Stage 30 in the Spring of 1954. As
is well known and was being constantly argued at the time, standard 35mm CinemaScope was not sharp, but then again, neither were non-anamorphic
films being masked off and projected on large screens at aspect ratios as
narrow/wide as 1.85:1 and even 2:1. This was Paramount's argument in
pushing VistaVision. Although Todd-AO was conceived as a prestige roadshow
format, Mike Todd's "Cinerama-out-of-one-hole", and at the time, the only
way to do a 35mm general release of a Todd-AO film was to shot a
concurrent CinemaScope version (which was done only with "Oklahoma!"), it
was inevitable that a method of reduction printing and speed conversion
would be developed (initially filming in 65mm at two speeds, later
reducing the rate from 30 to 24 fps), resulting in higher quality and
resolution 35mm anamorphic prints.
Beyond a desire to be different from Todd-AO, exactly why Fox chose a
width of 55.625mm is a subject for further research, especially since the
same 70 and 65mm cameras from 1930 were modified for use in both
processes. CinemaScope 55 kept the basically square frame, expanding it to
a height of eight perfs. The original intention was to make 55mm prints
with the image reduced to a height of six perfs. to allow for six tracks
of magnetic sound, similar to Todd-AO's and the reason for the six track
dub ("The King and I"'s was only a 4 track). There was some question about
whether or not good 35mm reduction prints could be made, which is why the
first week's work was done in both 55 and 35mm until Darryl Zanuck saw a
reduction print he was satisfied with. (This situation did cost them
original star Frank Sinatra.) Unfortunately, the 55mm projectors were not
ready in time for "Carousel"'s premiere so it was shown double system with a
35mm reduction print and the 6 track dub. Because "Carousel" was not a
success and Fox was having financial problems in 1956, they gave in to
exhibitor entreaties for "The King and I", which it was felt would be a hit, which
turned out to be the case. It's not clear how the 35mm reduction prints
were made for the general release, whether on a reduction printer or from
a dupe negative.
And incidentally, "Carousel" and "The King and I" are not the first time that
2.55:1 presentations have been held at the Goldwyn Theater. In the early
Eighties, a promo reel Fox had prepared for exhibitors at the end of 1953
was shown double system as part of a program on marketing. It included a
clip from "The Robe" and "How to Marry a Millionaire" as well as reprints from
the dailies of films in production like "King Of The Khyber Rifles",
"The Story Of Demetrius", and "River Of No Return". And in 1983, the "restored
Star is Born" (1954) was shown using the last existing four track magnetic
print into which prints of the restored footage and stills had been
Comment from Bill Taylor
production photo of the Fox CinemaScope 55 camera and crew (and Fox techical
staff) during the filming of "Carousel." This is the only camera made for
the process and is displayed at the ASC. Cinematographer Charles G. Clarke,
ASC is just to the left of the camera, Fox camera department head Sol
Halprin, ASC. (Bob Weisgerber)
Back in the 80's we tested two of the surviving Cinemascope 55 lenses on the
optical bench of ace lens designer David Grafton. (I was hoping to shoot 2:1
squeezed 8-perf Vistavision for a couple of anamorphic shows Universal had
planned.) The results were poor, showing noticeably lower resolution than
the very early auto Panatars we had in the department. The results were not
as good as the combination of a Nikon lens and a Bausch and Lomb Cinemascope
adaptor from the '50s. The lens coatings had deteriorated somewhat,
contributing to some flare that was distinct from the resolution problems.
The flare went away as the lens stopped down; the resolution on axis did not
Assuming these lenses were representative, (and image quality in the movies
suggests they were) my guess is that the only advantage in quality would
have been a great improvement in grain from reduction printing to 4-perf 35.
It must have been disappointing given the development cost of Cinemascope
In fairness the lenses were probably not far removed from the prototype
stage, and large format anamorphics could not really advance until the
advent of computer-assisted lens design.
When I worked at the Ray Mercer Co. in the early 70's there were still many
thousands of 55mm Mercer film clips on the shelf, both brass and fiber,
representing a young fortune in tooling costs. Wonder how many other
"victims" of C55 there were?
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