My first encounter with 70mm film
Gaumont, Manchester, England
The 70mm Newsletter
by: David Slack,
Gaumont, Manchester, must be one of the least photographed cinemas in
the world - especially the interior! However I have attached a sketch of
the theatre and a copy of the original newspaper announcement for "South
Pacific". These are taken from a book, 'Magic in the Dark' by Derek J
It was in summer, 1958 when I first saw a 70mm film -
"South Pacific" - "The First show in Todd-AO", when it played at
the Gaumont Cinema,
This was the first Todd-AO installation after the film premiered at the
Dominion, London. The experience launched my interest in widescreen
movies and especially 70mm and Cinerama.
One day I overheard a work colleague telling another about a 'marvelous
film' she had seen the night before and how 'fantastic' it was on a
'huge curved screen' - not to mention the sound! This caught my
imagination, for until then I had only experienced CinemaScope in those
cinemas which had, until then, installed it. I asked my colleague for
more details about the film which was "South Pacific" and where
it was showing. Later that day I bought a local evening paper and turned
to the cinemas listings page to find out showing times, etc. I was
surprised that the performances were at set times, and not continuous,
and pre-booking was advised. I noted the cinema telephone number and
later phoned to book myself a seat. I was astonished that the cheapest
available would cost me 7/6, (35p), but realizing that this must be
quite an event, I went ahead a booked a seat in the Gaumont rear circle.
To go to Manchester from my home in Cheshire, in those days, was quite
an event in in itself and to make my first visit to a city cinema was a
great thrill. When I arrived in Oxford Street, Manchester I was amazed
to see so many cinemas in close proximity; the Odeon, the Gaiety, the
Theatre Royal, the Oxford, the News Theatre, the Regal Twins, and, most
impressive of all, was the Gaumont.
in 70mm reading:
Visit to Manchester
"The Miracle of
March of Todd-AO"
My First 70mm
original newspaper announcement for "South Pacific". These are taken
from a book, 'Magic in the Dark' by Derek J Southall
It had a huge marquee displaying
large red neon letters announcing the film and its stars. Wrapped around
the base of the building were large colourful signs with the
"South Pacific" logo and scenes from the film. I collected my
ticket from the somewhat modest ticket booth and entered the downstairs
foyer. It was magnificent! Very elaborate carvings everywhere and
chandeliers and a winding staircase which I ascended to the Mirror
Gallery from where there were two entrances leading to the dress and
rear circles. The auditorium was stunning, absolutely beautiful. Rich
and ornate plasterwork, subtle lighting and statues! A Compton (I think)
organ was raised at the left side of the stage where the organist was
playing a medley of tunes. The atmosphere was one of anticipation,
everyone was smiling.
Eventually the lights dimmed and the curtains
opened to reveal a huge deeply curved screen as the title of the film
appeared on the screen:
"The Miracle of
Todd-AO". This short demonstration film preceded "South Pacific"
at its initial roadshow presentations in the UK, although it was originally
"Oklahoma!" in the USA. Later, when "Oklahoma!" was
re-released as a Todd-AO presentation in this country,
March of Todd-AO" was presented
with that feature.
What a brilliant introduction to Todd-AO! Breathtaking! "The Miracle of
Todd-AO" was just that. At the point in the film where the police
motor cycle crashes into the side of a van on a hill in San Francisco,
the screen went black, and nothing further was shown.
big building to the left is a car park. Built where Gaumont cinema once
were. Image by Thomas Hauerslev, September 2007
The theater was shrill with
laughter, what a great start. But before everyone could get their breaths,
and with nothing more than a five second pause, house lights kept down, the
titles for "South Pacific" came up and we were immediately smothered
by that wonderful title music and stunning images. A brilliant piece of
presentation which remained thoughout the films long run.
"South Pacific" ran for over two years at the Gaumont and returned
later for a further six months. I saw it many times during that period and
introduced countless others to the wonder of 70mm. I saved all my ticket
stubs and later presented them with all my other movie memorabilia to the
National Media Museum in Bradford. A few months later I discovered Cinerama
at the London casino, but that is another story...
Now I own the roadshow version of "South Pacific" on DVD along with
the two Todd-AO demos and I never tire of looking at them. Wonderful
memories of an era never to be repeated.
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