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all over Hollywood. Cinerama was an unprecedented success. The standard format of 1.33 was dead overnight. Audiences suddenly wanted widescreen films. How would the studios, who had all passed on it, react? The way they always react to success, of course – copy it.

The Big(ger) Picture
Spyros Skouras, head of Fox, dispatched a team to France to track down Prof. Crétien, whose 1927 anamorphic lens was well known around town. Cooper had considered using it on Chang, and Selznick flirted with the idea for Gone With The Wind but decided to go with Technicolor instead. Warners sent out a search party as well - and found the good professor the day after Fox had signed him to an exclusive contract. Although his patents had recently expired, putting his invention in the public domain, the contract secured his expertise for Fox. A year after TIC, The Robe would be the first film in Cinemascope – advertised as “The Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses” to distance it from the 3- D craze. Advertising artwork for the new process was strikingly similar to that for Cinerama. Across town at Paramount, the camera department went into overdrive to come up with a viable widescreen system and created VistaVision, which used 35mm film run sideways, each frame being twice as big as normal (8 perfs). Release prints in any aspect ratio could be made from the 1.5 aspect ratio negative. The larger negative area was especially important in the early days of monopack color film which was very slow and grainy.
Technicolor, seeing the end of 3-strip photography coming, retooled their cameras for 8-perf shooting, added a 1.5 squeeze anamorphic lens and called it Technirama.
And of course there was Mike Todd, who’s 70mm Todd-AO was the closest copy of Cinerama. All this was for the best. In the five years since the end of WWII, the picture business had seen a loss of 50% of its revenues, due to the combined effects of the Paramount Consent Decree, which had stripped them of their theaters, increased options for leasure time use, and the big meanie – television. Widescreen got people back into theaters – for a while. This, in fact, is Cinerama’s greatest legacy. Since it premiered in 1952, widescreen cinema and stereophonic sound have not disappeared from movie screens for a single day.
Of course, all of these copycat systems used only one projector, and none were designed to fill your peripheral vision to give you a sense of being in the scene. They were merely wide, and successful as they eventually were, the effect of Cinerama was (and is) completely unique. Because it fills your peripheral vision, your brain interprets what it is seeing as a real experience. Which explains those woozy patrons running out at intermission for Dramamine…

Success - Now What?
This Is Cinerama (referred to as “TIC” by fans) had cost $512,000 to make - and made over $4 million in its first year. This success caught everyone off guard. The film had been made just to demonstrate the process. No real thought had been given to what would come next. And then there were the corporate politics. The company was split into two separate units – Cinerama Inc. which made the cameras, sound equipment and projectors, and Cinerama Productions which made the films. Cooper was given a 5- year contract as general manager in charge of production. Knowing a good thing when he saw it, Cooper tried to get control of the company but lost out to Stanley Warner Theaters who bought it in a paper transaction to allow Mike Todd to sell his shares, which he hadn’t told the IRS he owned. Not being a production entity, Stanley Warner had less than no idea what to do with their new acquisition. Audiences, returning to TIC in lieu of any other product, filled out suggestion cards as to what the next Cinerama film should be. It took 3 years, but finally Cinerama Holiday hit the screen in 1955. The idea was simple enough – two couples, one American and one Swiss, would swap continents, each followed by a Cinerama camera crew. It is now a priceless time capsule of mid-1950’s life. Recovering from their lost momentum, Cinerama Productions began to release a new film each year. 1956 gave us Seven Wonders of the World, a Lowell Thomas concept which begins at the pyramids – the only surviving wonder of the original seven – and continues around the world to Victoria Falls, St. Peters in Rome, the Suez Canal (where the camera plane was fired upon) and the Taj Mahal.


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Copyright ©2002 Greg Kimble, HTML Transcription Copyright ©2003 The American WideScreen Museum