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My first encounter with 70mm film

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Issue 40 - September 1995
By: Joost Wieman, The Netherlands

When I was a young boy we lived in Utrecht, Holland. In the city of Utrecht we had a cinema which could show 70mm films. At that time I was fascinated by film and everything about it. I had a Super 8 projector and had been playing with the magic lantern ever since I understood what it was!

I must have been about nine years old when my older brother, who worked in his student years in this cinema, took me with him to see "The Sound of Music". There I was, already impressed with the normal impression of the cinema, watching this newsreel and the trailers. I remember very well the sensation I felt when the screen stretched out to its limit, and the sound of the wind (in the first minutes of the film) surrounded us. Then came the music. So loud, so beautiful, so MUCH! I never saw anything like it and now I know I never will. I remember I was completely overwhelmed by the sights and sounds.

I asked my brother what was happening here, so during the intermission he took me upstairs, to see the operator. The operator was a woman, and I remember she wore thick glasses and a long white coat. She looked like a laboratory technician, and she started telling me about the difference between normal film and 70mm film. I knew about 35mm, because I had it in my magic lantern! She gave me a piece of film she had cut from "Ben Hur", and I took it home and hung it on my wall. After that, I went back again and again and every time I went upstairs to watch her changing the film, changing the projector from 35mm to 70mm, and helping her rewinding the reels.

When the intermission overture started (which always came from the stereo six track on the film) I ran back into the cinema filled with stereophonic sound, sat down with the audience and thought! “Wow, I know what is going on upstairs in the projection room!” I was lucky: In that period the copies of the sixties 70mm films were still in Holland, and I got the chance to see "My Fair Lady", "Lawrence of Arabia", "Battle of the Bulge", "Hello, Dolly!", "The Great Race" [35mm Panavision, ed.] and many more. And every time the screen stretched out and the image and sound filled the theatre, I got hot and cold at the same time. In my youth it was the ultimate fantasy experience for me! It got to an excess of twice, trice a week, when my father decided I had to slow down on the cinema outings and dragged me out of the projection room one night.

For a short period of time I sneaked out of the house and told my father I went to a friends house, but there I was, freaking out with 70mm films! I took everybody with me to show how beautiful it was. And everybody agreed.

Well, it is one of the reasons I became a director. But the closest thing I got to the real thing here in Holland was 35mm, and I still cannot think of myself as a real pro before I can make something in the glorious 70mm. let us convince the world of the beauty of it, and fight so that all the old treasures of the fifties and sixties can be restored and preserved. When millions are spent to restore old paintings, why let these films fade away? And when anybody says that audiences do not know the difference, they lie.

Jost Wieman
Lange Laidsedwarstraat 98 B
1017 NM Amsterdam
The Netherlands
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My first encounter with 70mm film #2

By: Brian Walters, Australia

In 1968 director Stanley Kubrick made one of the milestone achievements of cinema in "2001: A Space Odyssey".

For visual splendor and detail it remains unsurpassed but the director knew there was no point putting the detail in the picture if you could not see it on the screen and so he filmed it in Super Panavision 70.

Working as an assistant projectionist in 1978 I had the great pleasure of working on this film when a new batch of 70mm prints were released in a major worldwide re-issue. At the conclusion of the season when returning to 35mm projection, the difference in quality was enormous and 35mm never looked as good again. One can only hope that future cinema audiences will have the opportunity to see large negative 70mm picture quality on new release films.

Brian Walters
Banora Point
New South Wales

My first encounter with 70mm film #3

By: Simon Lewis, United Kingdom

My initial interest in 70mm started with TV screenings of the wide screen epics "Waterloo", "Zulu", "Spartacus" etc. I had always been interested in history, and here was history brought to life. So as I sought out stills and information of these movies, I began to read about the Road Show concept.

I remember finding a book about the battle of Waterloo when I was ten, on the back it had some stills from the movie and blurb saying "...the magnificent Dino De Laurentiis 70mm production". My brother and I debated what "70mm" meant for some time, finally deciding that it must be the length of the movie.

When I found out what 70mm was, I was hooked on the movies. I realized that what I was seeing at the local cinema was a faint reflection of the movies. Who can forget the dire standards of cinema exhibition in the early eighties, particularly in the UK. The re-release of "Star Wars" in 1982, was the first 70mm presentation I saw. This was at the huge Odeon Marble Arch in London. The largest conventional screen in Europe. Originally installed for D-150 [Dimension 150, ed.] in the 1960s. I was bowled over by the experience. I remember being surprised by the directional dialogue, something I had never heard before, although I have not been able to confirm that "Star Wars" 70mm prints were mixed in this way. I do remember the picture being bright and big but very grainy. I knew this was a blow-up and despaired of ever seeing an original 65mm production.

Finally the National Film Theatre in London showed a 70mm print of "The Fall of the Roman Empire". I had to see it, even though on TV I had always found the film slow and ponderous, except for the great set pieces.

When the Overture boomed out from behind the drapes I was hooked. When the curtains finally opened I was staggered by the clarity and the luminance of the images. As the film unreeled I was completely swept away with the drama. The image was flawless, no grain, close ups revealed incredible definition. The stereo, particularly in the chariot race and the javelin duel at the end, was ear splitting.

A film that had seemed almost boring on TV, suddenly seemed perfect, in pace, story and action. After three hours I was left reeling from the experience. The 70mm images had allowed me to step into history and almost forget I was watching a movie.

On a pedantic note, the print was technically a blow-up, as it was a flat 2,2:1 standard 70mm frame instead of an original anamorphic Ultra Panavision 70 2,65:1 contact print.

Simon Lewis
11, Westbourne Court
Cardif CF3 8M
United Kingdom

My first encounter with 70mm film #4

By: Hans-Joachim Heuel, Germany

I was always an enthusiastic film fan. In the early 60s I had read on posters notes like Super Panavision 70 or Super Technirama 70 and I did not know what it meant. Then I began to write to studios, distribution companies and publishers around the world. Within the next years I received much information about wide screen systems, including 3D. Meanwhile I became in Germany an expert on wide screen processes and I have written articles for various magazines and books.

My first impression about 70mm was in 1964, as the old fashioned Skala, based in Bielefeld, was renovated. They installed two DP70 projectors and a curved screen of 6,5 x 14,3 metres. The first 70mm film I saw at the Skala was the Russian production "Bolshoi Ballet". Some months later followed by another Russian production "Anna Karenina". During the following years until 1973 movies like "The Hallelujah Trail", "Khartoum", "The Greatest Story Ever Told", "The Bible...in the Beginning", "The Savage Pampas", "2001:A Space Odyssey" and others were shown. Also 70mm blow-ups like "Doctor Zhivago", "The Sand Pebbles" and "Gone With The Wind" were shown. I have also seen re-releases of "Spartacus", "El Cid" and "Ben Hur" here in my hometown.

Unfortunately 70mm was for the audience not a great event. The theatre had to pay 70% of the income to the distributors, so 70mm was not a success. Then, in the 70s the Skala was rebuilt as a cinema with 4 screens. The largest auditorium of the new Skala now has a flat screen and the old 70mm equipment. This was used some years ago, as the restored "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Spartacus" were shown - also without any success.

In the 80s I have also visited, with other film fans, 70mm cinemas across the country: The Europa in Berlin, with the greatest ever installed screen in the world: 15 x 33 metres! Also visited were other great cinemas like the Grindel in Hamburg, the Cinerama Europa in Essen, the Mathäser in Munich, the Royal in Frankfurt and of course new cinema multiplexes in Hannover and Cologne.

Still today I am a great 70mm enthusiast and hope that this format will have an renaissance in the future with the DTS digital sound format, because the great advantages of DTS in counterpart to Dolby SR.D is the separate CD-ROM - the expensive 70mm prints could be delivered around the world without the foreign dubbing. If I spoke about 70mm, I mean, of course, "original " 70mm films, shot onto 65mm film stock, and not the blow-ups from 35mm negatives, although some of them have had an acceptable visual quality.

I am a little disappointed that the 1994 Promotion Tour of The International 70mm Association got no concrete results: nobody in the film industry could point out that 70mm will have a future. Therefore, I think, the work of the members of the International 70mm Association is very important. Thank you Johan Wolthuis and thank you too Thomas Hauerslev for your selfless work.

Hans-Joachim Heuel
Badener Strasse 71
3659 Bielefeld
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Updated 21-01-24