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The Return of 70mm

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: John Bannon, Director of Genre Classics, London England Date: October 19, 2003
8 transit cases for "Where Eagles Dare". Picture By John Bannon.

A year ago I was visiting my hometown of Edgware when I discovered to my horror that the old Cinema I had frequented as a youth had been pulled down.

I was devastated, this had given birth to my passion and interest in film and I began to become nostalgic for the old days.

Although a psychotherapist by profession these days, and would be scriptwriter, twenty-five years ago I was a West End projectionist, showing 70mm on a regular basis. I worked at three sites, the Odeon Marble Arch, Columbia Theatre, and ABC Shaftsbury Ave. They were all busy professional outfits, running press shows, Royal shows and Premiers. It was a high-pressured job with no room for error and very little tolerance of it either. Everything was very precise and timed to perfection, mistakes were rare and we all prided ourselves on putting on a good show. On an average day you could be running rushes in the morning to the likes of Carl Foreman, and in the afternoon showing a 70mm feature to the paying public. 

Here started my love and appreciation of 70mm. I know that the purists feel that only films shot in this format are the true 70mm, but the blow-ups too were often of exceptional quality and far superior to the 35mm prints. Apart from the six track stereo sound, the most dramatic impact of 70mm was of course the definition. For me this brought the screen to life and even if you didn’t like the film you could still marvel at the detail and be blown away by the sheer quality of the image. 
Further in 70mm reading:

"Broadsword Calling Danny Boy!"

Internet link:

Superior Product in 70mm

Empire's projectionist. Picture By John Bannon.

Anyway, my nostalgia led me to want to return to the cinema, which I had long deserted in favour of my desire to work in production. As I live in Richmond I surprised family and friends and took a part-time job at the local Odeon. After three months I realised that modern methods of one person showing four films was not for me, but I did meet a kindred spirit in the form of projectionist, Brian White. Like me, Brian was old school, strong on presentation, and full of fond memories of 70mm. Over the months we realised that our hearts still yearned for the old days and we began the process of turning our dreams into reality.

I wrote a proposal to the CEO of Odeon, now resigned, to argue the case for a return to 70mm. I argued that DVD and home cinema were now challenging exhibitors to raise their standards and that the time had come to return to large format big screen presentations. I argued that we already have a superior product in 70mm, so why not use it? After all, many cinemas still have their dual-purpose equipment and in many cases need only minor investment to bring them back on line. 

I also spoke to distributors who agreed that 70mm prints could be made available if enough venues existed to show them.

The Joy of Big Screen


Ingrid Pit, John Bannon and Caroline Monroe. Picture By Brian White

I know that many people think digital projection is the future of cinema, but this is still a long way off and far from perfected. Also, most current digital projectors offer only a 2k resolution, that is, 2048 pixels on 1556 lines. To replicate 70mm the picture would need to be nearer 8k resolution. Now although there are new technologies coming through like the D-ILA liquid crystal device, which offers a continuous image as opposed to a series of pixels, and which can reach 8k resolution, there is still the question of what to do in the meantime.

I belief that digital projection that is comparable with 70mm is still ten years from becoming the installed norm in our theatres. 

In the meantime we could make use of our existing technology and offer the public an opportunity to experience the joy of big screen presentations today. To this end I am pleased to announce that the Odeon Covent Garden [London, England, Ed] recently re-equipped one of its screens for 70mm and has already shown "Lawrence of Arabia" for Genre Classics.

"Where Eagles Dare" in 70mm and 6-track stereophonic sound

The 70mm showing of "Where Eagles Dare" was not a financial success. But to 100 or so that did come see the clock turn back. Although the print was a little dark and tinted brown it was still in good shape considering its 35 years old and the sound was bloody fabulous. Brought a tear to my eyes and a lump in my throat. I can say it was back in the mid 70s when I last presented that film in 70mm. Ingrid Pitt was the star and every bit a lady. She made us laugh with her stories of Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, Alf Joint and Brian Hutton.

Genre Classics presented her with a bunch of flowers and she was very excited to be there 35 years after the premier which took place in the very same cinema. So a real nostalgia trip for many who where there.

John Bannon

Equally the Empire Leicester Square which we used for the Genre Classic 70mm presentation of "Where Eagles Dare" in September with Ingrid Pitt, has gone out of their way to make their equipment ready for action. Over the coming months we intend to use both sites for 70mm presentations, with films such as "Hamlet", Indiana Jones Trilogy, "The Deer Hunter" and many, many, more.


The Long-term Aim 

Projectionist Brian White. Picture By John Bannon.

Our long-term aim is to acquire a site of our own so that the old classics and masters can be seen on a regular basis and at times other than early mornings or late at night. We have already acquired some of the 70mm equipment and intend to run certain films with carbon arcs as the light source. Naturally, the return of films being shot in 65mm is where the real return of 70mm will take place, it is hoped that the reappearance of 70mm in cinemas may inspire its comeback. We even have aspirations of our own in this direction with our project "Deep Sky" a biblical tale for a modern audience currently in development.

On Saturday 25th October 8am Odeon Covent Garden, Mr Alex Thompson, BSC director of photography will be giving a screen talk before the showing of Kenneth Branagh’s "Hamlet", which as most people know was the last film to be shot in 65mm. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Joe Dunton of JDC for his support and encouragement of this venture.
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Updated 21-01-24