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The Lost World of 70mm Theatres - Some Comments

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Peter Mason, Australia. Date: 15 November 2005 
I've just recently read the article "The Lost World of 70mm Theatres" and would like to make a few comments about some of the issues raised.

The first "70mm epic " to be shown at the BARCLAY (Sydney) was "BARABBAS" not "LAWRENCE of ARABIA", as claimed. Its season commenced on 16th August 1963 and it played until the end of October 1963 when Lawrence premiered. It was advertised in the Sydney Morning Herald of 16th August 1963 as being "filmed and presented in Technirama 70".

In relation to the claim that Warner Bros. was considering the ASCOT Theatre as a possible venue for the Sydney season of "MY FAIR LADY"; the ASCOT Theatre wasn't even built when "MY FAIR LADY" premiered on 28th July 1965 at the CENTURY Theatre, Sydney, so I am somewhat puzzled as to how it could have been considered as a possible venue. The Ascot theatre opened on 12th May 1966, 10 months after Sydney's MFL premiere.

In relation to the differences between the 70mm and 35mm prints of "South Pacific" (1958).

The initial preview print of "South Pacific", was 181 minutes (all times are inclusive of overture, entr'acte and exit music) but Twentieth Century Fox deleted 10 minutes from this print and changed the first few scenes so that the United states 70mm prints featured the "Bloody Mary" scene before the Emile (Rossano Brazzi), Nellie (Mitzi Gaynor) Plantation scene. Thus the American premiere print was 171 minutes. After the film opened to less than good reviews it was decided to cut the foreign prints, and the 70mm foreign prints were cut to 160 mins inclusive but these prints retained the original continuity the Broadway continuity) and when the 35mm prints were eventually produced they were exactly the same as the 70mm foreign prints except that the overture, entr'acte and exit music were deleted. These prints ran 150 minutes.

I am 95% certain that the 70mm print that played at the MAYFAIR(Sydney) was the shorter print, the FILM WEEKLY (a trade paper) of January 1959 lists the film as 17,105 ft and 153 minutes, the Australasian Exhibitor on the other hand lists the film as 17,105ft and 171 minutes. According to my calculations 17,105 feet of 70mm film equals 152 minutes. Are there any readers out there who may have seen SOUTH PACIFIC either at the MAYFAIR in Sydney or the ESQUIRE in Melbourne who can verify whether it was the long or short prints that played in the initial release in Australia.

The longer version featured a scene towards the end of Part 1 where Emile (rossano Brazzi places Nellie's cape over his head and sings a comical version of "I'm goin to Wash that man right outa my head". A full list of the differences between the two versions can be found on the Internet Movie database us.imdb.com "South Pacific" (1958) Click onto "alternate versions" on the left of screen.

I would agree with Ian that the 70mm screen at the PARIS (Sydney) was small but then again the first 70mm screen at the MAYFAIR(Sydney) was according to the AUSTRALIAN EXHIBITOR 36ft wide by 17ft high and curved to a depth of 4ft. The screen at the CENTURY was only 32ft and the FORUM's 70mm screen was about 38ft. The BARCLAY was slightly better with a 42ft width.

The only two Sydney 70mm theatres with decent size 70mm screens were the PLAZA and the ASCOT. The PLAZA originally had a 51ft CinemaScope screen and when CINERAMA was installed there in September 1958 this was enlarged to 76ft around the 146 degrees curve and 28ft high.

When single lens 70MM CINERAMA was installed in December 1964, the same screen was used but 2 years later in December 1966 this screen was replaced with a 71ft(around the curve) by 29ft high solid screen. At this time the curvature was reduced to about 115 degrees. In 1968 movable masking was fitted so that all formats of 35mm and 70mm could be shown at the PLAZA.

There were two sets of 70mm lenses, one set for 70mm CINERAMA and the the others were for "normal" 70mm which had a screen size of about 56ft. The ASCOT had a 70MM screen of approximately 50ft.

In relation to the article 70mm in New York by Jonathan Kleefield, 70mm blow-ups of "Doctor Zhivago" were of exceptional quality because of the introduction of a new color negative by Eastman Kodak designated Eastman Color negative 5251. This film had substantially better quality including much finer grain than the film it replaced, Eastman Color Neg. 5250 (which was used to film "Lawrence of Arabia") "Doctor Zhivago" was filmed on this new negative and this along with the fact that liquid-gate printing was employed and the original camera negative rather than a duplicate neg, produced 70mm blow-ups of such superlative quality that even the film's Director of Photography stated that he could not tell the difference between the two.

These days of course, lab technicians would be horrified at the prospect of producing perhaps 200 prints from the original negative, many have expressed their disbelief and surprise to me that in the 50's and 60's this was routine practice, I'm surprised that the insurance companies would allow it.

Best Regards,
Peter Mason
Further in 70mm reading:

The Lost World of 70mm Theatres

70mm in Sydney

Cinerama at the Melbourne Plaza

Cinerama At the Plaza

Internet link:

This article originally appeared in CINEMARECORD, #47 published
quarterly. It is the magazine of the Melbourne-based Cinema and Theatre Historical Society (Victoria)

More update


RE: Ian Hanson's LOST WORLD OF 70MM

I noticed that Peter Mason has mentioned some errors in Ian's article. I wish to add mine which I found in the article.

1) HAMLET was not the longest running film in 70mm. That belonged to the Russian epic WAR AND PEACE which ran 507 minutes

2) DIVINE MADNESS was not the first film shown in 70mm at the STATE theatre (in Sydney, Australia) That honor went to THE THREE MUSKETEERS which preceded DM by a month ( shown at the Sydney Film Festival) .It was even announced at the festival that it was the first 70mm film screened there. I know as I was there for the screening.

3) Ian also talks about OLIVER being in 70mm only during its re-release. However it was shown in 70mm in its initial release in 1968 in Perth (Western Australia). I know as I saw it there and it was also advertised as being screened in 70mm at the time. It is also probable that it was shown in other cities in 70mm initially as well.

Yours truly
Peter Fraser
Sydney, Australia

70mm Films in Sydney by Mr. Peter Fraser
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Updated 21-01-24