Windjammer - Recollections and Laments
Recalling my childhood
experience of seeing "Windjammer" at the Chinese Theater during it's world
premier engagement in 1958.
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|Written by: Stephen Winship,
Angels Camp, California, USA||Date:
was nine years old when "Windjammer" opened on April 8,
1958 at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, Ca. I did not attend the
gala, red-carpet premier on opening night. That was for dignitaries and
industry people, as such things usually are. I had to wait several weeks
before I could see it.
In those days, an exclusive engagement, or
roadshow engagement, of a motion picture was not one you could simply
decide to go see on a whim. You had to purchase reserved seating in
advance, usually at the box office. It meant a trip to the theater to
buy tickets for a showing perhaps weeks ahead of time. My mom and I went
to the Chinese to reserve our tickets, and that day was my first
impression. The Chinese Theater itself is magnificent, and it was decked
out with posters, stills and displays of items from the movie. A song
called "Windjammer," which I learned later was by The Easy Riders, was
being played outside the theater, in the forecourt area. It was an
exciting experience just buying the tickets!
The record album of
the soundtrack from "Windjammer" was for sale at the
theater, and I talked my mom into buying a copy. I listened to that
record for the weeks leading up to the showing we were scheduled to
attend. All of this added to my building excitement and anticipation.
The day finally arrived. I believe it was in June, or possibly July,
of 1958. I know that school was out for the summer, because we attended
a weekday afternoon matinee. Even so, there was a huge crowd of
ticketholders, and we waited quite a long time it seemed, standing on
line at the door. I remember thinking all those people wouldn't fit
inside the theater.
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When we finally were able to enter the
theater's auditorium, my first impression was one of overwhelming awe.
The theater was enormous, and as I looked at the screen area, covered by
red curtains, I thought I'd never seen anything so big in my life. Our
seets were about a quarter of the way back from the first row, just off
center, and as I sat there, I realized I couldn't see from one end of
the curtains to the other without panning my eyes from side to side. The
auditorium was well-lit at this point, and the "Overture" from the film
was playing through the sound system. I'd heard it many times on that
soundtrack recording, but it never sounded quite like this. I had
At last the lights dimmed, and the curtains parted.
They stopped short, only opening far enough to reveal the center portion
of the screen. The opening sequence, as I recall, featured a narrator
talking about being a teenager in Norway and life there in general. He
introduced fellow ship mates, the ship's captain, etc. I say "as I
recall" because I actually don't remember that much of the opening of
the film. It was pretty dry and boring to an excited nine-year-old. What
I do remember vividly was my immediate sense of disappointment, and I
wasn't alone. I heard murmurs among the crowd around me, too.
Yet, I knew something had to happen and, when it did, it was
spectacular. The curtains opened to full width, and the image of the
Christian Radich embarking on its voyage burst onto the screen in full
glory. Those murmurs of disappointment turned to exclamations of awe and
amazement, and a round of applause exploded in the auditorium. It was an
incredible moment I'll never forget.
The movie itself was
exciting and full of adventure. I remember some scenes as if I'd seen
them only yesterday, such as the basket sled ride through the streets of
Madeira. The all-encompassing field of view from a screen a hundred feet
wide and twenty-seven feet high, filling the viewers' entire peripheral
vision, puts you right in the scene, feeling every rise and fall, twist
and turn of the sled as if you were sitting in it yourself, careening
through the narrow streets. You feel like you need to cover your head
and duck as it narrowly misses objects in its path.
that I remember is the Atlantic storm that whips and tosses the
Christian Radich around like a toothpick on a water slide. This is one
scene that people prone to seasickness might experience just a little
differently than those who aren't. It's incredible filmmaking, though.
Imagine being the cameraman with that oversized
trying to capture the shots he did while avoiding being tossed
overboard. While some of the scenes in the movie were obviously planned
and staged, to a degree, these scenes couldn't have been. Yes, the
approaching storm was anticipated, and certain preparations were
undoubtedly made. Still, when it hits, well, as they say, the best laid
plans of mice and men. And you, the viewer, are right in the middle of
it, experiencing every wave, every swell and fall. The only thing you
don't get is wet!
Bear in mind that "Windjammer"
is a semi-documentary, and also very much a travelogue in the
tradition. Expect there to be many scenes featuring the sights and
sounds of interesting ports of call. There's lots of singing, dancing
and merriment, both aboard ship and ashore. But the music is wonderful,
and there are few really dull moments during the nearly two-and-a-half
hours the film runs.
This is where I have to express my own
dismay about something. It's been fifty-two years since I last saw
"Windjammer", and I am sorry to say there is much about
the film I DON'T remember. Since I discovered in70mm.com, and started
reading about the film and its restoration, I'm learning, or
re-learning, about elements of the film that had somehow escaped memory.
For example, the whole sequence about the rendezvous with the U. S.
Navy, and the Tall Ships race that concludes the film had both slipped
away from me. I'd like to think that it's because the whole experience
was so big, so overpowering to the child I was, that it was just too
much to absorb and retain all at once.
Now I know, moreso than
ever, why the re-release of "Windjammer" is so
important to me. Childhood memories are one thing, but rarely does one
get an opportunity to bring them back in full. I doubt I'll ever see
Grauman's Chinese Theater again, but I am confident that I will
experience "Windjammer" many more times, if only on my
DVD player and television.
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