From Sweden to Seattle
Mission Report from The Big Screen 70MM Festival
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The 70mm Newsletter
Written and photographed by: Anders M Olsson, Lund, Sweden
A hotel room with a view.
During the 1950s and '60s when
Cinerama was at
its top popularity, it would have been virtually impossible to travel the
world and visit all the 3-strip Cinerama theaters. There were hundreds of
them. Today there are only three left, not counting one or two private
facilities that are not open to the public.
I had already visited Bradford and
Los Angeles (Hollywood), and the only one
remaining was Seattle. This year (2013) I got the chance to go there, to
make my "collection" of current day Cinerama cinemas complete.
The Cinerama movie theater in Seattle is perhaps the most convenient of the
three to reach by plane. From the airport it's only a 35 minutes train ride
to downtown Seattle. Walk north a couple of blocks from Westlake Station,
and you're there. It's also very easy to find somewhere to stay. There are
lots of good hotels within walking distance. I stayed at The Warwick Hotel
which is so close to the cinema that it's almost too good to be true.
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The Big Screen 70MM Festival
From Sweden to Seattle Gallery
Seattle Cinerama 70mm Film Festival 2013
Rare, Classic Films to Screen at
Seattle Cinerama Theatre
Brief Cinerama report
from Dave Strohmaier
Seattle's Cinerama Theatre is
getting technical upgrade
The theater itself is pretty ugly on the outside. The building looks just
like a big, over-sized box. Once you're inside, it gets better. It's not
remarkably beautiful, but it's functional, and the seats are comfortable.|
The Big Screen 70MM Film Festival is not
an annual event. It's arranged with some irregularity, slightly at random it
seems. The last time was two years ago. Compared to other festivals, it's a
pretty basic event. They take a selection of 70mm and Cinerama films and run
them straight through without any special fanfare. There are no
introductions, no lectures, no guest artists, no program booklets, no
souvenirs, no surprises, only the movies and an awful lot of popcorn. With
that in mind, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the audience is 99%
The entire festival ran for 2½ weeks, but I only stayed for the final week.
More wasn't needed since most movies were shown at least twice. With only
one or two movies a day on the program, it was essential to find other
things to see and do. Luckily, the town offers many tourist attractions and
many great eateries and cafes. Starbucks has its headquarters here, so
there's a Starbucks at almost every street corner.
On the very first day I met
Matt Lutthans who spared no
effort during the week to make sure that I had a good time in Seattle. Matt
is well-known amongst Cinerama fans. Some 15 years ago, he formed The
Cinerama Society of Seattle and campaigned for saving the cinema when it was
threatened by demolition. Billionaire Paul G. Allen (one of Microsoft's
founders) heard of the effort, bought the theater and had it refurbished.|
The 70mm program started with a few of my favorite movies: Baraka, 2001: A
Space Odyssey, Vertigo, and The Sound of Music, and one not so favorite -
Patton. I had to skip Lawrence of Arabia to take care of my jetlag.
Just like in Bradford, the theater has two screens, one "flat" (which isn't
really flat, but slightly curved) for regular films and a deeply curved
Cinerama-screen. But unlike Bradford, where you just press a button, it's a
complicated and time-consuming procedure to switch between the two. I
expected the 70mm films to be shown on the flat screen, but to my delight,
everything was projected on the curve.
The Cinerama Theatre as seen from my hotel room.|
Most of the 70mm movies looked great on the Cinerama-screen reaching all the
way down to the floor, but it should be noted that even though the screen is
"louvered" (made up of a number of vertical stripes), the louvers are angled
incorrectly so that they do not cancel out any cross reflections. A single
sheet screen would have worked better. As it looks now, you get all the
disadvantages of the louvered screen but none of its benefits.
The main projection booth is quite small considering that it must hold two
regular 35/70mm projectors, one digital projector and the center ("Baker")
Cinerama projector. They solved it by putting the projectors on rails so
that you can move one machine at a time up to the projection window. In
addition, there are two more booths for the Cinerama side projectors.
Approximately 10 minutes before the intermission,
2001: A Space Odyssey was
interrupted, and the house lights came on. Apparently a member of the
audience had fallen ill, so an ambulance must be called. The paramedics
arrived within minutes and took him to the hospital. We were told that he
had been well taken care of before the show could eventually continue. Then
the projectionist did something very rare and commendable. He rewound a few
minutes and restarted the reel so that the audience wouldn't have to miss
The festival came to its conclusion with two movies in true three-projector
Cinerama: How the West Was Won and This is Cinerama. To me, they were the
highlight of the festival, but I regret to say that the screenings weren’t
perfect. In addition to the cross reflection problem, there were some
serious focusing issues with the Able and Charlie projectors. Cinerama
should be razor sharp, but in this case it was not. Also, This is Cinerama
had a very noisy soundtrack.
There are only three places in the world where you can see real
three-projector Cinerama, and Seattle has the potential to become the very
best of them. The festival deserves better than to be just a local matter
for the people who live here. Like its "siblings" in Bradford and Los
Angeles, the cinema should be able to attract fans from all over the world.
And I think it might, with some proper marketing, associated events, and
attention to the technical shortcomings.
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