“Panorama Blue” and Panoramascope
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The 70mm Newsletter
|Written by: Dan Sherlock, Hollywood, USA||Date: 01.01.2014|
|In 1974, an unusual movie was released to a relatively small number of theaters. It was unusual in that it was the only known non-3D “adults only” or “blue” movie released in 70mm (at least in the United States). The movie was PANORAMA BLUE, and it was billed as “the world’s mightiest adult film” and “photographed in 70mm Super Widescreen Panoramascope”. Not much has been written about this movie, and even less about the “Panoramascope” format. Was the movie actually photographed using 65mm cameras, or was it blown up from 35mm anamorphic ‘scope format, or blown up from spherical 35mm?|
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The 1970’s and technical changes
|The late 1960’s and the 1970’s were a time of tremendous changes. These changes included media technology for the home and for movies. Although color TV had been available in the USA since the mid-1950’s, the color televisions had been too expensive for most families, and only some programming was in color. By the late 1960’s, color televisions became less expensive and most programming in the USA was in color. In the 1970’s, some television shows – particularly music programs – were simulcast on FM stereo ratio to provide better sound for the television shows. Quadraphonic records were introduced to provide surround sound in homes. Compact Cassettes with Dolby noise reduction were becoming a common way to listen to music.|
Motion pictures were also going through a time of change. Single-film 3D formats such as Spacevision and Stereovision were introduced, and 3D went through a boom of popularity. IMAX was introduced, as was its dome version known as OMNIMAX (now known as IMAX Dome). Sensurround introduced the widespread use of subwoofers and what would later become the “.1” of 5.1 and 7.1 sound systems. Dolby took their noise reduction technology used for tape recorders and adapted it for use with motion pictures, and later added a variation of “active matrix” circuitry used for quadraphonic records to create a surround sound format that used the two optical tracks already used on 35mm. And Cinerama, Inc. released a 70mm version of THIS IS CINERAMA in 1973.
During this same period, movie theaters and movies themselves were changing. The use of 65mm photography for roadshow movies disappeared around 1970. The dreaded “multiplex” fad became the rage to where auditoriums with large screens were crudely sliced into multiple small theaters – in some cases strongly resembling a bowling alley with a tiny screen at the end of the room. Movie going changed from seeing a double feature, or a feature with a short subject or cartoon, to seeing just the main feature. The roadshow became the rare exception, and “smaller” and “simpler” movies became prevalent.
The 1970’s and adult movies
|The late 1960’s and the 1970’s were also a time of tremendous changes in what was socially acceptable, and resulted in a rise in popularity of movies intended to only be seen by adults. Part of this was due to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) replacing in 1968 the “Hayes Code” rules for censorship with a rating system to allow movies to be made with a rating system which restricted if children and adolescents needed a parent or guardian to accompany them to see the movie, or where only an adult was allowed to see the more “mature” movies. This was different from “adults only” theaters that showed films with close-ups of explicit sexual acts, but rather for movies shown in regular theaters with higher production budgets and better “talent”.|
Part of the cause of this change was the rise in popularity of explicit films that showed in the “adults only” theaters. Movies such as DEEP THROAT (1972), BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR (1972), and THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES (1973) were so popular that it was considered chic in many areas to stand in line to see them. These were so-called “hard core” blue movies, but there were also “soft core” movies that had just adult themes and nudity, or simulated sex acts. Many “quality” soft core movies were released, with I AM CURIOUS YELLOW (1967, 1969 in the USA) being one of the earliest, followed by such soft core movies such as BARBARELLA (1968), THE STEWARDESSES (1969, and in 3D), ANDY WARHOL’S FRANKENSTEIN (1974, also in 3D), EMMANUELLE (1974), THE STORY OF O (1975), and even an adults-only musical variation of CINDERELLA (1977) that was released in ‘scope and Dolby Stereo!
However, it was the movie MIDNIGHT COWBOY that changed everything. Released in 1969 as an “adults only” movie, it won numerous awards including the Academy Awards for writing, directing, and best picture of the year, not to mention acting nominations for Dustin Hoffman, John Voight and Sylvia Miles. The movie firmly established a marketplace for “adults only” movies.
Large format + soft core blue movie = ?????
|The popularity of these soft core blue movies along with the increasing use of technology in motion pictures yielded a strange result. The release of THIS IS CINERAMA in 70mm in 1973 was quite successful considering it was shown in relatively few theaters. And so it was reasoned that it might be worth making a soft core adults only blue movie patterned after THIS IS CINERAMA, and release it in 70mm theaters in cities that had the theaters and the willingness to show it. This may seem like a very bizarre concept since most of the people that would see it probably had not seen THIS IS CINERAMA and would not understand the association between the two. However, this did not stop the movie from being made and PANORAMA BLUE had its premiere on the 24th of February, 1974 at the Paramount theater in Hollywood, California (now ironically the El Capitan theater where Disney plays most of their movies in Hollywood). I am old enough to have seen the movie at this theater when it was released, and I will share some of my memories of it here.|
So how was it similar to THIS IS CINERAMA? The movie was hosted by Richard S. Ellman, who was also executive producer of the feature and involved in the distribution via Ellman Film Enterprises. PANORAMA BLUE starts with a smaller sepia-tinted monophonic Academy ratio prologue of the history of “blue movies”. This included clips of THE DANCE OF LITTLE EGYPT, SAILOR BEWARE and THE VACUUM CLEANER SALESMAN. It also included shots of various landmarks in and around Hollywood, including stars in the sidewalk of the “Hollywood Walk of Fame” – one of which was the star for Lowell Thomas! And in a manner similar to the end of the THIS IS CINERAMA prologue, Ellman ends his historic overview with the words “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is PANORAMA BLUE”. At this point, the screen changes to full widescreen, color, and stereo sound, and is a helicopter view looking down at the hills leading to the coast where a couple are playing in the waves until they decide to go have sex on the beach. The titles finally begin during these scenes, accompanied with the song “Panorama Holiday” – perhaps inspired by the movie CINERAMA HOLIDAY, but not exactly describing the same sort of “holiday”.
|This was followed by a sequence called “Indy 69” that was filmed at the Ascot Park near Gardena (about a 30 minute drive south of Hollywood). The track was a figure 8 where the cars nearly collide (and sometimes do), and involved young ladies as passengers in the cars disrobing and doing things that would certainly make it more difficult for the drivers to concentrate on the race. This does not correspond to a sequence in THIS IS CINERAMA, but it rather seems inspired by the car racing demo sequences in the stereo and quadraphonic demo records that were common during those years. The sounds of the cars racing around the track made good use of the stereo and surround speakers.|
The next sequence was titled the “Center-fold Girl”, and was of a nude model slowly squirming on a white bed in a white room with the camera doing extreme close-ups of, um, what folks wanted to see close-up. This was inspired by the center-fold girl stories in adult magazines, and had a female voice describing her desires and feelings and fantasies as typically described in the text that accompanied the photos in the magazines. I’ve seen THIS IS CINERAMA quite a few times, and I’m pretty confident there isn’t a corresponding sequence in that movie.
The next sequence is called “Symphony of Love”, and is also referred to as “Intercourso in F Minor”. This does have a vague resemblance to the opera sequence of TIC, and involves a couple on a bed trying various positions while surrounded by an orchestra dressed in tuxedos playing the “1812 Overture”. This is accompanied by clips of the audience also dressed up as if they were going to the opera, and watching intently and applauding and cheering at the climax of the song / activity. Again, good use was made of the stereo for the music and the cheering of the audience in the surround speakers.
The next sequence is the “Topless / Bottomless Bar”, and shows a young lady stripping while dancing to “modern” music while older guys gawk at her. This is followed by “The Adult Book Store” filmed in what appears to be a shop called “Jason’s Adult Bookstore” and consists of views of magazines and novelties accompanied by a song entitled “Everything Goes”.
This next sequence is titled “The Hollywood Party” even though it is introduced as taking place in an expensive house in the hills of Beverly Hills (a few minutes drive west of Hollywood). A tuxedo-wearing string quartet entertains the dressed-up house guests while the guests eventually start entertaining each other. The stereo sound evolved from party sounds and somewhat inane dialog to groans and slurping sounds filling the surround speakers throughout the theater.
The final sequence is the Roller Coaster sequence depicted in the poster. The roller coaster is in fact a “wild mouse” type (only a single car) that was located at Queen’s Park in Long Beach – previously and most famously known as “The Pike” and later “Nu-Pike”. (This “replaced” the wood roller coaster that had been at the park for decades, and which is visible in the car chase in IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD.) As the car starts up the first hill, the couple disrobes and proceeds to please each other while accompanied by THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA (the theme from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) which fades into just sound effects and pointless dialog. This is the only sequence that is not introduced by Ellman, perhaps because it really doesn’t need an introduction – except maybe for DON’T TRY THIS FOR REAL!
|Who says 70mm isn't sexy? A young couple enjoying a day on the beach. Frame grab from the VHS video|
This brings us back to the original question: What is “Panoramascope”? First of all, the name of the format as shown in the ads and the titles is just “Panoramascope” and not “70mm Super Panoramascope” as listed in the book “Wide Screen Movies”. Also, it was advertised as in six-track stereo (at least for some 70mm screenings) but general ads and poster art referred to “four-track stereo” – perhaps referring to the 35mm magoptical stereo prints that were also distributed. And back in my youth when I had been impressed by the huge curved screen at the Cinerama Dome, I was disappointed that the screen at the Paramount theater was smaller and flat and nothing like the curved screen depicted in the artwork. There is no evidence of special curved screens being used at any of the screenings.
The credits and press materials do not give a credit for the camera used, nor for the lenses that were used other than the marketing name “Panoramascope”. This tends to rule out anything from Panavision that required at that time mentioning their lenses and cameras in credits. There are reports by some people that the movie was shot with a Mitchell camera. The only 65mm cameras referred to as Mitchell cameras were the FC and BFC cameras (very heavy and difficult to use – particularly hand-held) and the Todd-AO AP camera made exclusively for Todd-AO, and which could be hand-held, but would still have been rather heavy.
Another clue to the process is the credit for the helicopter photography by Tyler Camera Systems. At the time of production (late 1973) Tyler had yet to develop a mount for the heavier 65mm cameras – particularly those that the production company could have used. So it is very unlikely that 65mm cameras were used.
The credits list Pacific Title as having done the credits. Pacific Title was also known for optical printing, and may have done more than just the titles. Besides the credits there is also optical work for the smaller screen for the prologue, a slow zoom into an image at the beginning of the “Center-fold Girl” sequence, and what appears to be a blow-up from spherical stock footage of the audience during the “Symphony of Love” sequence. The roller coaster sequence was not composited, but rather used the rear-screen projection process offered by William Hansard. So the movie could have been blow-up from either spherical photography or anamorphic ‘scope photography – but which one?
The missing evidence found
|“Topless / Bottomless Bar” sequence, there are numerous horizontal lens flares.|
I thought that if a video copy of the movie could be located and studied, the tell-tale signs of ‘scope photography such as horizontal lens flares and elliptical out-of-focus point light sources might be present and thus indicate the format used. If you think about how this movie had a very limited theatrical release, you can imagine the difficulty in finding a video copy of the movie. In the early 1980’s, I remember seeing it on Pay-TV and it was a full-frame “pan-and-scan” transfer. By the time I had thought to look for a used rental copy, most of the videotape rental shops were gone, and even fewer of them listed their inventory – particularly if they were softcore blue movies.
|“Topless / Bottomless Bar” sequence, with numerous distant point light sources that are elliptical in shape - see to the right in the picture.|
However, leave it to eBay to eventually offer a used copy for sale. I scooped it up, and watched it on my old VHS player to look for the lens flares and lights. The first thing I noticed was the extensive use of hand-held photography, and the rapid camera movements; this strongly indicated that the camera and film used were lighter than a 65mm camera and film. But later on, I found what I was looking for: During the “Topless / Bottomless Bar” sequence, there are numerous horizontal lens flares and distant point light sources that are elliptical in shape.
Of course, this doesn’t answer the question of what brand lenses were used, and this info may never be confirmed. However, it seems pretty definitive that it was shot in 35mm with anamorphic lenses and blown up to 70mm for release.
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