Re-visiting Large Format With Gerhard Fromm
Gerhard Fromm takes us to the ARRI Group and talks about his past with MCS 70 Superpanorama, DEFA 70, Jan Jacobsen and much more
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The 70mm Newsletter
|Written by: Thomas Hauerslev||Date: 29.09.2014|
|The MCS 70 Express from Denmark to Germany. Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
Many readers may be familiar with Mr. Gerhard Fromm from München in Germany. His long-time friendship with Jan Jacobsen and his association with the MCS 70 system is well known to people with any interest in the world of "film".
In the late 1990s, Mr. Gerhard Fromm invited me to come to München to talk about movies and cameras and in 2009 I was on my way to see him. I left Copenhagen on a cold Thursday January night, and I was not travelling alone for this epic adventure. My friend of many years, Orla Nielsen joined me en-route and boarded the City Night Line train in Odense. The following morning we would arrive - by train - in south Bavaria to look for traces of the MCS 70 film process. The "search" included a visit to the world famous ARRI Group and the cinema in which the first MCS 70 film opened in 1962.
Orla carried 4 bags which included a JVC HD DV camera, a tripod, lamps and a microphone. We wanted to chronicle the adventure in a short film. I realized Orla was heavily “baggaged”, and asked the very friendly City Night Line train manager about availability of a 1st class sleeping compartment to make room for all the film gear. Luckily, one 1st class compartment was available and I moved into the upstairs room before arrival in Odense.
|More in 70mm reading:|
In the Movies with Gerhard Fromm
Gallery: Re-visiting Large Format With Gerhard Fromm
A Visit to ARRI in München
|Orla and Gerhardrs on the stairs with an old hand cranked 35mm projector|
Once Orla was on board the train we discussed the approach for the weekend and how we should structure the weekend. I already had a series of questions ready which we would use the following day.
Everything was good, the beer was good, life was good, and we were full of anticipation but then a tragic accident happened just as the train departed Flensburg. The train stopped very rapidly, and it felt like someone had used the emergency brakes. Through the windows we could follow flashing lights from the train staff, and suddenly some blue lights appeared in the form of fire trucks. It was 22:30, very dark out side and we felt a sense of anxiety from the staff who could not inform the passengers about what had happened (probably they didn't have all the facts yet).
The following morning we learned that an unknown person had jumped in front of the train. They found the person under the 13th car. The train was three hours delayed, but the the CNL (City Night Line) staff performed exceptional service that morning as we had our breakfast on the train. He kept coming back with refills of tea and coffee and he informed us about the tragic accident. We were anxious to know when we would arrive in München since we had an appointment with ARRI Group that morning. I called Gerhard, our host, and informed him about the delay. We arrived 10:10, 1 hour and 20 min late.
|A lovely poster with a curvaceous director and her camera. Image of the poster by Thomas Hauerslev|
Our host for the weekend Gerhard Fromm (08.03.1932), was a camera assistant by trade, friend of Jan Jacobsen and also one of the key players of the MCS 70 process. Gerhard is well known in the industry from his various inventions such as the water deflector for motion picture cameras, a device which can remove water from camera lenses by rotating glass in front of lens, and also for his very compact magazines for ARRIflex cameras. Gerhard worked on many films, including “Das Boot” with his rain deflector. He built 2 underwater housings for “Das Boot” which was filmed in Helgoland, in the North Sea. He almost won an Oscar for his water deflectors. He was married but later divorced and has no children. He started his career in a Berlin photoshop, moved on to laboratory work, was a color grader with ARRI in Munchen for a year until he became a camera assistant on a travelogues film project in Turkey in 1957. Gerhard likes James Bond movies and knows many people in the München film industry, including Willy Bogner, with whom he worked on “For Your Eyes Only”. Gerhard also worked as a camera assistant on the rarely seen DEFA 70 DDR film “Du Bist Min ein deutsche tagebuch” (Shown during 9. Todd-AO 70mm-Festival 2013). Gerhard shot endless scenes of footage with the DEFA 70 cameras in Hamburg and many other places. Not much was used – Russian propaganda – and Gerhard didn’t like finished movie.
|Orla filming Gerhard, who explains how his German built 15/65mm (marked as DEMAX) IMAX format camera works. Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
When Gerhard inquired what we would like to do during our stay, I suggested we should go to the Royal Filmpalast in Götestrasse and breathe the air of MCS history. Originally, it was Mr. Rudolf Englberth, then manager of the Filmpalast, who asked Jan Jacobsen, to build a regular 65mm camera so he could produce a German version of "Windjammer". Mr. Rudolf Travnicek financed the system but passed away in 1965. He was married to actress Hannelore Bollmann (10.05.1925) who starred in the MCS 70 film “Der Kongreß Amüsiert Sich” as the Duchess de Sagan, and she continued the MCS company after his passing. She still own the rights to "Flying Clipper".
That was in 1961 and the first film in MCS 70 was “Flying Clipper”, which premiered 19. December 1962. The Filmpalast was a huge 700 seat, state of the art, roadshow 70mm and Cinerama cinema. The original cinema has subsequently been rebuilt into a complex of 5 screens (screen A to E), but Gerhard still remembered going to the world premiere of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” at the Royal Palast. The grandson of Mr. Englberth gave a us a complete tour of the two largest cinemas. Royal Palast still have a pair of DP70s (and 70mm projection in screen A and E) but also the latest technology in the form of digital projectors and a THX certification. We did the full tour and saw the projection room and the cinema.
|The Royal Palast cinema in Munchen, 2009. Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
Gerhard reminisced about his friend Jan Jacobsen, who made the MCS camera. "Jan spent many years of his life in Augsburg and in my machine shop". Always used whatever materials he had at hand to build cameras. "Jan drew small drawings on small pieces of paper, beer bricks and went to work. And in no time, he had built a camera", smiles Gerhard. Jan Jacobsen worked very fast, but quickly grew tired of projects. He was impatient man, but a brilliant camera engineer who built all kinds of cameras, including large format in 5 perf. as well as 8 and 15 perf (the first IMAX camera), a studio camera for MGM etc.
Jan did not even have a working permit in Germany, but he was married to a German girl and had two children, a boy and girl. The girl lives in US and his son lives in Germany. Jan Jacobsen was a very shy person, didn’t like to be photographed or publicity. He made the first mirror reflex 65mm camera, a very compact and light camera, and he always made the MCS cameras in sets of two - in pairs. 1+2 were the same, 3+4 were the same and 5+6 were same. Six field cameras were made and he continued to develop them from camera to camera when Cinematographers came back with suggestions. He then changed several things from camera to camera. He also built 2 studio cameras MCS 70s “1 and 2”. They were later sold to a Swiss company and rebuilt for 65mm 3D with 2 side-by-side anamorphic images. One of the 3D films was “Operation Taifun” with Vivi Bak - the Danish actress. One field camera was lost during the filming of "Flying Clipper". Another one is with Arane Gulliver in Paris, and a third camera is in private hands in Germany. The rest are unaccounted for.
|The 65mm MCS-camera, which was lost in the Mediterranean sea, was the prototype, and different to the six field-cameras ever built. Rumours tell a story about an insurance-affair - but better ask Heinz Hoelscher or Gerhard Fromm!|
One Camera is still at ARANE-Paris, another one in CINEMATHEQUE PARIS, one is here in my home and two were sold a long time ago to NASA. If No. 6 still exist, it would be in a museum or in private hands, however, that is unknown.
Jürgen Brückner, Coburg
|Gerhard Fromm (sitting), Orla Nielsen (left) and Thomas Hauerslev (right)|
We returned to Gerhard's house in Warddeinstrasse to see his camera collection and listen to his stories. Orla had brought the video camera so we could interview Gerhard on camera for a short film for in70mm.com's YouTube section. A text version of the interview appeared as "In the Movies with Gerhard Fromm".
Both Friday and Saturday afternoon were spent with Gerhard. Of course we had schnitzel and the “Schweiger”, the local and very good München beer. Gerhard is very good company, and we have since met in Karlsruhe during the Todd-AO festival, and it is always big smiles when we meet each other.
We returned to our Flora Garni hotel room very tired from our final day with Gerhard. Sunday was an early start, just after 5 am. We had breakfast at the Hauptbahnhof (central station) and I took some train pictures before we boarded. The return trip was very uneventful compared to ride a few days earlier. Orla and I spent 6 hours talking and taking notes of the visit. Germany is famous for it’s train system, and the ride to Hamburg is on DB’s ICE (InterCity Express) train, which goes at least 243 km/h (150 miles/h) on some parts of the track. On this luxurious train one can go from either end of Germany to the other in 6-7 hours. That is luxury – and everybody is entitled to some luxury. We parted in Hamburg, went our separate ways, and felt we had had a luxury film history experience with Gerhard Fromm.
• Go to In the Movies with Gerhard Fromm
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