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The Passing of Widescreen Academy Member John Mitchell, Australia

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: David Coles, Sydney, Australia. Thanks to Bert Murphy and Cameron Glendinning for pictures Date: 07.08.2020
John Mitchell's favorite photo of himself - shot in his projection room by Bert Murphy 2017

I regret to advise that John Mitchell has died in hospital aged 79 (not of Covid-19). He had been in declining health (with a heart condition) for several years. He determined that the last 3-strip showing on April 12/13 2019 would be the last. And so it was.

In the mid-1970s Sydney film collector/enthusiast John H. Mitchell found himself as the proud possessor of 35mm magnetic soundtracks to a swag of old Cinerama movies. With several years of dogged persistence (and a lot of good luck along the way) he managed to obtain 3-strip projectors from our closed Cinerama theatre in the city, also gathering other parts and print material from around the country - and the world. Eventually he pieced together a full collection of 3-strip prints, prologues, breakdown films and trailers from those features, and set up a fully functional private open-air cinema in his back garden. Over the years many widescreen enthusiasts found their way to this location, which would become legendary.

Various local actors and crew from "SOUTH SEAS ADVENTURE" turned up - along with poster girl Ramine from Bora Bora. Two
"WINDJAMMER" boys - Harald and Sven - came: all the way ... from Norway. "SEARCH FOR PARADISE" director Otto Lang - well into his 90s - arrived from Seattle by ship. Prominent Cinerama promoters like Keith Swadkins, Willem Bouwmeester and Tom March also made the pilgrimage. After 40 years of showings (usually two weekends a year): advancing age, and a stroke suffered a few years ago, had slowed John down to the point where lifting those heavy reels became too much for an old picture show man.

Despite an eager bunch of helpers being keen to assist, he determined that the weekend of April 12/13 last year [2019] would bring an end to the 3-strip era Down Under. By then it was not just the projectionist who had become worn out - most of his prints had deteriorated to un-runability, while any good ones had been donated to the Bradford museum.

It has been through the efforts of John Mitchell, John Harvey, Willem Bouwmeester, Gunther Jung and other enthusiasts (not to mention the goodwill of Cinerama, Inc.) that enough 3-panel material was saved from destruction until our savior Dave Strohmaier and the digital age arrived on the scene to save those widescreen classics for posterity. Our Mr Mitchell was pleased to have played a role. John had no close family - just a bunch of like-minded mates who will mourn his passing, and miss the nostalgic film experiences provided by his hard work and enthusiasm.

As a 'non-projectionist' Cinerama nutter I still can't believe I had the good fortune of meeting John, and having been invited to attend the only 3-strip venue in the Southern Hemisphere - just a few miles from my home! Over my years of research, John was always keen to provide technical assistance and put up with my ideas (some of which would over-stretch many friendships). We attended the 1993 Cinerama opening at Bradford, but despite my encouragement (and indeed pleading) he chose not to attend the 2012 event where his certificate of meritorious Cineramic conduct was awarded. (In the early days of picture shows 'limelight' was the projectionists friend - but John preferred to stay out of it.)

John remained reasonably well until earlier this year when a serious heart complaint was detected. At the time of his death he was undergoing chemotherapy treatment - but it would only delay the inevitable. The end came somewhat sooner than expected. John H. Mitchell (1941-2020) a dedicated 3-strip preservationist who has passed into widescreen history. I (along with many others) will miss him - and his contribution to 'the cause'.
More in 70mm reading:

Speech for John Mitchell

John H Mitchell's Twin Presentations

Interview with John H. Mitchell, Australia

Mitchell: Gallery of older pictures

In The Picture - Tom Down Under

in70mm.com's Cinerama page

Remastering the CINERAMA Library

Louis de Rochemont's "Windjammer" produced in Cinemiracle
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Updated 30-06-22