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Life in Three Panels
How an article helped save the Cinerama process

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Greg Kimble Date: 28.09.2022
Greg Kimble (2002) and the fateful October 1983 issue of American Cinematographer.

The obsession began in 1963.

I was 12 years old, on a YMCA day trip (by train!) from Wilmington, Delaware to Philadelphia to see "How The West Was Won" at the Boyd Theater (now demolished). I was seated, quite by chance, in the exact center of the curtain-concealed screen.

I don’t recall that I knew anything about the new “
Cinerama” process it utilized. So far as I knew, it was just another movie. Then Leo appeared on the still-closed curtain. His roar, shook the theater and thumped on my chest. I immediately knew something very special was happening.

The curtain parted…and parted…and PARTED until it reached beyond the proscenium nearly all the way to the balcony. I had to turn my head to take it all in as I was just a tad closer than (what I learned later was called) “the sweet spot”.

As Alfred Newman’s muscular overture began, a small voice in my head whispered, “This movie is going to very important in your life.”

The little voice was right.

Fast forward 5 years. I’m a high school senior, desperate to find this mythical “American Cinematographer” magazine. It wasn’t in our library, and was unknown on any newsstand. (Duh, it was Wilmington.) In those days, the only way to subscribe was by contacting them at their address, which was helpfully printed in the magazine, which I couldn’t find anywhere. (My first experience of a Catch-22.)

Fast forward 15 years. I’m visiting with my model unit DP [Karl Herrmann] of the just completed “The Right Stuff”. I’d been going on and on for months about how I’d love to write a major Cinerama article for the 20th anniversary of "HTWWW" but knew not how to approach the editor of the famed magazine.
More in 70mm reading:

"How The West Was Won" - in Cinerama

Cinerama's 50th Anniversary

Fred Waller's 1950 Diary (See November 8)

Who is Greg Kimble?

in70mm.com's Cinerama page

in70mm.com's Library

Presented on the big screen in 7OMM

Peripheral Vision, Scopes, Dimensions and Panoramas

John Harvey rewinding Cinerama at the New Neon, Dayton, 1997. Picture: Thomas Hauerslev

Suddenly Karl made a call, then handed the phone to me and said, “Here, talk to George.” George TURNER? The editor of American freakin’ Cinematographer? After I recovered and made the pitch, dear George agreed enthusiastically and a year later, in the October 1983 issue, it came to be. I ended it with a shamelessly emotional callback, as I wanted people to really wish they could see Old Three-eyes again.

• Go to "How The West Was Won" - in Cinerama
• Go to Cinerama's 50th Anniversary
• Go to Fred Waller's 1950 Diary (See November 8)

In the Fall of 1997, I attended screenings at the New Neon Theater in Dayton, Ohio, which had been reconfigured for Cinerama by a retired projectionist who moved the three projectors from his house(!). The ASC article was known by the theater owner, Larry Smith, who invited me up on stage for a chat. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned the article in passing and, as an aside, Larry turned to the audience and said, “Oh yes, it was that article that inspired our projectionist, John Harvey to bring back Cinerama.” I nearly lost it in front of everyone. Until then, I had no idea that my article had found the one person in the world who could do what I assumed was a vain hope.

The greatest “coincidence” of all happened just days later. Our VFX pre-production meeting for the first "Doctor Doolittle" remake had wrapped early, so I stopping by the local Laser Disc store (remember those?). A guy in a “New Neon Cinema” sweatshirt was just exiting. I struck up a conversation about Cinerama, eventually confessing I was the author of the 1983 article. Sweatshirt guy was Dave Strohmaier in whose documentary I later appeared after figuring out how to transfer and recombine three panels into standard definition (HD was years away) for all the Cinerama sequences used in the film. (Later I did it over with proper scans for HD.)
A 3-lens panoramic webcam designed to cover a 90, 120, 140, or 180 degree field. Its internal software blends the images seamlessly and no vignetting.

Had I been as little as 10 seconds later, I would have missed him.

In 2002, "Cinerama Adventure" was completed and Dave invited me to join him to address the membership of the ASC at their clubhouse on Orange Dr. in Hollywood. In 40 years, I had gone from a kid in Delaware who wanted their magazine in vain, to addressing the very gods of cinematography. Because I knew stuff they didn’t.

It was a truly surreal moment.

In the years since, with the introduction of small, lightweight electronic cameras, I’ve often pondered how to rig a Cinemiracle-style camera and hang it under a drone.

Then just last week, I found this on eBay: "a 3-lens panoramic webcam designed to cover a 90, 120, 140, or 180 degree field. Its internal software blends the images seamlessly and no vignetting!" I think my heart stopped for a moment. The little voice didn’t need to speak this time.

He just smiled.

End Title Crawl

70th anniversary of CINERAMA 30. September 2022 - the motion picture process that changed movies forever.

This year marks several milestones. It is the 70th anniversary of the premier of Cinerama, the 60th anniversary of "How The West Was Won", the 40th anniversary of the surprisingly influential ASC article and (in 2023) the 35th anniversary of The 70mm Newsletter / in70mm.com. With the indefinite closure of the Seattle Cinerama Theater, only the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood and Pictureville Cinema in Bradford (UK) remains to present the format. The Dome has full 3-panel prints of both "This Is Cinerama" and "HTWWW".

Fortunately, the preservation efforts of Dave Strohmaier, Tom March and Randy Gitsch have guaranteed that Cinerama survives on BluRay and occasional digital screenings across Europe.

Lowell Thomas was sure the format would some day be reborn. (I’m looking at you Christopher Nolan.) As studios lose market share and theaters to streaming, who knows? Perhaps as Princess Leia said, “It’s not over yet.”
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Updated 07-01-23