Widescreen Weekend 2012: Sunday

Right now I’m busy settling into my summer home in Rochester, NY, and beginning an internship at the Image Permanence Institute. To keep the blog ticking over, I’ve queued up the reports from last month’s Widescreen Weekend. Enjoy!

Sunday’s retrospectaculars:

Cinerama! Cinerama!

Apparently this Cinerama-o-rama is a regular feature of the festival. Basically, festival patrons bring along anything related to widescreen cinema and the projectionists will screen it. Highlights included an introduction to the new 4K digital projector (I’m not particularly knowledgeable or skilled in digital projection but WHOAH  that was impressive) and pink 1960s footage of the Monaco Grand Prix; I couldn’t make out much of the latter, as it was in French, but Toshiro Mifune was definitely in attendance! There was also archive film of an original Cinerama pop-up cinema, setting up shop across France in the 1950s. Lastly, a look at the only commercial ever shot in Cinerama, the Renault Dauphin ad of 1960  – sublime!

Then there was the camera call for all festival attendees on the stage. Here we are:

Lecture: From Biograph to Fox Grandeur – Early Experiments in Large Format Presentations

This was the fourth time I’d seen Kevin Brownlow speak. First, I saw him and Paolo Cherchi-Usai in dialogue for the International Institute for Conservation, then he came to our classroom with a bag full of silent film goodies, then I saw him as part of the Pordenone Film Festival’s Collegium, talking about Napoleon. I was a little worried that I’d heard the lecture before, but I handn’t. Napoleon‘s triptych was talked of during the lecture, but moreover Brownlow confirmed something I’d always suspected: that widescreen technology is as old as cinema itself, it just took a while to find formats that were financially viable. However, evidence suggests that the 360 degree panorama film at the Paris Exposition of 1900 did NOT actually happen – boo.

Around the World in Eighty Days (Michael Anderson, USA, 1955)

In amongst all the beautiful preservations, restorations and remastered screenings in abundance at this year’s Widescreen Weekend, I was beginning to think I’d never see a properly pink print. Luckily, here was David Niven in a fetching shade of magenta to set things right.

You’ve probably seen bits of Around the World in Eighty Days; I certainly remember seeing it on bank holidays on our teeny tiny Academy-ratio’d terrestrial television. However, I bet you’ve not seen it in full, in its proper Todd-AO 2.20:1 aspect ratio. Yeah, it was pinker than a Barbie dream house and the sound crackled like fireworks near the intermission, but it still beats home exhibition.

After Around the World in 80 Days my festival buddy and I went to Nando’s and then went on our mundane, dreary way home. There was more of the festival left, including 2003 documentary Cinerama Adventure, new release Samasara and a Michael Douglas double-bill, but I had neglected the ol’ PhD for too long.

Bradford, I hardly knew ye. Until next year.


Widescreen Weekend 2012: Saturday

Right now I’m busy settling into my summer home in Rochester, NY, and beginning an internship at the Image Permanence Institute. To keep the blog ticking over, I’ve queued up the reports from last month’s Widescreen Weekend. Enjoy!

What’s in the bag, Widescreen Weekend?

As a festival delegate, I am a sucker for freebies. In my limited experience, the Widescreen Weekend loot was relatively generous considering that the weekend is just one part of a larger event. However, it must be said that some of the stuff was a little bit odd…!

1. Bag and XL t-shirt, leftover from the 2011 Bradford Animation Film Festival.

2. Black Sheep cap and bottle opener, acquired at the opening night drinks reception.

3. Issues of Cinema Technology and CInema Retro magazines.

4. Tickets for all screenings and events.

5. Pen, pad and, er, mouse pad from Dataset.

6. What looks to be a knock-off DVD of Hidden Hawaii, an IMAX film! (My friend got an even weirder pirated copy of Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 adaptation of Little Women!)

7. Spare toothbrush and AA batteries.

8. Pretty promotional postcards for the upcoming Flicker Alley DVD releases of This is Cinerama and Windjammer.

9. Brochure for the entire Bradford International Film Festival (time and budget constraints probably preclude a Widescreen Weekend only pamphlet, though this would have been handier).

10. Lanyard and delegate pass to add to my collection.

So, once I had confused my festival buddy by getting up early to photograph my belongings, we went to Gregg’s to stock up on supplies (recommended: timings are too tight to get lunch and dinner most days) before setting off for another day’s retrospectacles.

Cinerama Update by Randy Gitsch and Dave Strohmaier

Dry title for what was anything but a dry talk. Being somewhat of a widescreen newbie, I was unaware that essentially the widescreen movement is being kept alive by a small but dedicated circle of technological enthusiasts, archivists and, well, rich benefactors. Randy Gitsch and Dave Strohmaier are at the forefront of Cinerama research and development. They don’t just find and restore Cinerama titles and technologies, they’re in the business of producing brand new Cinerama on a proper Cinerama camera. Among general updates on their restoration work, the fellas showed us some pretty stunning rushes of Los Angeles, on brand new colour stock but shot with a 1950s tri-mounted camera.

Lecture: Cinerama in the South Seas

I love it when archivists nerd out with their collections. I get the impression that historian David Coles has been waiting a long time to show us absolutely everything to do with the people who produced and starred in Cinerama – South Seas Adventure in advance of the screen, sourced from various documents. The crowning glory was the attendance of Ramine, the Hawaiian beauty whose grass-skirt-wearing visage was heavily used to promote the film on its original release.

South Seas Adventure (Carl Dudley, Richard Goldstone, Francis D. Lyon, Walter Thompson, Basil Wrangell, USA, 1958)

Unlike This is Cinerama (original three-strip print) or Cinerama’s Russian Adventure (70mm remastered print), Cinerama – South Seas Adventure was presented digitally, smileboxed to fit the curvy screen with 5.1 digital stereo sound. While the remastering was super-impressive, the screening itself was lacking a certain wobbly authenticity.

The content was the usual Cinerama mix of fluffy scripted nonsense (in this case, a couple who find love on holiday to Hawaii) and stonking travelogue plane footage. The second half was the best bit, featuring the School of the Air and the flying doctors in the Australian outback.

Ryan’s Daughter (David Lean, 1970)

This is NOT Cinerama! Rather, this was a stunningly preserved 70mm print of David Lean’s underestimated classic. I’d never seen a 70mm print before*, and had never seen Ryan’s Daughter either, having always believed it to be the weakest of Lean’s epic period in the late 1960s. Happily, I was so wrong. Sheldon Hall mentioned in his introduction that it’s a fascinating companion piece to Brief Encounter (my favourite film evah) and I’m inclined to agree. Formally, it couldn’t be more different, but it deals with the same themes but inverts and distorts the results. Monochrome middle England becomes sepia-hued widescreen coastal Ireland. Selfless stoicism becomes urgent and impetuous adultery. War shifts from being unspoken of to being the pivotal action. It even has Trevor Howard, though he’s no longer the youthful romantic, but the voice of morality. It’s long, yet endlessly involving.

* I’ve seen brief clips of 70mm projected in the cinema and I’ve seen it in the archiving classroom. I’ve also technically seen The Red Shoes projected from a 7omm print, but that was a modern print of a digital restoration of a 35mm film. This was my first ‘proper’ 70mm print screening of a ‘proper’ Super Panavision widescreen film, and it was so clear I swear I could see Sarah Miles’ pores. Photochemicals being what they are (i.e. irreversible), this print (sourced from Sweden) even included original Swedish subtitles!

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (Henry Levin, USA, 1961)

I have a gripe with the Widescreen Weekend. The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm is out-and-out family fayre, yet here it was screened late in the evening which meant there was a distinct lack of kids. I bet kids would love to see a Cinerama print on the massive curve. The film itself was recognised as flawed on its original release, and flawed it sadly is, but the peppy, colourful dance numbers and the presence of the Puppetoons make it entertaining nonetheless. Kudos to the Widescreen Weekend for getting it sent over all the way from Australia, and well done to John H Mitchell, the notable Cinerama-loving wonder who constructed his owned curved screen in his back garden and who restored and printed new magnetic sound from the hopelessly vinegary original.

Widescreen Weekend 2012: Friday

Right now I’m busy settling into my summer home in Rochester, NY, and beginning an internship at the Image Permanence Institute. To keep the blog ticking over, I’ve queued up the reports from last month’s Widescreen Weekend. Enjoy!

First thing to understand about the Widescreen Weekend is that it’s almost entirely comprised of 195s, 1960s and 1970s roadshow release films. Roadshow style distribution meant that audiences, particularly in the US, would travel great distances to see ‘the’ film of the moment. But, how were the studios going to make their blockbusters sufficiently enticing, especially during the growth of television? Why, by making films BIG, by making them LOUD, and by making them LONG! Three and a half hours was pretty standard for an epic, a musical or a melodrama at that time, so you got your money’s worth. So, if it looks like I didn’t see a lot at the Widescreen Weekend, you have to remember that I spent upwards of nine hours a day watching films.

Anyways, Friday’s spectacles:

Cinerama’s Russian Adventure (USSR, 1966)

Unfortunately, there is no review of the first half of Cinerama’s Russian Adventure, one of the travelogues produced to showcase Cinerama (ggrrr, trains). However, I can tell you that what came after the intermission was a mixture of weird and wacky shtuff like footage of bears nicking candy-coloured beehives, interspersed with thrilling footage of loggers rafting down a great river, all brought together by the soothing-yet-incongruous presence of Bing Crosby as narrator.

Technically, Cinerama’s Russian Adventure is not truly a Cinerama motion picture. It was, in fact, shot using an almost identical process called Kinopanorama, developed in the USSR, also using three cameras. Moreover, the edition seen in Bradford was a carefully remastered edition printed onto 70mm stock. Thus, while it was projected onto the curved screen, only one projector was involved. Therefore, it was not my first foray into ‘true’ Cinerama.

The Windjammer Voyage: A Cinemirace Adventure (David Strohmaier et al, USA/Australia/Norway, 2011)

Alack, still grumpy from having spent upwards of five hours on a train (which got stuck 20 minutes north of King’s Cross), I went for lunch and skipped this presentation about the Cinemiracle extravaganza Windjammer (Louis de Rochemont, 1958). Cinemiracle was another not-quite-Cinerama format.

However, if you do want to know more about this curiosity, it is being released on dual-edition DVD’n’Bluray combo by Flicker Alley, including tons of extras provided by Dave Strohmaier, Randy Gitsch and other Cine-Kino-Pano-Miracle-Rama fanatics. It’s even ‘smileboxed’, so the picture will mimic the curvy screen!

This is Cinerama (Fred Waller et al, USA, 1952)

OK, this was definitely Cinerama proper! Three-strip archive projection, seven-track stereo sound, the whole shebang and it was ah-mazing!

Firstly, the film itself is pretty darn thrilling in that retro-spectacle way; a whistlestop tour through the cities of the world (Venice is even better in Widescreen), fab fifties holiday resorts, America from the air and a bone-rattlling rollercoaster the likes of which they don’t make any more.

Moreover, though, the experience of watching a three-strip projection is fascinating. The panels could fall out of sync momentarily, or one panel might have a light-flare flash across it. Of course, archival prints are all liable to deterioration and/or colour fading, so when you’re dealing with three prints all deteriorating at different rates, it results in some pretty wild colour-combos flashing before your eyes. It all makes for an exciting – and at times nervewracking! – experience.

Loren Janes Lecture: How The Stunts Were Done!

Loren Janes is a retired stuntman with a very impressive resume. Esther Williams diving from up high? Loren Janes. MacGyver fighting off crooks at high speed? Loren Janes. Think of any action film from the latter half of the 20th century, chances are Janes was involved. Dude was Steve McQueen’s longstanding stunt double – including Bullitt!

The impossibly prolific octogenarian superhuman was in Bradford filling us in on all the stunts from How the West Was Won. Just so you know, that ain’t Debbie Reynolds swinging up onto that wild horse…

How the West Was Won (John Ford, Henry Hathaway and George Marshall, USA, 1961)

More archival three-strip for the opening night finale. How the West Was Won – in original Cinerama – is a film all film buffs should see. Not just for the stunts and the spectacle, but the soundtrack. I’d gotten all psyched up by the widescreen excitement that I sorta forgot about the stereo sound, but when you hear that theme surrounding your eardrums it’s quite something.

Speaking of the dangers of archival Cinerama, the central panel of How the West Was Won actually did break during the screening. While the projectionists did some pretty snappy splicing, the audience were treated to an emergency breakdown reel, produced for such occasions by the makers of This is Cinerama. Such unique extras just wouldn’t happen in a digital screening!

Kine Bi-Weekly

Kine Artefacts shall go to the ball! Or rather, go to the archive film festivals! On Friday the blog will be reporting from the British Silent Film Festival (and lobbying for its return to Nottingham next year), and the weekend after I’ll reporting from (nearly) all of Bradford International Film Festival’s Widescreen Weekend!

In other blog-related news, my web designer/therapist and I have been working on a new improved blog, including custom design with a couple of fancy widgets in the works. Hopefully I’ll be able to wangle in some Southern Television resources to help other TV historians… Of course, I’m still developing a schedule for actually updating this darn thing regularly, so progress may be slow!

But that’s enough of me. Here are some archive film and TV tidbits from across the netosphere that caught my eye this past fortnight:

LA Weekly > Movie Studios are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film, but the Consequences are Vast, and Troubling >> Dur, dur, duuuuuurrrr!

LUX > David Hall’s End Piece >> What with moving image archivists focusing so much on the death of analogue cinema, one forgets that broadcasting is in a similar transition. David Hall’s television sets are timed to tune out alongside Crystal Palace’s analogue signal. I’ll be there for the white-noise-afterparty this weekend.

TV Techonolgy > Archiving, Preservation Moves into 21st Century >> Piece on how the broadcasting industry is attempting to address keeping TV artefacts in digital forms; see Joshua Ranger’s answer to the article here.

New Empress Magazine > The Ritz Cinema, Thirsk: A Photo Tour >> Happy 100th birthday to The Ritz – cinemas are artefacts, too, y’know!

Movie Morlocks: 10 of the World’s Most Unique Movie Theaters >> Glad to boast that I went to Futurescope in 1995! I think I still have the promotional VHS somewhere…

The Baltimore Sun > Gloves or no gloves? The archivist’s dilemma >> Also applicable to moving image artefacts, the goves/no gloves question crops up with surprising frequency (and documentary makers always ask archivists to don gloves!).

Silent London > The Silent London Podcast >> Woah! This blog’s talking like it’s 1927!

Moving Image Archive News > More Interviews with Moving Image Archivists >> MIAN has a brilliant collection of interviews, so you can meet the archivists behind the artefacts.