On The Screen: Cinerama

posted by ThrHistoricalSociety on May 5, 2015 at 8:24 pm


Is there a Cinerama theatre near you? Cinerama was a novel film process developed to create a unique experience at a time when movie theatres were beginning to feel the effects of television’s popularity.

The brainchild of engineer Fred Waller, Cinerama was devised as a viewing experience that would capture the full vision spectrum, immersing viewers in the film experience.

This diagram, published by Cinerama Films, Inc., gives the clearest idea of the complexities involved in the Cinerama experience. At the bottom you see a camera man recording on three film reels, capturing a broad view. At the same time, multiple microphones are placed to capture a wide range of sounds. At the top, a trio of projectors work to cover the curved three part screen.

While the diagram does it’s best to sell Cinerama, it points out one of the process’ biggest flaws. Looking at the auditorium, it’s clear that people in the center would have an immersive experience, but those on the farther ends certainly were clearly at a less enveloping event.

You can find some cinerama theatres today in the USA, Canada, South America and Europe. Diagram courtesy of THS archives; Seattle Cinerama image by Bill Huelbig via Cinema Treasures; Cinerama Filmtheatre in Rotterdam by Eric Leeuwenberg via Cinema Treasures; Pacific Theatres Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles, decorated for Shrek 2




Comments (44)

pnelson on May 6, 2015 at 3:42 am

Top pic may be of the Seattle Cinerama. It was built in the 60’s and has been remodeled a few times and is now one of the most high-tech theatres on Earth. Still has the original sized screen I believe. Was just revamped as a theatre again recently. Even better sound. Now has stars in the ceiling. They also use the curtain I think.I once saw Blade Runner here and it was in a Cinerama style lense process. Wrap around screen. Also saw 2001 here in the first showing of this film. Quite an experience.

MPol on May 6, 2015 at 8:38 pm

It’s too bad that there isn’t a Cinerama here in the Boston area. I wish there were.

raysson on May 6, 2015 at 8:45 pm

There was a CINERAMA theater in North Carolina that also have a ton of reserved seat engagement showings during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
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michaelkaplan on May 11, 2015 at 7:58 pm

Saw “This is Cinerama” at the Warner in New York in 1953. Sat way up in the balcony, but it was still a thrilling show. Saw it again during its short run at the New Neon in Dayton, Ohio a few years ago. Most impressive was the 3-strip screening of “How the West Was Won” at the ArcLight Cinerama Dome in Hollywood.

Seattleprojectionist on May 15, 2015 at 8:36 pm

The picture on top is indeed the seattle Cinerama. It has been remodeled again since the picture was taken. If the screening of 2001 that you saw was about 3 years ago, it would have been Paul Allen’s own personal 70mm print (newly struck from the negative) for this screening. If you saw it on a Saturday night, I would have been the projectionist who ran it. When running film (rare these days but it does happen) the Cinerama is a 2 projector manual changeover booth with Kinotone 35/70 machines. Theatre now has Dolby Atmos sound and 6K digital laser projection as well.

Eric Leeuwenberg
Eric Leeuwenberg on July 25, 2016 at 11:44 pm

The second picture is the Cinerama cinema in Rotterdam. It’s only a Cinerama by name. Another cinema which can show original Cinerama movies is Pictureville in Bradford UK. http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/3673

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