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Cinerama Adventure
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by Collin Souter

"A thorough and affectionate documentary and a must for film buffs"
4 stars

(SCREENED AT THE 2003 CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL) I’m always put off by a documentarian telling me what I’m about to see. “Cinerama Adventure” opens with the filmmaker, David Strohmaier, telling us that he remembered the process of Cinerama as a child and decided to embark on a research project and we will be watching the result (music swells). It always makes me groan. Will this movie be about Strohmaier making a discovery or about the Cinerama process itself? Thankfully, we get the latter. Once Strohmaier’s awkward introduction ceases, “Cinerama Adventure” turns into a highly entertaining documentary about one of cinema’s most ambitious and controversial products.

Cinerama came about in 1952 when movie attendance fell from 92 million patrons a year to 56 million, thanks mostly to the advent of television. Hollywood needed help and the best way to boost attendance would be to give the audience something spectacular that they couldn’t see at home. Movie pioneer Fred Waller, who worked with D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. Demille, first invented a jumbled camera process called Vitarama, which utilized eleven cameras to help give a you-are-there feel. Some of the Vitarama movies were used to assist and train fighter pilots for aerial dogfights. Thus, Vitarama might be considered the world’s first virtual reality device.

But Cinerama was made for the masses. It utilized three cameras shooting simultaneously. The image, when broken into three parts, would be projected on a curved screen taking full advantage of the viewer’s peripheral vision. In 1952, the first movie in Cinerama, “This Is Cinerama,” resembled the IMAX movies of today. No plot, no characters, just spectacle (Roller coasters, white water rafting, aerial photography). When people attended a Cinerama movie, they would not just be going to the movies. They would be going to an event. No popcorn or soda had ever been served at a Cinerama movie.

Of course, the process had its limitations. “This Is Cinerama” became the highest grossing movie if the year, even though it could only be played at one theater. Strohmaier’s straightforward documentary chronicles the success of the process as well as its shortcomings once it became utilized for standard narrative movies, such as “How the West Was Won.” The documentary also chronicles the use of “This Is Cinerama,” with its use of the song America the Beautiful, to upset the eager Russians who had interest in the project and even came up with a version of their own (Keno Panarama).

Strohmaier spends most of the documentary examining the personalities that made Cinerama a success, including Lowell Thomas, producer of “This Is Cinerama,” Harry Squire, director of photography for “Seven Wonders of the World,” and Nicholas Reisini, president of Cinerama. Many people who worked behind the scenes for the Cinerama movies show up to give their accounts, as well as film historians (Leonard Maltin, of course) and film directors (Joe Dante). Strohmaier clearly has an affection for his subject. He and his team spent three years researching Cinerama and it shows. The movie moves along beautifully and viewers who only have a rudimentary knowledge of the film processes of the ‘50s will undoubtedly walk out of the movie glad that they know a lot more.

Of course, “Cinerama Adventure” invites comparisons to the technologies of today and, of course, the film historians declare that the digital sound and IMAX screens of today don’t carry the same power of Cinerama. Maybe they don’t (Cinerama is only shown on special occasions at three theaters across the country), but Strohmaier’s documentary makes us curious enough to want to make a fair comparison. The movie is a must for film buffs who don’t want to be lectured on “the good old days” of cinema. It also makes me want to find the old 45 with the song “Widescreen Mama!” which would probably be more entertaining than that 3-D IMAX T-Rex movie. But you don’t need me to tell you that, now do you?

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8206&reviewer=233
originally posted: 09/30/03 09:24:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

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4/16/16 tdgjzeuv USA 5 stars
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Directed by
  David Strohmaier

Written by
  David Strohmaier

  Joe Dante
  Leonard Maltin
  Debbie Reynolds
  Russ Tamblyn
  Eli Wallach
  Otto Lang

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