One of the highlights of last weekend’s Cinerama festival at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood wasn’t a vintage movie but a brand-new short-subject called In the Picture, shot with one of the same cameras that photographed How The West Was Won and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. It’s a consciously corny travelogue of Los Angeles featuring two couples (just as in Cinerama Holiday) taking in the sights: Mulholland Drive, the Griffith Park carousel, Griffith Observatory, historic Angels Flight funicular railway in downtown L.A., and a pair of brigantine sailing ships in San Pedro harbor. It so happens that one of the locals showing his visiting friends around town is Stanley Livingston, the former child actor who appeared in How The West Was Won… and when he and his troupe reach their ultimate destination, the Cinerama Dome, they encounter Debbie Reynolds (who played his aunt in that movie) signing autographs in the lobby. A movie can’t get more self-referential than that.
As simple as it sounds, In the Picture makes perfect use of the Cinerama process, just as its predecessors did in the 1950s. It’s great fun to see familiar sights spread out across a gigantic screen, with those “join lines” stitching the three synchronous images together. Most people I spoke to after the debut screening last Friday seemed to agree that the sailing sequence was the most impressive portion of the short.
This unique endeavor was the brainchild of Cinerama aficionado Dave Strohmaier and required a prodigious amount of work to pull off, as we learn in a revealing behind-the-scenes film called The Last Days of Cinerama by Mike Celestino and Robert Garren. First, the surviving cast-iron, three-headed camera had to be restored. When it did run, it made so much noise that virtually all of the sound recorded on location had to be “looped” afterwards. Moving the monstrously heavy machinery took several people, so nothing about the project was easy, whether it was squeezing the camera into an Angels Flight railway car or planning a tracking shot. After wrapping the shoot, it was up to Strohmaier to conform three separate rolls of film in a labor-intensive editing process. (It was unexpectedly bittersweet to see him and his colleagues working with 35mm film, which the movie industry has foolishly decided to make obsolete.)
In the Picture kicked off the Cinerama festival last Friday morning. It was followed by a digital presentation of 1958’s South Seas Adventure, which sold me on the restoration process that’s been implemented by Austin, Texas-based Image Trends Inc. They are working from badly-worn, severely faded color negatives, but you’d never know it from the picture spread on the giant Cinerama Dome screen.
There are still a few days left this week to take in the Cinerama Festival. In the Picture screens with This is Cinerama for the last time on Thursday at 3:45 p.m. If you live in or near Los Angeles, don’t miss out. For more information, click HERE.
A lobby display shows how Image Trends Inc. restored worn, faded Cinerama negatives to the digital medium. You can check out their website at imagetrendsinc.com.
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