Monday, September 08, 2008

Big screen

I'm fascinated by the New York Times' take on the Blu-Ray release of How the West Was Won, the rare narrative film made in the original, three-strip Cinerama process. Dave Kehr writes: "The images are so crisp as to feel almost unreal; the depth of field seems dreamlike, infinite, with the blades of grass in the foreground as sharply in focus as the snow-capped mountains in the distant background."

I'm transported back more than ten years, when a friend and I made the 10-hour round-trip drive from Chicago to an art cinema in Dayton, Ohio to see This Is Cinerama, the first film made in the three-strip process, back in 1952. Some nut -- um, enthusiast -- had cobbled together enough equipment and film reels to reproduce the Cinerama process, which has three projectors going at once to create a giant, wide image. Like most three-strip Cinerama films (only a handful were made), This Is Cinerama is a travelogue, with scenes shot on a roller coaster; in Venice; and at a Florida water ski show.

I loved the experience, not least because the various bits of film had been gathered from different sources and had aged differently. So sometimes the image in the middle was, say, pinker than the others. Okay, that aspect was more interesting than I'm making it sound.

And 50 years later, old prints notwithstanding, the presentation looked simply wonderful -- as enthralling as Kehr makes it sound, except that I was looking at a huge movie screen, not a television. Widescreen TV is great, but you still can't beat moviegoing. I want the film of my life to be in three-strip Cinerama.