Rob Edelman: This (Indeed) Is Cinerama

Jun 25, 2018

In recent years, Flicker Alley has been releasing to home entertainment some visually stunning films, most of which are well-over a half-century old. These titles were filmed in a three-panel widescreen process known as Cinerama. Back in the 1950’s, movie attendance was in sharp decline because of the advent and popularity of television, and so Cinerama as well as other widescreen processes were employed to lure audiences away from their TV sets and back into movie theaters.

Well now, Flicker Alley has just marketed a beautiful restoration of the very first Cinerama feature. It dates from 1952; it employs the original camera elements that were restored just last year; and it is titled, appropriately, THIS IS CINERAMA. And boy, what a pleasure it is to see and savor THIS IS CINERAMA. What we have here is the original roadshow version complete with overture, intermission, and exit music, but at the film’s core is its images, which take us right back to 1952. The era is illustrated in every shot that features individuals garbed in mid-20th-century-style fashions. However, when folks are not on-camera and the images are strictly of our natural world, what we see just as easily might have been filmed last week, or this morning.

THIS IS CINERAMA is narrated by Lowell Thomas, who back in his day was a famed writer, broadcaster, and world traveler. And here, Thomas labels the content of THIS IS CINERAMA “the latest development in the magic of light and sound.” The film opens with a brief history of the moving image through 1952, but what follows is what makes THIS IS CINERAMA extra-special. It is, at its core, a tour of our world in 1952. Its first section includes images that were filmed across the globe: everything from a roller coaster ride to a bullring, the canals of Venice to a castle in Edinburgh, a Viennese palace to La Scala in Milan. And its second section centers on the beauty and greatness of America, from the Grand Canyon to Hoover Dam, a Utah copper mine to Midwestern wheat fields, the Rocky Mountains to Manhattan Island, and on, and on.

Rob Edelman teaches film history courses at the University at Albany. He has contributed to many arts and baseball-related publications; his latest book, which he co-edited, is From Spring Training To Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

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