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Arts & Culture

Rob Edelman: Cinerama Spectacular

These days, not all home entertainment is rented, downloaded, streamed... Some consumers and film lovers still purchase DVDs and Blu-rays and, if you are looking for an unusual holiday gift, might I suggest two new-to-DVD and Blu-ray titles from Flicker Alley.

They are THE BEST OF CINERAMA, which dates from 1962 and includes clips from five previous Cinerama features, and RUSSIAN ADVENTURE, released in 1966 and hosted by Bing Crosby. The images in both films were shot in a three-panel widescreen process known as Cinerama. During the previous decade, movie attendance was in sharp decline and this and other widescreen processes were employed to lure audiences away from their TV sets and back into theaters.

Now an alternate title for THE BEST OF CINERAMA might be AROUND THE WORLD IN 143 MINUTES. The film is narrated by Lowell Thomas, the famed writer, broadcaster, and world traveler, and he is not so much a reporter here as a tour guide. THE BEST OF CINERAMA opens with a plane soaring majestically through the skies, and what follows are images from across the globe that are collectively spectacular and that primarily are filmed from the air. Why, there’s the Matterhorn... and Paris in the morning... and Athens... and Naples... and Venice... and St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican City. These are just for openers. What follows are views of everything from the Grand Canyon to the Suez Canal, the Hawaiian islands to the Australian outback. Sprinkled in are performances by everyone from Watusi dancers to the Vienna Boys Choir, the sum total of which reflect on cultural diversity from across-the-globe.

THE BEST OF CINERAMA images are collectively crisp and stunning. They look as if they were filmed last week, rather than over a half-century ago and, in this regard, they make the past come vividly alive. Indeed, the clothing styles worn by individuals who are not garbed in tribal dress are the only hints that the sequences date from the 1950s.   

Historically, when one thinks of the 1950s, one may conjure up the Cold War, the Korean War, Senator Joseph McCarthy, the Hollywood Blacklist, the pervading fear of nuclear war... But none of this is touched on in THE BEST OF CINERAMA. The images serve to mirror a colorful, upbeat post-war world. And the same holds true for RUSSIAN ADVENTURE, which is a compilation of Cinerama films made by various Russian filmmakers. 

Now granted, RUSSIAN ADVENTURE was released when the Cold War still was red-hot and, at this time cinematically-speaking, Russians in Hollywood films primarily were scheming secret agents. But the overall effect of RUSSIAN ADVENTURE is that it offers up an altogether different look at a country and its people. A drive through the streets of Moscow or a peek into the city’s subway system allow us a view of much more than what we are used to seeing in your typical 1950s and 60s East-versus-West Hollywood thriller. Plus, there are shots of rivers, farmland, waterways, stately buildings, and lots of snow-- and Russia and America become linked when we are told that the Volga is “almost as long as our own Mississippi.”

THE BEST OF CINERAMA and RUSSIAN ADVENTURE include both DVD and Blu-ray versions. Among their extras are short documentaries detailing their restorations. And finally, a note of caution: For the optimum effect, you really need to watch these films on the largest-possible screen.

Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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