Back in 1952, cinema-going changed forever when a revolutionary new process called Cinerama introduced audiences to a super-wide, immersive picture, projected onto a deeply curved screen and accompanied by 7 tracks of high quality sound. This was a huge leap from the mainly black-and-white standard images with mono sound that audiences were used to.
It was an amazing success, but the cost and complexity of the process—using three 35mm films projected side by side—eventually led to its downfall after only 10 years.
Despite its relatively short life, Cinerama was an important step in the development of widescreen cinema. Dedicated enthusiasts from across the globe kept the process alive by rescuing equipment and films from closing cinemas. Some of them even built Cinerama cinemas in their homes and backyards.
We took the view that this important development should be available to a wider audience, so when we were working on Pictureville Cinema ahead of its opening in 1992, provision was made to install the necessary equipment to show 3-strip Cinerama films on a Cinerama screen at a later date.
Quite by chance, two projectors previously used as part of a Cinerama installation had been acquired for use showing conventional films in our IMAX auditorium back in 1983, and these formed the basis for our system.
After several years of work by enthusiasts who collected, restored, rebuilt and installed the projectors, sound equipment and screen required to present this amazing cinema experience, Cinerama was reborn when the museum screened This is Cinerama in Pictureville Cinema on 16 June 1993, our 10th birthday.
The system was pieced together with parts coming to us from many countries including France, Belgium, Australia, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany and the United States.
John Harvey from Dayton, Ohio—who at that time had a fully functional 3-strip Cinerama cinema in his home—supervised the installation, and worked alongside fellow enthusiast Willem Bouwmeester to bring the process back to life.
Cinerama Inc. provided a new copy of the film which was screened in the presence of Doris Waller—the widow of Fred Waller, the inventor of Cinerama. It was a truly emotional day.
In the 20 years since that screening we have attracted high-profile fans such as Bill Bryson and Mark Kermode who have rediscovered the thrill of this 60-year-old film.
It’s the ability to screen films like this in their original format that makes this museum a truly unique venue, and such an exciting place to work.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Cinerama in our Pictureville theatre, we’ll be screening a special double bill of the very first and the very latest Cinerama films, This is Cinerama and In the Picture, tomorrow (Saturday 1 June 2013) at 12.30. This will be your last chance to see the first ever Cinerama film for some time, because from 4 July 2013 we’ll be replacing our monthly screenings of This is Cinerama with Cinerama Holiday.