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Cinerama in the UK: The history of 3-strip cinema in Pictureville Cinema

The National Science and Media Museum is home to Pictureville Cinema, one of only three public venues in the world that can still show Cinerama—and the only one remaining in the UK.

Read on to learn more about this groundbreaking film format and its history here in Bradford.

What is 3-strip Cinerama?

In 1952, Cinerama was launched as the ultimate in immersive cinema. Synchronised 35mm projectors are used to project three images simultaneously, producing an ultra-wide picture. A 146° curved screen is required to achieve this triptych effect.

The history of Cinerama

Cinerama was the first of a number of new cinema processes introduced during the 1950s, when the film industry found itself competing against television.

The process was premiered in 1952, with the ultra-wide picture accompanied by multi-track surround sound. It was a huge success: audiences loved the immersive experience and sense of involvement Cinerama gave them. However, the process of projecting Cinerama movies was complex, expensive, and required specialised equipment, which prevented the system from being installed in more than a handful of theatres.

Widescreen cinema would not become widely used until a few years later, with the introduction of CinemaScope in 1953 and Todd-AO in 1955. Both these methods used single projectors, making installation cheaper and easier. After only 10 years, Cinerama fell out of use. The last movie filmed in true 3-strip Cinerama was How the West Was Won in 1963.

The opening of Pictureville Cinema in 1992

When the museum opened Pictureville Cinema in 1992, the view was taken that Cinerama should be preserved and made available to a wider audience, and provisions were made to install a 3-strip Cinerama system.

The first Cinerama screening in Bradford took place on 16 June 1993. The film was This is Cinerama, a 115-minute montage of scenes designed to showcase the potential of the format, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1953.

Since then, we have screened many other 3-strip Cinerama movies, including Cinerama Holiday, How the West was Won, In the Picture, Holiday in Spain, and The Golden Head.

An image of Pictureville Cinema, Bradford, with an audience watching a scene from This is Cinerama
This is Cinerama screening in Pictureville Cinema

Where can I see Cinerama films?

Just three venues in the world have the ability to screen Cinerama to the public. Pictureville is the only one of these located in the UK—a fitting attraction for Bradford, the first UNESCO City of Film.

The other Cinerama theatres are both located in the USA: Seattle Cinerama and the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles.

When can I see Cinerama films?

Cinerama films are screened as part of Widescreen Weekend, our yearly festival of large-screen formats celebrating the past, present and future of film. Widescreen Weekend takes place at the museum every October—take a look at the programme to see when the next festival is happening and which Cinerama film we will be showing.

About Pictureville Cinema

The interior of Pictureville Cinema at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford
Inside Pictureville Cinema

Previously the site of Bradford’s Library Theatre, Pictureville was converted into the current 306-seat cinema in 1992. A Cinerama system was installed at Pictureville in 1993, making the screening of this rare format possible in both 35mm and digital.

The cinema boasts the deeply curved, louvred screen necessary to show Cinerama films. As well as its Cinerama capabilities, Pictureville also screens new releases and classic movies, and today the auditorium is also equipped with the latest 4K digital projection system and fabulous 7.1 surround sound.

Many famous faces have appeared on the Pictureville stage, from legendary actors such as Ray Winstone and Barbara Windsor to icons of videogaming like Warren Spector, John Romero and YouTube superstars The Yogscast.

Bill Bryson famously wrote about visiting Pictureville in his book Notes from a Small Island. Lord David Puttnam, film producer and former CEO of Columbia Pictures, described it as ‘the best cinema in the world’.

Further reading and interesting links

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