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By Eleanor Mitchell on

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 the history of Cinerama 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.

Cinerama made its UK debut in September 1954, at the Casino Cinerama Theatre in London. The Casino stopped showing Cinerama films in 1974, and today, there are no Cinerama theatres in London.

The opening of Pictureville Cinema in 1992
The opening of Pictureville Cinema in 1992

Cinerama in Bradford

When the National Science and Media Museum opened Pictureville Cinema in 1992, we believed Cinerama should be preserved and made available to a wider audience. 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 Cinema 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?

There are two types of Cinerama screenings: 3-strip and digital.

3-strip Cinerama films are shown 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.

We also hold occasional screenings of digital Cinerama films. For the latest updates, sign up to receive our cinema newsletter.

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 theatre boasts the deeply curved, louvred screen necessary to show Cinerama films. As well as its Cinerama capabilities, Pictureville 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, Aamir Khan 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

13 comments on “Cinerama in the UK: The history of 3-strip cinema in Pictureville Cinema

  1. About the last cinerama film. I went to the Casino Cinerama in 1967/1968 to see 2001 a Space Oddessy in 3 strip cinerama. I still have the programme however due to an imminent move it is packed in storage. I look for it later.

  2. I understand that your theater uses digital and does not use the original 3 -strip, 3 projector system of Cinerama and the picture is only 122 degrees of curve verses the 146 degrees of curve for real Cinerama. the latter is what Hollywood has done.
    If you are actually using the true process then our group will travel to England to see it.

  3. I am unsure of exactly when you show the original 3- strip movies, and if and when you still show ‘This is Cinerama’.
    I would also like to see the Museum and watch a regular movie, can I do all this in one day?
    If you could email me the above timetable and price list for all the above I would be very grateful.
    Best regards, Rex Linsle

  4. I am now 70. I do have a wonderful memory of going to my first Cinerama in 1964/5
    It was The Abbey Cinerama in Wavertree, Liverpool.
    I watched the most fantastic film, The Sound of Music. It was magical. I watched and researched that film over 50 times. It was with delight I stumbled across this website and wondered if you ever show this iconic film again. I would be grateful for a reply.
    Good luck
    Alan.

  5. Back in the 60s I worked as a Cinerama projectionist in their mobile cinema touring England from 1964 to 1967. We showed only 3 strip, the one and only Cinerama system and I am often dismayed at the many ill informed comments I see of it on the internet. Where do they come from? Chinese whispers, faded memories? I will soon have a website that will put the record straight. Please watch this space.

    1. Please get your website up and running soon. Saw every Cinerama Documentary produced and then all 70mm films shown at Casino Cinerama. Always remember them showing THE TEN COMMANDMENTS for a short season with original VistaVision Film blown up to 70mm. Quite entertaining but half of Charlton Heston’s Head was missing most of the time due to his height.

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  7. Could not attend full Widescreen Weekend this year which was a pity as some of the movies I would love to have seen on that beautiful curved screen (West Side Story, The Sound Of Music) were shown. However, I did make the final day and to see the 1969 version of Ben – Hur in 4k in exact 65mm was an experience I’ll treasure for years. Absolutely outstanding

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