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By National Science and Media Museum on

The smell of cinema: Why we’re bringing Smell-O-Vision back

The world première of A Holiday in Spain in the all new Smell-O-Vision is coming to Bradford for Widescreen Weekend.

It was meant to be the next big thing. In 1960, Scent of Mystery was released as the first film to be shown in Smell-O-Vision: a ‘smell brain’ patented by Hans Laube and producer of the film Mike Todd Jr, released perfumed scent bottles on cue as the film screened. With a system of pipes and vents required to release the scents to the audience, costs for fitting theatres with the system cost in excess of $1 million for some theatres, almost $8 million today.

Sadly, huge costs and poor reception meant that Smell-O-Vision didn’t take off. Artistic concerns about the distraction of the smells and their effect on the film-viewing experience saw the system shelved as one Time magazine’s Top 100 Worst Ideas of All Time.

So why is Widescreen Weekend bringing back the format? A fascination with the smell of cinema has been enduring: John Waters’ Polyester utilised scratch and sniff cards on its release in 1982. Now film events are becoming increasingly immersive and interactive, with sing-alongs, dance-alongs and even eat-alongs. The ‘smell-along’ was recently repeated at an ‘Odorama’ as part of Scalarama 2014 with Mayhem Film Festival, The Cube Microplex and Shock and Gore producing scratch and sniff Polyester screenings across the country from Bristol to Aberwystwyth.

New technology too offers increasingly intriguing and bizarre smelling opportunities, from Feelreal virtual reality mask which immerses you in sight, sound AND smell, to the failed Scentee smartphone plug in (because clearly Instagram photos of other people’s food are tedious enough without having to smell them).

To fully revive the experience of smell and cinema beyond scratch and sniff, Widescreen Weekend welcomes Saskia Wison-Brown, founder of The Institute for Art and Olfaction (IAO), along with her ‘scent technicians’ to fit Pictureville out as Smell-O-Rama theatre in a way not seen since 1960, where you will smell the original scents of the film including ‘the cool moist pungency of a wine cellar’, ‘the delectable mouth watering scent of a peach’ and ‘the pungent intoxication of strong brandy’ among some of the original scents created for the ‘smell brain’.

Experience the world première of A Holiday in Spain in the all new Smell-O-Vision!
Experience the world première of A Holiday in Spain in the all new Smell-O-Vision!

Holiday in Spain (aka Scent of Mystery) receives its world première Smell-O-Vision revival on Friday 16 October 2015. Not around for Widescreen Weekend? You can contribute to the current Indiegogo campaign to take the smell of cinema worldwide with a 2016 Scent of Mystery world tour.

One comment on “The smell of cinema: Why we’re bringing Smell-O-Vision back

  1. Smell is a powerful but subjective sense and it affects different people in different ways. Speaking for myself, an evocative smell would be that of the changing room at my old school, a mixture of mud, perspiration and shoe polish. This would be a challenge for any film maker. How on earth could they produce it and store it?

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