'How the West Was' Run

Continued From: "Michael's 'Navy'," "'A Hard Day's' Plight," "Tales From the Dark Slide: The Lost Picture Shows," and "What a Way to Beau"

This newspaper advertisement, dated Aug. 5, 1964, is for a suburban showcase "at popular prices" of "How the West Was Won," following its initial 30-week CINERAMA engagement at Martin Cinerama Theatre, downtown Atlanta, the previous year.

As luck would have it, when I discovered the ad, I was listening to Alfred Newman's glorious "How the West Was Won" score.

Yep, I'm a cowboy.

Still no pony, though.

Giddyup. The Cobb Center Theatre, a large shopping mall installation, was newish at this point, a thousand-seat beauty.

Giddyup. The last time I was in the area, the enterprise had long been closed, ravaged in graffiti, broken glass, high weeds, and a posted condemnation notice. It looked like a slum. I snapped my fingers in a steady beat and waited for the Sharks and the Jets to pirouette by.

I did a little divertissement, an arabesque and danse de caractère into my car, and drove away -- but with a sneer and disheveled sweatshirt.

MGM's "How the West Was Won" was the last of the 3-strip CINERAMA productions, meaning the epic had been photographed with a trio of synchronized cameras, placed adjacent to one another to grab their portions of the BIG pictures.

The finished movie, shown from interlocked 35mm projectors, had each machine beaming one-third of the collective image onto a mammoth deep-curved screen. The jolt was CINERAMA managed to extend the action to the edges of the viewer's peripheral vision. It was a precursor to virtual reality entertainment.

Only a handful of theatres were equipped for the full-scale CINERAMA treatment, so after the initial "How the West Was Won" playdates, the three sections of footage were combined and printed onto a single strip of 35mm celluloid to exhibit in ordinary cinemas on their essentially flat, significantly smaller screens. Today, this cheat is known as Fake IMAX.

No, not really, but I feel better. The visual resolution and manipulation was not true CINERAMA and, surely, it was a disappointment to witness, even in a nice venue like the Cobb Center.

Elsewhere, going forward, the official CINERAMA theatres featured special one-strip 70mm, deep-curve projection, as first hatched via "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" and "Circus World." Now peddling blow-ups of traditional films, the revised, less clunky, less expensive process was never as viscerally successful as pure CINERAMA, although worthwhile. The era burned out with "Krakatoa, East of Java," five years down the hole.

Readers are highly recommended to view the Blu-ray digital restoration of "How the West Was Won," which has a stunning transfer, cleverly suggesting the deep-curve of the intended cinematography and presentation.

I've seen "HTWWW" six times in actual CINERAMA performances, as recently as 2003 in Los Angeles' CINERAMA Dome. Sitting up close, centered adjacent to the TV, watching the "Smilebox" edition on a 46-inch 1080p set is nearly as satisfying as being plunked into the "sweet spot" at a CINERAMA theatre. (The standard 2008 DVD has its rewards, too.)

In some ways, such as image clarity, brightness, and absence of format distractions, the video experience is better. I could smell the buffalo and Eli Wallach, so, darn it, they've gone too far.

Related: "Cinerama Holiday" | "It's the Bass Bass Bass Bass Words"

Thanks to Stan Malone
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