In 1952, motion picture exhibition changed forever with the introduction of the elaborate three-camera Cinerama process, which began the era of widescreen films. For the next 10 years, Cinerama was used for a series of popular travelogues and two MGM-produced epics. By 1962, however, the expense of producing and exhibiting Cinerama films overwhelmed the box office returns and the system was abandoned.
In 2012, as part of the 60th anniversary celebration of Cinerama’s debut, a short film called “In the Picture” was shot using one of the original Cinerama cameras. This fascinating and entertaining documentary short by Mike Celestino and Robert Garren details the creation of “In the Picture” on locations across Los Angeles – and if this film is any indication, “In the Picture” will probably be the very last Cinerama film ever made.
As the cast and crew quickly learned, the three-camera Cinerama rig had plenty of limitations: an extraordinary weight (all metal – no plastic parts), an excessive power source (three automobile batteries kept it running) and a single lens that could not accommodate close-ups or zoom effects. The camera was also ridiculously noisy (the original soundproof casing was lost), thus requiring all of the dialogue to be re-recorded in post-production. The editing process was equally challenging – there was no Moviola to accommodate Cinerama’s triple-film requirements, so a very careful eyeballing of the prints was needed to ensure the editing was in perfect sync.
For one of the “In the Picture” team, this was something of a homecoming: Stanley Livingston was a child actor in the last three-camera film, “How the West was Won,” and he enjoyed a surprise reunion with that classic flick’s star, Debbie Reynolds, in a scene shot at Los Angeles’ iconic Cinerama dome.
This short only offers a few quick glimpses of what “In the Picture” looks like on the deeply-curved three-panel Cinerama screen, and it appears that the endeavor was well-worth the effort. Alas, the migration away from analog film to digital filmmaking appears to have closed the door on any future Cinerama productions – not to mention any traditional 35mm projects. This fine short offers an appropriate tribute to the technology and its movie-loving advocates.