These three words changed movies forever, just as Al Jolson’s ad libbed, “You ain’t heard nothing yet”
had done in 1927.
It was September 30, 1952 at the Broadway Theater in Manhattan where a world-famous adventurer, a
media pioneer, and a first-time producer sat nervously with a quietly confident inventor as the curtain
rose on an entirely new medium that would revolutionize motion picture production and exhibition – just
when the industry needed it most.
As the astonished first night audience tore the theater
apart with cheers, the inventor sat quietly, the
slightest of smiles on his lips. “What are you, a man or a
fish?” asked an aghast friend. “How can you just sit
there?” “Oh,” the inventor gently replied, “I knew 16
years ago it would be like this.”
Fred Waller had indeed labored that long on his dream of a
motion picture experience that would recreate the full range of
human vision. It used three cameras and three projectors on
a curved screen 146° deep. Making an anagram of the letters
in “American,” he called it “Cinerama”. Even in an industry
up to its Mitchell magazines in hyperbole, its impact was
staggering. Running only 13 weeks in one theater in New York,
“This Is Cinerama” was the highest grossing film of 1952.
Several more travelogues would follow, climaxed by two dramatic
films co-produced with MGM in 1962. Cinerama, which had been
rejected by all the majors as too expensive - however impressive it
was - now created a landrush. When they saw its drawing power,
every studio scrambled to come up with a copycat process. The
1.33 aspect ratio was dead and the widescreen era was on.
Cinerama’s 3-panel glory days lasted only 11 years, but it has
never been forgotten by anyone who saw it. Completely lost for 40
years, now on its 50 th anniversary, Cinerama is making a comeback.
But the roots of this astonishing system begin much earlier than
Waller’s experiments in the ‘30s…