Wider is Better

Although Warner Bros.' DVD and Blu-Ray releases of How the West Was Won [HTWWW] will get the bulk of attention this week, David Strohmaier's stellar documentary on the pivotal wide film format will probably be reduced to a mere footnote, which is unfortunate, because Cinerama Adventure (2002) is far more compelling and dramatically satisfying than HTWWW; fans may differ (and bicker) about that, but MGM's epic western is a ponderous, grandly mounted celebration of antiquated genre cliches.

That's still the impression that lingers from my first exposure, although we'll see if that's changed after having watched WB's new DVD (reserved for a later review) of the 3-panel wide film format.

We figured we could use Strohmaier's doc to give readers some perspective of Cinerama's impact on present-day formats like IMAX and OMNIMAX, its ongoing importance to film history, and the need to preserve these super-productions studios bankrolled to rekindle memoris of grand film showmanship muted by TV's fast and ever-potent impact on audiences.

Hopefully this DVD release will mark the first eforts to:

A) strike new prints to ensue anyone can experience this vintage format in one of the handful of places dedicated to Cinerama exhibition (namely Bradford, England's National Media Museum, Seattle's Cinerama, and Hollywood's Cinerama Dome, the latter profiled by DVD Savant's Glenn Erickson in an essay at Film.com)

B) lead to the distribution on DVD, as well as CD releases of their exotic film scores in complete fom. The late composer David Raksin (Laura) appears in Strohmaier's doc, and praises many colleagues who, like himself, scored Cinerama films, including Dimitri Tiomkin, Max Steiner, Alex North, Roy Webb, and Morton Gould (whom he cites as the most adept at scoring the wide film format).

C) spawn further interest in less flamboyant, independently produced widescren films (65mm and 70mm) shot in Europe whose fates may well lie on single surviving prints of their oiginal roadshow versions.

The latter is certainly the case of films like the German version of Onkel Tom's Hutte / Uncle Tom's Cabin (1965), filmed in the 65mm MCS Superpanorama, but then there's the sad situation of Scent of Mystery (1960), originally released in 70mm and, perhaps to its detriment, in Smell-O-Vision.

Poduced by the late Mike Todd Jr., it was an attempt at grand showmanship by sticking to the true elements of Cinerama - wide film fomat, colour, exotica, stereophonic sound - and adding, uhm, 30 smells that were piped under the seats of excited audiences. When the film died and was sold to Cinerama, it was reportedly chopped up into three panels and re-released as Holiday in Spain, wih new narration and major edits.

The irony? Todd's father, Mike Todd Sr., was one of the original partners in Cinerama, directed matrial in the format's debut film, This is Cinerama (1952), and later moved on found his own rival large film format, Todd-AO.

Scent was scored by Mario Nascimbene, a fine Italian composer who maintained an active and international career during the late fifties and early sixties. Quite prolific, Nascimbene had no problem bouncing between genres and extreme musical styles, and his score for Scent has just been released by Kritzerland (Evening Primrose) in a lush CD (limited to 1000 copies). Featuring original campaign art and numerous stills, the album (reviewed HERE) replicates the contents of the original Ramrod (love that name) LP in very clean stereo, including the two loopy songs crooned by Eddie Fisher.

I would love to say I've a review of the film as well, but lo and behold, it's not on any video format (although I swear it once ran on TV, maybe 15-20 years ago as some ugly, beat up print, and NOT the MTV airing in the 198os). Kritzerland's CD will certainly please fans of this top collectible LP, but hopefully it'll bring some attention to the film, and maybe an ardent fan with influence and bull-headedness will find a way to restore the film for a DVD release. It's probably a soapy, fluffy travelogue at best, but it's part of cinema history (as well as pop culture kitsch), and deserves to be rescued from oblivion.

Next: a handful of new soundtrack reviews, plus The Deadly Bees (Legend), Rogue (Dimension).


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