Sidmouth enjoys vintage widescreen cinema experience

Mike Edgecumbe is reviving Cinerama in Sidmouth

Mike Edgecumbe is reviving Cinerama in Sidmouth - Credit: Archant

Cinema went back to the future in Sidmouth on Saturday with a screening of a piece of 60-year-old widescreen movie technology.

Viewers at the Methodist Church Hall flew over the grand canyon, rode a rollercoaster and drifted through the canals of Venice as they were immersed in This is Cinerama, a special type of film brought to the town by local cinephile Mike Edgecumbe.

In the first showing of the Cinerama technology in Britain outside of purpose-built theatres, a packed house saw on screen for the first time what the eye can see with a super-wide field of vision, created by filming the scenes on three cameras simultaneously.

The movie was created in 1952 as a demonstration of what the then innovative technique could accomplish, and started with a 12-minute introduction by Lowell Thomas, taking viewers through a potted summary of the history of film, the culmination of which it is strongly implied is Cinerama.

Originally requiring three separate projectors to display it, a new digital version was used on Saturday night, but it still needed a giant curved screen created by Mr Edgecumbe to screen the full breadth of the picture.

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After the intro viewers were immediately shown exactly what Cinerama could do, flung into the carriage of a big dipper, hurtling round a track, before being taken on a more sedate tour of Europe’s landmarks, a series of short vignettes all shot in colossal widescreen.

The brain takes a while to adjust to the enlarged filed of vision in front of it, as it takes in huge vistas in saturated Technicolor, but the film has little narrative structure, the first half ending with a 10-minute conclusion to a performance of impenetrable Verdi opera ‘Aida’, included to showcase the format’s state-of-the-art stereo sound.

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After the interval though it really takes off, with an extended sequence at the Cypress Gardens theme park in Florida, mixing Fellini-esque dreamy sequences as the camera woozily floats through the botanical gardens amongst the everglades, Southern Belles smiling from the riverbank, followed by a wild and wacky water-ski display, showcasing what can be achieved once a bit of directorial flare is introduced.

One might expect a piece of 60-year-old technology, which was created to try and combat the threat of television to movie theatres, to provide little in the way of wow-factor, especially to a modern audience fed on $100 million 3D-blockbusters.

But those fears were erased once the Cinerama camera was strapped to the nose of a B-25 plane for a whirlwind trip across America, sweeping low over the Mid-Western plains, a seemingly never-ending golden patch-work quilt of corn fields, and weaving through the Rocky Mountains.

It certainly provided a cinematic experience nobody in the Methodist Hall would ever have had before, even if the choir’s performance of ‘America the Beautiful’ underscoring the footage was a bit much.

Overall the nature of film’s demonstrative purpose, to show off the technology’s power, made it a not entirely satisfying two-hours; a series of short sections, all shot in giant wide-angle, made it difficult to stay engaged.

But if it is meant to whet the appetite to see what the format can really do, then it was an overwhelming success.

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