East End Memories

REMEMBERING THE ESSOLDO, BETHNAL GREEN (1948-1956)


Henri Chretian, Darryl Zanuck & Spyros Skouras

PART FOUR – CINEMASCOPE – A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO SPECIFICATIONS

Of the many cinematic wonders and processes that were developed in order to lure customers back to the cinema, CinemaScope was, in my opinion, the ultimate spectacle at that time and was able to capture and project exactly what I wanted in film. Tragically, since I was not to experience Camera 65, TODD-AO or Cinerama until the late 1950s, I was not able to appreciate fully what spectacle in film truly meant. As a result of this, I have always believed my childhood to be deprived! However, I did experience CinemaScope and for this, I am deeply grateful to Henri Chretien for his insight and ability to produce the first anamorphic lens, 20th Century Fox during the 1950s and in particular Mr. Spyros Skouras for arriving in Paris ahead of the competition, Bausch & Lomb Inc., and, to some extent, Panavision. Although Mr. Solomon Sheckman had nothing to do with the development of the process, it is thanks to his insight and ingenuity that I first saw the first film produced in the magnificence of CinemaScope at the Essoldo on Bethnal Green Road.

For those of you that do not know what CinemaScope is, I recommend a visit to The American Widescreen Museum. Here, the curator, Mr. Martin Hart, provides information on all widescreen formats and gives a detailed history of the development and application of each process including CinemaScope. This is one of the most remarkable and interesting websites that I have ever visited and I recommend it highly to anyone with even the slightest interest in film. It is informative and, at times, amusing. This is not a dusty website filled with technical details. Rather, the material is presented in a manner to maintain the reader’s interest.

Briefly, CinemaScope is an anamorphic lens series that allowed the projection of film images to be seen on a wider screen than was currently being used prior to 1953. Anamorphic basically means a controlled distortion. Photographing with an anamorphic lens allows the squeezing of a wide image onto a narrow film. Once the film is projected through a similar anamorphic lens, the image will appear on a screen in its full width and without distortion. Originally, CinemaScope allowed the width of the projected image to be 2.66:1, known as the projected aspect ratio. Such a projected aspect ratio means that the width of the image on the screen was 2.66 times the height. Up until then, the projected aspect ratio of standard film was 1.37:1 (known as Academy Format). With the introduction of CinemaScope to local cinemas, the average cinema goer was introduced, as the advertisements said, to huge panoramic views and the feeling that they were part of the film – all without the aid of special glasses.

Once 20th Century Fox began producing its films in CinemaScope, the company insisted that the cinemas showing their films had to adhere to certain strict standards and requirements including equipping all cinemas with four-track stereophonic sound. In order to fit four sound tracks onto the film required the projected aspect ratio to be reduced to 2.55:1. However, many cinemas including drive-ins were unable to offer stereophonic sound to their audiences. 20th Century Fox overcame this problem by the addition of a standard track to the film. As a result of this addition, the aspect ratio was reduced further to 2.35:1.

For my part, once the ice cream sales-ladies left the auditorium and the lights dimmed and the curtains slowly parted to reveal that giant screen, and once I heard the sound of the drum leading into that breathtaking introduction, which heralded A CinemaScope Picture, I had no interest in the finer points of the projected aspect ratio. Regardless of the technicalities that went to make up CinemaScope, I had come to enjoy the film that was to loom large before me on what was then a giant widescreen. Hearing the 20th Century Fox introduction was a treat in itself and a sign to snuggle down in my seat and be ready, willing and able to be transported off to some mysterious and magnificent place where I knew that I would be totally and utterly captivated for however long the film lasted.

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Advertisment for CinemaScope and 4-Track Stereophonic Sound prepared by Granada Cinemas
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I would like to thank Mr. Brian Hall for his kindness in allowing his materials to be reproduced here.


Continue to Part Five - The Essoldo, CinemaScope and Me

Back to Part Three - Desperate Times, Desperate Measures & 3-D

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Copyrightę 2010 - : Charles S. P. Jenkins