Those were the days

Johan C.M. Wolthuis

In June 1957 I was on holiday in the Dutch city The Hague on the coast of the North Sea when one day I saw an announcement on a billboard saying: During the Holland Festival (and Film week The Hague 1957) the Philips Company will give a demonstration of their new 70mm projector. The announcement said: Kurhaus Cabaret Scheveningen from 14 till 23 June: HET WONDER VAN TODD-AO (The Miracle of Todd-AO). A film demonstration of revolutionary significance. Curved screen along the whole width of the auditorium. Film width 70mm. Stereophonic sound. Equipment especially placed by Philips.

I was triggered by the announcement, being a fan of CinemaScope films like Trapeze (1956, with Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida making her debut in American films), Rose Marie (1954, the first CinemaScope film from MGM), Et Dieu crea la Femme (1957, with Brigitte Bardot dancing the famous Mambo dance) How To Marry A Millionaire (with Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall) and Island in the Sun (1957, with Harry Belafonte singing the famous title song This is my Island in the Sun, where my people have toiled since time begun).

So I decided of course to visit the 70mm demonstration and what I saw was overwhelming: a 70mm film on a large slightly curved screen from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling in this specially equipped theatre for this ten days event. They screened one reel of Oklahoma! and the 70mm demo The Miracle of Todd-AO. I had never seen anything like it, such a sharp image and on such a large screen!

Later that same year in August I saw the complete version of the musical Oklahoma! in the 35mm Cinemascope version. And in December 1957 in Amsterdam the 35mm print of Around the World in 80 Days from Michael Todd. He had rented the Amsterdam Nöggerath Cinema for one year to screen his film exclusively. He had it equipped with a large slightly curved screen, so it looked like 70mm projection. The film there was such a success that it ran some months beyond the planned one year.

But the next year was the year of the famous Expo World Fair 1958 in Brussels. I visited it for one week and saw: The American Horizon in Circarama 11x 16mm projection. Another amazing experience. Vaste est mon Pays, the Russian version of Cinerama: Kinopanorama 3 x 35mm in the Russian pavilion! This is Cinerama and 7 Wonders of the World in a specially built cinema for the Expo with 3 x 35mm projection on a great curved screen. I was really surprised to see all these beautiful movies in one week. However, I did not realise what an influence it would have in my later life.

But the surprises went on, in September of the same year I visited the famous Photokina exhibition in Cologne in Germany and saw Cinetarium, 35mm projection on the bottom of a silver ball, that resulted in a 360 degrees projection around you. It was surprisingly effective but has not been utilised further.

Then in 1960 in July it was the opening of the Scala Cinerama in Rotterdam and I hurried to see This is Cinerama, which I had seen already in Brussels. That same year in August another cinema in The Netherlands (Parade in Den Bosch) had been equipped with the Philips DP70 and they screened The Miracle of Todd-AO in 70mm and The Miracle of Stereophonic Sound a very nice 35mm Cinemascope short. And the year went on: in October I saw Can-Can in Asta The Hague, also just equipped with the Philips DP 70 projectors.

And in December in Metropole the Hague: Ben-Hur, In Luxor Nijmegen: The Miracle of Todd-AO and in December I visited Paris and saw in the Ambassade The Alamo in 70mm! What a year, but of course I thought it was normal to see so many 70mm presentations.

1961 was another great 70mm year in The Netherlands: in Vreeburg Utrecht: Can-Can for the second time. In Cinerama Rotterdam: 7 Wonders of the World, which has now become my favourite Cinerama movie! In April I visited DuMidi Amsterdam for Spartacus in 70mm. Then Corso Rotterdam, a beautiful cinema, especially rebuilt for 70mm: Porgy and Bess. Back to Luxor Nijmegen to watch South Pacific in Todd-AO and in August I visited the Casino Cinerama in London for Search for Paradise and Astoria, London for Exodus in 70mm. Then back to The Netherlands for Cinerama Holiday in the Cinerama Rotterdam and finally the Russian 70mm movie Flaming Years in the Parade 70mm Cinema in Den Bosch.

The next year 1962 I visited El Cid in 70mm in Flora Amsterdam and travelled in June again to London to see 7 Wonders of the World again and again in the Casino Cinerama and South Pacific in the famous Dominion theatre where it was screened for five years. I should like to know how many 70 mm prints they have used in those five years?

Then back to The Netherlands for West Side Story in 70mm in Grand Rotterdam on one of the last days of December.

In 1963 I again visited Cinerama Rotterdam for South Seas Adventure and Porgy and Bess for the second time in the beautiful Corso 70mm Cinema also in Rotterdam. In September of that same year The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm in the Empire Cinerama in Paris and back at home 55 Days at Peking in the 70mm cinema Luxor Nijmegen.

In 1964 again to London (!) where I visited the unique Circlorama 360 degrees cinema on Piccadilly Circus. It was the Russian version of Disney’s Circarama with a twenty-minute travel film: Russian Roundabout. And in the Coliseum London: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World. Back to my home country to the Parade Cinema with the DP 70 for a Todd-AO screening of Cleopatra!

Next year only two 70mm movies in The Netherlands: Circusworld in Super Technirama 70) in Luxor Nijmegen and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (Todd-AO) in Odeon in The Hague.

In 1966: The Greatest Story Ever Told in Ultra Panavison 70 on the curved screen of Cinerama Rotterdam and Khartoum on the 70mm screen of Bellevue Cinerama Amsterdam. They had only 70mm equipment so no original Cinerama possibilities.

1967: The Sound of Music in Luxor 70mm Nijmegen and a 70mm blow-up of Dr Zhivago in Bellevue Amsterdam

1968: Doctor Dolittle in Todd-AO in Flora Amsterdam. Around the World in 80 Days in 70mm in Grand Rotterdam and Custer of the West (Super Technirama 70) in Bellevue 70mm Amsterdam.

1969: The Great Race, a 70mm blow-up in Euro Cinema the Hague and The King and I in Grandeur 70 in Luxor Nijmegen (originally the second movie in Cinemascope 55mm).

1970 started with seeing Ben-Hur (filmed with MGM Camera 65) in Du Midi Amsterdam on a normal 70mm screen and I went again to Paris for Goodbye Mr Chips, a 70mm blow-up in the Empire Cinerama and another blow-up of Marooned, on the large screen of Cinerama Rotterdam. But at last that year a real 70mm film Patton (Dimension 150) in my hometown Arnhem in the beautiful Rembrandt cinema with Cinemeccania 70mm Victoria projectors.

It all ended for the time being in 1973 with a visit to London Casino Cinerama for Song of Norway (Super Panavision 70), back to Rotterdam’s real Cinerama theatre for the third time 7 Wonders of the World. And for The Last Valley in Todd-AO to Luxor Cinema, Nijmegen, for another screening of Can-Can in Todd-AO in Euro the Hague and finally to Corso Rotterdam for Fall of the Roman Empire (filmed with anamorphic Ultra Panavision 70 equipment). Two Cinerama movies and three 70mm movies in one year. Wow! All these 70mm cinemas in The Netherlands have been closed or destroyed! Those were the days...

Johan C.M. Wolthuis -

Porgy and Bess





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