The festival closed with a screening of How The West Was Won (1962), a star-studded* epic depicting 50s-era "manifest destiny," the American expansion west. It was one of only two narratives shot in Cinerama, a widescreen visual process that utilizes three strips of film set at angles that give a startling 146° angle of view. It was specifically designed to be shown on a deeply curved screen, which rectifies the wide angle of the collective image in an equally startling way. So when you watch a Cinerama movie the perspective seems amazingly natural, and you follow the action by turning your head, like you would in the real world. Conceptually, it's uncanny.
Practically, however, there are some strange limitations to the process. The seams between the triptych panels are never invisible: the optics of the time (Cinerama cameras were built in the early 1950s) couldn't make the edges blend perfectly. In How The West Was Won the filmmakers took great pains to hide the seams: they would position the actors so they were center in each lens, and often buildings or trees would coincide with the frame edges. One sequence near the end takes place in the interior of a house in Arizona: the wallpaper was a combination of little flowers, grey vertical stripes, and more grey vertical stripes. The frame edges were lost in a sea of stripes: Cinerama wallpaper.
|An idea of just how wide the image is-- a frame from|
HTWWW, probably a CinemaScope reduction print.
The seams are plainly visible, and you can see that each strip
is actually a tall rectangle.
(According to some commie social commentary I've read, regarding nature as "scenery" is a hallmark of bourgeois capitalism, the first step to the commodification of natural resources. That idea fits well here.)
|Some folks have released HTWWW in "smilebox" format,|
with a curvature added digitally.
This is how a medium shot works in Cinerama.
With all of it's faults, HTWWW and Cinerama is still a marvel to behold. This film just does not work on video, HD or not: it does not even work in 'scope on a movie screen. It specifically designed for one and only one projection process, and I consider myself fortunate to have see it in it's proper grandeur.
*I picked out Harry Dean Stanton in an uncredited bit part as one of Eli Wallach's henchmen. How old IS that guy?