INDICT AND CONVICT
When 3 strip was replaced by single projection with It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and quickly followed by a string of artistic and box office bummers, purists had hoped there would be some way to resurrect the thrill of the original process. And so did many Cinerama venue owners desperate for product. George Stevens was very briefly a savior when he started making The Greatest Story Ever Told in the format, but three days into arduous filming he switched to Ultra-Panavision. (In the early planning stages, he teased with ads that he was going to use CinemaScope 55, then TODD AO.) Not to be left behind by American widescreen mania, the then-Soviet Union came up with Kinopanorama, a Cinerama ripoff developed in 1957. Using some of the better clips from several previous Moscow 3 strip productions and ordering up additional segments, the compilation became the 1966 travelogue entitled Russian Adventure, narrated by Bing Crosby. The McVickers Theatre in Chicago hosted the highly touted World Premiere for an eleven week run, using its three projections for a heavily rectified Kinopanorama from Cinerama, who purchased rights to distribution in order to fulfill those product requests. Not clear is whether genuine 3 projection was showcased in other cities; 70mm prints of the movie, with its two seams, were confirmed to have been substituted, some argue surreptitiously, as the real thing. Then Stanley Kubrick made the announcement that he would use original Cinerama for 2001, only to abandon his intentions as a matter of economics, because overhead costs for processing and showing Cinerama became ever more prohibitive. Listed elsewhere on this site, some of the “new and improved” Cinerama—Circus World, for one, and definitely Battle of the Bulge—are as bad as those I’ll list on this page but personal animus is used to determine egregiousness, and the following films are at the very bottom of the pit. What constitutes a roadshow can be argued, but inarguably these killers—Custer of the West, The Hallelujah Trail, Ice Station Zebra, Song of Norway and Krakatoa, East of Java—aren’t anywhere close. The extreme shoddiness, insulting fakery, stupid plots and bad acting put them in a separate class, and certainly they are up to their impotent if not criminally inaccurate titles. There’s not a memorable moment of savagery in Custer (so lacking of excitement that even the runaway traincar climax garners mocking laughs); not a single praise-be-to-sobriety laugh in Hallelujah Trail (quickly noted by theatre managers who pulled it from roadshow within weeks after opening); not a second of suspense in the stultifying, clumsy Zebra; and unbelievable are the fjordian depths of nauseous Sound of Music imitation in the ineffable Song of Norway. And how a movie company could launch an expensive hardticket campaign for Krapatoa (sic) without fact-checking its actual location confirms that movie executives and makers were into the Hollywood drug scene long before it became fashionable and newsworthy. (Their excuse for the word “East” was that it had a more exotic sound.) The collapse of the reserved seat attraction is attributed to many things—for example, Vietnam, the sexual revolution, drugs and a subsequent casualness altering traditionally formal movie going habits helping to accelerate the decline of the “downtown” experience—but these five shitfests are indisputably additional causes.
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Text COPYRIGHT © 2003 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.