Sunday, December 08, 2013

The Widened Horizons of CINERAMA HOLIDAY

As the year hurriedly draws to a close, I've been trying to catch up with some of my overdue 2013 viewing with an eye toward drawing up my list of year's favorites. Last night I watched Flicker Alley's CINERAMA HOLIDAY, a beautifully restored presentation of the second film lensed in three-camera Cinerama, back in 1955.

Flicker Alley's previous release of the initial film, THIS IS CINERAMA (1953), was fun up to a point but finally succumbed to overbearing, flag-waving patriotism that hasn't dated well. For the second film, Cinerama turned to audience response cards that asked viewers of THIS IS CINERAMA what they'd like to see next. The consensus of opinion reflected a desire for a bigger, more adventurous look at the world, so they took a midwestern American couple and a couple from Switzerland and sent them on tours of each others' respective worlds: the Swiss touring America coast-to-coast, while the Americans visited various stops in Switzerland and France. The resulting film is a far more buoyant and inviting travelogue experience, one that takes us through valleys and deserts in search of the Old West, and then on to Las Vegas and the San Francisco coast; over the Swiss Alps to a variety of ski locations and an outdoor performance by members of the Ice Capades; to jazz and folk performances in the great city of New Orleans (Odetta is briefly glimpsed in performance); and then into Paris, with side trips into Montmartre, the Louvre, the Lido (a stunning acrobatic performance), a jolly Guignol puppet show performance (not to be confused with the The√Ętre du Grand Guignol!), and the Notre Dame cathedral, before it all builds to a bizarre twist, in which the film's two couples converge in New York City for the premiere of CINERAMA HOLIDAY, at which they arrive just in time for the supersonic finale featuring the breathtaking stunt flying of the Blue Angels.

Watching this film helped to crystallize something in my thinking. While THIS IS CINERAMA was the demonstration of an extraordinary new technology that didn't quite know what to do with itself yet, CINERAMA HOLIDAY takes the significant step of showing people that the world was truly three-dimensional, not just points on a map. It showed people the larger world's potential for adventure, scenic beauty, drama, romance, spiritual enrichment of the spirit, and also danger. If it is, first and foremost, an improvement over what the first film delivered, it is also, secondly and most effectively, a kickstart for the tourism industry - as well as an inspirator of much cinema yet to come. In cinematic terms, it stands out as perhaps the first film to showcase locations in documentary terms that, at the same time, underscores them with same larger-than-life sensibility that later became a key ingredient of the James Bond film series.

The film runs 129 minutes and is presented complete with overture, intermission (with cigarettes prominently featured in the onscreen art) and exit music. While parts of the second half look slightly overdark, this is an impressive restoration and will have you wishing your home screen, whatever its size, was bigger to lend its imagery the majesty it warrants.

Buy the Blu-ray/DVD combo set of CINERAMA HOLIDAY directly from the Flicker Alley website here

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